Campbell Pet Co. v. Theresa Miale & Ty-Lift Ent. (Fed. Cir. 2008)
Ms. Miale holds two patents relating to stretchers for carrying injured animals her company (a partnership with her mother) sells products based on the patents.
The issue in the case is one of personal jurisdiction – whether the Federal Court sitting in Washington State has sufficient power over the patentee and her company to adjudge Campbell’s declaratory judgment action.
The facts are that Ty-Lift sold several thousand dollars worth of equipment to Washington residents, opened its internet website to Washington residents, and Ms. Miale even demonstrated the product at a Convention in the state. While there, Miale and her mother “confronted several Campbell employees” and accused them of infringing Miale’s patents. They also allegedly asked the convention director to remove the Campbell products and told customers of the infringement.
The district court originally dismissed the case – finding that Miale’s contacts were not sufficient for either general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction.
“[T]he [district] court found that the defendants had purposely engaged in transactions in Washington during the three-day convention in June 2007, and the court found that the cause of action for a declaratory judgment of patent noninfringement and invalidity arose from or was connected with those transactions. However, relying on our decision in Red Wing Shoe Co. v. Hockerson-Halberstadt, Inc., 148 F.3d 1355 (Fed. Cir. 2003), the court found that due process considerations barred the court from exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendants based on the activities at the June 2007 convention in Seattle.
The district court noted that the notion of “fair play and substantial justice” should “afford a patentee sufficient latitude to inform others of its patent rights without subjecting itself to jurisdiction in a foreign forum.”
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed – finding that constitutional due process considerations of International Shoe do not bar the suit. For the Federal Circuit, “sending letters to another state” is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process and thus personal jurisdiction – even if those letters threaten litigation. Here, the facts asserted show more than simply “attempts to inform.”
“Of critical importance to the issue of personal jurisdiction, Ms. Miale’s attempts at “extra-judicial patent enforcement” were targeted at Campbell’s business activities in Washington and can fairly be characterized as attempts to limit competition from Campbell at the Seattle convention.”
Reversed: The district court does have the power to hear this case.