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Business Law Legal Research Blog

PATENT LAW: Laches Defense No Longer Available in Patent Infringement

Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 @ 14:07 PM

Anne Hemenway, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, 137 S. Ct. 954 (2017), the United States Supreme Court held that the defense of laches is not proper in a patent infringement case when suit is brought within the six-year statute of limitations period for patent infringement cases, set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 286. This decision abrogated decisions in numerous federal circuit courts which allowed the laches defense.

            Under federal law, damages are limited in patent infringement cases by the statute of limitations set forth in § 286 to cover only infringement that occurred within the six-year period prior to the filing of the complaint. This six-year period is counted backward from the filing of the complaint, not forward to the time of the patent infringement event.

            A laches defense is considered to be an equitable defense used to limit damages when a suit is filed after an unwarranted delay.  In SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag, First Quality Baby Products argued that the Federal Circuit properly recognized that the laches defense was necessary, notwithstanding § 286, to protect alleged infringers who are prejudiced by a patent owner's unnecessary delay in bringing suit. Because the Patent Act had a statutory limit to the award of damages, the Supreme Court held that a laches defense would override this statutory limit imposed by Congress.

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Topics: patent law, laches defense, patent infringement, six-year statute of limitations period

CONTRACTS—Arbitration: Nonexistence of Designated Arbitral Institution at Time of Dispute May Void Mandatory Arbitration Requirement

Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 @ 13:07 PM

Charlene Hicks, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Despite the federal policy favoring arbitration, prospective plaintiffs continue to push courts to reexamine the enforceability parameters of arbitration agreements. These efforts have met with some success in cases where the arbitration agreement designates a particular arbitral institution to resolve a dispute between the parties, and the designated institution no longer exists at the time an actual dispute arises.

            This factual scenario has unveiled a degree of uncertainty in the meaning of the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"). The FAA provides that if "there shall be a lapse in the naming of an arbitrator . . . or in filling a vacancy, then upon the application of either party to the controversy the court shall designate and appoint an arbitrator[.]" 9 U.S.C. § 5. It is unclear from the statute whether the nonexistence of an arbitral institution designated in an arbitration agreement to resolve disputes between the parties constitutes a "lapse in the naming of an arbitrator" such that the court is authorized to appoint a substitute arbitrator. If the designated institution's nonexistence does not fall within the dictates of 9 U.S.C. § 5, then the court does not have the power to appoint a substitute. To do so would violate the long-established contractual principle that a party cannot be compelled to arbitrate a dispute that he or she has not agreed to submit to arbitration.

            No definitive answer to this question has yet been reached. Some circuits have ruled that the choice of a designated arbitral forum is a material part of the agreement to arbitrate and, therefore, the court cannot legitimately appoint a replacement. See Flagg v. First Premier Bank, 644 F. App'x 893, 897 (11th Cir. 2016); Ranzy v. Tijerina, 393 F. App'x 174, 176 (5th Cir. 2010). Other circuits have reached the opposite conclusion and ruled that the unavailability of a named arbitral institution constitutes a lapse within the meaning of 9 U.S.C. § 5, and the court may, therefore, appoint a substitute. See Green v. U.S. Cash Advance Ill., LLC, 724 F.3d 787, 793 (7th Cir. 2013); Khan v. Dell Inc., 669 F.3d 350, 356 (3d Cir. 2012).

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Topics: contracts, enforceability, arbitration, arbitral institution

CONTRACTS: Statute of Frauds No Bar to Parent’s Claim for Student Loan Repayment

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 @ 17:01 PM

Paul Ferrer, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      All states have a statute of frauds, based on the original Statute of Frauds enacted in England in 1677, barring actions upon some types of promises unless evidenced by a writing signed by the party to be charged with the promise. The promises typically covered by a state’s statute of frauds include "any promise to answer for the debt, default, or misdoing of another," and "any agreement that is not to be performed within one year from the making thereof." Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 371.010(4), (7). In Chin v. Chin, 494 S.W.3d 517 (Ky. Ct. App. 2016), the Kentucky Court of Appeals held that neither of these provisions barred a claim by parents ("the Chins") against their son ("Raymond") for breach of an oral contract to repay a college loan that the parents had taken out for his benefit.

     In that case, Raymond attended college at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a top-ranked engineering college that carried a price tag of about $54,000 per year in 1999. At the time, Raymond’s father was making $55,000 per year as a teacher, while his mother was making $18,000 per year as an aide. The Chins obtained a Parent PLUS loan to pay for Raymond’s college expenses, which ultimately totaled more than $58,000 (Raymond received a partial scholarship). Although the Chins signed for the loan, Raymond orally agreed that he would be responsible for paying the loan, and would repay any amounts the Chins had already paid, as soon as he had a job.

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Topics: contracts, statute of frauds, breach of oral contract, verbal agreement

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS: Supreme Court Decision Aids Veteran-Owned Business

Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 @ 13:11 PM

Charlene Hicks, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1969 (2016), the United States Supreme Court recently declared that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the "VA") is required to give priority to veteran-owned businesses in the bidding process for government contracts as long as two or more veteran-owned small businesses may reasonably be expected to submit fair and reasonable bids. This unanimous decision should provide a boon to veteran-owned businesses and should also give government agencies pause in assessing bids for contract work.

     The Kingdomware dispute originated shortly after the enactment of the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the "VA Act"). The VA Act provides that the VA must restrict bid competitions to veteran-owned companies as long as the "rule of two" is satisfied. Specifically, 38 U.S.C. § 8127(d) states:

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Topics: Charlene J. Hicks, VA priority, government contracts, veteran-owned business

BANKRUPTCY: Rejection or Assumption of Executory Contracts Under 11 U.S.C. § 365

Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 11:08 AM

Anne Hemenway—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     A personal service contract, such as one between an artist and a manager or between a recording group and a record company, may be rejected or assumed under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Generally, such management or promotional agreements are considered to be executory contracts under 11 U.S.C. § 365(a). An executory contract under § 365 is not specifically defined, but the term commonly refers to a contract that has performance due from both the debtor and the contracting party. In re Gen. Datacomm Indus., 407 F.3d 616 (3d Cir. 2005). Professor Vern Countryman's definition in Executory Contracts in Bankruptcy: Part I, 57 Minn. L. Rev. 439, 460 (1973), is considered to be the definitive definition of an executory contract.

     A trustee or debtor-in-possession has a right to assume or reject executory contracts under § 365 within the time frames set forth in § 365(d), but the agreement remains in effect pending the actual act of assumption or rejection. In re Nat'l Steel Corp., 316 B.R. 287 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2004). If a personal service contract is rejected, it is considered breached under § 365(g) as of the date immediately preceding the date the bankruptcy petition was filed.

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Topics: bankruptcy, contracts, Anne B. Hemenway, executory, personal service contract, performance by debtor and contracting party

APPELLATE BRIEF WRITING: Mistakes Can Be Fatal to Your Case

Posted by Nicole Prysby on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 11:06 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 5

Nicole Prysby, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

     "Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs." United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). The frustration evident in this quote is shared by many appellate judges. The appellate process is already an uphill battle, and presenting the court with a brief that is not compelling or, even worse, is noncompliant with court rules makes it even harder. The vast majority of appeals are resolved without oral argument, which means that the brief is likely the only chance an attorney will have to present a client's case on appeal.

     The consequences of an inadequate or noncompliant brief range from frustrating the court to having the appeal dismissed. In egregious cases, sanctions may even be imposed. For example, sanctions were imposed against counsel in one case involving the failure to observe line spacing, font, and footnote rules. Kano v. Nat'l Consumer Co-op. Bank, 22 F.3d 899 (9th Cir. 1994). In another case, the court suggested that counsel should be liable for malpractice for a brief that was egregiously noncompliant with court rules. Kushner v. Winterthur Swiss Ins. Co., 620 F.2d 404 (3d Cir. 1980). In Kushner, failure to comply with federal rules for the brief and appendix not only led to dismissal of the appeal but also prompted the court to suggest that a client facing this situation "may wish to proceed against his or her counsel in an action for malpractice." Id. at 408. The court also stated that "[w]e note with extreme melancholy that this case is not an isolated example." Id.

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Topics: noncompliance consequences, appeal dismissal, Nicole Prysby, appellate brief writing

TRADEMARKS: The Slants and the Redskins—Federal Circuit Rules That Excluding "Disparaging Remarks" Violates First Amendment

Posted by Timothy J. Snider on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 @ 13:02 PM

The Lawletter Vol. 41, No. 2

Tim Snider, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     There has been considerable dispute about the propriety of the continuing use of the mark and name REDSKINS by the Washington NFL franchise. It is claimed by some that the word "redskin" is considered offensive by aboriginal Americans and others. Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, 62 F. Supp. 3d 498, 113 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1749 (E.D. Va. 2014). While that case is on appeal, the Federal Circuit, which hears the bulk of trademark cases, has rendered a decision that could place in doubt whether the cancellation of the REDSKINS trademark by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the "TTAB") can be sustained. See Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., 111 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1080 (T.T.A.B. 2014) (Cancellation No. 92046185).

     Section 2(a) of the Lanham Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibits registration of a trademark that "[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute." In re Tam, No. 2014-1203, 2015 WL 9287035 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 22, 2015), involved the attempted registration by the representative of an Asian-American rock/dance band of its trademark THE SLANTS. The applicant for the mark is himself Asian-American, but the examiner nonetheless refused registration on the basis that the mark was likely disparaging to "persons of Asian descent" within the meaning of section 2(a). The TTAB agreed and sustained the refusal to register the mark.

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Topics: trademarks, First Amendment, Timothy J. Snider, trademark registration, Redskins

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Scope of the Commercial Activity Exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 @ 12:02 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 1

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602–1611, shields foreign governments and their agencies from suit in U.S. courts unless the suit falls within an exception specifically enumerated in the Act. In a recent decision, OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, 136 S. Ct. 390, 392 (2015), a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court considered the commercial activity exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), and concluded that the exception did not extend to the purchase of a Eurail pass in the United States.

     Carol Sachs, a California resident, purchased a Eurail pass over the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel agent. Eurail passes allow holders unlimited passage for a set period of time on participating Eurail Group railways, including OBB Personenverkehr AG ("OBB"), the Austrian state-owned railway. As she was attempting to board an OBB train in Innsbruck, Austria, Ms. Sachs fell from the platform onto the tracks, where a moving train crushed her legs, requiring amputation of each leg above the knee. She brought suit for her injuries in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on the grounds of (1) negligence, (2) strict liability for design defects in the train and platform, (3) strict liability for failure to warn of the design defects, (4) breach of an implied warranty of merchantability for providing a train and platform unsafe for their intended uses, and (5) breach of an implied warranty of fitness for providing a train and platform unfit for their intended uses.

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Topics: civil procedure, Suzanne Bailey, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, commercial activity exception

CONTRACTS: Agreements to Negotiate Distinguished from Agreements to Agree

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 @ 17:12 PM

Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Courts often give voice to the black-letter principle that a so-called "agreement to agree, where [material] terms are left to future negotiations, is unenforceable." In re Estate of Wyman, 8 N.Y.S.3d 493, 494 (App. Div. 2015). Some courts have concluded that an agreement to negotiate at a later date is an unenforceable agreement to agree. See, e.g., 77 Constr. Co. v. UXB Int'l, Inc., No. 7:13-CV-340, 2015 WL 926036, at *4 (W.D. Va. Mar. 4, 2015). But other courts have distinguished unenforceable agreements to agree from valid agreements to negotiate in good faith. See, e.g., Copeland v. Baskin Robbins, U.S.A., 117 Cal. Rptr. 2d 875 (Ct. App. 2002).

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Topics: contracts, Paul A. Ferrer, validity, agreement to agree, agreement to negotiate

LABOR LAW: More on Deflategate

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Wed, Nov 4, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 9

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Whether you believe that quarterback Tom Brady was aware that the New England Patriots were using allegedly deflated footballs during the January 18, 2015 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts or whether you are unsure what sport the Patriots and Colts play or whether they play the same sport, the recent decision by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman in National Football League Management Council v. National Football League Players Ass'n, Nos. 15 Civ. 5916 RMB JCF, 15 Civ. 5982 RMB JCF, 2015 WL 5148739 (S.D.N.Y. signed Sept. 3, 2015), appeal filed, No. 15-2805 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2105), vacating the arbitration award in favor of the National Football League ("NFL"), provides a valuable primer on basic notice and hearing requirements under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA").

     As has been well publicized, shortly after the conclusion of the January 18, 2015 game, the NFL retained Theodore V. Wells Jr. and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison ("Paul, Weiss"), to conduct an independent investigation—along with NFL Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash—into the use of underinflated balls. The source of authority for the investigation was the NFL Policy on Integrity of the Game and Enforcement of Competitive Rules ("Competitive Integrity Policy").

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Topics: labor law, Suzanne Bailey, deflated football, Tom Brady, AFC Championship

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