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By Peter Leung
Lifetime Industries Inc.’s patent infringement lawsuit against a competitor over seals used to expand rooms in recreational vehicles was improperly dismissed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Sept. 7.
The decision provides guidance about the amount of detail and specificity required in a patent infringement complaint. Some defendants have said the standard is too low, making it easier for patent owners to file frivolous infringement lawsuits.
Lifetime’s patent covers using an improved seal for a slide-out module installed in an RV to open up more interior space. The seal protects the gap where the module meets the RV wall, to block debris and moisture ( Lifetime Indus., Inc. v. Trim-Lok, Inc. , 2017 BL 314370, Fed. Cir., No. 17-1096, 9/7/17 ).
A trial court dismissed Lifetime’s direct infringement claim, finding defendant Trim-Lok Inc. manufactured only the seal and not RVs, which didn’t directly infringe the patent.
The Federal Circuit reversed, saying Lifetime’s allegation that Trim-Lok employees installed the seals on RVs made by other companies was sufficient to support the direct infringement claim.
Trim-Lok argued that the installation claim was speculative, because it did not identify the specific individuals who allegedly installed the seals. The lack of such details shows that Lifetime’s allegations are speculative, Trim-Lok said.
But the Federal Circuit disagreed, saying the claim is consistent with other facts and allegations in Lifetime’s complaint, such as how it discovered Trim-Lok’s seals were installed on a particular brand of RV and how Trim-Lok could have acquired knowledge about Lifetime’s invention.
Trim-Lok’s arguments about the lack of detail in the complaint “ask for too much,” as Lifetime is not required to prove its case at the pleading stage, the court said.
The court also revived Lifetime’s other claims for indirect patent infringement, similarly ruling that Lifetime’s complaint contained sufficient detail.
Judge Alan D. Lourie, who wrote the opinion, also suggested that a 2015 change to the pleading standards for patent cases didn’t actually bring much, if any, change at all.
In the past, the Federal Circuit had held that a complaint for direct patent infringement that complied with Form 18, found in the appendix to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, would survive a sufficiency attack like the one Trim-Lok brought against Lifetime.
In December 2015, however, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a set of amendments to the civil procedure rules, and as a result, compliance with Form 18 is no longer a guarantee that a complaint is sufficiently detailed.
Practitioners interpreted the change as essentially raising the pleading standard requirement, since Form 18 did not require a lot of detail. And in fact, both Lifetime and Trim-Lok argued about which standard applied. Lifetime filed its complaint when Form 18 was still accepted, but the trial court didn’t dismiss the complaint until after the Supreme Court ordered the change.
Lourie said that while the parties assumed there is a difference between Form 18 and the later standard, the Federal Circuit has never acknowledged such a difference. At the same time, he said it wasn’t an issue that had to be resolved, because Lifetime’s complaint met the purportedly higher standard.
Judges Kimberly A. Moore and Kathleen M. O’Malley joined the opinion. Trim-Lok’s lawyer, Daniel M. Cislo of Cislo & Thomas LLP told Bloomberg BNA he was disappointed in the decision but confident that his client will prevail in the end. Lifetime’s lawyers at Botkin & Hall LLP didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
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