The University of Illinois filed a patent infringement action against Micron Technology. During the litigation, Micron sent an email to a number of individuals, which included many professors at the University of Illinois in the engineering department. A part of the email stated that "[b]ecause Micron remains a defendant in a patent infringement lawsuit that UIUC filed against Micron in Federal court in Illinois on December 5, 2011, effective immediately, Micron will no longer recruit UIUC students for open positions at any of Micron's world-wide facilities." The email also stated that Micron will withhold funding from the University by suspending scholarships and professor research.
The University of Illinois moved for an injunction to bar Micron from sending further communications that it characterized as harassing and meant to coerce it into settling its patent litigation lawsuit. Micron asserted that the motion should be denied and that the University should be sanctioned for filing the motion.
The district court found the request to enjoin any future "harassing" emails problematic for several reasons. First, the term "harassing" was vague and likely violated Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(d)(1)(C), which provides that every order granting an injunction must describe in detail the acts restrained. The district court did not believe that it could frame an order, given the University's broad request, that would be meaningful and that would also comply with Rule 65.
Second, enjoining future actions, particularly actions involving speech, would raise very serious First Amendment issues. Third, the University was seeking to enjoin an alleged injury that was unrelated to the underlying complaint of patent infringement. The district court concluded that even if the court construed the University's request as one for permanent relief, the University had not shown any irreparable harm.
Turning to the issue of sanctions against the University for filing the motion, the district court denied the request for sanctions and had some strong words for Micron. "The Court will not sanction the University because it is Micron's behavior--not the University's--that worries the Court. If is of course Micron's prerogative to stop recruiting the University's students. Though Micron's decision to shun the University's students is without tact, it is the manner in which the decision was communicated that is particularly troublesome to the Court. The Court is very concerned if Micron made a calculated decision to interfere with the litigation by attempting to force the University into submission. But the University ahs not presented the Court with sufficient evidence to draw such a conclusion. As such, the Court will take no further action at this time."
The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois v. Micron Technology, Inc., Case No. 2:11-cv-2288-SLD-JAG (C.D. Ill. April 11, 2013)
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.