A federal judge has stayed Mitsubishi’s antitrust monopolization claims against General Electric in an Order issued this week. Opening a new front in the battle with General Electric over wind turbine technology, Mitsubishi tried to raise the stakes last May, claiming that General Electric’s patent infringement actions (proceeding in three other venues) were baseless, calculated to help General Electric maintain a monopoly in the market for variable speed wind turbines. Mitsubishi also filed its own patent claims against General Electric, in yet another court. As we reported when the claims were filed last spring, Mitsubishi’s antitrust claims were premised on the theory that General Electric’s patent infringement claims were a “sham.”
Not surprisingly, General Electric asked the court in the Western District of Arkansas to either dismiss Mitsubishi’s claims or stay the claims, pending the outcome of General Electric’s patent infringement lawsuits. On the motion to dismiss, the court found that “[n]either of [General Electric’s] arguments has merit” – holding that there is insufficient evidence in the record to definitively establish that General Electric’s patent infringement claims were not objectively baseless. The court held that pending the outcome of the ongoing patent infringement claims in other courts, Mitsubishi may be able to prove that General Electric engaged in sham litigation with the intent of excluding Mitsubishi from the variable speed wind turbine market. For this reason, it would be inappropriate to dismiss Mitsubishi’s antitrust claims, the court held.
However, the court also noted that Supreme Court precedent establishes that Mitsubishi’s sham litigation claim cannot proceed if General Electric ultimately prevails on one or more of its patent claims against Mitsubishi. Even if a favorable verdict of patent infringement is ultimately overturned, under controlling precedent, a favorable trial verdict is sufficient to establish a patent holder’s probable cause to file its underlying claim – and thus eliminates any sham litigation claim. Because there are pending patent claims before other courts where General Electric may ultimately prevail, the Arkansas court decided to stay Mitsubishi’s antitrust claims while General Electric’s patent claims proceed.
The gambit to raise an antitrust action against General Electric has suffered an initial setback. Much as Mitsubishi may have relished a concurrent antitrust counterattack against General Electric, the Arkansas court, sitting where Mitsubishi (not coincidentally) plans to build a major wind turbine manufacturing plant, has refused to put the cart before the horse. The good news for Mitsubishi of course is that its sham litigation claims survived the motion to dismiss. If Mitsubishi can ultimately prove that General Electric knowingly sued on fraudulently obtained patents, look for more action back in the Western District of Arkansas, but not any time soon.