Just over a year ago, on April 29, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two landmark patent opinions—Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc.1 and Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. System, Inc.2 Both cases dealt with the Federal Circuit’s application of 35 U.S.C. § 285, which permits courts to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in “exceptional” patent cases. Prior to these decisions, the Federal Circuit made “exceptional case” determinations under a fairly specific standard, finding an “exceptional case” only if it involved “material inappropriate conduct” or was both “objectively baseless” and “brought in subjective bad faith.” Further, to establish the “exceptional” nature of the case, the parties were required to produce clear and convincing evidence—and the Federal Circuit reviewed a lower court’s award of attorney’s fees de novo. In Octane Fitness and Highmark, however, the Supreme Court drastically changed these standards. As a result of these changes, many believed that a grant of attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 would be much easier to attain.
As an initial matter, in Octane Fitness, the Court rejected the Federal Circuit’s “overly rigid” formula for exceptionality findings. According to the Court, the formula “superimposes an inflexible framework onto statutory text that is inherently flexible.” The Court instead held that Continue reading