The U.S. Supreme Court has just issued a decision in two unrelated cases that overturns the 2007 Federal Circuit ruling, known as “Seagate”. The Supreme Court considers Seagate to be “unduly rigid” and overly limiting as to the potential for enhanced damages in patent infringement cases.
Since 2007, under the now-overturned-Seagate-analysis, a patent infringer could more easily avoid paying treble, or otherwise enhanced damages for their infringing activity, by simply demonstrating that they had not acted in an “objectively reckless” manner regarding their infringing activities. This essentially meant that a patent infringer could escape paying higher damages as long as they could present virtually any form of explanation or reason as to why they did not consider their activity to be infringing. This could even, in some instances, include asserting a defense during the patent infringement trial that they ultimately lost, with nothing else such as a non-infringement opinion or other legal analysis.
Now in 2016, based on this overturned decision, a court can assess enhanced damages under 35 U.S.C. §284, including treble damages, for patent infringement activities at the discretion of the court. This decision eliminates the more rigid test requirements of Seagate, which means courts can now assess enhanced damages more often for less egregious infringing activities.
How does this affect you? The Supreme Court decision did not go so far as to specify whether willful infringement is required for an enhanced damages award (vs. a requirement that the infringement be “egregious”). As such, in a patent infringement case where infringement is found, the court will take into account all evidence and at its discretion decide at the end of a trial whether the patent infringer should be on the hook for enhanced damages or not. Many had interpreted the Seagate ruling of 2007 as reducing the need for non-infringement opinions to be drafted by attorneys as a protection against enhanced damages should infringement be found.
Whether or not you had that view in 2007, it is clear that now with Seagate being overruled you may want to more carefully consider whether you should obtain at least a legal memorandum or analysis, if not a full-fledged legal opinion, from your patent attorney if you are concerned about a competitor patent and whether your product may infringe. If nothing else, it appears that in light of this Supreme Court decision such documents from your attorney will now do more to protect you from enhanced damages, including treble damages, if you are found to infringe another’s patents.
For more information concerning this issue, please contact Sean D. Detweiler.
 Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc., U.S., No. 14-1513, 6/13/2016; Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, U.S., No. 14-1520, 6/13/2016
 In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F. 3d 1360