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Threat of ITC Exclusion Order Is Too Speculative to Constitute Irreparable Harm

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision by a federal district court denying a defendant’s motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin a parallel International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation against it. The Federal Circuit agreed that the defendant’s alleged irreparable harm (a “cloud” over its business) was too conclusory and speculative to support relief. Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Thales Dis Ais USA LLC, Case No. 21-2106 (Fed. Cir. July 13, 2022) (Moore, C.J., Dyk, Chen, JJ)

Koninklijke filed a complaint at the ITC requesting a Section 337 investigation based on alleged infringement by Thales of four patents designated essential to the 3G and 4G telecommunications standards. Koninklijke simultaneously filed a parallel district court action against Thales in the Delaware district court based on those four patents. At the district court, Thales moved for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin Koninklijke from pursuing an exclusion order at the ITC because of an alleged breach of contract. The district court denied that motion, and Thales appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Meanwhile, the ITC investigation continued, and the administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an initial determination finding no violation of Section 337 with respect to any of the four patents. Subsequently, the Federal Circuit held oral arguments on the district court appeal, during which the judges questioned whether there could be irreparable harm if the ITC were to adopt the ALJ’s determination and consequently not issue an exclusion order. Thales argued that the threat of an exclusion order had left a “cloud” over its business and cited customer concerns that Thales might not be able to deliver products in the future. The ITC subsequently affirmed the ALJ’s finding of no violation and terminated the investigation without issuing any exclusion order.

A week later, the Federal Circuit issued a decision affirming the district court’s denial of the preliminary injunction motion. The Court held that Thales had failed to meet its burden to establish irreparable harm because it had not presented any evidence that it had actually lost any customers, that any customers had delayed purchases or that it had struggled to gain new customers because of the threat from the ITC investigation. The Court also found that the cloud over Thales’ business and the potential loss of business were too speculative to justify a preliminary injunction.

Practice Note: While the ITC investigation was ongoing, Thales filed a civil action in France against Koninklijke—a fellow European company—alleging that Koninklijke’s attempt to obtain injunctive relief in the United States for standard essential patents constituted an anti-competitive act that violated French civil law. Thales sought EUR 13.5 million in damages for the legal fees that it had incurred in defending the ITC investigation.




Hypothetical Device Doesn’t Meet Domestic Industry Requirement

In a consolidated appeal from the International Trade Commission (Commission) and two inter partes review (IPR) proceedings before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Commission’s findings that a hypothetical device does not meet the domestic industry requirement, as well as findings by the Board and the Commission that asserted claims of the involved patents were invalid as obvious. Broadcom Corp. v. ITC, Case Nos. 20-2008; 21-1260, -1362, -1511 (Mar. 8, 2022) (Lourie, Hughes, Stoll, JJ.)

Broadcom filed a complaint at the Commission alleging a violation of 19 U.S.C. § 1337 based on products imported by many respondents, including Renesas Electronics, that allegedly infringed two patents. The first patent is directed to reducing power consumption in computer systems, and the second patent is directed to a memory access unit that improves upon conventional methods of requesting data located at different addresses within a shared memory. The Commission’s administrative law judge issued an initial determination that Broadcom failed to satisfy the technical prong of the domestic industry requirement for the power consumption patent and that one of the asserted claims of the memory access patent was obvious over the prior art. The Commission affirmed both findings.

During the course of the Commission investigation, Renesas petitioned for IPR of both patents. The Board found that two asserted claims of the power consumption patent were obvious but Renesas failed to show that six other asserted claims would have been obvious. The Board also found that all petitioned claims of the memory access patent would have been obvious over the cited art.

Both parties appealed. Renesas appealed the Board’s ruling that six claims of the power consumption patent would not have been obvious in light of the cited art, and Broadcom appealed the Board’s ruling that two claims of the power consumption patent and five claims of the memory access unit patent would have been obvious. Broadcom also appealed the Commission’s decision that there was no violation with respect to the power consumption patent and that the asserted claims of the memory access unit patent would have been obvious.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the Commission’s decision that there was no domestic industry for the power consumption patent. Citing its 2013 decision in Microsoft Corp. v. ITC, the Court explained that a complainant must show that a domestic industry product exists that actually practices at least one claim of the asserted patent. Broadcom identified its System on a Chip (SoC) as a domestic industry article, but there was no dispute that the SoC did not contain a “clock tree driver” required by the asserted claims. To overcome this admitted deficiency, Broadcom argued that a domestic industry existed because Broadcom collaborates with customers to integrate the SoC with external memory to enable retrieval and execution of the clock tree driver feature. The Court rejected this argument, finding that Broadcom posited only a hypothetical device and failed to identify a specific integration [...]

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