In a ruling that is likely to become more and more common after the passage of the America Invents Act, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed all but one of the defendants in a patent infringement action for improper joinder. In February 2010, the plaintiff filed a patent infringement action against Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Sony for allegedly infringing a patent for dynamic power management of solid-state memories. The plaintiff alleged that each of the defendants sells computers and/or computer systems that infringe the patent-in-suit.
Plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to amend the complaint to join five additional defendants on the ground that the new defendants' products also allegedly infringe the patent-in-suit. The existing defendants then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint as to all but one of the defendants based on the argument that the defendants were misjoined in the action.
Plaintiff contended that joinder of the five defendants in the original complaint and ten defendants in the amended complaint was appropriate because the accused products were similar given that they each are comprised of a processor and its associated cache memory, a PWM rate controller and portions of the BIOS software. The plaintiff asserted that each of the processors in the group performs its portion of the power management accused of infringement in exactly the same fashion and, therefore, there are multiple common legal and factual questions presented.
Defendants contended that the separate sale of separate products by separate defendants was not sufficient to support joining multiple defendants in the same action regardless of whether the products or components of the products were similar. Defendants also argued that because the companies were competitors of one another joinder would be complex and unmanageable.
The district court agreed with the defendants. "Although plaintiff accuses defendants of infringing the [patent-in-suit] in five similar ways, plaintiff does not allege that defendants' infringement involved the 'same transaction, occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences.' Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2). Plaintiff has not alleged that defendants acted in concert or otherwise controlled or directed each others' conduct--and indeed defendants appear to be ardent competitors of one another in the marketplace for their products; nor has plaintiff alleged any connection between defendants except for the fact that each defendant is alleged to have infringed plaintiff's patent."
Accordingly, the district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims against all but one defendant, Apple, which was the first named-defendant.
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We will likely see a large number of these types of decision granting motions to dismiss for misjoinder, which in the short run will likely increase the number of lawsuits that are filed as plaintiffs will now file multiple lawsuits action individual defendants rather than single lawsuits against multiple defendants. Given the strict interpretation of what constitutes "the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences" and the plain prohibition against joinder of multiple defendants sued under the same patent by the America Invents Act, it will be difficult to name multiple defendants in a single patent infringement action. The next question for the district courts will be how they manage multiple lawsuits over the same patent against many different defendants.