Default judgement for Canon when patent infringement defendant fails to appear.

Default judgement for Canon when patent infringement defendant fails to appear.

A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to the inventor of an invention which qualifies for patent protection.  To gain patent protection in the United States an inventor must file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The patent application will be reviewed by an examining attorney and if all the requirements for patent protection are met, the applicant will be granted a patent.  A patent grants its owner the exclusive right to make, use, sell and import the invention in the United States.  If someone, other than the owner of the patent, exercises one of these exclusive rights without authorization that can be considered patent infringement.

While the United States Patent and Trademark Office grants patents, it is not responsible for detecting and policing patent infringement.  A patent owner is responsible for protecting its patent.  When a patent owner suspects patent infringement, it is customary to send the alleged infringer a letter detailing the patent owner’s concerns.  If the alleged infringer does not curtail the infringing activity to the satisfaction of the patent owner,  then the patent owner must file a complaint in Federal District Court.  The patent owner can request an injunction to stop the infringing activity and monetary damages for infringement which has occurred.

The mechanics of a patent infringement lawsuit are relatively standard throughout the United States.  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure outline the general rules to any lawsuit, Supreme Court and Circuit Court precedent refine the Federal Rules, and District Courts and individual judges may add some local rules to the process.  Broken down to its most simple form, a patent infringement lawsuit starts with complaint filed by the plaintiff, the defendant files an answer, information is exchanged during discovery, a trial is held and the court issues a decision.  At various points in the process motions may be filed, and the parties may come to an agreement to settle the case.

What happens if the defendant fails to participate in a lawsuit?  If the plaintiff files a complaint and the defendant never appears in court, the plaintiff can request a Default Judgment.  In the abstract, getting a default judgement may seem easy, but in practice, it is easier said than done.  This is because courts prefer to decide a case on the merits rather than on a technicality.  A default judgement requires the plaintiff to properly plead their case and present the court with enough evidence to persuade the court that a default judgment can be granted and should be granted.  A well pleaded complaint is the key to success.

CANON, INC. v. V4INK, INC., 19-CV-03978 (C.D.CA 2019) is a case which illustrates what happens when a defendant fails to appear in court to defend itself against an allegation of patent infringement.  Plaintiff is a leading innovator, manufacturer, and seller of a wide variety of laser beam printers, inkjet printers, copying machines, cameras, and other consumer business, and industrial products. According to the Complaint, Defendant is a California corporation with a principal place of business in Ontario, California that conducts business at least through its website  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant for allegedly infringing seven of the plaintiffs patents.  In its complaint the plaintiff included a claim chart that detailed how the defendants products infringed on the claims of the plaintiff’s patents.  The defendant failed to appear in court and the plaintiff requested the court impose a default judgement.

The court hearing this case is in California so Ninth Circuit precedent determines whether a default judgement is appropriate.  The Ninth Circuit has directed courts to consider several factors in deciding whether to enter default judgment: (1) the possibility of prejudice to plaintiff; (2) the merits of plaintiff’s substantive claims; (3) the sufficiency of the complaint; (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning the material facts; (6) whether defendant’s default was the product of excusable neglect; and (7) the strong public policy favoring decisions on the merits. See Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986).

The court granted default judgment for the plaintiff.  A deciding factor in the courts determination was that monetary damages were not requested, only a permanent injunction.

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