In a recent case from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the district court granted defendants' motion to limit damages for failure to mark for all but one of the patents-in-suit. Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §287(a), a patentee must either mark a patented product or provide actual notice of infringement in order to recover damages. Section 287 can be satisfied either by constructive notice, accomplished by marking a product or packaging with the applicable patent number, or actual notice, such as sending a cease and desist letter or providing the alleged infringer with actual notice of infringement through another affirmative act.
Defendants filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law asserting that the plaintiff had failed to introduce sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was entitled to recover pre-suit damages because it failed to comply with the marking requirements of Section 287. Plaintiff argued that Section 287 did not apply because the defendants were aware of the patents and, therefore, had actual knowledge regardless of plaintiff's failure to mark. The plaintiff also argued that with respect to one of the patents Section 287 did not apply because the plaintiff was only asserting method claims and not apparatus claims.
In analyzing whether defendants had notice under Section 287, the district court noted that "[t]he inquiry into whether the actual notice requirement has been satisfied focuses on the actions of the patentee rather than the knowledge of the accused infringer." As a result, the district concluded that the plaintiff could not rely on allegations of willful infringement, i.e., that defendants knew of the patents regardless of plaintiff's failure to mark or otherwise put defendants on notice, to satisfy the notice requirement. Rather, plaintiff had to demonstrate it took an affirmative action to put defendants on notice prior to filing the lawsuit.
The district court then found that the plaintiff had produced no evidence that it had marked its products nor that it had provided defendants with explicit notice of infringement prior to filing the lawsuit. Accordingly, the district court barred plaintiff from seeking pre-suit damages for three of the four patents-in-suit based on Section 287.
With respect to the fourth patent, the district court noted that it only included method claims and, therefore, there was no requirement to mark. "Established Federal Circuit case law is clear that where a patent contains only method claims, the patentee has not duty to mark." Accordingly, the district court found that Section 287 did not bar pre-suit damages for one of the patents because it only contained method claims.
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The case highlights the importance of the marking requirements of the Patent Act. For plaintiffs, it is important to make sure that you mark your products (assuming you intend to assert more than just method claims) or put infringers on notice of their infringement. For defendants, the failure to mark or provide notice, can be a significant defense to limit or dramatically reduce damages in a patent case where apparatus claims are asserted. Accordingly, it is a defense that should not be overlooked.
The authors of www.PatentLawyerBlog.com are patent trial lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. We represent inventors, patent owners and technology companies in patent licensing and litigation. Whether pursuing patent violations or defending infringement claims, we are aggressive and effective advocates for our clients. For more information contact Stan Gibson at 310.201.3548 or SGibson@jmbm.com.