The U.S. Supreme Court sent back several appeals to the federal circuit this week, including 1 relating to Johnson & Johnson‘s (NYSE:JNJ) stent patent fight with Medinol, in light of a recent vote regarding the use of laches in patent infringement cases.
Defendants use laches to declare that a plaintiff unreasonably delayed in bringing a claim against them. The Supreme Court previously ruled in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that laches is not a defense against copyright infringement brought within the statutory limitation period.
The Supremes ruled 7-1 in SCA Hygiene Products AB v. First Quality Baby Products LLC, concluding that laches do not apply to patent infringement cases brought within the 6-year damages period.
The new decision affects ongoing patent spats between Cook Medical and Endotach, as well as J&J’s stent-making arm, Cordis, and Medinol.
In 2012, Endotach accused Cook Medical of infringing upon patents related to grafts used in vascular surgery. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled to uphold a district’s court decision that it was too late for Endotach to seek equitable relief.
In March 2013, Medinol accused Cordis of violating 4 of its patents with the Cypher stents. A year later, Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the case, ruling on the basis of laches that Medinol’s 8-year delay in bringing the suit was “unreasonable and inexcusable.”
Medinol fired back, asking Scheindlin to reverse her decision based on the Supreme Court’s Petrella decision. Medinol argued that the Petrella decision “is an intervening change in law that upended the entire laches framework upon which the judgement was based.”
“In Petrella, the Supreme Court held that laches is not a defense to an action for copyright infringement brought within the statutory limitation period because laches cannot be used to override a statutory limitation period prescribed by Congress. The holding in Petrella means that laches also cannot be a defense to an action for patent infringement brought within the 6-year limitation period in the patent statute,” Medinol said. “Therefore, Petrella constitutes an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ that justifies the court exercising its equitable discretion to vacate the judgment.”
Cordis countered that the Supremes expressly held in Petrella that the decision does not apply to patent law.
“Petrella reflects a change in copyright law (at least in the 9th Circuit, whose aberrant rule was reversed by the Supreme Court). The governing law in this case is patent law, not copyright law. Petrella does not change patent law. Indeed … Petrella explicitly states that it is not addressing patent law,” Cordis argued.
The latest decision from the Supremes clarifies that laches cannot be used as a defense in many patent infringement cases.