A recent Law 360 story by Dani Kass, “’Radical’ IP Atty Fee Claim Doesn’t Strike Justices’ Interest,” reports that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a patent-holding company's attempt to limit when district court judges can make plaintiffs in frivolous patent cases cover attorney fees. WPEM LLC's March 16 petition had called U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap's decision to make it pay fees after a failed patent suit a "radical expansion" on the court's powers. But the justices weren't persuaded, and rejected the petition without further comment.
The petition was rejected at the high court before the opposing party, SOTI Inc., had a chance to file an opposition or waive its right to do so, according to the court's online docket. WPEM had sued Canada-based SOTI in 2018, accusing it of infringing a patent with a manual for a product called the MobiControl Speed Lockdown. Judge Gilstrap then dismissed the case, saying a reasonable plaintiff "conducting minimally diligent" research into the case would have found an earlier version of the manual was issued before WPEM's patent.
Looking at WPEM's own evidence, Judge Gilstrap had found it was "clear that WPEM conducted no pre-filing investigation into the validity and enforceability of the asserted patent at all," and he ordered WPEM to cover SOTI's attorney fees. The Federal Circuit upheld that ruling in December 2020, in a nonprecedential opinion. Three months later, WPEM told the justices the ruling reflected "a radical expansion of discretion," as Judge Gilstrap was still obligated to presume that its patent was valid.
"The district court determined petitioner's case to be frivolous because the accused technology was prior art, but the district court did not make an invalidity determination, as such would require clear and convincing evidence," the company said in its petition. WPEM had argued that Judge Gilstrap should have done more to figure out if its patent was also invalid, and said if it wasn't invalid, that would necessitate a new ruling on those fees and whether the case was exceptional.