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NDA Forum Selection Clause Doesn’t Bar IPR in Response to Subsequent Infringement Suit

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.




Transfer Motions Must Take Top Priority

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted an accused infringer’s mandamus petition to transfer a case from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California, concluding that the district court “barreled ahead” on the merits before addressing the transfer motion and clearly abused its discretion in denying transfer. In re. Apple, Inc., Case No. 20-135 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 9, 2020) (Prost, C.J.) (Moore, J., dissenting). In re. Apple, Inc

In September 2019, Uniloc sued Apple in the Western District of Texas alleging that several Apple products infringed one of Uniloc’s patents. In November 2019, Apple moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of California on the basis that it would be clearly more convenient to litigate the case in that district. In January 2020, Apple moved to stay all activity in the case unrelated to its transfer motion pending a decision on that motion. The district court denied the stay motion without explanation. In May 2020, the district court held a hearing on Apple’s transfer motion during which the court stated that it would deny the motion and issue a written order as soon as possible. After the hearing, but before issuing a written order, the court held a Markman hearing, issued its claim construction order, held a discovery hearing and issued a corresponding discovery order. In response to these advances in the case, in June 2020 Apple filed a petition for writ of mandamus requesting that the Federal Circuit transfer the case to the Northern District of California. One week after Apple filed its petition, the district court issued its written order denying transfer.

The Federal Circuit granted Apple’s mandamus petition and directed the district court to transfer the case to the Northern District of California. The Federal Circuit explained that the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit assesses transfer requests using private and public interest factors. The private interest factors are: “(1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof; (2) the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses; (3) the cost of attendance for willing witnesses; and (4) all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.” The public interest factors are: “(1) the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the local interest in having localized interests decided at home; (3) the familiarity of the forum with the law that will govern the case; and (4) the avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws [or in] the application of foreign law.” The parties agreed that the third and fourth public interest factors were neutral, but disputed whether the remaining factors weighed for or against transfer.

The Federal Circuit found numerous errors in the district court’s analysis. As to the first private factor (access to sources of proof), the Court found that the district court erred in determining that the location of witnesses weighed in favor of transfer. The Court explained that the “access to proof” factor [...]

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Petitioner’s Reply Argument in IPR Is Not an Impermissible New Theory

Addressing whether the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) too narrowly read its rules limiting reply briefs in an inter partes review (IPR) to preclude a petitioner’s argument as a “new theory of unpatentability,” the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that the Board abused its discretion by not considering petitioner’s arguments. Apple Inc. v. Andrea Electronics Corp., Case Nos. 18-2382, -2383 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 7, 2020) (Plager, J.).

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