Neither a suit in a different forum nor a foreign patentee sending a notice letter to a lawyer in the forum state is enough to establish personal jurisdiction over the patentee when the alleged infringer does not operate in that state
The central issue in this case was whether there was specific personal jurisdiction over a Chinese company in Tennessee. The Federal Circuit concluded that there was not.
The Chinese company is the owner of three patents. The declaratory judgment plaintiff, its competitor, filed a suit in the Eastern District of Tennessee against the patent owner, seeking declaratory judgment of non-infringement or invalidity of the patents. The declaratory judgment plaintiff also brought a claim for tortious interference with business relations under Tennessee state law. The declaratory judgment plaintiff contended that the patent owner had sufficient contacts with Tennessee because it had previously filed a suit against one of the declaratory judgment plaintiff’s customers in the Central District of California and therein requested a broad injunction against all distributors of the declaratory judgment plaintiff’s customer, including a Tennessee resident. The district court dismissed the declaratory judgment action for lack of personal jurisdiction and the tortious interference claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that both claims lacked personal jurisdiction. With regard to the declaratory judgment claims, the Federal Circuit concluded that the patent owner’s California lawsuit against a California resident was directed at California, not Tennessee, and that a request for an injunction of a Tennessee resident was “too attenuated a connection to satisfy minimum contacts.” Rather, jurisdiction must be based on intentional conduct directed at the forum. With regard to the tortious interference claim, the Federal Circuit explained that “merely sending a notice letter to a lawyer in the forum state does not constitute activity directed at the forum state where the entity alleged to infringe does not operate in the state.” Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the declaratory judgment plaintiff’s complaint.