March 21, 2017
Today, in SCA Hygiene Products A.G. v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defense of laches is inapplicable in patent cases for damages claims for acts of infringement occurring less than six years prior to the filing date of the lawsuit. In other words, the Court ruled that a defendant cannot assert a laches defense to a damages claim for acts of infringement occurring less than six years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. Title 35 U.S.C. § 286 bars damages claims for acts of infringement occurring more than six years prior to the filing of the lawsuit, so today’s decision appears to mostly negate the defense of laches, at least insofar as claims for damages are concerned. The Court did not directly address the applicability of laches as a defense to a demand for an injunction.
The Court had previously ruled the same way under the copyright laws in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., discussed in our earlier alert here. As in Petrella, the Court today reasoned that the applicable statute—in this case 35 U.S.C. § 286—specifies a time limit for bringing a damages claim, and that the specification of a statutory deadline overrides the equitable laches defense. Today’s decision was 7-1, with only Justice Breyer dissenting.
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