Heightened Pleading Standard Applies To Contributory And Inducing Patent Infringement Claims

Two United States Supreme Court cases in recent years, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) andAshcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), have established a heightened pleading standard for a claim in federal court, making it easier to secure dismissal of claims at an earlier stage. Previously, a claim could survive a motion to dismiss at the pleading stage of the case unless it appeared beyond doubt that the plaintiff could not prove any set of facts entitling it to prevail. This liberal pleading standard, which made it difficult to secure dismissal at an early stage, was replaced by the standard distilled from Twombly and Iqbal under which a plaintiff asserting a claim must plead specific facts necessary to state a plausible claim against the defendant. The Twombly/Iqbal pleading standard makes it easier to have a case dismissed at an early stage where the plaintiff fails to plead facts sufficient to state a plausible claim.

It had been an open question whether the relaxed Twombly/Iqbal standard applies to pleading patent infringement claims. Unlike most claims, there is an official form complaint attached to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for patent infringement claims. The official form complaint for patent infringement claims uses the more relaxed pre-Twombly/Iqbal standard. After those cases were decided, courts had been considering whether a patent infringement complaint that complied with the official form but did not meet the Twombly/Iqbal standard was sufficient.

In Superior Industries, LLC v. Thor Global Enterprises Ltd., No 2011-1549 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 27, 2012), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has now decided the question. The Court held that for direct infringement claims – where the defendant is the party actually infringing the patent at issue – a complaint is sufficient if it complies with the official form complaint, even if it does not meet the Twombly/Iqbal standard. The Court, however, treated claims for contributory or inducing infringement (where the defendant assists or causes the direct infringer to infringe) differently. For contributory and inducing infringement claims, for which there is no official form, the complaint must meet the Twombly/Iqbal standard.

So although a plaintiff claiming direct infringement can still use the relaxed pleading standard, a plaintiff claiming contributory or induced infringement must set forth at the pleading stage specific facts supporting a plausible claim. This change should make it more difficult for a plaintiff to plead such claims, and might make it easier for defendants to have complaints alleging contributory or inducing infringement claims dismissed at an earlier stage if the complaint does not allege a plausible claim.

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