The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that the minimum contacts or purposeful availment test for specific personal jurisdiction was satisfied where a patent owner sent multiple infringement notice letters and other communications to a resident of California who then filed for declaratory judgment of non-infringement in federal district court in California. Trimble Inc. v. PerDiemCo LLC, Case No. 19-2164 (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

PerDiem accused Trimble of infringing several of PerDiem’s patents. PerDiem exchanged 22 communications with Trimble in California over a period of three months, some through Trimble’s subsidiary ISE in Iowa and other communications through its chief IP counsel in Colorado. The communications started with a letter (sent to ISE in Iowa) that had attached an unfiled complaint and which PerDiem used to try to launch license negotiations. This unfiled complaint asserted nine of PerDiem’s patents. After ISE brought Trimble, its parent, into the discussion, PerDiem accused Trimble’s products of infringing 11 patents and sought to enter into binding mediation on its infringement allegations. PerDiem also threatened to sue Trimble in the Eastern District of Texas and identified the counsel it planned to use for this purpose. Trimble filed for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement in the Northern District of California. The district court dismissed the complaint, relying on the Federal Circuit’s 1998 decision in Red Wing Shoe v. Hockerson-Halberstadt, concluding that it would be unreasonable to assert personal jurisdiction over PerDiem based on its communications. Trimble appealed.

The sole issue in the appeal was whether the district court erred in holding that there was no specific personal jurisdiction over PerDiem in the Northern District of California. The Federal Circuit explained that PerDiem’s contacts with California were far more extensive than those in Red Wing, noting the manner in which PerDiem amplified its threats of infringement as the communications continued, asserted more patents, and accused more of Trimble and ISE’s products of infringement. The Court noted that PerDiem even identified the counsel it retained to sue Trimble and the venue in which it planned to file suit. Overall, the Court found that PerDiem’s 22 communications over the course of about three months fell well outside the “sufficient latitude” the Court sought to grant patentees “to inform others of [their] patent rights without subjecting [themselves] to jurisdiction in a foreign forum” on the basis of three letters sent over a similar time period in Red Wing.

Practice Note: It remains to be seen how useful this case may be in the context of obtaining specific personal jurisdiction over non-practicing entities (or other patent owners) based on sending demand letters into a potential declaratory judgment venue viewed as less hospitable to patent owners.

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