Opinion: Federal Circuit Reverses JMOL Granted During Patent Infringement Trial

On Tuesday, the Federal Circuit partly reversed and vacated a district court’s judgment in favor of the defendant AngioDynamics, Inc. The plaintiff-appellants C. R. Bard Inc. and Bard Peripheral Vascular, Inc. (collectively Bard) argued that competitor AngioDynamics infringed upon three of its patents related to its medical device that enables special types of intravascular injections. Among other things, the panel held that there was “substantial evidence” to support a jury finding of infringement and willfulness. 

The court first explained the companies’ medical device technology. It described their vascular access ports as “devices implanted underneath a patient’s skin that allow medical providers to inject fluid into the patient’s veins on a regular basis without needing to start an intravenous line each time.”

Bard’s PowerPort product was special when it came to market because it was the first vascular access port labeled for “power injection,” permitting the injection of fluids into patients at a high pressure and high flow rate, as required by certain procedures. The filing noted that shortly after Bard obtained FDA approval for its PowerPort product, “AngioDynamics sought and obtained FDA approval to market its own vascular access port products as suitable for power injection.”

The order recited that Bard brought suit against AngioDynamics in the District of Delaware, claiming that AngioDynamics’s power injectable vascular access port products infringed three of its patents’ claims. AngioDynamics’s motion to dismiss was denied as premature. The parties subsequently cross-moved for summary judgment on the issues of patent eligibility, novelty, and enablement. Because factual disputes remained, the district court judge denied the motions without prejudice. 

At trial, at the end of Bard’s case-in-chief, AngioDynamics moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) regarding non-infringement and no willfulness. The district court issued an opinion granting the JMOL as requested. It also found that “the asserted claims were invalid because they were directed to printed matter as ineligible subject matter and were not inventive.” The court’s subsequent order sustained AngioDynamics’s oral motion for JMOL, “as well as its motions for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, on the grounds that the claims of the Asserted Patents are invalid, not patent-eligible, not infringed and not willfully infringed.” 

Bard appealed the judgments of non-infringement, no willfulness, and invalidity, including ineligibility. The appellate panel held that the district court erred in granting the JMOL for a number of reasons.

First, it determined that an error made by an expert witness, relied upon in the lower court’s ruling, “did not undermine the factual basis of his infringement opinion,” though it might have weakened his credibility. In addition, the panel found that there was “sufficient circumstantial evidence in the record to support AngioDynamics’s induced infringement of the method claims,” negating the matter-of-law-based decision.

The appellate court found that the lower court improperly decided the willful infringement question, which it should have passed on to the jury. The panel also made light of a procedural flaw in the lower court’s judgment. JMOL is only appropriate once a party has been fully heard on an issue, the order explained. This was not the case as to printed matter and invalidity, it held.

The court’s remaining analysis concerned subject matter eligibility and anticipation. The court held that “the asserted claims are not directed solely to printed matter, and thus are patent eligible under and that a genuine dispute of material fact precludes summary judgment as to anticipation.”

The plaintiff-appellants are represented by Morrison & Foerster LLP, and the defendant-appellees by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.