Patent litigation is a complex and costly process that spans various industries and practices. It involves one party taking legal action against another for alleged infringement upon their patented invention without permission. In this article, we will explore the nuances of patent litigation, its types, examples of claims, duration, costs, the patent prosecution process, and more.
What is Patent Litigation?
Patent litigation is the legal process through which a patent holder sues another party for making unauthorized claims upon their patented invention. A patent is issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), granting the holder the right to prevent others from using, selling, or importing their patented product, process, or service.
There are three main types of patents: utility, design, and plant. Utility patents, comprising approximately 90% of all issued patents, protect new and useful processes, machines, or compositions of matter. Design patents safeguard original ornamental designs applied to articles of manufacture, while plant patents protect newly discovered or asexually reproducing plants.
Understanding Patent Infringement
Patent infringement complaints typically fall into two categories: direct infringement and indirect infringement. Direct infringement occurs when a defendant manufactures, sells, uses, or imports the patented invention without permission. Indirect infringement, on the other hand, involves a third party aiding or enabling direct infringement.
To illustrate, let’s consider the case of Litton Systems v. Honeywell. Litton had patented a process for coating mirrors used in navigational devices. Litton sued Honeywell for direct patent infringement, alleging that Honeywell had adopted Litton’s manufacturing process after facing difficulties developing its own mirror technology. The jury awarded Litton $1.2 billion in damages for lost profits on navigation system sales.
In another example, Jacob Krippelz sued Ford Motor Co. for patent infringement. Krippelz had obtained a patent for a small lamp mounted on car sideview mirrors. Ford had installed similar lamps on its vehicles, and Krippelz claimed that Ford knowingly infringed upon his patent. After a lengthy legal battle, Krippelz was awarded substantial damages, highlighting the importance of protecting patented innovations.
The Process of Patent Litigation
Patent litigation encompasses several stages:
Discovery is a crucial phase in patent litigation, where both parties exchange internal business records, written questions (interrogatories), and recorded attorney questioning of witnesses and experts (depositions). This process can last months or even years.
Prior to trial, parties file pre-trial motions to resolve issues related to trial conduct. Examples include motions to strike expert testimony or to bifurcate the case into separate liability and damages trials.
In some cases, a Markman hearing precedes the trial. This hearing helps determine the meaning of specific terms used in the patent, considering intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. The outcome of this hearing can significantly impact the case.
During the trial, a jury determines factual issues and damages if the defendant is found to have infringed upon the patent. The presentation of evidence includes explanations of the patent’s workings, testimonies from fact witnesses, and expert witnesses. The defendant also presents their own witnesses and challenges the validity of the patent.
Verdict and Judgement
If infringement is proven, the court may award monetary damages, injunctions, or specified royalties. The patent owner seeks compensation for potential lost earnings due to infringement.
Post-trial Motions and Appeals
Following the trial, the losing party may file post-trial motions, requesting the judge to reverse the decision due to errors or misconduct. If dissatisfied with the ruling, the losing party can file an appeal with the Federal Circuit. Further appeals may be sought through an en banc hearing or by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.
Case Study: Pfizer Inc. vs. Teva Pharmaceuticals/Sun Pharma
A notable case involving successful patent litigation is the battle between Pfizer Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals/Sun Pharma. The litigation revolved around Pfizer’s acid reflux drug, Protonix.
Teva and Sun Pharma introduced generic versions of Protonix before the expiration of Pfizer’s patent. Claiming the patent to be invalid, they risked significant financial losses for Pfizer. However, the court ruled in favor of Pfizer, ordering the generics off the market and awarding substantial damages. This case exemplifies the importance of patent litigation in protecting a company’s intellectual property.
Intellectual Property and Beyond
Patents are just one aspect of intellectual property (IP), which encompasses trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights. While patents protect inventions, trademarks safeguard names and logos, distinguishing goods and services in the marketplace. Copyrights, on the other hand, protect artistic works.
In some instances, patent and trademark protection may intertwine. For example, a company may patent a unique accounting software and trademark its name to secure its position in the market. In cases of infringement, companies can pursue litigation under both patent and trademark laws.
Research Tools for Patent Litigation
Technology plays a vital role in making the patent litigation process more efficient and cost-effective. Utilizing research tools like Practical Law can assist plaintiffs in conducting thorough research, expediting the discovery phase, and enabling attorneys to build compelling arguments in court.
To learn more about patent litigation and how it can benefit your business, visit Garrity Traina, a leading authority in IP law.
Remember, when it comes to protecting your intellectual property, patent litigation can be a crucial stepping stone towards preserving your rights and securing your competitive advantage.