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The Courts Patents

Supreme Court Makes It Easier To Get Lawyers Fees In Patent Cases 51

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the sudden-outbreak-of-did-all-nine-just-agree dept.
UnknowingFool (672806) writes "In a pair of unanimous rulings yesterday, the Supreme Court made it easier for defendants in patent cases to collect attorneys fees if the litigation was frivolous. In the first case, Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness, the court ruled that a standard used by lower courts to award attorney's fees was impossible to meet. The original standard under Brooks Furniture Mfg., Inc. v. Dutailier Int'l, Inc. had ruled that a claim had to be both 'objectively baseless' and 'brought in subjective bad faith' before fees could be awarded. The high court ruled that fees should be awarded merely when the case is 'exceptional' and not when the defendant must prove there was zero merit.

In the second case, Highmark v. Allcare Health Management, the Supreme Court also noted the 'exceptional' standard in reversing the appellate court's decision but specifically ruled that appellate courts should give more deference to the lower courts on rulings of fact. In Highmark, the district court found that Allcare had engaged in a pattern of 'vexatious' and 'deceitful' conduct throughout the litigation and awarded fees. The appellate court while agreeing with the lower court about part of the case reversed the fees in their de novo review of the case. In de novo reviews, the court case is essentially retried with the higher court. The Supreme Court iterated that de novo reviews should be done typically for 'questions of law' and reviews on 'questions of fact' are done if there are clear errors with decisions on matters of discretion 'reviewable for "abuse of discretion."' In other words, the appellate courts can review a case if a lower court has not correctly interpreted law; however, they should not retry a lower case on facts unless the lower court made a clear error. Also unless the lower court abused their power in some way, the appellate court should not review their final decisions.

For example, if a person is tried for murder, an appellate court could rule that a district court misinterpreted a statute about sentencing if the person if found guilty. The appellate court should not retry the facts of the case unless the lower court had made a clear error like ruling that there was a DNA match when there was not. Also an appellate court should not reverse the lower court if they sentenced the person to a reasonable time. Now if the district court sentenced the person to 400 years for one murder, then the appellate court should intervene.

In effect the two rulings make it easier for companies to recover money should they be sued in frivolous patent lawsuits. This would make the risks greater for those who sue."
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Supreme Court Makes It Easier To Get Lawyers Fees In Patent Cases

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  • Is there a legal definition of "exceptional?" Aren't these types of cases already so common that they wouldn't qualify as "exceptional?"
    • Re:Exceptional (Score:5, Insightful)

      by UnknowingFool (672806) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:18PM (#46880275)
      There are other rulings that define "exceptional". For example, the SCO case would be called exceptional. Despite very public statements about their evidence against IBM, SCO had no reasonable evidence when the time came to present it to the court. Also, it appears that SCO did not even have the standing to sue on copyright claims and should have known this very early on when Novell challenged their claims of ownership of Unix.
    • Re:Exceptional (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bacon Bits (926911) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:25PM (#46880373)

      There's a reason the court documents are so often linked like this. It's on page one of the two page syllabus at the very beginning of the linked in the summary:

      (a) Section 285 imposes one and only one constraint on district courts’ discretion to award attorney’s fees: The power is reserved for“exceptional” cases. Because the Patent Act does not define “exceptional,” the term is construed “in accordance with [its] ordinary meaning.” Sebelius v. Cloer, 569 U. S. ___, ___. In 1952, when Congress used the word in 285 (and today, for that matter),“[e]xceptional” meant “uncommon,” “rare,” or “not ordinary.” Webster’s New International Dictionary 889 (2d ed. 1934). An “exceptional” case, then, is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts may determine whether a case is “exceptional” in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances. Cf. Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U. S. 517. Pp. 7–8.

      These are former lawyers working so lawyers don't get away with something they should not, and the court is expected to concretely justify its rulings. Everything is defined and stated as clearly as possible.

      • Everything is defined and stated as clearly as possible.

        At least, as clearly as is possible, when speaking legalese.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          Everything is defined and stated as clearly as possible.

          At least, as clearly as is possible, when speaking legalese.

          Which still will be appealed, because that's the way the game is played.

    • The Supreme Court created a new definition for an "exceptional" case in its Octane Fitness decision [supremecourt.gov]:

      We hold, then, that an “exceptional” case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts may determine whether a case is “exceptional” in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances

      So it's not necessarily so much the "type" of case per se -- it's where a given case falls on the spectrum of silliness, how [un]reasonable either side was in litigating the case, etc. The bottom line is that district court judges now have a lot more discretion to declare a case to be "exceptional" than they did before.

      • I would disagree that SCOTUS created a new definition as it was already part of 35 U. S. C. 285. At best, SCOTUS clarified that using Brooks Furniture as the standard for awarding fees was too restrictive and that it was an impossible standard to meet. But your conclusion is correct: Combined with the second ruling, these two rulings give district courts more discretion about when fees should be awarded.
        • I would disagree that SCOTUS created a new definition as it was already part of 35 U. S. C. 285.

          I don't think those words mean what you think they mean. 35 U.S.C. 285 [cornell.edu] simply uses the term "exceptional case[]" in a sentence, and simply using a term in a sentence doesn't define it. On the other hand, it seems clear enough that when a sentence from the Supreme Court starts with the words "We hold, then, that an 'exceptional' case is . . ." the latter part of the sentence will (as it did) provide a definition for the term.

          • I'm not sure you read the ruling. First Supreme Court says is that the common definition of "exceptional" in the English language is to be used. Second, it is up to the district court's discretion to determine what is and is not exceptional. Third, the Brooks Furniture standard set by a Federal Circuit court was too strict to be used as a standard.

            Because the Patent Act does not define “exceptional,” the term is construed “in accordance with [its] ordinary meaning.” Sebelius v. Cloer, 569 U. S. ___, ___. In 1952, when Congress used the word in 285 (and today, for that matter),“[e]xceptional” meant “uncommon,” “rare,” or “not ordinary.” Webster’s New International Dictionary 889 (2d ed. 1934). An “exceptional” case, then, is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts may determine whether a case is “exceptional” in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances. Cf. Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U. S. 517. Pp. 7–8.

            • First, you say you're not sure I read the ruling, and then you proudly paste in the very section that I first cited from. Did YOU read my post before your knee-jerk reaction?

              Second, you're not saying anything that contradicts the substance of what I've said twice now. The Supreme Court said "exceptional" should be construed according to its ordinary meaning, and then provided that ordinary meaning in the context of an "exceptional case." You pasted the words from the opinion yourself.

              It seems that you ju

              • First, you say you're not sure I read the ruling, and then you proudly paste in the very section that I first cited from. Did YOU read my post before your knee-jerk reaction?

                You pasted it but didn't seem to understand it. Your section explains EXACTLY what the Supreme Court did. They didn't create a new definition of "exceptional". They merely said use the common definition>

                Second, you're not saying anything that contradicts the substance of what I've said twice now. The Supreme Court said "exceptional" should be construed according to its ordinary meaning, and then provided that ordinary meaning in the context of an "exceptional case." You pasted the words from the opinion yourself.

                This is what you wrote above: "The Supreme Court created a new definition for an "exceptional" case in its Octane Fitness decision [supremecourt.gov]:". It's not a "new" definition. It's the same definition as every one uses.

                It seems that you just want to split hairs about whether that should be called a "definition" or a "standard." Let's just take that off the table -- go back and plug the word "standard" into my original post. Golf frickin' clap. Now, do you have anything actually useful to add to the dialogue?

                There is a huge world of difference between a legal standard and a definiti

                • I see the answer is no -- you don't have anything useful to add to the dialogue other than picking at one word of my original post, having precisely nothing to do with its thrust. You must be a joy at parties.

                  To the high court, there was no need to apply such a standard. Use the common definition of the word.

                  Oh, so they replaced what you call a "standard" with what you call a "definition," eh? That creates a bit of a problem for you. Page 9: "Under the standard announced today . . ." (emphasis mine). Apparently you do agree, then, that "standard" and "definition" are interchangeable in this context?

                  As

                  • I see the answer is no -- you don't have anything useful to add to the dialogue other than picking at one word of my original post, having precisely nothing to do with its thrust. You must be a joy at parties.

                    When you are not precise with meanings and you get called out on it, don't get offended; get it right. Technically, there are differences between the two terms. If this was computer networking would you allow someone to order a switch when they needed a router?

                    Oh, so they replaced what you call a "standard" with what you call a "definition," eh? That creates a bit of a problem for you. Page 9: "Under the standard announced today . . ." (emphasis mine). Apparently you do agree, then, that "standard" and "definition" are interchangeable in this context?

                    Again you don't seem to understand the difference between standard and definition. There are not exactly interchangeable. For example in USC 17 107, it allows Fair Use exceptions to copyright. It does not define "Fair Use" and a number of differen

    • My thoughts exactly. Some scumbag with one or more patents on something, often something that they never even built, will try to sue everyone even extremely remotely connected to any similar invention or device. Some people will just pay up the extortion, figuring it is cheaper than fighting, even though they know they are in the right. Such scumbags would now seem to be able to go to the lower courts and argue, when they lose frivolous cases, that they should not be held accountable for the expenses they
  • This has very little to do with the article, but it's something that's always confused my about American law. Why in god's name would you sentence someone to 400 years in prison unless you believe in Highlanders? Similarly, what is the point of consecutive life sentences? Prima facie it seems to be that if one life sentence gets overturned, there's still a couple more to make sure the person stays in prison, but that makes the whole act of overturning a life sentence in the first place a farce.

    • Not really, if you're sentenced to life for several different reasons, it doesn't make sense to be set free if one of the reasons turns out to be invalid.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      Why in god's name would you sentence someone to 400 years in prison

      So 30 years in the future a parole board doesn't have the option of letting the psychopath loose.

    • by funkman (13736)

      Because a life sentence (and other sentences) doesn't mean it will happen for that whole period of time. You can be eligible for parole before the time is up. By having multiple sentences or ridiculous amounts of time, it raises the bar high enough to prevent some people from EVER getting out.

    • You kind of hit on the point. There are certain things that can be done to reduce sentences and overturn rulings. In theory, having multiple life sentences and 400 year punishments should effectively deter any of them from actually allowing certain criminals to get out of prison early. I would assume it would also give the prison wardens some sort of way to rank and prioritize attention paid to inmates, work release programs treatments and privileges, and so forth. The guy serving 10 years for killing h
    • It was only an example of abuse of discretion. There are some jurisdictions where statutes do not clearly define maximum terms of sentencing. It is up to the discretion of the court. For the most part courts sentence people to more reasonable terms; however, there are occasional judge that goes overboard on sentencing for whatever reason. Sometimes it's an ego; sometimes the defendant makes them angry. Sometimes they want to show their constituents that they are tough on criminals (some jurisdictions ele
    • by Lord Crc (151920)

      Why in god's name would you sentence someone to 400 years in prison unless you believe in Highlanders?

      Here in Norway, the maximum sentence is 21 years, and doesn't stack beyond 21 years.

      First-degree murder has a maximum of 21 years. So, you could have two guys in jail, both serving 21 years, one which murdered one person, the other which murdered say 69.

      Now, I believe that taking 69 lives in cold blood is significantly worse than "just" one. However the sentence does not reflect this.

      So while 400 years for one murder is a bit much, sentencing the second guy to 69 * 21 = 1449 years in prison would at least m

      • It's the same here in the Netherlands as well. A sentence of "life in jail" automatically gets commuted to 30 years, and it's the absolute maximum you can get, no matter how many crimes you've committed. That's why I asked.

      • by ZorglubZ (3530445)
        Almost, but not quite, true. In Norway, you get your sentence of e.g. 21 years imprisonment, then there's forvaring (translates to something like custodial sentence), which means you cannot be released until a board deems you to be rehabilitated. This can mean that you may get out of jail after 2/3rds of the sentence, i.e. 14 years (unless there's a different minimum specified), if the board thinks you've understood the seriousness of the crime and are remorseful; if they don't think so, you're stuck.
        • by Lord Crc (151920)

          I deliberately left out "forvaring" as it's not intended to be a punishment. It's a means to keep people who are deemed too dangerous off the streets.

          My point was that perhaps the punishment should fit the crime, so to speak, even if the resulting number of years sound a bit silly.

    • by BUL2294 (1081735)
      So, let's say society changes and a future court rules that "life" sentences are "cruel & unusual punishment" (as described by the US Constitution). You'd have chaos as all the lifers who only got life suddenly are released. A defined time, including "effectively life" (e.g. a 150 year sentence for a 71-y/o Bernie Madoff) now would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis--or at least the Supremes would have to come up with some sort of mathematical formula for "effectively life", which they gene
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:34PM (#46880507) Homepage Journal

    I'll note that recovery of attorney fees is unlikely against true patent troll companies - they'll just use the standard tricks of using a shell company with no assets on the books, just enough money to pay for their lawyers. Though I've heard of that failing on occasion - there are ways to reach deeper into the shells in cases like this, such as charging the lawyers that brought the suit, the executives of the company(SOMEBODY has to be named), etc....

    But anything that raises the risk of engaging in patent trolling(and similar lawsuits) is a good thing.

    As always, awards should generally be limited to 'reasonable' fees. No spending $1M then charging the other guy for it, when $100k would have been enough...

    • I like the idea of a patent. However patents shouldn't be given for everything, only for exceptional creative ideas, having a patent should be so the little guy can stand up to the big guy. However with the tolling going on with these silly patients of lets invent this before someone else does. Turned patents from a force to protect the inventor, or a scam to leach companies and inventors of their earned money.

      If you are little guy the cost of defending yourself is often higher then the payout would be. S

      • However patents shouldn't be given for everything, only for exceptional creative ideas,

        That's how it's supposed to work. The basic qualifications for a patent are that it a) be novel, b) be useful and c) be non-obvious. If it's not novel and non-obvious--in other words, creative--it shouldn't be patentable.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Unfortunately, over the years the USPTO has revised it's evaluation criteria such that:
          'novel' = "nobody has ever explicitly claimed to have done *exactly* this thing in *exactly* this way in patent application before", and
          'non-obvious [to a normally skilled practitioner of the art]' = "the patent evaluator, who has never worked in any field even remotely associated with the patent has never seen *exactly* this method discussed in a prior patent application".

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