On January 25, 2013, the Federal Circuit decided Hall v. Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc.et al., a patent infringement case concerning a patented design for a “Tote Towel.” Bed Bath & Beyond (BB&B) moved to dismiss Hall’s complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In dismissing Hall’s complaint, the district court stated that Hall’s patent infringement complaint did not contain allegations to show what aspects of the Tote Towel merit design protection, or how each defendant infringed the protected patent claim.
On appeal, applying the notice pleading standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal,the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Hall’s design patent infringement complaint. The Court looked to the five elements required of a patent infringement pleading outlined by the Federal Circuit in Phonometrics, Inc. v. Hospitality Franchise Systems, Inc., 203 F.3d 790 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Under Phonometrics, a patent infringement complaint must: (i) allege ownership of the patent, (ii) name each defendant, (iii) cite the patent that is allegedly infringed, (iv) state the means by which the defendant allegedly infringes, and (v) point to the sections of the patent law invoked. According to the Federal Circuit, Rule 12(b)(6) requires no more.
Hall’s complaint for design patent infringement identified the patent, showed the patented design, included a side-by-side comparison of the patented design to the accused towel, and described the accused towel as follows:
¶27. The Counterfeit Towel is virtually identical in design to the Tote Towel. It [has] the same shape and almost the same dimensions – 50” x 9.” The Counterfeit Towel also features the Tote Towel’s unique zippered compartments and hanging loop. In fact, the inseam of the Counterfeit Towel, from one pocket to the other, is exactly the same length as that of the Tote Towel.
The Federal Circuit observed that Hall presented a lengthy complaint which stated that the resemblance of the accused Towel to the patented design is such as to deceive an ordinary observer, in accordance with the appropriate legal standard for design patent infringement. The Court found that Hall’s assertion that the accused towel is “virtually identical in design” to the patented design is plausible under Twombly. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit held that Hall’s complaint readily met the pleading requirements for design patent infringement.