The Federal Circuit confirmed that the Supreme Court's earlier decision in eBay v. MercExchange, L.L.C. jettisoned the presumption of irreparable harm as it applies to determining the appropriateness of injunctive relief.
Patentee of windshield wiper technology, specifically beam-type wiper blades, sued an alleged infringer and prevailed on a jury finding of validity and infringement before requesting a permanent injunction. The district court denied the injunction because the patentee failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm. The patentee sought an interlocutory appeal while the damages determination was pending.
The Federal Circuit clarified that eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006) jettisoned the presumption of irreparable harm as it applies to determining the appropriateness of injunctive relief. However, while a successful patent infringement plaintiff can no longer rely on such a presumption to support a request for a permanent injunction, courts may not ignore the fundamental nature of patents as property rights granting their owners the right to exclude others.
In reviewing the district court’s application of the four-part inquiry into whether the patentee was entitled to injunctive relief for an abuse of discretion, the Federal Circuit found that the district court committed legal error in establishing categorical rules in its irreparable injury analysis. It was error to rely exclusively on the presence of additional competitors in the market and the non-core nature of the patentee’s wiper blade business. While the existence of a two-player market may well serve as substantial ground for granting an injunction, the converse is not automatically true, particularly in this case where it was undisputed that the patentee sought to enforce its rights against other infringers in the market. Also, injuries that affect a non-core aspect of a patentee’s business are equally capable of being irreparable as ones that affect more significant operations. Finally, it was clear error in judgment for the district court to conclude that the patentee failed to demonstrate irreparable harm when the record contained undisputed evidence of direct competition and unrebutted evidence of loss of market share, loss of access to potential customers, and the infringer’s inability to satisfy a judgment.
The dissent (Bryson, J.) agreed that the district erred in its application of the four-part inquiry, but would have preferred to remand the case back to the district court for further findings of fact and a reweighing of the equities.
A copy of the opinion can be found here.