Judge Vyskocil Allows Amino Acid Case to Go Forward Despite “Group Pleading” and “Inconsistent Allegations” of Infringement

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

On September 27, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil held that plaintiffs Ajinomoto Co., Inc. and Ajinomoto Heartland Inc. had alleged plausible claims for relief for infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(g), for inducement of infringement, and for willful infringement, despite the complaint’s purported “group pleading” and “inconsistent allegations” of infringement by the three related defendant corporations.

Plaintiffs alleged infringement of two patents directed to methods for producing amino acids by three related corporate defendants: the parent corporation CJ CheilJedang Corp. (CJ Korea), and the subsidiary/sister corporations PT CheilJedang Indonesia (CJ Indonesia) and CJ America, Inc. (CJ America).  The defendants moved to dismiss the claims asserted against CJ Korea and CJ Indonesia for infringement under Section 271(g) by importing, offering for sale, and/or selling products made by a patented process.  The defendants also moved to dismiss the claims asserted against all three defendants for inducement of infringement and willful infringement.  Defendants argued, inter alia, that the complaint “engaged in improper group pleading by lumping all the Defendants together as a unitary entity,” and contained “circular and contradictory pleadings with respect to the relationship/separate corporate existence of the defendants it groups together that preclude Plaintiffs’ own arguments” as to infringement.

Judge Vyskocil rejected these arguments, explaining that “‘a complaint may plead in the alternative’” under Federal Rule 8, and accordingly “a factual allegation in one claim should not be construed as an admission against another alternative or inconsistent claim.”  More specifically, with respect to infringement under Section 271(g), the Court found that the Complaint alleged sufficient facts to plead that CJ Korea and CJ Indonesia had imported and/or offered for sale products made by the patented method and, alternatively, that there were principal-agent relationships between CJ Korea and CJ Indonesia/CJ America, and CJ Indonesia and CJ America, which could give rise to liability.  With respect to inducement, the Court found “unpersuasive” the plaintiffs’ argument that a complaint cannot simultaneously plead direct infringement and indirect infringement by the same defendant.  And, finally, with respect to willfulness, Judge Vyskocil rejected the argument that Ajinomoto’s “group pleading” of willfulness as to all three defendants “fails to put the Defendants on notice as to which entity knew of the patents” and willfully infringed.

Ajinomoto Co., Inc. v. CJ CheilJedang Corp., No. 1:16-cv-03498 (MKV) (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2021)

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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