The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed that the 35 U.S.C. § 271(e)(1) safe harbor protecting certain infringing acts undertaken for regulatory approval applied to an alleged infringer’s importation of transcatheter heart systems while attending a trade conference, finding the importation reasonably related to submitting information to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for medical device approval. Edwards Lifesciences Corp. v. Meril Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd., Case No. 22-1877 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 25, 2024) (Stoll, Cunningham, JJ.) (Lourie, J., dissenting).

The fact pattern in this case is unusual. Meril, a manufacturer of a transcatheter heart system approved for sale in Europe but not in the United States, brought two demonstration samples to San Francisco with lawyer-generated instructions that the samples could not be used, sold or offered for sale in the US. Meril presented at a trade booth during a cardiovascular medical device conference. It was undisputed that the samples never left a bag that was first kept at a hotel and later brought to the conference and placed in a storage room.

Edwards Lifesciences nevertheless sued for infringement based on importation. The district court found that Meril’s importation was reasonably related to its attempts to secure regulatory approval because they were for the purposes of recruiting investigators for a clinical trial Meril had made initial efforts to commence (as required to market this type of device in the US). Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement on grounds that the safe harbor under § 271(e)(1) applied. Edwards appealed.

Edwards argued that the district court erred by not finding a genuine material dispute of fact relating to Meril’s subjective intent (i.e., whether, notwithstanding some evidence, Meril actually intended the importation to relate to FDA approval). Edwards also challenged whether the importation was solely related to FDA approval and argued that the non-use of the devices to recruit investigators rendered the safe harbor inapplicable.

The Federal Circuit rejected all three challenges. Canvassing the Federal Circuit’s decades of prior case law, the Court concluded that a putative infringer’s intent is irrelevant when determining whether the safe harbor applies. Thus, even if Edwards were correct in challenging Meril’s intent, there would still be no material factual dispute. On the issue of whether the importation activity was solely related to FDA approval, the Court, discussing the use of “solely” in terms of the safe harbor provision, reiterated prior cases’ determination that the uses need not be solely related to FDA approval, but rather, that the only uses that would be protected were those within the safe harbor. Finally, the Court again deemed the non-use of the devices irrelevant, as nothing in the statute required actual use.

Judge Lourie dissented, not because he necessarily viewed the district court’s or the majority’s application as squarely incorrect under existing precedent, but because he believed that existing precedent did not expressly give proper weight to the statute’s use of the word “solely.” Applying a plain text analysis, Judge Lourie argued that the safe harbor [...]

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