Titan Tire Corp. v. Case New Holland, Inc. 2008-1078 (Fed. Cir. 2009)
Titan (the patentee) and Goodyear (the exclusive licensee) combined to sue Case for infringement of its tractor tire design patent. (Des. Pat. No. D. 360,862). The district court rejected Goodyear's motion for preliminary injunctive relief - finding that the evidence indicated that the patent claim was probably obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.
Standard for Preliminary Relief: In order to obtain the "extraordinary" relief of a preliminary injunction to stop infringement before a final judgment, the a patentee must prove that "(1) it is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities tips in its favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest." The likelihood of success requires proof that the patentee "will likely prove infringement, and that it will likely withstand [validity] challenges, if any." When a defendant challenges a patent's validity, the district court must weigh the evidence (both for and against) to determine whether the challenge "raises a substantial question" of validity.
"Thus, when analyzing the likelihood of success factor, the trial court, after considering all the evidence available at this early stage of the litigation, must determine whether it is more likely than not that the challenger will be able to prove at trial, by clear and convincing evidence, that the patent is invalid. We reiterate that the “clear and convincing” standard regarding the challenger’s evidence applies only at trial on the merits, not at the preliminary injunction stage. The fact that, at trial on the merits, the proof of invalidity will require clear and convincing evidence is a consideration for the judge to take into account in assessing the challenger’s case at the preliminary injunction stage; it is not an evidentiary burden to be met preliminarily by the challenger."
The trial court's decision on preliminary injunctive relief is reviewed for abuse of discretion.
Obviousness of Design Patents: Design patent claims are subject to the nonobviousness requirement of Section 103(a) -- asking whether “the claimed design would have been obvious to a designer of ordinary skill who designs articles of the type involved.” However, it is unclear how KSR applies to design patent cases. Unfortunately, this decision provides no answers except that "it is not obvious that the Supreme Court necessarily intended to exclude design patents from the reach of KSR."
Ordinarily, design patent obviousness analysis begins with a primary reference with design characteristics that "are basically the same as the claimed design." Secondary references are then combined so long as the secondary references are "so related [to the primary reference] that the appearance of certain ornamental features in one would suggest the application of those features to the other." Here, the lower court did not use the language of "primary and secondary references", but the Federal Circuit found that the lower court's obvious analysis was sufficient to for its denial of preliminary relief.
"[W]e cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that Titan was unlikely to withstand Case’s challenge to the validity of the ’862 patent on obviousness grounds.
- Read the case: 08-1078.pdf
- The court explicitly avoided indicating whether obviousness analysis for design patents should be modified to conform to either KSR or Egyptian Goddess.