The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, exploring the use of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) under Ninth Circuit law, affirmed a district court’s ruling setting aside a monetary damages judgment and an injunction for fraudulent misrepresentations by a corporate patent owner’s president concerning prior art. Cap Export, LLC, et al. v. Zinus, Inc., et al., Case No. 20-2087 (Fed. Cir. May 5, 2021) (Dyk, J.)
In 2016, Cap Export sued Zinus seeking a declaratory judgment that claims of a patent owned by Zinus were invalid and not infringed. Zinus countersued, alleging that Cap Export infringed its patent covering a bed frame that can be packed into the headboard for compact shipping (known as a “bed in a box”). Zinus filed a motion for partial summary judgment of no invalidity of certain claims, and the court allowed Cap Export to depose Zinus’s then-president and “testifying technical expert,” Colin Lawrie. During the deposition, Lawrie denied knowledge of the existence of prior art. The district court concluded that the claims were not invalid and entered a judgment and permanent injunction against Cap Export.
Shortly thereafter, Zinus sued another company for patent infringement, and Cap Export discovered an exhibit on the docket describing a sale to Zinus of a bed that had all of the components of the bed (except the headboard) packed inside a zippered compartment in the headboard. Cap Export contacted the third party that sold the prior art beds to Zinus and obtained an invoice bearing the signature of Lawrie, the same witness who denied knowledge of such beds during his deposition. Cap Export moved to vacate the judgment and injunction on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation under Rule 60(b)(3). After the district court granted the motion, Zinus appealed.
The Federal Circuit analyzed the issue under Ninth Circuit law, which requires evidence that the verdict was obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or other misconduct, and that the conduct prevented the losing party from fully and fairly presenting its defense. Ninth Circuit law further requires that the fraud was not discoverable by due diligence before or during the proceedings. Zinus argued that Cap Export’s counsel should have discovered the emails if they had exercised due diligence and propounded standard document requests for a patent case. Cap Export did not dispute that its written discovery served on Zinus did not specifically seek prior art and that it did not depose the inventor of the patent. Cap Export also did not dispute that although Lawrie’s deposition was taken, it was not taken under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6).
The Federal Circuit explained that the issue was not whether Cap Export’s conduct fell below the standard of care for attorneys practicing patent litigation, but rather whether a reasonable company in Cap Export’s position should have had reason to suspect the fraud—i.e., that Lawrie had testified falsely—and, if so, whether it took reasonable steps to investigate. The Court found no showing that there was reason to suspect that Lawrie’s statements were fraudulent, nor was the material evidence concealed by Lawrie widely available, a matter of public record or information already within Cap Export’s possession. Finding no clear error, the Federal Circuit determined that the Ninth Circuit’s due diligence requirement was satisfied, as were the other prongs of the test for meeting Rule 60(b)(3).