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Marvell Case Update: Federal Circuit Waits for SCOTUS to Rule

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 19, 2015 12:02 PM

The Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit has decided to cool its jets with regards to multi-billion dollar case Mellon University v. Marvell Tech, waiting for SCOTUS to make its decision in Halo and several other big-ticket infringement cases.

A Pennsylvania District Court had awarded the University a cool $1.54 billion dollars based on a finding of willful infringement on the part of Marvell. However, the Federal Circuit panel reduced that award, pointing to a number of factors including a finding by the circuit that Marvell had a, objectively reasonable defense to Mellon's claims, and the potential removal of foreign sales based on where sales contracts were executed.

"Reduced Significantly"

The Federal Circuit first upheld a jury verdict that Marvell had infringed on two hard disk drive patents held by the University but stated that the award of $1.54 billion would be reduced significantly for the factors listed above. Both sides rubbed their eyes and petitioned the court for a rehearing or a rehearing en banc . The Court said, "nah."

Marvell petitioned for a rehearing with respect to the issue of whether or not the lower court was correct in awarding "enhanced damages" that raised the award against the tech company from $1.17 billion to $1.54 after punitive damages, costs, and interest. In the end, the number finally settled on $278 million. Then CMU also petitioned for a rehearing.

I guess when you hear a number like $1.54 billion, $278 million just doesn't seem to cut it.

Reasoning Behind the Delay

But there was reason behind the apparent twiddling of thumbs. Says the court:

The court will hold Carnegie Mellon's petition as to that issue pending the Supreme Court's decision in Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc., 769 F.3d 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2014) cert. granted, No. 14-1513, 2015 WL 3883472 (U.S. Oct. 19, 2015) and Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc., 782 F.3d 649 (Fed. Cir. 2015) cert. granted, No. 14-1520, 2015 WL 3883499 (U.S. Oct. 19, 2015).

In other words, the Federal Circuit decided to hedge its bets. Why bother muddying precedent any more than necessary when the highest court in the land could potentially overturn the decision within a few months?

SCOTUS and Willfulness

In the opinion of Law Professor Dennis Crouch, chances are good that SCOTUS will finally make a decision with regards to "willfulness" that will give lower courts blessed guidance. Federal district courts have what many regard as a surprising level of freedom and discretion in the awarding of punitive damages. The applicable Patent Act states that the the court can may simply treble the damages, and pretty much ends there under 35 U.S.C. sec. 284. And the language doesn't even require willfulness.

If nothing else, the Federal Circuit's refusal to rehear its own decision can at least be called prudent.

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