Patent Laws Just Keep Changing…

The first US Patent Act was passed in 1790, yet in 2017 the Supreme Court is still issuing foundation-altering decisions.  Recently two separate cases altered long standing legal principles.

First, in SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag et al. v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, et al., the Court ruled that laches may no longer be used as a defense to patent infringement.  Laches is a legal doctrine that essentially prevents a patent owner from bringing a lawsuit against an infringer if he waited an “unreasonable” amount of time to do so.  As a result of this pro-patent-owner decision, the owner may now wait for the infringement to become widespread (thus allowing a much greater damage claim) and chose the optimal moment to sue so long as it is within the statute of limitations.

Then, in an anti-patent-owner decision, TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Group Brands LLC., the Supreme Court reversed nearly 30 years of precedent.  Striking down the practice of “forum shopping,” the Court held that a patent infringement suit must be brought in the judicial district where the defendant corporation is incorporated, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.  In other words, patent infringement claims must now be made where the defendant is likely to have a physical presence, rather than where the defendant has merely shipped goods or otherwise interacted within a district from a distance.  While the Court’s ruling essentially did little more than reinforce the plain language of the statute (albeit clarifying what is meant by the term “resident”), it reversed a long standing practice that will make it more difficult for the patent owner to establish venue over an infringer without bringing the suit in the infringer’s home court.

In spite of more than 200 years of legislation and court decisions, big changes always seem to be on the horizon.