How can a jury verdict in a patent infringement case be overturned? WISCONSIN v. APPLE

How can a jury verdict in a patent infringement case be overturned? WISCONSIN v. APPLE

A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a government to the inventor of a new invention.  An inventor requests a patent by filing a patent application which demonstrates that the invention meets all the requirements to be granted patent protection.  In the United States the agency which reviews patent application is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  When an inventor submits a patent application which demonstrates an invention is new, useful and not obvious than the inventor is granted certain exclusive rights to the invention.  A patent grants the owner of the patent the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the invention in the United States.  If someone other than the patent owner attempts to exercise one of those rights that can be patent infringement.  A patent owner can file a lawsuit to get an injunction to stop patent infringement or to get monetary damages for patent infringement which as already happened.

A patent infringement lawsuit is one of the more complex types of lawsuits.  Because patents involve complex technology and a huge amount of evidence, lawsuits related to patents can be very confusing or boring.  Sometimes people on a jury get distracted from the evidence.  It is possible for a patent owner to have a valid patent, convince a jury at trial that the defendant infringed on the patent, but still lose on appeal because the appeals court determines that the evidence did not support the verdict.  The test for a patent infringement case on appeal is the reasonable juror standard.

A case which illustrates the reasonable juror standard is WISCONSIN ALUMNI RESEARCH FOUNDATION v. APPLE INC., 2017-2265, 2017-2380 (C.A.F.C. 2018).  This case revolves around a method of predicting computer instructions as they are being processed by a computer chip.  The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation held a patent on a method which increased the speed which computer chips could operate by predicting which operations would come next in a program.  Apple’s computer chips use a method of predictive computing.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation sued Apple Inc. for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,781,752. A jury found that the patent in question was valid and that Apple was liable for infringement of the patent The jury awarded over $234 million in damages to Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The district court denied Apple’s post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. Apple appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  The Federal Circuit also found that the patent was valid but over turned the jury verdict on damages.  The Federal Circuit found that no reasonable juror could have found infringement based on the evidence
presented during the liability phase of trial.  So essentially the Federal Circuit held that the patent was valid but the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that Apple infringed on the patent.

The Federal Circuit overturned the jury’s verdict because the court found that the definition of “particular” was not properly interpreted by the jury at trial.  A tricky aspect of patent law is that the language of the claims of the patent are defined strictly by the description section of a patent. It is common in the English language to stretch a definition of a word depending on the context of a conversation, in patent law the definition of a word is limited to how it is used in the description section.  In the present case, the patent claims said that a particular instruction would be predicatively loaded.  The jury interpreted particular to include groups of instructions, but the patent description only described  loading a single particular function.  For that reason, the Federal Circuit found that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the evidence, rendering the verdict unreasonable.

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