Thursday, September 23, 2010


Proof of Compliance With A Standard May Establish Infringement

In a decision that will likely impact the wireless and telecom sectors for years to come, the Federal Circuit clearly held that “a district court may rely on a an industry standard in analyzing infringement.” Fujitsu Ltd. et al. v. Netgear, Inc., 2010-1045, September 20, 2010. Rather than requiring proof infringement for each individual accused product,
“if a district court construes the claims and finds that the reach of the claims includes any device that practices a standard, this can be sufficient for a finding of infringement. We agree that claims should be compared to the accused product to determine infringement. However, if an accused product operates in accordance with a standard, then comparing the claims to that standard is the same as comparing the claims to the accused product.”
In other words, the Federal Circuit held that proof a standard compliance can be sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish infringement.

To defend against an allegation of infringement based on a practicing-the-standard theory, “an accused infringer is free to either prove that the claims do not cover all implementations of the standard or to prove that it does not practice the standard.” Further, the Federal Circuit recognized “that in many instances, an industry standard does not provide the level of specificity required to establish that practicing that standard would always result in infringement.” In some cases, “the relevant section of the standard is optional, and standards compliance alone would not establish that the accused infringer chooses to implement the optional section.” In such cases, the plaintiff cannot rely on the standard alone to establish infringement.

From a plaintiff’s perspective, the cost and complexity of proving infringement when an industry standard is involved may now be greatly reduced. Rather than proving that numerous complex devices meet every element of the claim, the patent owner now must establish that the relevant portion of the standard in question (1) always infringes the claim, i.e. “a patent covers every possible implementation of a standard,”; (2) is mandatory for compliance with the standard,  and (3) the accused device is compliant with the standard. The significant advantage for the plaintiff is that elements (1) and (2) need only be proven once, rather than for each accused product. In cases like Fujitsu, which dealt with the 802.11 wireless standard and involved a large number of accused products, this results in a significantly lower burden for the plaintiff to carry.

Fujitsu reiterates that it is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an accused device is "capable of infringement; the patent owner must show evidence of specific evidence of direct infringement."  Thus, when a feature in the standard may be switched on and off or is optional for compliance, proof of compliance with the standard is not enough.  The plaintiff must then prove that the switchable or optional feature was actually implemented and used in the accused device.

Since there are a large number of cases pending, and likely many more coming, involving industry standards featuring devices, such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and Bluetooth compliant devices, this will certainly be an issue presented time and time again in the foreseeable future.

Monday, September 20, 2010

False Marking FAQ

Over the last nine months, we have seen a significant surge of false patent marking cases.  Indeed, twenty new cases were filed in the EDTX on Friday alone!  The case law developments that have been fueling this trend have been reported here as they happened, but I just put together an FAQ on the topic that provides a high level summary of the issues and risks of false marking in one place.  Consider it a false marking 101 article.  The article is available at

Friday, September 10, 2010

Federal Circuit Holds That “Any Person” Has Standing to Bring False Patent Marking Claims

But Foreshadows Possible Defenses

In Stauffer v. Brooks Brothers, Mr. Stauffer’s claims of false patent marking under 35 U.S.C. 292 were dismissed by the district court for lack of standing.  In a not-so-surprising but long awaited decision, the Federal Circuit held that “even though a relator may suffer no injury himself, a qui tam provision [i.e. 35 U.S.C. 292] operates as a statutory assignment of the Untied States’ rights, and ‘the assignee of the claim has standing to assert the injury in fact suffered in by the assignor.’” Stauffer v. Brooks Brothers, 2009-1428, -1430, -1453 (Fed. Cir., August 31, 2010). What exactly is the necessary “injury in fact” suffered by the United States? “[A] violation of that statute [35 U.S.C. 292] inherently constitutes an injury to the United States… .  Because the government would have standing to enforce its own law, Stauffer, as the government’s assignee, also has standing to enforce section 292.” Opinion at 9 (emphasis added).  To the extent that there remained much doubt, it is now clear - anyone can bring a false marking claim and no specific individualized injury is required.

What is perhaps more interesting than the issues decided in Stauffer are the issues that were mentioned, but left for another day. First, the Stauffer opinion discusses a constitutional challenge to 35 U.S.C. 292 under the “take care” clause of Article II of the Constitution that was raised by amicus Ciba Vision. After introducing this potential challenge, the opinion states:

While Ciba raises relevant points, the district court did not decide, and the parties did not appeal, the constitutionality of section 292. Thus, we will not decide its constitutionality with the issue having been raised or argued by the parties. (emphasis added)

While not clearly foreshadowing the outcome, the Federal Circuit is clearly sending out an invitation to take on this issue head on in future cases.   Given the relatively thin procedural safeguards set out in Section 292, this is certainly a live issue that has the potential to put an end to the continuously growing number of false marking cases as we know them.

Second, in the remand order, the opinion states:

We remand for the court to address the merits of the case, including Brooks Brothers’ motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) ‘on the grounds that the complaint fails to allege an ‘intent to deceive’ the public – a critical element of a section 292 claim – with sufficient specificity to meet the heightened pleading requirements for claims of fraud imposed’ by Rule 9(b).
As reported previously, a number of district courts have already dismissed cases for failing to meet the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b), so this issue will likely be presented to the Federal Circuit in the not-to-distant future.  If the Federal Circuit ultimately confirms that the heightened pleading standard is indeed required for false patent marking cases, the ability for "any person" to adequately plead a claim of false marking should be greatly diminished.