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.