A Matter of Form

Submitted by patentadmin on Mon, 03/28/2011 - 21:36

Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Seeking to add even more uncertainty to this already vague standard, the Supreme Court has held that, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state “more than labels and conclusions.” Clearly, neither of these statements provides much guidance. So, when should a defendant, in a patent infringement suit, move to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint is deficient? (Atwater Partners of Texas LLC v. AT&T, Inc., et al.)

Atwater filed suit against twenty-five defendants, alleging infringement of five patents. Adtran, one of the twenty-five, responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that Atwater had failed to plead facts sufficient to support its claims of both direct and indirect infringement because, in the complaint, “Atwater only identifies one exemplar Adtran product that is allegedly implicated. At a minimum for its direct infringement claims, Atwater should have identified all products implicated and which claims are allegedly infringed.” Due to the lack of specificity in the complaint, “Adtran is faced with the enormous task of investigating the validity and infringement (both direct and indirect) of each of the 154 claims in the five asserted patents, and its infringement investigation must encompass not just the one product mentioned in Atwater’s Complaint, but every other product it makes, uses, sells, offers for sale, and/or imports.”

Nonsense, replied the Court – although not in such clear and succinct form. “The pleading requirements set forth [by the Supreme Court] do not require a patentee to identify specific products or services by name in the complaint. A patent infringement complaint that pleads at least the facts in Form 18 [of the Appendix of Forms of the Federal Rules] is sufficient. By naming at least one product, the complaint pleads more than what is required under the law.”

Having addressed the nominal issue presented by Adtran’s motion, the Court turned to what it clearly considered the real issue, namely misconduct by Adtran. “[A]s Adtran knows (or should know), in every patent infringement case in this district, Local Patent Rule 3-1 requires disclosure of asserted claims and infringement contentions ‘[n]ot later than 10 days before the Initial Case Management Conference,’ which occurs even before discovery officially begins. Adtran’s argument is simply not true, that is, Adtran will not have to undertake the investigation it worries of because Local Patent Rule 3-1 already requires the plaintiff to give Adtran that information.”

Warming to its subject and noting that Adtran’s arguments in support of its motion were “questionable,” the Court went on, “Rule 11 [prohibiting filing a paper for purposes of delay] cuts both ways, that is, it is also a violation of Rule 11 to file a frivolous motion. The Court strongly encourages the parties to try this case on the merits and not unnecessarily burden the Court with technical issues that lack practical substance.”

We assume that Adtran had the wit to take this hint and refrain from further such motions.

THE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED: (1) Compliance with the complaint forms is sufficient to meet the pleading requirements; and (2) courts do not take kindly to parties filing frivolous motions – don’t piss off the judge that will try the case.

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