Though time's up on the presumption of irreparable harm for patent holders seeking injunctive relief following a jury finding of validity and infringement, the clock hasn't stopped on permanent injunctions for patent infringement. In Robert Bosch, LLC v. Pylon Mfg. Corp., the Federal Circuit confirmed that eBay "jettisoned" the presumption of irreparable harm as it applies to requests for injunctive relief for established patent infringement. But the court also said it is error to ignore the fundamental nature of patents as property rights granting the owner the right to exclude under the equitable analysis injunctive relief requires. eBay, the court noted, "does not swing the pendulum in the opposite direction." The result? Bosch's alternative approach to the equitable analysis of patent rights may put pre- and post-eBay injunction requests into a dead heat.
The patents at issue in Bosch cover "beam" windshield wiper blades. Beam blades distribute pressure more evenly than older "bracketed" blades and keep windows clearer in bad weather. At trial, the jury determined some of the patent claims asserted by patent holder Bosch were infringed and not invalid. After the jury's decision, Bosch moved for permanent injunction. The district denied the motion, finding that Bosch had failed to prove irreparable harm. Assuming no presumption of irreparable harm, the district court focused on two factors in its irreparable harm analysis. First, the court looked at the extent to which the patent holder practices its patent and is a direct market competitor of the infringer. Second, the court considered whether the patented technology is at the core of the patent holder's business. The district court's denial of injunctive relief reflected its determination that Bosch had not made a satisfactory showing on either issue and had, therefore, not demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm.
On Bosch's appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed. The court first confirmed the death of the presumption of irreparable harm in eBay's wake. But the court said the end of the remedial short-cut should not also end consideration of the nature of patent rights in a court's equitable analysis. "While the patentee's right to exclude cannot justify an injunction, it should not be ignored either." The appeals court also explained that the district court had committed reversible error by ignoring established Federal Circuit standards for injunctive relief and, instead, creating standards of its own.
The court of appeals identified the district court's legal error through the lens of the four-part analysis traditionally applied to requests for injunctive relief. That analysis requires a showing of irreparable harm; inadequacy of remedies at law; a balancing of the hardships; and no harm to public interest. The district court's errors included its decision that the presence of additional competitors weighed against the granting of an injunction-particularly because Bosch presented evidence that it had made efforts to enforce its patent rights with those other competitors. The district court also erred by placing undue emphasis on the importance of Bosch's wiper business to its overall business as whole. The court of appeals said that the vagaries of Bosch's internal corporate structure should not be a determinative factor in denying an otherwise appropriate request for injunctive relief. Writing in partial dissent, Judge Bryson would have remanded with instructions to weigh the equities rather than entering an out-right reversal.
Patent holders seeking injunctive relief will certainly need to set their watches back in the wake of Bosch and its confirmation of the end of the presumption of irreparable harm. Many believe that the removal of the presumption necessarily applies to both requests for preliminary as well as permanent injunctions, even though Bosch does not address preliminary injunctions. Still, adjusting to patent law's new injunctive time zone might not be too hard, given the court's focus on the patent as property right. Although the court declines to explain in detail what consideration of the "fundamental nature" of a patent as property right adds to the scale in the injunction analysis, the Federal Circuit implies that the property right and constitutional exclusivity of patents should weigh in favor of an injunction, at least in the post-infringement setting explicitly discussed. Our read? Bosch leaves the patent injunction clock at 12:00 PST (Patent Standard Time).
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