SCOTUS Decision in Octane Fitness: A Good Step But Fee Shifting Legislation Still Needed


With today’s decision in Octane Fitness v. Icon, and a companion case, the Supreme Court became the latest branch of government to state unanimously that abusive patent litigation and patent trolling needs to be curtailed. The White House and a large bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives have also been unequivocal on this point. Patent litigation abuse is a complex problem requiring a multi-pronged solution that must include legislation as well as administrative and judicial action.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision recognized the burden that abusive patent litigation places on productive U.S. companies and the need to address the problem. It also took an important step in articulating what advocates of reform have been saying all along: the litigation playing field is tilted in favor of plaintiffs and has enabled patent litigation abuse.

The Court’s decision will make it easier to shift fees to the loser in “exceptional” cases, but that is only one part of the solution. Courts must have the discretion to fee shift not only in “exceptional “ cases, but also in cases where the Court determines the conduct or position of the non-prevailing party was objectively unreasonable. Legislation to this effect is essential if we are to discourage abusive litigation in any meaningful way.

The Innovation Act passed by the House establishes a rebuttable presumption of fee shifting in favor of the non-prevailing party whose conduct or behavior was found to be unreasonable. Now the Senate must act too. The heavily negotiated Schumer-Cornyn compromise is a balanced bill after years of discussion about how to address the patent troll problem. It strikes the right balance on fee shifting. It’s time for a markup of this bill.

Every day that goes by without legislation hurts innovation and costs the economy millions of dollars, as evidenced by the news reports of trolls launching a flurry of suits last week in anticipation of legislation.

The Court is to be commended for lowering the very high bar that previously existed for awarding fees in exceptional cases, and for recognizing the important role that fee shifting must play in deterring patent litigation abuse. The Senate must act to empower the Courts to fee shift in all cases where the non-prevailing party’s conduct or position was unreasonable – not only in “exceptional cases” which is all that the current law allows.