By Memorandum Opinion entered by The Honorable Colm F. Connolly in Deere & Company v AGCO Corp. et al., Civil Action No. 18-827-CFC (D.Del. February 19, 2019), the Court granted in part and denied in part the identical motions of defendants AGCO Corporation and Precision Planting LLC to dismiss Plaintiff Deere & Company’s claims for enhanced damages based on willful infringement for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Deere alleged that it was entitled to enhanced damages under Section 284 of the Patent Act because (1) Defendants engaged in post-suit willful infringement of the eight patents asserted in Counts 4 and 7-12 of the amended complaints; (2) Defendants engaged in willful infringement of the four patents asserted in Counts 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the amended complaints after Deere sent Precision Planting a letter on August 11, 2017; and (3) Defendants engaged in willful infringement of U.S. Patent No. 10,004,173 (the “#173 Patent”) after Deere notified Defendants’ counsel on June 27, 2018 that Defendants’ activities infringed the #173 Patent. Id. at *11-12.
In support of their motions to dismiss Deere’s claims for enhanced damages, Defendants argued that “Deere’s willfulness allegations should be dismissed in their entirety because ‘Deere nowhere alleges – much less provides supporting facts that could show – that either defendant, at any point in time before or after the suits were filed, deliberately copied the asserted patents, attempted to conceal its allegedly infringing behavior, or engaged in any other conduct outside the standards of commerce in the agricultural industry.’” Id. at *12. While the Court acknowledged that enhanced damages under Section 284 were intended to only be awarded in egregious cases of misconduct that involve more than typical infringement, it recognized the Federal Circuit’s holdings binding on it setting forth the low threshold to plead a willfulness-based enhanced damages claim. Id. Specifically, the court noted that the Federal Circuit in Artic Cat, WesternGeco, and WCM made it clear that, to plead a willfulness-based enhanced damages claim, “a plaintiff need only allege facts that plausibly show that a risk of infringement was made known to a defendant or was sufficiently obvious that it should have been known to a defendant.” Id.
After analyzing Deere’s claims for willfulness-based enhanced damages based on that pleading standard, the Court determined that Deere’s allegations of willful infringement of the eight patents asserted in Counts 3-4 and 7-12 of the amended complaints easily met the threshold. Id. at *13-14. The Court also determined that Deere’s allegations of willful infringement of the #173 Patent asserted in Count 13 of the amended complaints also met the threshold. Id. at *15-16. Accordingly, the Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims for enhanced damages alleged in Counts 3-4, 7-12 and 13 of the amended complaints. Id. at *13-16.
On the other hand, the Court determined that Deere’s allegations of willful infringement of the four patents asserted in Counts 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the amended complaints did not meet the threshold. Id. at *14-15. In making that determination, the Court noted that the August 2017 letter was the only alleged source of Defendants’ knowledge of the four patents asserted in Counts 1, 2, 5 and 6. Id. The Court also noted that the amended complaints did not allege that the August 2017 letter identified the accused products, the pertinent combination of the accused products, or how the combination of the accused products infringed the patents-in-suit. Id. Thus, the Court determined there was no sufficient pleading that “Defendants knew or should have known from the alleged contents of the August 2017 letter that Defendants’ activities constituted a sufficient risk of infringement to make them cease those activities.” Id. at *15. Accordingly, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims for enhanced damages alleged in Counts 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the amended complaints. Id.
A copy of the Memorandum Opinion is attached.