May 11, 2021
A recent Law 360 story by Adam Lidgett, “Fed. Circ. Backs Apple and Cisco’s $4.2M Fee Win in IP Case,” reports that the Federal Circuit has refused to undo a lower court order allowing Apple and Cisco to collect $4.2 million in attorney fees from tech company Straight Path in a patent case, despite arguments that a California federal judge wrongly found the case was exceptional. In a short order, a three-judge appellate panel affirmed the California federal court's decision handing Cisco $1.9 million and Apple $2.3 million in fees from Straight Path in a dispute over internet phone patents. The panel gave no reason behind its decision.
The order came just days after oral arguments in which the panel had a hard time believing that U.S. District Judge William Alsup — who delivered the fee award almost a year ago — lacked the discretion to do so. Judge Alsup declared the case exceptional since Straight Path's infringement claims contradicted a position it had advocated at the Federal Circuit in appealing a Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision.
The fee dispute between the parties has been a lively one, sparking fireworks in the courtroom during a May 2020 hearing when Judge Alsup scolded Apple and Cisco for initially requesting $10 million in fees after beating the suit. The judge said the tech giants "played games," used "abusive" tactics and were motivated by "greed, G-R-E-E-D." He required them to resubmit their fee bids and appointed a special master to determine a reasonable amount of fees and costs. In May of last year, the court awarded Cisco $1.9 million — half of its initial request — while Apple netted $2.3 million of its initial $3.9 million ask.
Straight Path argued that as a result, Federal Circuit precedent required it to reverse Judge Alsup's finding of exceptionality, which is required for a prevailing party in a patent dispute to get fees. Desmarais LLP attorney Justin P.D. Wilcox, an attorney for Cisco, told Law360 that his team was "pleased with the Federal Circuit's ruling and that the Federal Circuit affirmed Judge Alsup, who down at the district court had ruled that Cisco was entitled to attorneys' fees for the exceptional case that Straight Path had brought."