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Not on the Merits: Claim Preclusion Doesn’t Bar Inducement Claims After Direct Infringement Case

Applying Seventh Circuit law to determine whether the dismissal of patent infringement claims should be upheld on the basis of claim preclusion, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court ruling that the claims were precluded by res judicata. Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc., Case No. 22-1385 (Fed. Cir. July 5, 2023) (Lourie, Bryson, Reyna, JJ.)

At the district court, ABS argued that a previous infringement suit brought by Inguran precluded it from bringing the instant suit. At issue was whether the previous suit asserting direct infringement of Inguran’s “GSS technology” used to create “single-sexed semen straws” barred the current suit, which alleged that ABS induced third parties to infringe upon the same technology by entering into licensing agreements with these third parties. The district court agreed with ABS. Inguran appealed.

To successfully assert claim preclusion under Seventh Circuit law, a party must meet the following three-factor test:

  1. An identity of the parties or their privies in the first and second lawsuits
  2. An identity of the cause of action
  3. A final judgment on the merits in the first suit.

The Federal Circuit’s analysis focused on the second requirement. In determining whether there was an identity of the cause of action, the Court examined whether the second claim was based on the same set of transactional facts as the earlier litigation between the parties. In patent infringement cases, the general rule is that res judicata does not bar the assertion of new rights acquired during the previous action, which could have been litigated but were not (i.e., claims that arose while the litigation was ongoing but after the original complaint was filed).

The Federal Circuit determined that the transactional facts between the present case and the previous litigation were different because the cases respectively centered around theories of induced infringement by third parties and direct infringement. As the Court noted, “The evidence needed to support these two claims (induced infringement vs direct infringement) is different.” To allege and prove induced infringement, Inguran needed to establish additional facts beyond what it asserted in the previous case to show direct infringement. As the Court noted, an “induced infringement claim rests on evidence and elements beyond those required by direct infringement.” Although minimal evidence regarding the activities of the third parties was part of the record in the previous litigation, the parties ultimately stipulated that direct infringement occurred. The issue of induced infringement, however, was never presented to the jury.

The Federal Circuit held that although both cases implicated similar facts, including extensive discussions of the “GSS technology,” the direct infringement allegations could not reasonably serve to bar later allegations regarding the actions of third-party licensees. The Court accepted Inguran’s argument that any induced patent infringement claim it might have brought at the time of the earlier case would have been based on speculation: “[w]e agree with ST that it could not have asserted an inducement claim during ABS I.” The Court therefore rejected the district [...]

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First Circuit: Claim Preclusion Shouldn’t Apply to Bar Claims Under VARA

Addressing for the first time whether federal res judicata law recognizes the alternative determinations doctrine, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that a plaintiff’s claims under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) were not precluded by a previous action in which she brought a federal copyright claim against the defendant. Foss v. Eastern States Exposition, Case No. 22-1313 (1st Cir. May 10, 2023) (Barron, Howard, Montecalvo, JJ.)

Cynthia Foss previously brought a federal copyright action against Eastern States Exposition that was dismissed. The previous action did not involve any claim under VARA. Eastern argued that claim preclusion should apply to bar the claim, and the district court agreed. Foss appealed.

To establish federal claim preclusion, a party must establish that there is a final judgment on the merits in an earlier suit, sufficient similarity between the causes of action asserted in the earlier and later suits, and sufficient identicality between the parties in the two suits. Foss did not dispute that the first and third requirements were satisfied, and thus the First Circuit’s decision turned on whether the second requirement was met.

Foss argued that the “alternative determinations” doctrine should apply. This doctrine strips a dismissal of claim preclusive effect if the dismissal rests on multiple grounds, not all of which would on their own render the dismissal claim preclusive. Whether the doctrine should apply was a matter of first impression in the First Circuit. Foss argued that the previous dismissal was in part based on “her failure to allege that she had satisfied the registration-related precondition to copyright infringement suits under § 411(a),” which was not a merits-based dismissal and therefore had no preclusive effect. Eastern argued that even if the First Circuit adopted the alternative determinations doctrine, the Court should limit the doctrine because the district court “rigorously considered” the merits-based rationale for dismissal in the previous action.

The First Circuit adopted the alternative determinations doctrine and rejected Eastern’s contention that the doctrine should not apply in the instant case because Eastern did not provide support for the contention that the district court in the previous action “rigorously considered” the merits-based grounds for dismissal of Foss’s federal copyright claims. The Court then remanded the case for further consideration, noting that Eastern might argue that the alternative disputes doctrine should be limited in this instance because of Foss’s failure to allege satisfaction of the precondition to suit, which might be prejudicial to Eastern.

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No Second Bite at the Apple: Dismissal under Duplicative-Litigation Doctrine

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a second case between the same parties and asserting the same patent under the duplicative-litigation doctrine. Arendi S.A.R.L. v. LG Elecs. Inc., Case No. 2021-1967 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 7, 2022) (Prost, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Arendi sued LG and others for infringement of several patents. Pursuant to Delaware’s local rules requiring identification of accused products, Arendi identified hundreds of LG products as infringing four asserted claims of the patent relevant on appeal. For those accused products, Arendi provided one “exemplary” infringement claim chart for LG’s Rebel 4 phone. LG objected to Arendi, stating that it should have provided charts for all accused products.

As the litigation proceeded, the parties agreed on eight products as representative but, despite LG’s repeated objection, Arendi did not provide claim charts for any additional products during fact discovery. Instead, Arendi’s opening expert report on infringement provided claim charts for seven non-Rebel 4 representative products for the first time. LG moved to strike those portions of the expert report. The district court granted that motion. Arendi did not supplement its claim charts in response to the court’s order and instead filed another complaint in Delaware, thus creating a second concurrent case asserting the same patent against LG. After the district court granted LG’s motion to dismiss the second suit, Arendi appealed.

The Federal Circuit explained the standard for assertion of the duplicative-litigation doctrine, which “prevents plaintiffs from ‘maintain[ing] two separate actions involving the same subject matter at the same time in the same court … against the same defendant.’” Whether two cases involve the same subject matter depends on the extent of factual overlap of the asserted patents and accused products. There was no dispute that the same patent was asserted in both cases, but Arendi disputed that the cases involved the same accused products, citing the district court’s order striking its expert report as evidence that the non-Rebel 4 products were not at issue in the first case.

Like the district court, the Federal Circuit disagreed. The Court distinguished between accusing products and satisfying discovery obligations regarding those products. Arendi listed the non-Rebel 4 products in its disclosure of accused products, served interrogatories about them, received discovery on them and included non-Rebel 4 products in its expert report. Thus, even though Arendi “failed to fulfill its discovery obligations” as to those products, which made its expert report untimely, the non-Rebel 4 products were still accused, at issue and litigated in the first case. Thus, dismissal of the second case under the duplicative-litigation doctrine was not an error.

Practice Note: In a footnote, the Federal Circuit acknowledged the similarity of the duplicative-litigation doctrine to res judicata (claim preclusion). Although both doctrines involve an inquiry into whether claims in the second suit are repetitious, unlike res judicata, the duplicative-litigation doctrine does not require a final judgment in the first case.

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Res Judicata on Procedural Grounds Precludes Similar Claims Arising After Prior Judgment

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court decision that res judicata can apply to dismissals on procedural grounds and to claims arising after a prior judgment. Sowinski v. California Air Resources Board, Case No. 19-1558 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 21, 2020) (Newman, J.)

Richard Sowinski is the inventor of a patent directed to an “electronic method and apparatus for validating and trading consumer pollution-control tax credits.” In a first set of lawsuits starting in 2015, Sowinski sued the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in state court, alleging infringement by CARB’s Cap-and-Trade Program. CARB removed the case to district court and filed several motions to dismiss. The district court dismissed the complaint after Sowinski failed to respond to these motions before the deadline. The dismissal was upheld on appeal.

As part of a second round of lawsuits starting in 2018, Sowinski filed a complaint in federal court that was “substantially identical” to the 2015 case, except the 2018 complaint sought infringement damages arising after the 2015 case decision. CARB moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was barred based on the doctrine of res judicata, which prevents a civil claim from being tried if it arises out of the “same transaction or common nucleus of operative facts” of a prior case where the merits were adjudicated. The district court agreed and granted CARB’s motion to dismiss. Sowinski appealed.

Sowinski argued that res judicata did not apply to his case because the prior suit was resolved on procedural grounds, not the merits of infringement, and because the current complaint sought infringement damages occurring after the conclusion of his last lawsuit. For res judicata on what Sowinski called a “technicality,” the Federal Circuit applied Ninth Circuit procedural law. Under Ninth Circuit law, preclusion applies when a prior suit involved the same claim as the later suit, reached a final judgment on the merits and involved identical parties. The Court also noted that for preclusion purposes, dismissal for failure to prosecute is an adjudication on the merits. Applying these factors, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, explaining that res judicata generally applies when “a patentee seeks to assert the same patent against the same party and the same subject matter.”

The Federal Circuit found that preclusion can also apply to claims arising after the prior judgment, explaining that one cannot challenge the repetition of an act in a subsequent suit if the act was judged not wrongful. The Court explained that preclusion applies when the accused products or methods are essentially the same. Here, CARB activity was held not to be infringing in the 2015 case because of Sowinski’s failure to respond, and Sowinski’s 2018 complaint described CARB’s ongoing activities as the same as those in the 2015 case. The Federal Circuit therefore affirmed the district court’s decision, explaining that Sowinski alleged no different conduct or acts against the same defendant.

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