Medtronic v. MFV — Supreme Court Unanimously Reverses Federal Circuit: Holding Patentees Always Bear the Burden of Proving Infringement

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Jan. 23, 2014 — On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Federal Circuit in Medtronic v. Mirowski Family Ventures (previously listed as Medtronic v. Boston Scientific), holding that the burden of proving infringement remains on the patent owner, even when a licensee seeks a declaratory judgment of noninfringement. The decision, authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, appears to substantially benefit patent licensees, who, upon showing declaratory standing, may now force the licensor to prove that a licensed patent covers the licensee’s products, and do so at a time and forum of the licensee’s choosing.

Background and Procedural Posture -

In 1991, Medtronic, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of medical devices, entered into a licensing agreement with Mirowski Family Ventures (MFV), the owner of various patents relating to implantable heart stimulators. Under the most recent version of that agreement, when Medtronic developed a new product, MFV could allege “infringement” of the licensed patents, Medtronic could then take one of three courses of action: (a) concede coverage of MFV’s patent over the new product and pay additional royalties; (b) pursue a declaratory judgment of no infringement, meanwhile accumulating royalties in escrow; or (c) ignore the agreement entirely, and allow MFV to terminate the license and bring an infringement action. Sure enough, in 2007, Medtronic and MFV found themselves in disagreement over whether the licensed patents covered several newly developed products. Medtronic filed a declaratory action in federal court seeking a ruling of noninfringement and invalidity.

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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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