GUEST BLOG: Finally! The Supreme Court Supports Trial Judges in Markman Rulings in Patents Cases



Barry Barnett has been a Guest Blogger in the past, his Blawgletter provides great thoughts, and insights. I read his blogs regularly. Over the years Barry and I have had a number of cases together and he is an outstanding trial partner at Susman Godfrey.

Barry Barnett Jan 2015Barry Barnett Masthead Jan 2015

Clear Error Test Governs Review of Patent Rulings, Supreme Court Holds

The U.S. Supreme Court held 8-2 today that the Federal Circuit may no longer ignore some rulings by trial court judges on how to construe patent claims. The outcome marks a major victory for parties that win the often-decisive battles over claim construction in Markman hearings in district court.

In Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., No. 13-854, slip op. at 4 (U.S. Jan. 20, 2015), the Court held that Rule 52(a)(6) governs review of “a district court’s resolution of subsidiary factual matters made in the courtse of its construction of a patent claim.”

The case turned on the meaning of “molecular weight” in a patent on a method for making a drug, Copaxone, that doctors prescribe for multiple sclerosis. The district court heard evidence on whether “a skilled artisan” in the field would know what the term meant, found that he or she would grasp it, and rejected Sandoz’s attack on the patent as invalid for indefinitess.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed, ruling de novo that “molecular weight” had no definite meaning in the patent.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion for the Court vacated the Federal Circuit’s decision and remanded for the lower court to reconsider in light of its obligation under Rule 52(a)(6) to uphold the district court’s fact findings unless Sandoz showed “clear error”.

Although the Court’s ruling applies both to infringement plaintiffs and infringement defendants, it as a practical matter helps plaintiffs more. Parties that claim infringement often have fewer resources than defendants do and must pursue claims — if at all — on a contingent-fee basis. For firms that handle infringement claims under a contingent-fee arrangement, winning in the trial court is crucial, and holding that victory on appeal is key.

By making trial courts’ Markman determinations less subject to appellate tinkering, the Court even-handedly leveled the playing field. But infringement plaintiffs and their contingent-fee counsel are the ones smiling the most.

The publications contained in this site do not constitute legal advice. Legal advice can only be given with knowledge of the client's specific facts. By putting these publications on our website we do not intend to create a lawyer-client relationship with the user. Materials may not reflect the most current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. This information should in no way be taken as an indication of future results.

Search Tips:

You may use the wildcard symbol (*) as a root expander.  A search for "anti*" will find not only "anti", but also "anti-trust", "antique", etc.

Entering two terms together in a search field will behave as though an "OR" is being used.  For example, entering "Antique Motorcars" as a Client Name search will find results with either word in the Client Name.


AND and OR may be used in a search.  Note: they must be capitalized, e.g., "Project AND Finance." 

The + and - sign operators may be used.  The + sign indicates that the term immediately following is required, while the - sign indicates to omit results that contain that term. E.g., "+real -estate" says results must have "real" but not "estate".

To perform an exact phrase search, surround your search phrase with quotation marks.  For example, "Project Finance".

Searches are not case sensitive.

back to top