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Reasonable Royalty Available for Foreign Activities (But Not This Time)
Thursday, April 11, 2024

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to preclude a patent owner from seeking damages based on method claims infringed outside of the United States but confirmed that reasonable royalties are available based on foreign activities. Harris Brumfield v. IBG LLC, Case No. 22-1630 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 27, 2024) (Prost, Taranto, Hughes, JJ.)

Trading Technologies International (TT), whose successor is Harris Brumfield, filed a lawsuit against IBG in 2010 alleging infringement of four patents directed to graphical user interfaces for commodity trading and methods for placing trade orders using those interfaces. During the underlying proceeding, the district court issued several orders. The district court granted IBG’s motion for summary judgment that the claims of two of the patents were invalid. The district court also excluded one of TT’s damages theories concerning foreign activities. Prior to trial, the district court found that two of the patents were invalid as patent ineligible and that the other two patents contained patent eligible subject matter. The district court also excluded one of TT’s damages theories concerning foreign activities.

The case proceeded to trial on the two remaining patents, and the jury found the asserted claims of those two patents infringed. IBG proposed $6.6 million in damages, which corresponds to the total demanded by IBG using IBG’s proposed royalty rate measured against domestic usage, rather than global users. By contrast, TT proposed damages of $962 million, which included all worldwide users of the accused product, regardless of whether they performed the claimed method. The jury agreed with IGB and awarded TT $6.6 million. the district court denied TT’s post-verdict motion for a new trial on damages, a motion in which TT alleged that IBG had misrepresented how it calculated the damages figures it presented to the jury. TT appealed.

Under the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in WesternGeco v. Ion Geophysical, a patent owner can recover damages in the form of foreign lost profits when infringement is found under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(2) of the Patent Act. TT argued that under WesternGeco, it can seek damages in the form of a reasonable royalty based on IBG “making” the accused product in the US, even though the products were used overseas. The Federal Circuit engaged in a detailed description of WesternGeco, concluding that the Court must examine the particular acts alleged to constitute infringement under particular statutory provisions to determine if the allegations focus on domestic conduct. The Court explained that under § 271(a), the making, using, offering to sell and selling provisions are limited to domestic acts. The Court acknowledged that the WesternGeco framework applies to reasonably royalty awards (not just lost profits) and that a reasonable royalty would be the amount a hypothetical infringer would pay to engage in the domestic acts constituting the infringement.

Despite finding that reasonable royalties are permitted under WesternGeco, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s exclusion of TT’s damages theory because TT’s infringement theory about making the accused product did not have a causal relationship to the actual infringement. Here, the asserted claims fell into two groups: claims to a method and claims to a computer readable medium containing computer code. The Court explained that the asserted infringement of “making the product” could not reasonably refer to the method claims. The Court also explained that the “making the product” infringement theory did not apply to the computer readable medium claims because TT’s claims focused on domestic design and programming of software and not on the making of any physical medium that contained the software.

Beyond the damages issue, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that two of the patents were invalid as patent ineligible. The Court explained that the claims of those patents focused on the receipt and display of certain market information (bids and offers) in a manner that helps users see the information for use in making trades. The Court explained that this type of receipt and display of information is a fundamental economic practice of placing an order and thus abstract. The Court also concluded that the claims did not contain an inventive step, since collecting and displaying market information is routine conventional activity.

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