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Supremes Take Up Patent Defense ‘Laches’ Issue

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether a party accused of patent infringement can fend off claims using the laches doctrine, which penalizes delays in filing suit.

Per its custom, the justices did not issue any comment in taking up the case.

A company called SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag SCA Personal Care brought the suit in Kentucky.

It said its competitor in adult incontinence products, a group of corporate entities under the First Quality umbrella, had infringed its U.S. Patent No. 6,375,646.

Though SCA filed its suit in 2010, it had first alleged infringement by First Quality's Prevail All Nites in an Oct. 31, 2003, letter.

A federal judge granted First Quality summary judgment under the doctrine of laches and equitable estoppel, and a panel of the Federal Circuit affirmed only as to laches.

The appeal court took up the case en banc, however, and reversed in September 2015.

"Laches bars legal relief, and courts must weigh the facts underlying laches in the eBay framework when considering an injunction," the opinion says, citing the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision eBay Inc. v. MercExchange.

Congress codified the laches defense in Section 282(b)(1) of Title 35 that may bar legal remedies, and Congress settled in the 1952 Patent Act that laches and a time limitation on the recovery of damages can coexist in patent law, according to the ruling.

"We must respect that statutory law," the ruling states.

The ruling does "emphasize that equitable principles apply whenever an accused infringer seeks to use laches to bar ongoing relief."

"Specifically, as to injunctions, considerations of laches fit naturally within the eBay framework," according to the ruling.

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