Willful Infringement Case Update – Eidos Display v. Chi Mei Innolux

Earlier this month, Judge Gilstrap of the Eastern District of Texas issued a post-trial decision penalizing a patent infringer for failing to form a good-faith non-infringement or invalidity position before the lawsuit. The court doubled the $4.1 million verdict for a total of $8.2 million in damages. Eidos Display, LLC v. Chi Mei Innolux Corp., 6:11-cv-00201 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 5, 2018).

This case arose in 2011 when Eidos Display sued a number of defendants alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,879,958, which related to a method for forming an electro-optical device. Chi Mei Innolux and Chi Mei Optoelectronics (collectively, “Innolux”) were the only defendants remaining when the case went to trial after all of the others settled out.

After trial in mid-2017, the jury returned a verdict finding that Innolux willfully infringed the ‘958 patent and awarded $4.1 million in damages.

Eidos moved for enhanced damages, alleging that Innolux’s conduct was “willful, wanton, malicious, bad-faith, deliberate, consciously wrongful, flagrant, or—indeed—characteristic of a pirate” per the standard set forth in the Supreme Court case Halo v. Pulse (see our earlier discussion of Halo here). As is typical in such cases, the court did not parse the meanings of those flowery words and instead walked through a measured analysis by considering the nine Read factors.

Judge Gilstrap found that five factors favored Eidos’ argument for enhancement, one factor favored Innolux, and three factors were neutral. With the weight of the factors on the plaintiff’s side, Judge Gilstrap opted to enhance the damages by 100%, to $8.2 million, which was short of the fully tripled amount allowed by statute.

Factors favoring enhanced damages:

  • Lack of Investigation or Good-Faith Belief of Non-Infringement/Invalidity (Read factor #2) – This factor weighed the heaviest against Innolux. Innolux’s predecessor (CMO) first learned about the ‘958 patent through one of its customers, Fujitsu, who received infringement claims from the patentholder and “repeatedly asked CMO to undertake a serious analysis.” The court found that no good faith pre-suit investigation occurred and that Innolux had not “formed, prior to this lawsuit, any reasonable non-infringement or invalidity positions.” As such, this factor favored enhancement.
  • Litigation Conduct (Read factor #3) – The court found that Innolux engaged in some degree of discovery misconduct relating to delays in producing documents, waiting until the last minute to resolve disputes, and other gamesmanship tactics. Though the behavior was not so severe as to warrant adverse jury instructions, the court found that it weighed in favor of enhancement.
  • Size and Financial Condition (Read factor #4) – This factor favored enhancement simply because “Innolux is a large company with billions in revenue.”
  • Duration of Misconduct (Read factor #6) – Innolux continued to infringe the ‘958 patent for at least 8 years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. While it attempted to point to Eidos’s delay in bringing suit to justify its behavior, that argument was not persuasive and the court held that “Innolux is responsible for its own actions, including failing to meaningfully investigate the ’958 patent while continuing to infringe it for several years. This conduct supports an enhancement in this case.”
  • Lack of Remedial Action (Read factor #7) – There was no real dispute that Innolux did not take any remedial action after learning of the ‘958 patent.

Factors against enhanced damages:

  • Closeness of the Case (Read factor #5) – The single factor found in Innolux’s favor was supported by the fact that Innolux had previously won summary judgment of invalidity due to indefiniteness, which decision was later reversed by the Federal Circuit on appeal.

Neutral factors:

  • Deliberate Copying (Read factor #1) – Eidos conceded that there was no evidence of affirmative copying.
  • Motivation for Harm (Read factor #8) – “[T]he record lacks evidence that Innolux gained some specific ‘competitive edge’ over LG or Eidos in the marketplace by infringing the ’958 Patent. The record also lacks any indication that Innolux carried on its infringing conduct to gain such an edge or to harm LG or Eidos.”
  • Attempts to Conceal Misconduct (Read factor #9) – To the extent that Innolux’s discovery abuses could be considered an attempt to conceal misconduct, they had already been considered with respect to factor #3. The court did not address any other arguments.

Conclusion

The takeaways from this case are in line with other post-Halo decisions. They stress the importance of conducting early patent investigations and establishing good faith non-infringement and invalidity positions:

  • Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to others’ patents.
  • A solid approach is to adopt a policy of prompt investigation, and to establish reasonable non-infringement or invalidity positions as soon as a relevant patent becomes known by anyone in the company.
  • Evidence demonstrating pre-suit non-infringement or invalidity positions would likely have saved this defendant $4.1 million, and may have led to design-arounds that could have avoided liability entirely.

Willful Infringement: More Clarity From the Federal Circuit — Exmark v. Briggs & Stratton and More

The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Exmark v. Briggs & Stratton echoes the central point in our prior analysis of Halo v. Pulse that timing matters in determining whether an accused infringer did so willfully. The case leaves us with two key practical implications:

  • Early investigation of patent threats can help avoid a finding of willful infringement; positions developed at the time of litigation are too late and irrelevant.
  • Prior art-based invalidity positions can form the basis for a subjective intent sufficient to defeat willfulness.

Case Summary

Exmark sued Briggs for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,987,863, relating to high-end lawn mowers. After a jury trial, the Nebraska district court awarded $48 million to the plaintiff after doubling the damages as a result of willful infringement. Notably, the trial took place before the Supreme Court’s decision in Halo v. Pulse, which meant that the district court applied the now-overruled Seagate standard for willfulness. After determining that Briggs’ defenses were objectively unreasonable, the trial court precluded Briggs from presenting prior art evidence at trial. Briggs’ hope was to use the prior art evidence to support a subjective state of mind that lacked willfulness.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that the trial court’s finding of objective unreasonableness did not comport with the Halo standard, which only requires consideration of subjective intent. The court further found that Briggs should be allowed to present prior art evidence in a new trial, conditioned on the timing at which Briggs considered it:

The district court must reconsider its decision to exclude evidence of the prior art during the jury trial on willfulness to determine whether Briggs had developed any views about the prior art at the time of accused infringement or whether the evidence only relates to Briggs’ litigation-inspired defenses.

The Federal Circuit vacated the damages award and the enhancement due to willfulness, and remanded to the district court for a new trial on those and other issues.

Analysis

The Exmark case is a straightforward but significant application of the willfulness doctrine after the Supreme Court’s standard-shifting decision in Halo v. Pulse. In Halo, the Court made it easier for a patentee to obtain enhanced damages from a willful infringer by rejecting the “objectively reckless” prong while also lowering the burden of proof from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance of the evidence.” In practice, the former standard allowed even blatant copiers to escape liability for enhanced damages if they could come up with a reasonable non-infringement or invalidity position at the time of litigation. Now, the focus is on the subjective knowledge, intent, and behavior of the infringer at the time of infringement.

Cases following Halo have begun to shape the new willfulness doctrine. While Exmark does not include an extensive discussion regarding willfulness, the takeaways are clear. If Briggs could have shown that it had developed prior art-based invalidity positions when it allegedly committed the infringement, then it would have been able to use that evidence to prove a lack of subjective willfulness and avoid enhanced damages. But if no pre-litigation analysis had taken place, then the trial court would exclude the prior art evidence, and Briggs would likely be liable for up to three times the jury’s damages verdict.

Other Recent Cases

In Presidio Components, Inc. v. Am. Tech. Ceramics Corp., 2016-2607 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 21, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of enhanced damages even when the jury determined that the defendant willfully infringed. An engineer for ATC knew about the patent-in-suit for years, which knowledge contributed to the jury’s finding that ATC behaved with reckless disregard. However, due to a later re-examination that resulted in amended claims, the period of infringement was set to begin on a later date — a time when the parties were already well into litigation (the court had issued claim constructions and ATC had developed its defenses). So while the jury found that ATC’s conduct was willful, the district court recognized these “unique circumstances” and ultimately declined to enhance damages because, looking at ATC’s conduct after the relevant date, the case was a “garden-variety” patent infringement action. Had the patent not undergone a re-exam that ended up resetting the infringement period, logic suggests that enhanced damages would have been much more likely.

In Tinnus Enterprises, LLC, Zuru Ltd. v. Telebrands Corporation, 6:16-cv-00033 (E.D. Tex. Nov. 21, 2017), several defendants are currently staring down the barrel of potential liability of up to $36 million (if trebled) after a recent jury verdict of willful infringement. The facts of the case relating to willfulness have not yet come to light, as much of the briefing and trial records are under seal, but we will monitor the case as it makes its way through post-trial motions and appeal. This is a high-profile case against a so-called “knock-off company” that has garnered much attention.

 

This article is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the author or ClearstoneIP. The blog site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Pirates Among Us? How Have Courts Treated Willful Infringers in the Year Following Halo v. Pulse?

 

As the Supreme Court’s Halo decision[1] recently celebrated its first anniversary, we take a look to see whether the lower courts have effectively rooted out the “wanton and malicious pirates” about whom the unanimous High Court was so gravely concerned. Have we found and singled out our swash-buckling ne’er-do-wells for public shaming, or have we discovered that the label, if defined by the reduced willfulness standard set out in Halo, might suggest that even some of the best-intentioned among us might be keeping parrots in their desk drawers and their closets well-stocked with puffy shirts? And importantly, what can we do to trade those bandannas for halos in the eyes of the court?

Recap

In Halo v. Pulse,[2] the Supreme Court made it easier for a patentee to obtain enhanced damages from a willful infringer under 35 U.S.C. § 284. The Court rejected a part of the previous requirement, under Seagate,[3] in which the patentee had to show that the infringer acted “objectively recklessly.” It also lowered the burden of proof from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance of the evidence.” In practice, the old standard allowed even willful infringers to escape liability for enhanced damages if they could come up with a reasonable non-infringement position even as late as during litigation. The Court felt that this standard was too rigorous. It ratcheted back the necessary showing to, essentially, “egregiousness,” which is centered on the subjective knowledge, intent, and behavior of the infringer.

To that end, courts will consider the nine so-called Read factors[4] in considering whether to award enhanced damages. In terms of guiding behavior outside the context of a specific dispute or litigation, three of these factors are most salient here:

  • Read Factor #1: Whether the infringer deliberately copied the patentee’s ideas or design.
  • Read Factor #2: Whether the infringer, upon knowing of the patent, investigated the scope of the patent and formed a good faith belief that it was invalid or that it was not infringed.
  • Read Factor #7: Remedial action taken by the infringer.

Enhanced Damages After Halo

If one pattern clearly emerges, it is that courts disfavor infringers who “know” about a patent but do not conduct an analysis of the scope of its claims (Read factor #2). Mere knowledge of a patent is generally not sufficient in itself to find willfulness, but knowledge in combination with copying and malicious intent, with no investigation, has proven extremely dangerous.

In Dominion v. Alstom, a Pennsylvania district court found that seven of the nine Read factors weighed in favor of enhanced damages against the defendant.[5] The court doubled the reasonable royalty findings to $972,000. The court found evidence of copying over a long period of time and took particular issue with the fact that “Alstom’s belief it did not infringe . . . is based entirely on the opinion of people without expertise in reading patent claims. On balance, it is not a good faith belief in non-infringement.”[6] The court noted that Halo played a role here and may have ultimately led to Alstom’s downfall. During the course of infringement, Alstom was operating in a Seagate world where an infringer can avoid enhanced damages if they can “muster a reasonable (even though unsuccessful) defense at the infringement trial.” But the Halo ruling did away with that post hoc safe harbor and essentially requires a good faith belief of non-infringement during the actual period of infringement.

In Imperium IP Holdings v. Samsung, an Eastern District of Texas court tripled jury verdict damages to nearly $21 million due to willfulness, the maximum enhancement allowed. The crux of the decision was that, “despite knowing of Plaintiff’s patents since at least April 2011, Defendants never undertook any serious investigation to form a good-faith belief as to non-infringement or invalidity.”[7] In deciding Samsung’s JMOL motion, the court reiterated that “evidence offered at trial established that Defendants had pre-suit knowledge of the patents-in-suit and took no steps to avoid infringement after becoming aware of the patents.”[8]

SRI International v. Cisco Systems also involved large damages numbers.[9] There, the Delaware trial court doubled the jury’s damages verdict to award more than $46 million to the plaintiff. Again, the court was swayed by a finding that the defendant did not perform a sufficient analysis of known patents, noting that evidence showed “that key Cisco employees did not read the patents-in-suit until their depositions.” The fact that Cisco knew about the asserted patents but did not investigate the technical aspects relating to infringement led to more than $23 million in additional damages.

How have defendants avoided enhanced damages?

Here is where the contrast becomes sharp. Even in cases where the Read factors might suggest some troublesome behavior, like knowing and intentional copying, defendants were spared enhanced damages because they made a reasonable investigation at the time of infringement.

In Greatbatch Ltd. v. AVX Corp.,[10] a Delaware district court found no willfulness in relation to three patents infringed by AVX. Even though AVX knew about all three patents at the time of the culpable activity, the court held that the conduct was not egregious or wanton because AVX performed a reasonable investigation at the time. The court distinguished a Federal Circuit case in which enhanced damages were awarded by noting that “here, by contrast, AVX sought and obtained invalidity and non-infringement opinions of counsel before litigation and developed designs and processes to avoid infringement” (court’s emphasis).[11] AVX relied upon opinions of counsel with respect to two of the three asserted patents, and “made significant efforts to avoid infringement of the [third] patent” (i.e., design around) according to the court.

In another remarkable case, Sociedad Espanola de Electromedicina y Calidad v. Blue Ridge X-Ray Co.,[12] the jury explicitly found that the defendants “knowingly and intentionally copied Sedecal’s transformer,” and the court upheld a finding of willful infringement.[13] However, the trial court has discretion to award enhanced damages even when infringement conduct is egregious and willful. Using this discretion, the court appreciated that the defendants “conducted a reasonable investigation of Sedecal’s patent claims and made a good faith determination that the patent was not infringed by their activities and that the patent was likely invalid,” and did not enhance damages. In other words, the defendants here blatantly copied the plaintiff’s product but escaped increased willfulness liability because they made the pre-suit effort to formulate reasonable (though ultimately incorrect) non-infringement positions. In this case, the pre-litigation investigation was conducted by a head engineer.

Similarly, in Koninklijke Philips v. Zoll Medical,[14] a plaintiff’s request for enhanced willfulness damages was rejected on summary judgment because the defendant had evaluated the asserted patents before the lawsuit and established a reasonable non-infringement position. After a portion of the case was appealed, the court quoted the Federal Circuit’s binding finding “that [although] Zoll’s claim construction argument against the jury’s direct infringement verdict . . . was incorrect, [its] argument was based on a reasonable interpretation of the claims in light of the specification and the prosecution history. . . . [T]his belief in non-infringement was reasonable . . . .”

Conclusion

An important practical result here is that Halo has effectively shifted the point in time at which an accused infringer should establish reasonable non-infringement or invalidity positions. We can no longer rely upon arguments that were first conjured up after being sued. By and large, future patent defendants stand a good chance of avoiding enhanced damages if they have a process in place to competently evaluate asserted patents at an early stage. They should have systems to collect relevant information such as analysis, documents, technical information, and relevant discussions in order to bolster a good faith belief of non-infringement or invalidity. That, or else they may find themselves walking the plank.

This article is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the author or ClearstoneIP. The blog site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


[1]Halo Elecs., Inc. v. Pulse Elecs., Inc., 136 S.Ct. 1923 (2016).

[2] Id.

[3] In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (2007).

[4] The Read factors include: (1) whether the infringer deliberately copied the patentee’s ideas or design; (2) whether the infringer, upon knowing of the patent, investigated the scope of the patent and formed a good faith belief that it was invalid or that it was not infringed; (3) the infringer’s litigation behavior; (4) the infringer’s size and financial condition; (5) the closeness of the case; (6) the duration of the infringer’s misconduct; (7) remedial action taken by the infringer; (8) the infringer’s motivation for harm; and (9) whether the infringer attempted to conceal its misconduct. See Read Corp. v. Portec, Inc., 970 F.2d 816, 826-27 (Fed. Cir. 1992).

[5] Dominion Res. Inc. v. Alstom Grid, Inc., Civil Action No. 15-224 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 3, 2016).

[6] Id. at *52-70.

[7] Imperium IP Holdings (Cayman), Ltd. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-00371, at *12 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 24, 2016).

[8] Id. at *33.

[9] Sri Int’l, Inc. v. Cisco Sys., Inc., Civil Action No. 13-1534-SLR (D. Del. May. 25, 2017).

[10] Greatbatch Ltd. v. AVX Corp., Civil Action No. 13-723-LPS (D. Del. Dec. 13, 2016).

[11] Id. at *5 (distinguishing WBIP, LLC v. Kohler Co., 829 F.3d 1317, 1340-41 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“as the Supreme Court explained in Halo, timing does matter. Kohler cannot insulate itself from liability for enhanced damages by creating an (ultimately unsuccessful) invalidity defense for trial after engaging in the culpable conduct of copying, or ‘plundering,’ WBIP’s patented technology prior to litigation.”)).

[12] Sociedad Espanola de Electromedicina y Calidad, S.A. v. Blue Ridge X-Ray Co, No. 1:10-cv-00159-MR, at *19-23 (W.D.N.C. Dec. 28, 2016).

[13] Id.

[14] Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Zoll Med. Corp., Civil Action No. 10-11041-NMG (D. Mass. Jun. 26, 2017).

Enfish v. Microsoft: The Pendulum Might Be Changing Direction For Software Patents, But Challenges Still Exist

The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Enfish v. Microsoft Corp. was significant in that it was the first time that the court reversed a trial court’s finding of invalidity under § 101 based on the Supreme Court’s Alice decision, and only the second time that it upheld validity under that section post-Alice (the first being DDR Holdings v. Hotels.com).

The opinion was well-received by the patent bar, and the software industry in particular, as powerful precedent that can be used to fight rejections by the USPTO, defend counterclaims of invalidity in court, and otherwise strengthen the value of software patents. While the line between eligible and ineligible subject matter has become somewhat clearer, there is still ambiguity in certain areas, and questions exist regarding practical implications.

The Claimed Invention

Enfish involved patent claims directed to a “self-referential” database. The court referred to the following representative claim:

A data storage and retrieval system for a computer memory, comprising:

means for configuring said memory according to a logical table, said logical table including:

a plurality of logical rows, each said logical row including an object identification number (OID) to identify each said logical row, each said logical row corresponding to a record of information;

a plurality of logical columns intersecting said plurality of logical rows to define a plurality of logical cells, each said logical column including an OID to identify each said logical column; and

means for indexing data stored in said table.

Enfish's "self-referential database"
Enfish’s “self-referential database”

The court referred to the invention generally as “an innovative logical model for a computer database.” The primary contribution to the art of the invention was the “self-referential” aspect, which purportedly avoided the need in conventional “relational database model” systems to define and maintain many separate tables. Instead, the claimed invention can store the pertinent information in a single table. According to the patents, the new approach improved searching efficiency and resulted in more-effective storage of unstructured data.

 

The Court’s Reasoning

The court began with the two-step analysis set forth in Alice and prior cases, in which the first step determines whether the claims are directed to a patent-ineligible concept, such as an abstract idea, and the second step considers whether the particular elements of the claims transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.

There is no doubt that the Federal Circuit took aim at some of the more egregious gaps that Alice left open. Primary among these gaps was the perceived Alice takeaway that there was no real limit on the height of abstraction that can be carried out on software claims in step one. In other words, one could conclude from Alice, and courts often did conclude, that a software claim is abstract if it can be summarized into something reasonably conventional, specific claim limitations be damned.

Enfish at least partly rectified this misconception by recognizing that “[t]he ‘directed to’ inquiry, therefore, cannot simply ask whether the claims involve a patent-ineligible concept, because essentially every routinely patent-eligible claim involving physical products and actions involves a law of nature and/or natural phenomenon—after all, they take place in the physical world.” Further, “describing the claims at such a high level of abstraction and untethered from the language of the claims all but ensures that the exceptions to § 101 swallow the rule.” Instead, claims must be considered as a whole and in light of the specification.

Accordingly, the Enfish panel carefully considered each element of the claims, including applying § 112, sixth paragraph, to interpret means-plus-function limitations, and examined the patent specification to both (i) shed light on the claim language; and (ii) express the advantages of the claimed invention over the prior art.

The court ultimately held that the relevant question is “whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea.” It concluded that the claimed self-referential database logic model is “a specific type of data structure designed to improve the way a computer stores and retrieves data in memory” and is therefore not an abstract idea. Having satisfied the first step of the Alice inquiry in the patentholder’s favor, the court did not need to address step two.

The Enfish holding gives teeth to the first step of the Alice inquiry and requires that the analysis take into consideration the nature of the invention and how it affects computer capabilities. In cases where the claims simply add conventional computer components to “well-known business practices,” they might be more likely to be found abstract under step one of the Alice inquiry.

Implications

Enfish is certainly a useful precedent for owners and seekers of software patents and should serve to strengthen patents as a general matter, but it does not (and cannot) fix the real havoc that was wreaked by the Supreme Court in Alice. Namely, the biggest problem with Alice is that it conflated and blurred the lines between questions of eligibility and those of prior art (i.e., novelty and obviousness).

Questions as to whether a claimed idea is “conventional,” “well known,” or is a “fundamental practice” have no place in an abstractness inquiry. These are questions that can be answered only by proving the existence or absence of prior art, not by some common sense-based purely mental exercise. Whether a claimed invention is abstract or practical is completely independent of novelty. The “abstractness” question should rely predominantly, if not entirely, on an isolated analysis of the actual features of the invention and whether it has some technical or practical component that makes it more than a mere idea in the ether. But that is a battle for another day, and one which the Federal Circuit does not appear to have the authority to fight until Alice is overturned or distinguished by future Supreme Court decisions.