The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that would have forced the accused infringer to seek dismissal of its petitions for inter partes review (IPR) based on a forum-selection clause in an earlier nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Kannuu Pty Ltd. v. Samsung Elects. Co, Ltd., Case No. 21-1638 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 7, 2021) (Chen, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting).
Kannuu is a start-up that develops media-related products, including certain remote control search-and-navigation technology. Samsung explored licensing the technology and entered into an NDA with Kannuu. The NDA included a forum-selection clause, which stated that any legal action “arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated hereby must be instituted exclusively” in a New York state or federal court. The negotiations were unsuccessful. Several years later, Kannuu sued Samsung for alleged infringement of five patents relating to the same technology and alleged breach of the NDA. Samsung petitioned for IPR of the five patents, and two of the petitions resulted in institution. Kannuu filed for a preliminary injunction to force Samsung to dismiss the IPRs that had been instituted. The district court denied the preliminary injunction. Kannuu appealed.
The Federal Circuit determined that the district court had not abused its discretion in denying the preliminary injunction, distinguishing between an NDA (which relates to confidentiality) and a patent license agreement (which relates to patent rights). The Court explained that because the forum selection clause was in an NDA, patent infringement defenses did not “arise out of or relate to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated thereby.” In other words, the patent infringement defenses were too attenuated from the subject matter of the NDA to be governed by the forum selection clause therein. The Court noted that whether any patent claim was held invalid would not affect Kannuu’s breach of contract claim arising from an alleged breach of the NDA.
In dissent, Judge Pauline Newman reasoned that a patent license was one of the “transactions contemplated” by the NDA. Therefore, she would have found that the patent infringement defenses were within the scope of the forum selection provision of the NDA.
Practice Note: The Federal Circuit noted how a failed licensing negotiation commonly leads to a subsequent infringement suit. Parties should craft provisions of the NDA regarding forum selection and related issues (e.g., choice of laws) to explicitly include or exclude potential infringement litigation from their scope.