The Columns

W&L Law’s Chris Seaman Co-authors Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Patent Case

— by on January 8th, 2016

Washington and Lee law professor Chris Seaman has co-authored an amicus brief in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case. The brief, written with Prof. Jason Rantanen of the University of Iowa College of Law and filed with the Court on December 16, 2015, involves the legal standard for increasing damages awards in patent infringement cases.

The brief addresses two recent cases that the Court has consolidated for decision.  Both cases, Halo Electronics v. Pulse Electronics (No. 14-1513) and Stryker Corporation v. Zimmer, Inc. (No. 14-1520), deal with a federal statute that authorizes trial courts to award increased damages to a prevailing patent owner in litigation. In the Halo case, the trial judge ruled against an award of enhanced damages, and in the Stryker case, the trial court awarded triple damages to the patentee.  Both cases were appealed to the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the ruling in Halo and struck down the enhanced award in Stryker.

“Willful infringement is the appropriate, and only, basis for increasing damages in patent cases,” says Seaman.  “This is clear from over a century of case law prior to the 1952 Patent Act, which incorporated this well-settled understanding.”

In their brief, Professors Seaman and Rantanen argue that the Supreme Court should overrule a two-part, objective/subjective test first adopted by the Federal Circuit in 2007 for determining when an infringer’s conduct was willful and thus eligible for increased damages.  In particular, the objective prong of the current test, which involves determining the probability of patent infringement, is overly restrictive and often ends the matter before the intention of the infringer is ever considered, they argue.

“We worry that such a restrictive barrier to increased awards may reduce incentives to innovate, especially among start-ups who often can’t afford the high costs of litigation,” says Seaman.

Argument in the cases is scheduled for Feb. 23. Seaman plans to be at the Supreme Court to watch the proceedings in person, with students from his Intellectual Property class in tow.

Professor Seaman has written about this issue previously in an article titled, “Willful Patent Infringement and Enhanced Damages After In re Seagate: An Empirical Study,” published in the Iowa Law Review in 2012. His research and teaching interests include intellectual property, property, and civil procedure, with a particular focus on intellectual property litigation and remedies for the violation of intellectual property rights.

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