Mixed Dismissal Opinion Issues in Robocast-Netflix Patent Infringement Case

An opinion from the District of Delaware dismissed some claims and kept others alive in a web technology patent infringement suit on Monday. Judge Richard G. Andrews opined that plaintiff Robocast Inc.’s claims for vicarious liability for direct infringement, indirect infringement, and willful infringement lacked underlying facts. The court granted the plaintiff three weeks to amend its complaint.

In March, Robocast, a company whose “technology and methods enable users and publishers to Play The Web from site to site, app to app and more” through its patent portfolio, filed its infringement suit over three patents. The intellectual property relates to methods of automating the presentation of computer content. Specifically, Robocast said that Netflix’s internet platform and its associated automated playlists feature infringes methods described in its three patents.

Netflix moved to dismiss on several bases, including that it was not given fair notice of what the direct infringement claim was and the ground upon which it rested. The court declined Netflix’s arguments, finding that Robocast sufficiently identified the accused products and features over Netflix’s contentions that Robocast needed to demonstrate how those products and features infringe.

Judge Andrews said, however, that Robocast’s allegation that Netflix was vicariously liable for direct infringement because of its control of an unknown agent was insufficient to withstand scrutiny. Citing Robocast’s failure to offer a factual basis for its claim, the court said it could not survive without identifying “any third parties at all, let alone allege facts supporting a relationship between those parties and Netflix.”

Next, Robocast’s pre-suit indirect and willful infringement claims fell short because the court found Netflix had no notice of the asserted patents. Among other arguments, Robocast asserted that Netflix should have been aware of the patents because of prior litigation between Microsoft and Robocast regarding one overlapping patent that concluded in 2014.

The plaintiff’s theory rested on two individuals, both affiliated with Netflix, who were affiliated with Microsoft while the Microsoft case was pending, the court explained. However, Judge Andrews deemed the theory “speculative.” 

Robocast simply assumed that the role of general counsel and board member granted the individuals knowledge of the asserted patent, the court wrote. Further, Judge Andrews said that the complaint was void of facts suggesting that the individuals’ knowledge could be imputed to Netflix.

Robocast is represented by Bayard P.C. and of counsel Cantor Colburn LLP and McKool Smith P.C. Netflix is represented by Richards, Layton & Finger P.A. and of counsel Latham & Watkins LLP.