[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday ruled in SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC [opinion, PDF]—a patent infringement case—vacating a portion of the opinion and remanding it to a lower court. In SCA Hygiene [SCOTUSblog materials], the defendant, who is accused of infringing on a patented adult hygiene product design, was attempting to use the defense of laches despite the plaintiff filing suit within the six-year statute of limitations. The court rejected that defense, holding that “[l]aches cannot be interposed as a defense against damages where the infringement occurred within the period prescribed by §286,” as, inter alia, “[l]aches is a gap-filling doctrine, and where there is a statute of limitations, there is no gap to fill.” In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that there was a gap to be filled by the doctrine of laches in the instant case. In one example, Breyer, posed that the statute provided no period of time to sue and because of this a patentee could wait significant time to sue while an infringer works on a patent making marked developments leaving developers open to highly prejudicial suits in which the patentee will “collect a significant recovery.”
In December the court heard arguments [JURIST report] in another patent case, Life Technologies v. Promega [SCOTUSblog materials], to decide whether 1) a corporation can be held liable for actively encouraging the assembly of components of a patented invention when the same legal entity both supplies the components from the US and assembles them abroad; and 2) a supplier can be held liable for “providing ‘all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention’ from the US when the supplier ships for combination abroad only a single commodity component of a multi-component invention.” Promega alleged that a key component—en enzyme called Taq polymerase— manufactured in the US was sent by Life Technologies to the UK to be assembled together with other components as part of a DNA kit. All of the other components were manufactured outside the US. Promega granted Life Technologies a license to sell the patented kit only for “activities relating to legal proceedings,” but Life Technologies started selling the kit for unlicensed clinical diagnosis. The district court has ruled that there is no patent infringement because only a single component was exported. The Federal Circuit disagreed stating that a single exported component can indeed constitute “substantial portion” of the patented invention. Life Technologies has since been purchased by Thermo Fisher Scientific, which can thus be exposed to liability depending on the outcome of this case.