Federal Circuit upholds attorney fees for Magic Bullet manufacturer in case over plastics patent

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 8, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - In a ruling last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said a California federal court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the maker of the popular Magic Bullet blender more than $250,000 in attorney fees.

The Federal Circuit, which hears all U.S. patent appeals, issued its eight-page opinion in Homeland Housewares LLC’s patent infringement case Sept. 8.

A three-judge panel of the court -- judges Alan Lourie, William Bryson and Raymond Chen -- upheld the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s final judgment.

Non-practicing entity Sorensen Research and Development Trust had appealed to the Federal Circuit, asking it to reverse the fees on the basis that the lower court erred in finding the case exceptional.

The district court found that Sorensen failed to conduct a proper investigation of the infringement and engaged in misconduct during litigation.

The company -- for which a website could not be found -- has a portfolio of patents relating to plastic molding technology, including U.S. Patent No. 6,599,460.

The ‘460 patent claims a method for injecting fluid plastic into a molding as part of the manufacture of “thin walls” in plastic products.

In March 2011, Sorensen sent a cease and demand letter to Homeland, asserting that the company’s Magic Bullet product infringed the ‘460 patent.

A month later, Homeland sought a declaratory judgment of non-infringement, invalidity and unenforceability of the patent.

Sorensen filed a counterclaim, alleging that three of Homeland’s blender products infringed the patent.

Soon after, Homeland moved for summary judgment of non-infringement.

In granting the summary judgment, the court found that Sorensen had produced no admissible evidence that Homeland’s products infringed three claim limitations of the ’460 patent. However, it denied Homeland’s motion for summary judgment of invalidity.

Homeland moved for attorney fees; Sorensen filed an opposition.

The district court partially granted Homeland’s motion, awarding the company $253,777.37.

The court limited the award to fees connected to Homeland’s defense through Aug. 23, 2012, the date of the hearing on Homeland’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement.

In its ruling, the district court faulted Sorensen for filing unsolicited briefs after issues were taken under submission, and for filing multiple motions for reconsideration that the court deemed were without merit.

The court said it was most troubled by Sorensen’s repeated failures to introduce admissible evidence of infringement.

The Federal Circuit agreed.

“We agree with Sorensen that ‘[a] patent holder has the right to vigorously enforce its presumptively valid patent.’ But vigorous enforcement cannot overpower a litigant’s and its counsel’s obligation to file cases reasonably based in law and fact and to litigate those cases in good faith,” Chen wrote for the panel.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with Sorensen that the district court’s fee calculation was “not sufficiently rooted” in the conduct that the court found exceptional.

“The district court, Sorensen contends, should have limited the award to the costs that Homeland incurred in responding to specific acts of litigation misconduct,” Chen wrote. “We decline, however, to require such granularity from the district court, particularly because it is the ‘totality of the circumstances,’ and not just discrete acts of litigation conduct, that justify the court’s award of fees.”

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at patents@legalnewsline.com.

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