Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Willful infringement alone does not get you enhanced damages

Harris sued FedEx for infringing a number of patents relating to systems for gathering flight performance data from aircraft for analysis. Generally, the technology provided for aircrafts to wirelessly transmit certain flight performance data to an airport based receiver. In prior systems, the data needed to be manually removed from the aircraft and delivered to the centralized storage area, or through some direct line-of-sight infrared link or fiber optic cable. Harris' patents protected a system for this data gathering which utilized wireless transmission of the flight data via a radio frequency link.

FedEx developed a system for gathering flight statistics on its B727 aircraft. This system wirelessly transmitted flight data from parked airplanes to one of FedEx's servers in Tennessee. This system was found to infringe Harris' patents. And the infringement was found to be willful. Harris sought enhanced damages, attorneys' fees, and an injunction.

Enhanced Damages

35 U.S.C. 284 allows a court to increase a patent infringement damage award by up to three times. A plaintiff must establish that the defendant's infringement was willful. Damages are enhanced in order to penalize an infringer for their increased culpability. A court should consider consider the following factors in deciding whether or not to enhance damages:
  1. whether the infringer deliberately copied the ideas or design of another
  2. whether the infringer, when he knew of the other's patent protection, investigated the scope of the patent and formed a good-faith belief that it was invalid or that it was not infringed
  3. the infringer's behavior as a party to the litigation
  4. the defendant's size and financial condition
  5. the closeness of the case
  6. the duration of the defendant's misconduct
  7. remedial action taken by the defendant
  8. the defendant's motivation to harm; and
  9. whether the defendant attempted to conceal its misconduct
The court analyzed each of these factors, finding 1, 3, 6, 8, and 9 weighed against enhancing damages, while 2 and 5 supported (the others were neutral). FedEx's defenses, even though they didn't succeed, weren't frivolous. FedEx had made a good faith effort to defend itself. In sum, FedEx's conduct was not to egregious as to warrant an award of enhanced damages.

Attorneys' Fees

In patent cases, the prevailing party may be awarded its attorneys' fees if the case is an "exceptional case." If a defendant is found to be a willful infringer, the case is presumed to be an exceptional case, and the court must explain why a case is not exceptional if the court is going to refuse an award of attorneys' fees. Here, the Court did not need to provide that explanation, because it found the case was exceptional and awarded Harris its reasonable attorneys' fees.

Permanent Injunction

It used to be (until 2006) that if you prevailed as a plaintiff in a patent infringement case, you were presumably entitled to an injunction. (That presumption could be rebutted, but the defendant had to do the rebutting). The Supreme Court changed this landscape with its eBay decision, throwing patent law back into the category of other harms -- if you wanted an injunction, you have to prove you're entitled to it. To prove that, a plaintiff must show:
  1. it suffered irreparable harm
  2. the remedies at law (i.e. money damages) are inadequate to compensate for that harm
  3. the balance of hardships in granting an injunction favor the plaintiff; and
  4. the public interest would not be disserved by entering an injunction
The court addressed each of these elements. Concerning irreparable harm, the court noted that a finding of past infringement, alone, does not show irreparable harm. But it does tend to suggest such harm. Here, FedEx argued in part that Harris also licensed its patents. Because of this, FedEx argued, Harris didn't suffer irreparable harm because it has shown that it is willing to license (i.e. accept money) the use of its technology. The court was not convinced by this argument. FedEx's use of its infringing system interfered with Harris' licensing opportunities. This interference was irreparable.

Regarding the second factor, FedEx's interference with Harris' licensing opportunities was not curable by money. As such, Harris was entitled to equitable relief. The final two factors also favored an injunction. So the Court ordered one be entered. The parties now have to submitted a proposed injunction for the Court to issue.


Just because a defendant is found to have willfully infringed a patent does not mean the plaintiff will necessarily get enhanced damages. Nor does it mean the plaintiff will get its attorneys fees (although the defendant has to convince the court to explain why attorneys's fees wouldn't be warranted against the willful infringer). And the right to an injunction depends on the existence of irreparable harm (and the other elements).

Harris v. FedEx, Case No. 6:07-cv-1819, slip op. (M.D. Fla. Feb. 28, 2011) (J. Antoon)

No comments:

Post a Comment