Laches Defense in Patent Cases

Justin Farooq

The United States Supreme Court ruled last week that patent owners may not use the doctrine of laches, meaning that they may not assert that defendants slept too long on their rights as a defense to lawsuits filed within the Patent Act’s six-year statute of limitations.[1]  The high court stated that allowing defendants to use laches would undermine Congressional intent by incorporating a six-year statute of limitations in the Patent Act.[2]  In a previous case involving copyright laches, the Supreme Court said laches does not apply to copyright cases because copyright law and that the opinion expressly said it wasn’t deciding whether the same would be true in patent law.[3]  

The change is expected to be significant to patent litigators, who may discover their clients keen on pursuing more lawsuits that might previously have been impossible.[4]  Additionally, patent holders should no longer need to obsessively guard their works on a continuous basis merely for fear of being subject to a laches bar if they first confirm infringement or otherwise wish to assert infringement more than six years after becoming aware of a defendant’s fraudulent activities.[5]

 

[1] Lorelei Laird, Supreme Court Rules Patent Holders May Not Bar Otherwise Timely Lawsuits With Laches, ABA J. (Mar. 21, 2017, 3:15 PM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/supreme_court_rules_patent_holders_may_not_bar_otherwise_timely_lawsuits_wi.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Brad M. Scheller & Harold S. Laidlaw, Supreme Court Shuts the Door on Patent Laches, The Nat. L. R. (Mar. 21, 2017), http://www.natlawreview.com/article/supreme-court-shuts-door-patent-laches.

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