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Federal Circuit Lacks Appellate Jurisdiction over Standalone Walker Process Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered the transfer of a case asserting standalone Walker Process antitrust claims involving an unenforceable patent to the regional circuit, in this case the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Chandler v. Phoenix Services LLC, Case No. 20-1848 (Fed Cir. June 10, 2021) (Hughes, J.) The case originated in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, over which the Fifth Circuit has appellate jurisdiction. The decision to transfer was based on a subject matter jurisdiction analysis for Walker Process claims. The Federal Circuit reiterated that its precedent does not mandate exclusive Federal Circuit jurisdiction over all Walker Process cases.

In 2006, Phoenix Services and Mark Fisher (collectively, Phoenix) acquired a company called Heat On-The-Fly and its patent to protect a purported proprietary fracking process. Heat-On-The-Fly, and later Phoenix, sought to enforce the patent against numerous parties. During the patent application process, however, Heat On-The-Fly had failed to disclose numerous public uses of the fracking process prior to the application filing. In 2018, in an unrelated case, Energy Heating, LLC v. Heat On-The-Fly, the Federal Circuit, held that “failure to disclose prior uses of the fracking process rendered the . . . patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.” The plaintiffs in the case at hand, Ronald Chandler, Chandler MFG., Newco Enterprises and Supertherm Heating Services (collectively, Chandler), alleged that Phoenix’s continued enforcement of the patent violated Walker Process pursuant to § 2 of the Sherman Act.

Walker Process monopolization claims originate from a 1965 Supreme Court decision that recognized an antitrust cause of action under the Sherman and Clayton Acts when a party fraudulently obtains a patent for the purpose of attempted monopolization. Walker Process Equipment, Inc. v. Food Machinery & Chemical Corp. To succeed on a Walker Process claim, a plaintiff must satisfy two elements:

  • The plaintiff must show that the defendant obtained the patent through knowing and willful fraud on the US Patent & Trademark Office and enforced that patent with knowledge of its fraudulent procurement.
  • The plaintiff must be able to satisfy all other elements for a Sherman Act monopolization claim.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1), the Federal Circuit retains jurisdiction over any civil case arising under any act of Congress relating to patents. In this instance, the Federal Circuit stated that Walker Process antitrust claims may relate to patents “in the colloquial use of the term,” but under 1988 Supreme Court precedent, Christianson v. Colt Indus., the Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction only extends to cases where the cause of action is created under federal patent law, or where the plaintiff’s right to relief “necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law.”

Here, the Federal Circuit relied on its own 2018 precedent where it analyzed subject matter jurisdiction for Walker Process claims. Xitronix Corp v. KLA-Tencor Corp. (Xitronix I). Xitronix I involved alleged fraud by the defendants to obtain a patent. The Court acknowledged [...]

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Eighth Circuit Cools Off Antitrust Claims Based on Alleged Patent Fraud

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment dismissing antitrust and tortious interference claims based on fraudulent procurement of patents where the plaintiff failed to show a knowing and willful intent to deceive the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Inline Packaging, LLC v. Graphic Packaging International, LLC, Case No. 18-3167 (8th Cir. June 18, 2020) (Smith, J.).

Inline Packaging and Graphic Packaging are manufacturers of susceptor packaging, a specialized food packaging used for microwaving frozen foods. Graphic developed the susceptor design in partnership with Nestlé in 2005. The packaging was redesigned from a prior patent obtained several years earlier. Although Graphic’s computer-aided design drafter was listed as the sole inventor of the redesigned packaging claimed in the asserted patent, Nestlé’s engineer provided feedback that was implemented into the design, including the addition and deletion of certain features of the packaging.

In 2014, Nestlé held an auction to select the next manufacturer of its susceptor packaging. Nestlé originally selected Inline as the supplier of its susceptor packaging, but later awarded 90% of the susceptor packaging business to Graphic after Graphic notified Nestlé that Inline would likely infringe on Graphic’s patents. In June 2015, Graphic initiated patent litigation against Inline. In July 2015, Inline brought an antitrust suit against Graphic alleging that Graphic monopolized the susceptor packaging market using anticompetitive practices in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. To support its antitrust claims, Inline alleged that Graphic fraudulently procured the asserted patents, made baseless litigation threats and engaged in predatory discount bundling through the use of multi-year supply agreements. At the time the lawsuit was initiated, Graphic was the dominant supplier of susceptor packaging, with an almost 95% share of the US market. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Graphic, dismissing Inline’s claims. Inline appealed.

The Eighth Circuit reviews grants of summary judgment de novo to determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists and whether judgment is entitled as a matter of law. Here, all inferences were viewed in the light most favorable to Inline. Section 2 of the Sherman Act prohibits monopolizing, or attempting to monopolize, any part of the trade or commerce among the several states. To prove a violation of Section 2, a claimant must show that an entity possessed monopoly power in the relevant market and willfully acquired or maintained such monopoly power through anticompetitive conduct rather than as the result of fair competition (e.g., by means of a superior product or business acumen).

The Eighth Circuit first considered whether Graphic fraudulently procured the asserted patents. Patent fraud, also known as Walker Process fraud, can support a monopolization claim where the defendant procured the patent at issue by knowing and willful fraud on the PTO, or maintained and enforced the patent with knowledge of the fraudulent manner in which it was obtained. Knowing and willful fraud requires an intent to deceive or inequitable conduct. The Court reasoned that this standard requires clear and convincing [...]

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