Friday, February 12, 2016

Breaking News: U.S. Federal Circuit Adheres to National Exhaustion of Patent Rights

This case, Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Impression Products, Inc., is not directly related to the subject of patent remedies, but it's hardly irrelevant to the topic either and is certainly a very important decision.  From Judge Taranto's majority opinion (joined by Chief Judge Prost and Judges Newman, Lourie, Moore, O'Malley, Reyna, Wallach, Chen, and Stoll):
We decided to hear this case en banc to consider whether two decisions of this court concerning the uncodified doctrine of patent exhaustion—one decision from 1992, the other from 2001—remain sound in light of later decisions of the Supreme Court. Today we reaffirm the principles of our earlier decisions. First, we adhere to the holding of Mallinckrodt, Inc. v. Medipart, Inc., 976 F.2d 700 (Fed. Cir. 1992), that a patentee, when selling a patented article subject to a single-use/no-resale restriction that is lawful and clearly communicated to the purchaser, does not by that sale give  the buyer, or downstream buyers, the resale/reuse authority that has been expressly denied. Such resale or reuse, when contrary to the known, lawful limits on the authority conferred at the time of the original sale, remains unauthorized and therefore remains infringing conduct under the terms of § 271. Under Supreme Court precedent, a patentee may preserve its § 271 rights through such restrictions when licensing others to make and sell patented articles; Mallinckrodt held that there is no sound legal basis for denying the same ability to the patentee that makes and sells the articles itself. We find Mallinckrodt’s principle to remain sound after the Supreme Court’s decision in Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 553 U.S. 617 (2008), in which the Court did not have before it or address a patentee sale at all, let alone one made subject to a restriction, but a sale made by a separate manufacturer under a patentee-granted license conferring unrestricted authority to sell.
Second, we adhere to the holding of Jazz Photo Corp. v. International Trade Comm’n, 264 F.3d 1094 (Fed. Cir. 2001), that a U.S. patentee, merely by selling or authorizing the sale of a U.S.-patented article abroad, does not authorize the buyer to import the article and sell and use it in the United States, which are infringing acts in the absence of patentee-conferred authority. Jazz Photo’s no exhaustion ruling recognizes that foreign markets under foreign sovereign control are not equivalent to the U.S. markets under U.S. control in which a U.S. patentee’s sale presumptively exhausts its rights in the article sold. A buyer may still rely on a foreign sale as a defense to infringement, but only by establishing an express or implied license—a defense separate from exhaustion, as Quanta holds—based on patentee communications or other circumstances of the sale. We conclude that Jazz Photo’s no-exhaustion principle remains sound after the Supreme Court’s decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 1351 (2013), in which the Court did not address patent law or whether a foreign sale should be viewed as conferring authority to engage in otherwise infringing domestic acts. Kirtsaeng is a copyright case holding that 17 U.S.C. § 109(a) entitles owners of copyrighted articles to take certain acts “without the authority” of the copyright holder. There is no counterpart to that provision in the Patent Act, under which a foreign sale is properly treated as neither conclusively nor even presumptively exhausting the U.S. patentee’s rights in the United States.
Judges Dyk and Hughes dissent.

It's going to take me a little while to get through all 129 pages of the opinions, but initially I'm of the view that the majority is correct at least a matter of policy, particularly on the national exhaustion rule; a regime of international exhaustion, as Lisa Larrimore Ouellette and Daniel Hemel argue here, would threaten to raise the price of drugs in developing countries.  Next stop, I feel reasonably certain, will be the Supreme Court, and I'm not at all sure what to expect when the case lands there.

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