Is laches defense still a good one?
In a 6-5 decision, the Federal Circuit ruled that the defense of laches may still be used to eliminate pre-suit damages for patent infringement. The Court took up the case of SCA Hygiene Products v. First Baby Products in an en banc rehearing to consider the viability of the laches defense in patent infringement suits in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
In Petrella the Supreme Court held that a laches defense “cannot be invoked to preclude adjudication of a claim for damages,” including pre-suit damages, in a claim for copyright infringement when that claim is brought within the three-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court reasoned that the three-year statute of limitation was all that was needed to prevent an unreasonable delay in bringing suit.
At issue in SCA Hygiene was whether the defense of laches is available to bar a claim for pre-suit damages in a patent infringement action. In a suit alleging patent infringement, the damage recovery is limited by statute such that “no recovery shall be had for any infringement committed more than six years prior to the filing of the complaint.” The Federal Circuit found that this statutory language is a statute of limitations. The court reasoned that this language limits recovery of damages, but does not preclude bringing suit. Thus, the reasoning in Petrella does not apply to patents for this reason and the defense of laches is still available to preclude recovery of pre-suit damages.