The U.S. Supreme Court has announced when it will hold oral arguments in two important patent-infringement cases, including one from Texas: Feb. 26, 2014. The pair of disputes will determine how much discretion trial courts have in determining what constitute "exceptional cases." Those involve frivolous-claim findings that allow prevailing parties to recover reasonable attorney fees.
In Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems, U.S. District Judge Terry Means of the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth awarded a defendant more than $5 million in attorney fees after finding some of the plaintiff's claims were frivolous. Means ruled that the case qualified as "exceptional" under 35 U.S.C. §285 after concluding that Allcare allegedly had pursued frivolous infringement claims and asserted meritless legal positions during the course of the litigation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed one of Means' "exceptional" findings but reversed another. The Federal Circuit also reversed Means' attorney fee award, because he did not specify the amount of fees were tied to his specific "exceptional" findings.
In the other patent case, Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied a prevailing party's motion for an "exceptional" finding under §285, a decision the Federal Circuit affirmed. The issue in Octane is whether the Federal Circuit's two-part test for determining whether a case is exceptional contravenes §285's intent by raising the standard for accused infringers—but not patentees—to recoup attorney fees and encourages patent plaintiffs to bring spurious cases to cause competitive harm or coerce unwarranted settlements.
— John Council