Although parties can consent to a bench trial of patent cases, which was the norm half a century ago, a substantial majority of patent owners today opt for jury trials. So long as they seek monetary damages, the U.S. Constitution secures them a jury trial. As previous sections have illustrated, the prospect of a jury trial greatly influences patent case management. The claim construction process, as well as many of the pre-trial processes, are designed with the jury trial in mind. The inherent complexity of patent law and technology can result in unsupportable or inconsistent findings of fact by a confused jury. For this reason, judges devote substantial time and effort to avoiding such a result. And, if unsupportable or inconsistent findings of fact occur, the court must devote substantial additional time and effort to unravel and remedy such findings. Thus, trial, like all other phases of a patent case, benefits from early and close judicial management to assist the fact finder in evaluating the merits.
As the Federal Circuit has remarked, a court’s “discretion is at its broadest on matters of trial management.”215 Various procedural and substantive considerations factor into the exercise of the court’s discretion in facilitating the jury’s and the court’s fact-finding role.
10.6.13.1 Procedural issues
District judges have a range of options for setting the scope of trial and the ground rules, including bifurcation and trial logistics.
10.6.13.1.1 Separate trials (bifurcation)
FRCP 42(b) provides:
[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third-party claims. When ordering a separate trial, the court must preserve any federal right to a jury trial.
The district judge’s discretion, however, is not without limits. Section 299 of the Patent Act, relating to the joinder of parties, provides that, even if multiple actions involving the same or similar issues, such as infringement of the same patent, have been consolidated for pre-trial purposes, they nevertheless must be separately tried unless:
(1) any right to relief is asserted against the parties jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences relating to the making, using, importing into the United States, offering for sale, or selling of the same accused product or process; and
(2) questions of fact common to all defendants or counterclaim defendants will arise in the action.
More generally, when deciding whether issues should be separately tried, trial courts must ensure that a litigant’s constitutional right to a jury is preserved.216
In exercising discretion to structure trials, judges typically find it more efficient to have one trial and one appeal. Thus, bifurcation in patent cases is the exception, not the rule, and it is appropriate only if it will promote judicial economy and not be inconvenient or prejudicial to the parties.217
Patent cases are often complex, however, and sometimes involve different technologies, non-patent claims with overlapping facts, various legal and equitable claims and defenses, complex damages issues, and multiple causes of action, including antitrust, trade secret, copyright, and trademark claims. Whether all these issues should be resolved in a single trial depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Factors to be considered when deciding whether to bifurcate include whether the issues, and the evidence required for each issue, are significantly different; whether they are triable by jury or the court; whether discovery has been directed to a single trial of all issues; whether a party would be prejudiced by a single or by separate trials; and whether a single trial would create the potential for jury confusion.
Ultimately, considerations regarding the manageability and comprehensibility (particularly for jurors) of the various issues presented in the case govern the decision to bifurcate and hold separate trials. From a case management standpoint, bifurcation can assist the court in segregating from juror consideration evidence that may be integral for one issue in the case but irrelevant and prejudicial for another. Bifurcation can also assist jurors by focusing attention on one issue at a time, thereby avoiding overwhelming jurors with multiple complex issues at once. At the same time, there are efficiencies that result from resolving all issues in one proceeding that should not be disregarded when deciding whether to bifurcate or even trifurcate patent cases.
10.6.13.2 Pre-trial case management
The complexity of patent cases creates a particular need for pre-trial preparation to minimize jury downtime and promote jury comprehension. The pre-trial conference represents the final opportunity to anticipate and resolve problems that would otherwise interrupt and delay trial proceedings.
10.6.13.2.1 Pre-trial conference
The pre-trial conference should be held sufficiently in advance of trial, but long enough after claim construction and dispositive motion practice so that the court and counsel have a good idea of the boundaries of the trial and the interplay of issues that may need to be tried. Usually, the conference is set six to eight weeks before trial.
The objective of the pre-trial conference is to generate an order that will govern the issues for trial and establish the ground rules for the conduct of the trial. Many judges provide counsel with a draft form of order that leaves blanks where appropriate, effectively providing a checklist of issues to consider. The form reflects the court’s typical view on many aspects of the trial. Judges afford counsel some leeway to tailor the case to the particular circumstances.
A typical pre-trial order for patent cases includes the following topics:
- trial counsel for the parties;
- nature of the action;
- the parties’ contentions;
- uncontested facts and stipulations;
- contested legal and factual issues;
- jury and non-jury issues;
- list of witnesses;
- objections to expert testimony;
- list of exhibits;
- bifurcated trial (indicating whether the parties desire a bifurcated trial and, if so, why);
- motions in limine;
- motions for judgment as a matter of law (indicating how the parties will make motions for judgment as a matter of law, whether it be immediately at the appropriate point during trial or at a subsequent break);
- amendments to the pleadings (including a statement of whether the proposed amendment is objected to and, if objected to, the grounds for the objection);
- jury instructions (indicating, where the parties disagree, whether the instruction was proposed by the plaintiff or defendant and a brief explanation of why the instruction should be adopted, including citations to relevant authorities);
- verdict form;
- trial length and logistics; and
- additional matters (including whether the parties anticipate requesting the courtroom be closed to the public for a portion of any specified witness’ testimony).
10.6.13.2.2 Jury instructions
The court works with the parties in the lead-up to the trial to develop jury instructions. Since relatively few jurors called to service have much prior experience with or understanding of trial practice, the legal system or patent law, it is common to develop two sets of instructions – a preliminary set of instructions for the start of the trial and the final instructions given at the close of evidence.
10.6.13.2.2.1 Preliminary instructions
Preliminary instructions typically cover basic aspects of civil adjudication – the duty of the jury, what constitutes evidence, the varying burdens of proof in a civil trial, and the trial proceedings – as well as an overview of the patent system and a nonargumentative description of the technology involved, the accused products, and the patents. Some judges present a video developed by the Federal Judicial Center providing a basic primer on the patent system. This video, together with a sample mock patent, provides background information on what patents are, why they are needed, how inventors obtain them, the role of the USPTO, and why disputes over patents arise. The Center updated this video in 2013 to address changes in patent law, including the enactment and implementation of the AIA.218 Preliminary instructions should set forth the court’s construction of patent claim terms and explain that jurors must accept the court’s constructions and are not allowed to construe terms on their own.
10.6.13.2.2.2 Final instructions
Several judicial and patent bar organizations have prepared model patent jury instructions, which typically serve as the starting point for parties in compiling proposed instructions. The parties will often seek to redline these instructions to reflect new developments in patent law and jurisprudence.
While the court has discretion to instruct the jury before or after closing arguments, it is usually preferred to give instructions beforehand.219 This is especially true in a patent case: jurors are usually more focused and in a better position to listen to instructions before closing arguments. Jurors better understand the arguments advanced during the closings when they have been instructed on the law applicable to the case. Instructing the jury before closing arguments can also lead to more effective arguments by the parties. Closing arguments can be tailored to meet the specific language of the instructions, enabling the parties to highlight the significance of particular evidence.
10.6.13.2.3 Trial logistics
Effective management of patent trials includes establishing reasonable time limits, maintaining a daily trial schedule, and outlining the order of the parties’ presentations. With an established protocol, the parties are better able to structure and streamline their presentations to fit the court’s schedule, resulting in a more understandable and efficient dispute resolution process.
10.6.13.2.3.1 Time limits and trial length
A trial court’s inherent power to control cases includes the broad authority to impose reasonable time limits during trial to focus the parties’ presentation of evidence and prevent undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.220 Time limits have been recognized as a trial technique that enhances the quality of justice and improves the administrative aspects of any civil trial. These limits force the parties to evaluate what is and is not important to their case. Time limits are particularly appropriate in patent cases, where the issues are complex, and an unduly long trial would unnecessarily burden jurors and the court.
What constitutes a reasonable time for trial depends on the particulars of a case, including the number of patents and patent claims at issue, the complexity of the technology, the nature and number of any associated non-patent claims, and whether issues are being bifurcated. To account for all these factors, a court’s limits on the length of trial should be set after an informed analysis based on a review of the parties’ proposed witness lists and proffered testimony, as well as their estimates of trial time. Time limits that are reasonable are (1) established in consultation with the parties, (2) allocated evenhandedly, (3) allotted to whatever evidence the parties deem appropriate; and (4) applied flexibly.
Whatever the specifics of the case, a limit on the total amount of time for trial is advisable in almost every patent case. An open-ended case schedule can quickly become unmanageable in the face of so many complex issues, and it imposes an unnecessary and unreasonable burden on the jury impaneled to hear the case. Most patent cases can be fully tried within two weeks, allocating approximately 20 hours to each side, beginning with opening statements and continuing through closing arguments. Procedures conducted by the court, mainly voir dire and instructions, are typically not clocked.
10.6.13.2.3.2 Order of trial presentations
In typical cases, the plaintiffs go first because they bear the burden of proof. In patent cases, however, the burden of proof is shared by the parties. While plaintiffs bear the burden of proof on infringement, for example, defendants bear the burden of proof on invalidity.
In view of these burdens, most patent trials begin with the patentee’s infringement case. If damages are not bifurcated or staged, the patentee would also present its damages case. The defendant then responds to the infringement evidence, presents its invalidity evidence, and responds to the damages evidence. The patentee then offers its rebuttal on infringement and damages and its response to the invalidity challenge. The defendant then has an opportunity to rebut the plaintiff’s response to that invalidity challenge.
10.6.13.2.3.3 Jury selection and management
Like any other civil trial, patent jury trials are governed by the FRCP, which require that a jury be impaneled with a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 12 jurors.221 As patent trials can take longer than other civil trials and are often more complex, it may prove difficult to find jurors able to commit the necessary time and attention. Such considerations weigh against impaneling a 12-member jury. Nonetheless, judges typically impanel more than the minimum 6 jurors to ensure a verdict can be taken if one or two jurors become unable to serve during trial.
The voir dire process in a patent trial is largely similar to that in other civil cases. Given the specialized nature of patent cases, however, it is appropriate to question prospective jurors on their experience with the technology underlying the patents, experience with the patent system, and their feelings regarding patent protection. Because both parties are likely to be interested in eliciting such information, the voir dire process can be streamlined by having the prospective jurors complete questionnaires ahead of time.
10.6.13.3 Motion for judgment as a matter of law
Once a party has completed its case-in-chief as to an issue, the party’s opponent can move for judgment as a matter of law as to the issue.222 The usual standard of decision is that judgment will be denied if, “viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and giving the non-movant the benefit of all reasonable inferences, there is sufficient evidence of record to support a jury verdict in favor of the non-movant.”223 These motions and their appellate implications, however, take on special significance in patent cases where each side has important claims and defenses for which it bears the burden of proof, and where claim construction issues often play a pivotal role.
Absent an FRCP 50 motion before the case is submitted to the jury, specifically addressed to an issue, no argument can be made in post-trial motions or on appeal that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury’s verdict as to that issue.224 In the patent law context, this may require, for example, that a Rule 50 motion by an accused infringer specify the particular claim or claims as to which it asserts no infringement has been proven or the particular prior art references it contends render the patent obvious or anticipated, and that a motion by a patent owner specify the particular invalidity bases it asserts have not been proven.225 Circumstances in particular cases, however, may make much more cryptic motions sufficient if, in context, it is clear that the court and opposing party understood what was intended.226
10.6.13.4 Verdict forms
Due to the complexity of many determinations in a patent trial, many trials use special verdict forms and special interrogatories rather than simple general verdict forms. Special verdicts require a jury to make specific findings of fact from which the court applies the applicable law. A court can also use a general verdict form with special interrogatories.227 The use of special interrogatories differs from the use of special verdicts only in that the jury, rather than the court, makes the ultimate decision when general verdicts with special interrogatories are used. There is still a risk that the jury will make a decision inconsistent with its findings. In such cases, the federal rules permit the court to enter judgment consistent with the jury’s findings notwithstanding the verdict.228 Where the findings are inconsistent and do not support the verdict, the court can recall the jury for further consideration or order a new trial.
10.6.13.5 Bench trials
A court may try a patent case without a jury where the parties have waived the right to a jury trial or when equitable issues have been bifurcated for the court’s consideration. However, such waivers are rare. Most often, bench trials are held to try equitable defenses such as inequitable conduct and estoppel.
As the court is the fact finder in bench trials, there is less of a need for extensive judicial management. The court must make specific findings of facts and conclusions of law when rendering its decision.229 It can, however, be less stringent with issues of admissibility and evidentiary objections because it is both the arbiter of those issues and the ultimate fact finder. There is less of a concern that the court will be prejudiced by certain evidence.
Bench trials are the standard method for trying cases involving pharmaceutical patents under the Hatch-Waxman Act (ANDA cases) and the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), where issues of damages are not implicated (see Section 10.13.2).
Patent trials, as with most trials, are usually followed by a series of post-trial motions. Where there is a finding of infringement, patent owners almost always seek a permanent injunction. In cases of willful infringement, the patent owner will also typically move for enhanced damages. Because the patent statute authorizes the award of attorneys’ fees in exceptional cases, post-trial motions often seek attorneys’ fees. In addition, parties will likely bring motions for judgment as a matter of law, new trial motions on the liability issues or both.
10.6.13.6.1 Motion for a new trial
Within 28 days after entry of judgment in a jury or court trial, with or without a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a party can move for a new trial.230 As with FRCP 50(b) motions, the time limit is jurisdictional and may not be extended.231 The motion is judged under the law of the regional circuit court of appeals and, in a patent case, the motion can be based on the same grounds as any trial. These grounds include (1) that the judgment is contrary to the weight of the evidence; (2) misconduct by an attorney or witness that denies an opponent fair consideration; (3) jury misconduct; (4) erroneous rulings regarding evidence, jury instructions, or trial conduct issues; (5) excessive (with or without a remittitur) or inadequate (with or without an additur) damages; and (6) new evidence that could not have been discovered during trial. To merit granting a new trial, the subject of the motion must have caused substantial prejudice and, in virtually all cases, have been the subject of a timely objection. In patent cases, a motion for a new trial is often used to challenge the claim construction provided in jury instructions.
10.6.13.6.2 Renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law
Provided that a motion for judgment as a matter of law was made at the close of presentation of all the evidence at trial, a party may renew that motion within 28 days after entry of judgment.232 The rule’s time limit for making the motion is jurisdictional and cannot be extended.233 A renewed motion must be based on the same claimed failure of proof as the initial motion and, in judging it, the court should apply the same standard. The motion may be, and often is, joined with a motion for a new trial.234 A joint motion permits the court to grant the new trial motion as an alternative, should the order granting judgment be reversed on appeal.235
10.6.13.6.3 Motion to vacate judgment in connection with settlement
Following the entry of final judgment, parties are sometimes able to settle before any appellate disposition. As part of the settlement agreement, the patentee and the accused infringer may agree to jointly ask the district court to vacate its judgment finding the patent invalid, not infringed, or unenforceable, as well as certain subsidiary rulings such as claim construction orders that limit the patent’s scope. In some cases, the parties will even make the settlement contingent upon the grant of vacatur. The motivation of the patentee in seeking vacatur is to strip any potential preclusive effect (for collateral estoppel purposes) associated with an adverse ruling regarding the patent’s validity, scope, or enforceability. For the accused infringer, conversely, this cost-free concession presumably helps it obtain monetary or other consideration from the patentee as part of the settlement. Vacatur allows it to share the anticompetitive benefits resulting from the deterrent effect of the restored patent, which could be asserted against its competitors.
Notwithstanding the fact that both parties to the litigation agree that a vacatur motion should be granted, the public interest and considerations of judicial economy often weigh against this outcome.236 The alleged benefit of approving the vacatur request is that it will buy peace and reduce the costs of further judicial proceedings, such as appeal. These benefits, however, are speculative at best and more likely illusory. Vacating any judgment based on the parties’ settlement is an “extraordinary remedy” that should be granted only in “exceptional circumstances” that go beyond the parties’ desire to include such a remedy in their settlement.237 Indeed, FRCP 60(b)(6), under which a settlement-related motion for vacatur is typically brought, requires a showing of such “extraordinary circumstances.”