The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a patent owner’s writ of mandamus seeking to prevent a defendant from amending its answer to add an affirmative licensing defense, but also noted that the defense was added only after the district court found that there were no remaining claims. In re VLSI Technology LLC, Case No. 24-116 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 18, 2024) (Moore, Taranto, Chen, JJ.)

VLSI asserted four patents against Intel in the Northern District of California. In December 2023, the district court granted summary judgment that two of the patents were not infringed and denied summary judgment of noninfringement on the remaining two patents. The parties additionally submitted cross motions for summary judgment on a licensing defense that turned on a forum selection clause, but the court denied both motions. To deprive the court of jurisdiction, VLSI granted Intel a covenant not to sue for infringement of the remaining two patents in the case. Two days later, Intel moved to amend its answer to add a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment that Intel was licensed to VLSI’s entire patent portfolio. The district court granted Intel’s motion, and VLSI filed a mandamus petition to block Intel’s amendment.

The Federal Circuit denied VLSI’s petition for two primary reasons. First, the Court determined that VLSI had not shown that it had no other available means of obtaining relief. The district court expressly invited the parties to brief issues pertaining to Intel’s licensing defense in subsequent briefing, and VLSI had since filed a motion to dismiss pertaining to this very issue. The Court also noted that VLSI could raise this issue on appeal after a final judgment. Second, the Court determined that VLSI failed to show that the district court abused its discretion in allowing Intel to amend its answer, finding that Intel acted diligently in seeking to amend its answer and that VLSI had long since known about the potential defense.

With respect to the substantive issue of whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction, the Federal Circuit declined to offer an opinion at this stage. Nevertheless, in an apparent message to the court below, the final sentence of the Court’s opinion reads, “[w]e only note that Intel’s motion to amend its answer was filed after the court determined there were no remaining claims, such that no case or controversy remained before the court.”

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