Antitrust counterclaims are once again viable options for defendants involved in Intellectual Property (IP) litigation. Often a Plaintiff is utilizing a patent infringement suit as a method of interfering with the business relationship of a competitor.
However, if the patent was obtained by knowing and willful fraud or the lawsuit is a sham for interfering with competitors’ business relationships, then the patent may be invalid and subject the Plaintiff to an antitrust violation. Walker Process Equipment, Inc. v. Food Machinery & Chemical Corp., 382 U.S. 172, 177 (1975); In re Independent Service Organizations Antitrust Litigation, 203 F.3d 1322, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2000); and Hazelquist v. Guchi Moochie Tackle Co., 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 13991 (W.D. Wash. May 12, 2004).
The risk of an antitrust violation and counterclaim is not limited to sham patent litigation. Plaintiffs attempting to utilize trademark infringement suits to maintain a monopoly (price control) or restrict competition face a similar risk of an antitrust violation. In Marketing Displays, Inc. v. TrafFix Devices, Inc., 200 F.3d 929, (6th Cir. 1999), the court permitted an antitrust counterclaim against a plaintiff asserting trade dress infringement after the expiration of patent.
If the litigation is objectively baseless in the sense that no reasonable litigant could expect success on the merits, then it may be the basis for a antitrust violation. Professional Real Estate Investments, Inc. , v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. , 508 U.S. 49, 60 (1993). However, this does not mean that a product’s different qualities cannot be protected simultaneously, or successively by more than one statutory means for protection of intellectual property. Kohler Co. v. Moen, Inc. , 12 F.2d 632, 638-39, (7th Cir. 1993).
Understanding the nuances of the scope of intellectual property protection that can be obtained for a product is crucial to your ability to protect your market and your investments.