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Being a notorious font of local wisdom, I am often asked whether Judge X or Y will entertain indefiniteness at Markman. Well here you have it faithful readers—everything you need to know about raising indefiniteness at Markman in Delaware

Most Delaware District Judges Will Allow Briefing and Argument on Indefiniteness at Markman

Judge Sleet rather famously did not entertain indefiniteness arguments at Markman, considering it “an attempt at an end-run around the court's scheduling order regarding the filing of dispositive motions [that] will not be sanctioned.” Pharmastem Therapeutics, Inc. v. Viacell, Inc., No. 02-148 GMS, 2003 WL 124149, at *1 n.1 (D. Del. Jan. 13, 2003). He frequently referred to this prohibition as "the Court’s standard policy." Harvest Tech. Corp. v. Thermogenesis Corp., 12-1354-GMS, D.I. 65, at 12 n.4 (D. Del. Sept. 22, 2014).

Now, as set forth below, Judge Connolly is the current exception; he has made clear that he has not permitted formal argument on indefiniteness issues at Markman. See Volterra Semiconductor LLC v. Monolithic Power Systems, Inc., C.A. No. 19-2240-CFC-SRF, at 18:16-24 (D. Del. May 12, 2021) (transcript).

[UPDATE: Note that the magistrate judges may have other rules.]

Judge Stark and Judge Andrews Have Both Found Numerous Claims Indefinite at Markman

Judges Stark and Andrews both have long track records of resolving indefiniteness issues (both lack of antecedent basis and traditional) at Markman. Both, however, are willing to reserve the issue for later if they find a more complete factual record is necessary.

Judge Noreika Will Hear Argument, But Has Not Ruled Any Claims Indefinite At Markman

Judge Noreika has thus far dealt with about a dozen cases where indefiniteness was argued at Markman. In each case, she has found that the defendant failed to meet their burden of proving indefiniteness by clear and convincing evidence. See Quest Diagnostics Investments LLC v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, C.A. No. 18-1436-MN, D.I. 97 at 10 (D. Del. Jan 14, 2020) ("In sum, Defendants have not met their burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that these terms are indefinite, and I will construe them to have their plain and ordinary meanings as articulated by Plaintiff").

On several occasions, however, Judge Noreika has noted that the defendant raised serious questions about indefiniteness. In these cases, she has adopted the opposing proposed construction (or plain meaning if there was no opposing construction) and gone on to note that the defendant may raise the issue later with a fuller record. See, e.g. PureWick Corp. v. Sage Prods. LLC, C.A. No. 19-1508-MN, D.I. 128 at 14 (D. Del. Feb. 17, 2021) ("Here, I conclude that Defendant has not met its burden to show that this is indefinite. And I will give the term its plain and ordinary meaning for now. But I will say that should there still be a disagreement regarding the definiteness of this term in the future, Defendant may raise the issue later, if appropriate, after full fact and expert discovery."); Worlds Inc. v. Linden Res., Inc., C.A. No. 19-1773, D.1 56 at 11 (D. Del. Nov. 23, 2020) ("For these terms, on the record before me, I conclude that Defendant has not met its burden to show that these terms are indefinite. That being said, I am not yet ready to conclude that they are definite. Should there still be a disagreement regarding these claim terms in the future, Defendant may raise the issue later, if appropriate, after full fact and expert discovery").

Judge Connolly Also Has Not Found Any Claim Indefinite at Markman, but Has Ordered Expedited Evidentiary Hearings After Hearing Argument

UPDATE: At a May 12, 2021 hearing, Judge Connolly clarified his position on hearing indefiniteness at Markman (citing a blog post). He stated that he will not hear indefiniteness argument at Markman, and that he has only twice granted early summary judgment on the issue. See Volterra Semiconductor LLC v. Monolithic Power Systems, Inc., C.A. No. 19-2240-CFC-SRF, at 18:16-24 (D. Del. May 12, 2021) (transcript).

Our original post stated that Judge Connolly has "heard argument at Markman," but he has only permitted the parties to touch on the subject, not offer formal argument. See, e.g., Koki Holds Co. Ltd. v. Kyocera Senco Industrial Tools, Inc., C.A. No. 18-313-CFC, D.I. 153-1 (D. Del. Oct. 2, 2019) ("[COUNSEL] We understand with your Honor's indulgence that indefiniteness is a merits issue. . . . THE COURT: Well, go ahead. Explain it. . . . I will give the defendants a few minutes if you want."). Our post incorrectly implied that he permits formal argument about indefiniteness at Markman hearings. We have updated the text below to more accurately reflect his procedures.

Judge Connolly does not permit formal argument on indefiniteness at Markman. He has, however, sometimes ordered an expedited summary judgment hearing on indefiniteness to resolve the issue.

For example, in HIP, Inc. v. Hormel Foods Corp., C.A. No 18-615-CFC, following discussion of the indefiniteness issue at Markman, Judge Connolly requested the parties submit letters on the possibility of an expedited motion for summary judgment. He then allowed the defendant to submit an early summary judgment motion on the condition that their opening brief "not contain any argument" and instead just point to citations in their Markman briefing that supported their indefiniteness position. See id., D.I. 115.

Judge Connolly ultimately held the hearing on indefiniteness just six weeks after the Markman hearing, and issued an opinion invalidating the relevant claims approximately one month after that. Id.; see also id., D.I. 141. A similar (although slightly extended) procedure was used in the Kyoki case we discussed a few weeks ago.

SECOND UPDATE: See here for Judge Williams.

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