A Blog About Intellectual Property Litigation and the District of Delaware


Entries for tag: Contentions

Upturned Nose
Zayn Shah, Unsplash

As we’ve said before, sufficiency of each parties’ contentions can vary a bit by judge, and holdings are difficult to research because they usually appear in discovery dispute teleconference transcripts that are not posted to the dockets.

However, we saw a written decision issued by Judge Burke last week that illuminated one of the Court’s potential approaches to a dispute over invalidity contentions. The Court proposed that, if Plaintiff would agree to narrow its claims, the Court would require defendants to reduce the number of combinations. When Plaintiffs refused, they still received relief, but it wasn’t as strong or as specific as the relief they might have gotten had they adopted the Court’s proposal.

Plaintiffs complained that Defendants’ response to a contention interrogatory was unduly vague and insufficiently fulsome. The interrogatory sought invalidity contentions under § 103 obviousness, and the response incorporated Defendants’ Joint Initial Invalidity Contentions, so the Court focused on the Initial Invalidity Contention document itself for its analysis.

The Court found that the Initial Invalidity Contentions were sufficient in most respects:

In general, they provide real detail, including significant specificity as to ...

Bare Bones
Mathew Schwartz, Unsplash

Sufficiency of each parties' contentions is one of the most common issues in patent cases in Delaware. Both sides tend to want to know exactly what the other side plans to argue—ideally before claim construction. That way the parties can construe the terms that actually matter, and have straightforward dispute about whether the accused product and the prior art meets the claim elements.

Beyond that, both parties typically want the other side to be held to what they disclosed in their contentions. The rules generally prohibit a party from disclosing one thing and then arguing something else later, for no reason (although Third Circuit law can be remarkably soft on this point).

Having a reasonable idea …

As discussed in a previous post, Judge Noreika now requires that Markman briefing occur after the exchange of final infringement and invalidity contentions. But the Judge's oral orders setting forth that requirement did not expressly anchor the Markman process or the contention deadlines to any other dates in the overall schedule.

As we pointed out in our last post, it would make sense to set those deadlines late in the fact discovery period: "Although this order encourages parties to exchange claim construction positions 'early in the case,' it seems likely that parties will propose later Markman deadlines in addition to earlier final contention deadlines, to ensure that sufficient fact discovery has occurred to create meaningful final contentions."

Judge Noreika recently offered additional guidance along these lines regarding the relative timing of contentions, fact discovery, and claim construction...

Chief Judge Connolly requires that the parties to his cases provide fairly detailed infringement and invalidity contentions early in the schedule, and requires a showing of good cause for any amendments to those contentions.

The question of what constitutes "good cause" is fact-specific, but Judge Connolly's form scheduling order does provide some helpful guidance:

Non-exhaustive examples of circumstances that may, absent undue prejudice to the non-moving party, support a finding of good cause include (a) recent discovery of material prior art despite earlier diligent search and (b) recent discovery of nonpublic information about the Accused Instrumentality which was not discovered, despite diligent efforts, before the service of the Infringement Contentions.

Recently, the plaintiff in Volterra Semiconductor LLC v. Monolithic Power Systems, Inc., C.A. No. 19-2240-CFC-SRF, moved to amend its infringement contentions. The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Fallon.

The plaintiff (Volterra) had initially accused...

Shades of Coffee

Delaware’s Default Standard for Discovery requires that plaintiff “specifically identify the accused products and the asserted patent(s) they allegedly infringe” within 30 days of the Rule 16 Scheduling Conference. So, if the accused products were not identified in the complaint itself, they must be identified early in discovery. But what is the scope of discovery on products that were not specifically identified in the complaint or accused before the Default Standard deadline?

Can plaintiffs seek information regarding “substantially similar” models? Generally, this question is answered on a case-by-case basis using three factors found in in Invensas Corp. v. Renesas Elecs. Corp., 287 F.R.D. 273, 282 (D. Del. 2012):

(1) [A]s to relevance, the specificity with which the plaintiff has articulated how the unaccused products are relevant to its existing claims of infringement (and how they are thus “reasonably similar” to the accused products at issue in those claims);
(2) [W]hether the plaintiff had the ability to identify such products via publicly available information prior to the request; and
(3) [T]he nature of the burden on defendant(s) to produce the type of discovery sought.

In an order last week, Judge Fallon denied ...

The practice of supplementing contentions after the Court issues a claim construction ruling has become commonplace in this District. For the litigants, this timing is generally advantageous because it permits final contentions to be drafted with the Court's claim construction ruling in hand, and does not require the development of alternative positions that take into account each side's claim construction positions.

On the other hand, because the Markman process (in particular the identification of the terms in dispute) often occurs months before final contentions are due, it is not unusual for final detailed contentions to result in additional claim construction disputes, which the Court must resolve long after the initial Markman process.

Judge Noreika recently issued oral orders in several cases specifically to address this timing...

Tug of War
Merritt Thomas, Unsplash

For many years, the prevailing view in D. Del. has been that "you get what you give" when it comes to contention discovery. In other words, if you want a defendant to serve detailed non-infringement contentions, your infringement contentions should have a similar level of detail.

This standard is built into several of the judges' form scheduling orders, including Judges Stark, Noreika, Burke, Fallon, and Hall. For example, Judge Burke's form provides that:

In the absence of agreement of the parties, contention interrogatories, if filed, shall first be addressed by the party with the burden of proof. The adequacy of all interrogatory answers shall, in part, be judged by the level of detail each party provides; i.e., the more detail a party provides, the more detail a party shall receive.

On Monday, Judge Burke issued an order illustrating the implications of this standard (and the importance of serving detailed contentions).

A defendant moved to compel a response to an interrogatory seeking the plaintiff's detailed validity contentions. Judge Burke granted the motion, but with a catch:

As for the portion of ROG 15 that asks ...

As we've mentioned, Judge Connolly uses a different system of patent contentions than the other District of Delaware judges. The other judges generally use the system set forth in the Default Standard, while Judge Connolly's approach is modeled after the more restrictive method used in the Northern District of California.

Because he uses a unique system, parties often wonder just how much (or how little) is needed to offer sufficient contentions in Judge Connolly's view.

Judge Connolly offered some insight on that point today, when he overruled a patentee's objections to an accused infringer's invalidity contentions. Here is one of the contentions at issue:

Claims 1, 2, and 4 of the ’489 patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § …

In the vast majority of patent case in Delaware, the parties are required to serve initial patent disclosures in the form of infringement and invalidity contentions (separate from the contentions they might otherwise serve as part of written discovery). These initial contentions set the stage for fact discovery, claim construction, expert reports, and (in some cases) settlement.

Initial patent disclosures were formalized in this District to some degree by the Court's creation of the Default Standard for Discovery nearly a decade ago. The Default Standard established a staged set of initial disclosures that was eventually adopted by most of the Judges here.

Case narrowing is an issue that comes up in most patent cases at some point, whether in the scheduling order, as a discovery dispute, or at the pretrial conference (or, possibly, all three).

Average amount of prior art references each defendant seeks to assert.
Average amount of prior art references each defendant seeks to assert. Cristina Gottardi, Unsplash

When requested, judges in Delaware typically implement an initial two-stage reduction in asserted claims and prior art references, with the first stage occurring before claim construction, and the second afterward.

Of course, sometimes they will implement other schedules depending on the needs of the case and the requests of the parties. And, for cases that reach a pretrial conference, the Court often imposes an additional limit on the number of claims for …