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.

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