A Free Speech Proper to Accuse Others of Patent Infringement

by Dennis Crouch

Rule 1 of the Federal Guidelines of Civil Process units out a daring purpose for civil litigation: “the simply, speedy, and cheap dedication of each motion.”  Patent litigation is never speedy; fairly costly; and, many would argue, usually unjust.  Within the case under, one social gathering tried some fast reduction through preliminary injunction, however the Federal Circuit has vacated on free-speech grounds.

Mild-Netics owns U.S. Patent Nos. 7,549,779 and eight,128,264 that cowl easy-to-hang Christmas lights. These lights embrace a magnetic backing that may connect simply to steel surfaces (similar to a steel roof).  Mild-Netics sued after discovering competing merchandise on sale from Vacation Brilliant Lights (HBL).  And, as well as, Mild-Netics despatched a discover to varied mild shops warning them that HBL lights have been infringing. Lite-Netics LLC v. Nu Tsai Capital LLC (DBA Holiday Bright Lights), — F.4th — (Fed. Cir. 2023). 

Mild-Netics sued for infringement, HBL responded with unfair competitors counterclaims. The district court docket shortly issued a TRO followed-up with a preliminary injunction towards the patentee.  Decide Buescher (D.Neb.) ordered the patentee to (1) cease publicly stating that HBL copied the invention and (2) cease telling HBL prospects that they may be answerable for infringement.   A part of the district court docket’s justification right here was a preliminary consideration of the deserves of the lawsuit: narrowed declare development eradicated literal infringement; and a discovering that the patentee was estopped from asserting DOE.   At base, the problem has to do with the that means of the article “a”: can “a” be plural? Right here, the declare requires a lightweight socked with “a neodymium magnet [having] a pull power of at the least 5 kilos” whereas the accused system makes use of a number of magnets.

On attraction, the Federal Circuit has vacated and remanded — holding that the district court docket went too far in limiting the patentee’s protected speech.

Objectively Baseless: The Federal Circuit has given patentees a fairly-wide berth with regard to public accusations of infringement and buyer cease-and-desist letters. Particularly, the court docket has held that state court docket tort claims related to out-of-court patent enforcement actions are preempted by federal legislation except the patent holder “acted in unhealthy religion.” Breaking this down, the court docket requires that the infringement allegation be “objectively baseless” and that the patentee performed its affairs with subjective unhealthy religion. Though the court docket doesn’t conduct a full First-Modification evaluation, the excessive burden is justified by our particular person liberty curiosity (that features company business speech).

In its resolution, the Federal Circuit concluded that it’s not-unreasonable for a patentee to say {that a} claimed “magnet” could possibly be infringed by two or extra magnets.

Selections of this court docket lend sturdy help to the proposition that, “in patent parlance,” at the least in an open-ended “comprising” declare, use of “a” or “an” earlier than a noun naming an object is known to imply to “a number of” except the context sufficiently signifies in any other case. . . .

The patent makes use of “the” or “mentioned” when referring again to an antecedent “a” phrase, however that utilization doesn’t itself suffice to demand the singular that means as a result of if the “a” phrase means “a number of,” so would the next reference-back phrases.

Slip Op.  The court docket notes that the patentee’s embodiments all simply present a single magnet, however the court docket discovered nothing within the specification that limits the declare to that embodiment.

There isn’t a “current invention” or different specification language that restricts the invention to a single (or single-piece) magnet, and there are not any structural limitations within the claims that implicitly demand such a configuration. Importantly, and extra usually, nothing within the ’779 patent signifies that the evident objective of the magnet on the socket base (to connect the sunshine string to a steel floor) will be achieved solely, or with specified effectiveness, by way of a single (or single-piece) magnet, slightly than a plurality of magnets collectively having the required pull power.

Id.  Likewise, the Federal Circuit additionally concluded that the doctrine of equivalents could possibly be pursued. The patentee had argued that “two semicircular magnets within the Magnetic Wire light-fixture bases are equal to the one [claimed] magnet.”  The Federal Circuit discovered “nothing unreasonable” about that allegation.  Additional, Lite-Netics didn’t make any amendments or statements throughout prosecution regarding the variety of magnets in a manner that might create estoppel.

On remand, the patentee might search a narrower preliminary injunction — specializing in the patent not mentioned by the Federal Circuit.  Nonetheless, the Federal Circuit’s dialogue provides an enormous increase to the patentee’s case.