After agreeing Monday to consider whether laches should remain a defense in patent lawsuits, the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to strengthen the hand of patent owners by clearing the way for bigger damages awards in some cases, attorneys say.
The justices granted a petition for writ of certiorari by diaper maker SCA Hygiene Products AB challenging a decision that shut down its patent suit against rival First Quality Baby Products LLC based on laches, which bars legal remedies when a plaintiff unreasonably delays in filing suit.
The high court’s decision to take the case indicates that at least some of the justices are leaning toward taking away laches in patent cases the way they did in copyright cases, said Kia Freeman of McCarter & English LLP. If that’s how the high court rules, it would stand out from its other recent patent rulings.
“It’s interesting because a lot of decisions the Supreme Court has made recently on patent law have tended to weaken patents, but if they do eliminate laches in some regard, that would tend to strengthen patents,” she said. “Maybe they felt they’ve gone a little too far in weakening patents and saw this as a way to strengthen them.”
Freeman said she questioned the basic premise that standards for patent cases and copyright cases should be aligned, since the two forms of intellectual property are distinct in many ways.
“To me, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to try as hard as the Supreme Court seems to want to reconcile patent law and copyright law,” she said.
The Federal Circuit judges in the en banc majority “took pains to come up with a conciliatory decision that is consistent with as much law as possible,” Freeman said. “Today’s decision shows the Supreme Court is not in a conciliatory mood when it comes to the Federal Circuit.”