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ATEN International Co., Ltd. v. Uniclass Technology Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

August 6, 2019

ATEN INTERNATIONAL CO., LTD., Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
UNICLASS TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD., ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD., AIRLINK 101, PHOEBE MICRO, INC., BROADTECH INTERNATIONAL CO., LTD., DBA LINKSKEY, BLACK BOX CORPORATION, BLACK BOX CORPORATION OF PENNSYLVANIA, Defendants-Appellants

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California in No. 2:15-cv-04424-AG-AJW, Judge Andrew J. Guilford.

          Edward Naidich, Mei & Mark LLP, Washington, DC, argued for plaintiff-appellee. Also represented by Lei Mei, Richard Hadorn, Philip Andrew Riley, Laurence M. Sandell.

          Joseph Pia, Pia Anderson Moss Hoyt, Salt Lake City, UT, argued for defendants-appellants. Also represented by Robert Aycock.

          Before Moore, Wallach, and Taranto, Circuit Judges.

          MOORE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Uniclass Technology Co., Ltd. ("Uniclass"), as well as Electronic Technology Co., Ltd.; Airlink 101; Phoebe Micro, Inc.; Broadtech International Co., Ltd., d/b/a Linkskey; Black Box Corporation; and Black Box Corporation of Pennsylvania (collectively the "customer defendants") (all collectively "Appellants") appeal the United States District Court for the Central District of California's order denying Appellants' motion for attorney fees. Because we hold the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to find this an exceptional case under 35 U.S.C. § 285, we affirm.

         Background

         Uniclass and ATEN International Co., Ltd. ("ATEN") are involved in making and selling keyboard-video-mouse switch systems that allow a user to control multiple computers from a single keyboard, video device, and mouse. In 2011, Uniclass stopped making payments on a license agreement it entered with ATEN in 2009. In 2014, ATEN sued Uniclass and the customer defendants alleging infringement, seeking damages and injunctive relief. Uniclass moved for summary judgment on ATEN's lost profits theory of damages, which the district court granted in April 2017. ATEN proceeded to trial based on a reasonable royalty theory of damages, under which its expert testified that the maximum recovery (not including its requested treble damages) was $678, 337. At trial, a jury found that Uniclass did not infringe the asserted claims of U.S. Patent No. 8, 589, 141 or U.S. Patent No. 7, 640, 289. It also found the asserted claims of the '141 patent invalid. ATEN appealed various aspects of the September 2017 jury verdict separately in No. 18-1606, which we also decide today.

         After trial, Uniclass moved to declare this case exceptional under 35 U.S.C. § 285, arguing that ATEN did not conduct an adequate pre-filing investigation, unnecessarily increased the costs of claim construction, drastically increased discovery costs by frequently changing counsel and infringement positions, and engaged in unreasonable litigation behavior requiring additional motion practice and leading to an expensive and disproportionate trial. The district court denied the motion.

         Uniclass timely appealed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1).

         DISCUSSION

         Under § 285, "[t]he court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party." "[A]n 'exceptional' case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party's litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated." Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 572 U.S. 545, 554 (2014). District courts should determine whether a case is exceptional on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of the circumstances. Id. We review the district court's § 285 determination for abuse of discretion. Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. Sys., Inc., 572 U.S. 559, 561 (2014). "The abuse-of-discretion standard does not preclude an appellate court's correction of a district court's legal or factual error: A district court would necessarily abuse its discretion if it based its ruling on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence." Id. at 563 n.2 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         I

         Appellants focus their arguments on appeal on a theory that the district court erred in not finding this case exceptional based on ATEN's disregard for the "foundational policy" of proportionate litigation. Appellants' Br. 15-16. Appellants summarize ATEN's expenses as including over $700, 000 in expert witness fees alone, without considering other expenses including attorney fees. Appellants argue that ATEN could recover, at most, $678, 337 in reasonable royalty damages. See J.A. 902 at 7:20-8:4; J.A. 870 at 23:8-11; J.A. 923 at 90:14-15. Accordingly, Appellants argue this case is exceptional because the cost of litigating the case exceeded ATEN's potential ...


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