Supreme Court Decision Alters Patent Defense Landscape
Thursday, March 23, 2017

In a highly-anticipated ruling, the Supreme Court held that patent holders can recover damages for infringement even when the patent holders unreasonably delayed filing a lawsuit.  In SCA Hygiene Products AB v. First Quality Baby Products LLC, the Supreme Court eliminated laches as a defense to claims for damages in patent cases.  Laches prevents a party from suing after an unreasonable delay. 

The Patent Act, which governs patent infringement cases, limits a patent owner's right to recover damages for infringement to the six-year period that precedes the filing of a complaint.  In a 2014 decision, Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., the Supreme Court held that a similar provision in the Copyright Act that set a three-year statute of limitations eliminated the laches defense. The Court explained that where Congress explicitly sets a statute of limitations, this implicitly means that a rights holder can collect damages within the statute of limitations. Essentially, Congress eliminated laches as a defense to a claim for damages within the statute of limitations.  In the ruling, which occurred Tuesday, March 21, the Supreme Court adopted this interpretation for patent cases.

This decision eliminates a defense that accused infringers frequently assert and gives patent owners the right to collect damages for infringement that occurred within six-years of filing a complaint.  Laches remains a defense to equitable relief.


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