Thursday, October 20, 2016

Oops, They Have to Do It Again: Federal Circuit Remands Award of Attorneys' Fees to Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

I never imagined I'd be mentioning Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears in a post for this blog, but there's a first time for everything.  In a nonprecedential per curiam opinion issued today, Large Audience Display Systems v. Tenman Productions, LLC, the Federal Circuit vacated an award of attorneys' fees in favor of the defendants Justin Timberlake, Tennman Productions, LLC, Britney Spears, and Spears King Pole, Inc.  The plaintiff, which owns a patent relating to a “panoramic imaging and display system for the imaging and displaying of visual-media content,” filed suit against the defendants based on their use of allegedly similar systems at concerts.  While the suit was pending, the defendants initiated an inter partes reexamination, which ultimately resulted in the invalidation of all of the claims the plaintiff was asserting in the infringement litigation (though some other claims of the patent survived reeexamination, and some new ones were added).  The district court then granted the defendants' motion to dismiss and their motion for attorneys' fees pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 285.

In vacating the award, the Federal Circuit first concludes that "that the district court based its ruling, to some extent, on both a misunderstanding of what factors are relevant to an exceptionality determination and a clearly erroneous view of the record evidence" (p.9).  First, the court states that "argument that LADS was formed in the Eastern District of Texas to create jurisdiction is not convincing. Specific jurisdiction is based on the defendant’s contacts with a forum state, not the plaintiff’s contacts" (id.)  Second, "The fact that the PTO canceled the asserted claims after LADS filed its complaint, without more, does not support a finding of frivolousness," given the difference in the burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence) and the standard for claim construction (broadest reasonable interpretation) that the USPTO uses.  Third, the court states that "the record does not support the district court’s finding that" certain prior art "was dispositive in the reexamination" (p.10).  Thus, on remand, "[t]he district court may properly consider the totality of the circumstances in making its determination, including LADS’s use of the Langsam email to oppose Appellees’ motion for attorney’s fees, its opposition to the motion to transfer venue to the Central District of California, and the objective reasonableness of LADS’s claims given the standards and burdens that apply in district court, including the reasonableness of LADS’s proposed claim constructions. . . .  But the district court must assure both that the circumstances on which it relies are accurate and that the court affords only the appropriate measure of weight to each" (p.11).

In addition, the court disagrees with the district court's methodology for calculating attorneys' fees.  The district court had acknowledged that fees are usually calculated based on the "lodestar" method, which involves multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably billed; but ultimately it awarded the defendants their requested fees of $755,925 on the ground that this figure was “in accord with the costs of defending a patent infringement suit as they are lower than the average cost to defend against patent infringement suits in which as little as less than $1 million is at stake, according to a 2013 [AIPLA] Report of the Economic Survey” (pp. 6-7).  The Court of Appeals disagrees:
The average cost of typical patent infringement suits . . . was not the sole evidence upon which the district court should have relied to determine attorney’s fees. In addition, the comparison was not appropriate because the survey provided only two benchmarks for average fees: (1) the end of discovery; and (2) through trial. In this case, little discovery had been conducted by the parties, and the case was dismissed with prejudice before trial.
On remand, if the district court finds the case exceptional, it must use the lodestar method to calculate attorney’s fees determining the reasonable hours and rates for the lodestar calculation. Though Appellees were represented by attorneys from New York, the litigation occurred in the Central District of California. California fee rates should be used to calculate the lodestar figure unless there is some special expertise Appellees’ counsel had that warrants a different rate, or a showing is made that there is a prevailing national rate applicable in patent cases (p.12).
The court also questions whether some of the fees requested were indeed reasonable, and remands for further consideration.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Some New Papers on Damages, Part 1

1.  Jason Bartlett and Jorge Contreras have posted on ssrn a draft of the paper they prepare for the University of Texas Patent Damages conference this past June, titled Rationalizing FRAND Royalties:  Can Interpleader Save the Internet of Things?  Here is a link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
Important technical interoperability standards may be covered by hundreds or thousands of patents held by dozens of parties. Patent holders are often required to license these patents to others on terms that are “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND), and litigation regarding the level of FRAND royalties is expanding. One serious problem that has emerged is the inherent difficulty of determining a “reasonable” royalty rate for a particular standard-essential patent in isolation from the many other patents covering the same standard. Reasonable royalty determinations in litigation are made in a bottom-up manner, patent holder by patent holder, patent by patent, usually in separate proceedings. While individual royalty determinations in these proceedings may seem to adhere to judicial and contractual requirements regarding “reasonableness,” there is no reason to believe that the aggregate royalty rates established through these uncoordinated, serial processes will be reasonable in terms of the overall value that the patented technology contributes to the standard or the product. Unreasonable and inconsistent royalties on important interoperability standards create social costs by impeding value-creating transactions. To address this problem, we propose that the mechanism of statutory interpleader be used to join the holders of all patents covering a particular technology standard into a single proceeding in which an aggregate “reasonable” royalty may be determined and then apportioned among the holders of individual standards-essential patents. This approach will both enhance fairness of royalty determinations and reduce the costs inherent in multiple independent proceedings. Finding such a solution is particularly critical today, as technology convergence continues to impact standardization in key areas such as next-generation wireless communication and the “Internet of Things.”
2.  Sapna Kumar has posted on ssrn a new draft of the paper she presented at the University of Texas Patent Damages Conference, titled Patent Damages Without BordersHere is a link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
The presumption against extraterritoriality is a deceptively straightforward principle: that U.S. law applies only inside the United States. But there is confusion regarding whether the principle applies when a court calculates patent damages. The Federal Circuit has held that patent holders who show infringement under § 271(f) of the Patent Act cannot recover foreign lost profits. The court maintained that allowing recovery of such damages would result in the Patent Act applying extraterritorially, which cannot be done without Congress’s clear intent. This unusual interpretation lacks support from the Supreme Court and severely limits the ability of district courts to make patent infringement victims whole. This article maintains that the Federal Circuit’s reliance on the presumption is misplaced. The presumption was established to prevent U.S. law from applying to extraterritorial conduct; it was not intended to cover situations where harm flows from an act of domestic patent infringement. Moreover, even if the presumption does apply, it has been rebutted under the Supreme Court’s two-step extraterritoriality test. By creating this bright-line rule, the Federal Circuit has unduly restricted the ability of patent holders to recover damages, including in cases where there is no other applicable law. This Article proposes that courts use a more flexible test that balances prescriptive comity concerns with the United State’s interest in making victims of domestic patent infringement whole.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Two New Papers on Fee Shifting

1. Megan LaBelle has posted a paper on ssrn titled Fee Shifting for PTAB ProceedingsHere is a link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
Fee shifting in patent litigation has been a hot topic in recent years. In Octane Fitness v. ICON and Highmark v. Allcare, the Supreme Court made it easier to shift fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285, which allows courts to award reasonable attorney’s fees to prevailing parties in patent cases. Moreover, several bills have been introduced in Congress since 2013 that would expand courts’ power beyond the parameters of § 285. Various aspects of these proposals have been heavily debated, including whether fee shifting should be mandatory or discretionary, how to recover fees from the “real party in interest,” and whether to adopt a one-way or two-way fee shifting scheme.
These sort of design choices regarding a fee shifting regime are not simply about who should pay for patent litigation. Fee shifting schemes also provide a roadmap from lawmakers about whether and how litigation ought to proceed. Fee shifting regimes, in other words, are used to influence litigation conduct. Thus, if Congress is going to alter the fee shifting landscape for patent litigation, it must make careful choices in order to incentivize certain types of patent disputes, while simultaneously discouraging others.
This Article does not advocate for a new fee shifting regime for patent litigation, nor does it endeavor to design one. Instead, it focuses on one narrow but important question about fee shifting in patent cases that has received surprisingly little attention: whether prevailing parties should be able to recover attorney’s fees incurred for litigation before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) — the administrative tribunal of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that was created by the America Invents Act (AIA). With the steep rise in both PTAB proceedings (post-AIA) and fee motions (post-Octane/Highmark), district courts are bound to face this question more frequently. While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has allowed for the recovery of such fees in the past, the Federal Circuit’s analysis was flawed in light of Supreme Court precedent. Thus, this Article proposes that Congress enact legislation allowing parties who prevail at the PTAB to recover their attorney’s fees.

2.  Scott Flanz has published a paper titled Octane FitnessThe Shifting of Patent Attorneys' Fees Moves into High Gear, 19 Stanford Tech. L. Rev. 329 (2016).  Here is a link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
In 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided Octane Fitness. LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, LLC, significantly altering the standard for granting attorneys’ fees shifting at the close of a patent litigation. Combine with precedent announced on the same day in Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems, scholars have opined that under the new regime, the standard for proving entitlement to attorneys’ fees in patent litigations will be considerably relaxed. Despite the widespread acceptance of the viewpoint, few empirical analyses—if any—have objectively confirmed it.
This paper provides a first glimpse into whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Octane changed the attorneys’ fees standard in practice. By investigating the rate at which courts have granted attorneys’ fees motions before and after Octane, broken down by whether the movant was a patentee or accused infringer, the technology of the patent asserted, the circuit and district where the suit was decided, and what factors were considered by each court in its opinion, this research confirms that Octane’s reinterpretation of § 285 has had observable effects. In particular, this study finds a statistically significant increase in the rate of attorneys’ fee shifting after Octane, particularly for motions filed by accused infringers and in motions concerning electronics and software patents. The results of this study shed light on meaningful and recent changes to the patent litigation incentive structure and will be helpful in predicting future changes to the patent litigation landscape.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Contreras on Injunctions in U.S. Patent Cases

Jorge Contreras has posted a paper on ssrn titled Injunctive Relief in U.S. Patent Cases.  It is a draft of a chapter in a forthcoming edited volume titled Injunctions in Patent Law (Rafal Sikorski ed., forthcoming 2017).  Here is a link to the paper, and here is the abstract:
The law of injunctive relief in United States patent cases presents a puzzling set of contrasts. On one hand, it is grounded in venerable common law principles of equity that have been applied by the courts for centuries. On the other hand, it reflects the unique complexities of massively multicomponent products and advanced technology standards. This chapter provides an overview of the U.S. law of patent injunctions, both generally and specifically as applied to standards-essential patents. It also addresses, briefly, considerations surrounding the issuance of exclusion orders by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), a non-judicial federal agency that has recently become an important venue for patent litigation.
I understand that the edited volume in which this paper will appear is intended to provide a thorough look at the law of patent injunctions in the principal jurisdictions for patent litigation.  It should be a welcome addition to the literature.