Carnegie Mellon v. Marvell: District Court Upholds $1.1 Billion Jury Verdict Against Marvell

by Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP
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Carnegie Mellon University ("CMU") filed a patent infringement action Marvell Technology Group and Marvell Semiconductor, Inc. ("Marvell") that alleged infringement of two CMU patents. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of CMU, finding that Marvell infringed the patents, that the patents were valid and that there was willful infringement. The jury also awarded damages in excess of $1.1 billion.

Marvell filed several post-trial motions, including one for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial on damages. Marvell also argued for a mistrial based on certain of CMU's counsel's statements during closing argument and throughout the trial. After reciting the standard for granting a new trial, the district court addressed the specific issues raised by Marvell.

The district court began by noting that "[t]he fundamental duty of counsel in closing arguments is to argue the evidence. 88 C.J.S. TRIAL § 291. Counsel are permitted wide latitude in closing argument to comment and argue on the evidence and draw any reasonable inferences and conclusions from the evidence at trial. See United States v. Hernandez, 306 F. App'x 719, 723 (3d Cir. 2009); see also 75A AM. JUR. 2D TRIAL § 532. They are entitled to expound any theory which is reasonably supported by the evidence, present their interpretations of the evidence, and suggest that the jury draw certain inferences or conclusions from that evidence."

The district court then addressed Marvell's argument regarding CMU's counsel's statements concerning the lack of advice of counsel. "The Court did not allow either party to argue that an opinion of counsel was likely favorable or unfavorable. (Docket No. 759 at 205, 227). Neither party breached this ruling, as CMU only spoke to the lack of an opinion, which was a proper inference from the evidence presented at trial. Telcordia Technologies, Inc. v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., Civ. No. 04-875, 2007 WL 7076662 (D. Del. Apr. 27, 2007) (holding it proper for "the plaintiff to tell the jury that the defendant did not obtain an opinion of counsel [as it] may indicate to the jury that the defendant did not act properly"). It is undisputed, that at closing arguments counsel can and should argue from the evidence and any inference that may be fairly drawn from that evidence. See United States v. Hernandez, 306 F. App'x 719, 723 (3d Cir. 2009); see also 75A AM. JUR. 2D TRIAL § 532."

The district court also noted that "it was Marvell who spoke first touching directly on the topic of Dr. Wu's consultation with an attorney.16 (Docket No. 759 at 79-80). Since Marvell argued that Dr. Wu consulted with a lawyer, it is hardly prejudicial that CMU argued a legitimate inference given the lack of written, or any other, confirming evidence related to said meeting. Also, if Marvell believed that such argument should have been precluded it could have sought a ruling from the Court once CMU set forth these facts during its opening statement twenty-two days earlier. (Docket No. 671 at 116-117). It did not."

The second point raised by Marvell pertained to "Marvell's lack of response to CMU's letters. (Docket No. 759 at 142). In this Court's estimation, it is likewise insufficient to support a new trial. Most importantly, the Court upheld Marvell's objection at the time to this line of argument and struck the remarks from the record. (Id.). Throughout the trial and in its final instructions, the Court instructed the jury that anything stricken from the record is not evidence, and must not be considered in its determinations employing the Third Circuit standard charge regarding same.18 (Docket No. 764 at 55). Hence, this Court presumes, as does both the Supreme Court and the Third Circuit, "that juries act in accordance with instructions given them." City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 798, 106 S. Ct. 1571, 1573, 89 L. Ed. 2d 806 (1986); Hill v. Reederei F. Laeisz G.M.B.H., Rostock, 435 F.3d 404, 425 (3d Cir. 2006)."

The district court also was not persuaded that CMU's counsel's argument regarding "breaking the chain of innovation" was not sufficient to justify a new trial. "To the extent that Marvell maintains that the "breaking the chain" argument was improper, irrelevant and speculative, (Docket No. 806), it is not reasonably probable that the jury was inflamed by the statement. See Johnson, 283 F.3d 138 at 148. This commentary was brief, approximately seven (7) lines of a forty-six (46) page closing argument transcript, after a four (4) week trial of almost 4,000 pages of transcript. (Docket No. 759). The district court also found it significant that the remarks were stricken from the record and the jury was instructed to disregard them. "Moreover, the comments were stricken and the jury was instructed multiple times to disregard any comments struck by the judge. (Docket No. 764 at 167; 54-55); Hill, 435 F.3d at 425 ("we presume that juries follow instructions"). Further, these comments were made during closing argument and the jury was also told that closing arguments by the attorneys are not evidence. (Id.); (Docket No. 764 at 167; 54-55).28 In light of the Court's instructions and upon review of the record as a whole, these statements about breaking the chain of innovation simply do not rise to the level of prejudice requiring a new trial."

Marvell also asserted that CMU's counsel's reference to infringement as similar to identify theft warranted a new trial. The district court struck these statements during closing argument and instructed the jury to disregard the statements, which in the district court's view cured any potential harm.

Finally, the district court examined the totality of the CMU closing argument and found that it did not justify a new trial. " Upon review of the record against CMU's closing argument, it is clear to the Court that none of its counsel's statements singularly nor taken together, made it reasonably probable that the verdict was influenced by any resultant prejudice. Forrest v. Beloit Corp., 424 F.3d 344, 351 (3rd Cir. 2005). In so ruling, the Court has considered the closings in light of the entire trial, the nature of the statements, and the amount of energy extended by both counsel and the Court through this four week trial. See Richmond v. Price, Civ. No. 99-192 ERIE, 2006 WL 3760535 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 18, 2006) ("Courts have uniformly required misconduct by counsel to be extremely pervasive and egregious before a new trial will be granted.") The Third Circuit has observed that "at least for civil trials...improper comments during closing arguments rarely rise to the level of reversible error" and this is one of those instances. Dunn v. HOVIC, 1 F.3d 1371, 1377 (3d Cir. 1993). Both sides zealously argued their parties' positions, using the evidence of record and all reasonable inferences therefrom, to present compelling points to the jury. United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 10 (1985). Marvell has offered no evidence or proof of prejudice beyond the mere fact the jury decided in CMU's favor. Further, the jury awarded damages in the exact amount calculated by Plaintiff's damages expert; they did not levy any damages beyond the scope of those presented and argued by CMU. Thus, Marvell's motion for a new trial on these grounds is denied."

Carnegie Mellon University v. Marvell Technology Group, LTD., et al., Case No. 09-290 (W.D. Penn Aug. 23, 2013)

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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