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A “Willful” finding triples the damages

Earlier this year, an East Texas jury awarded Whirlpool Corp. $7.6 million in a patent infringement case. This award can be tripled since, in addition to finding that the patent was valid, the jury also concluded that the infringement was “willful”. The test for whether or not an infringement is willful has varied over the years, but with Halo Electronics Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc. decision that came out in 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously provided greater latitude to district court judges and juries in deciding these claims while advising that the enhanced damages be limited to egregious cases. While an infringement on a patent warrants strict liability, the bar for determining whether or not that infringement was willful has been lowered and the damages that can be awarded are substantial.

This lawsuit involved Whirlpool Corp.’s “Filter 3” refrigerator filters, a $50 replacement part, and claimed that TST not only copied the design but also sold their products as an alternative to Whirlpool’s Filter 3. This tactic of lawsuits is not uncommon, and in fact has been seen quite frequently in the computer printer industry and in the automaker industry. The reason why it is uncommon in the case of Whirlpool is because they are effectively suing their distributors whom one would expect them to have some leverage over. Regardless, the value of patented information once again has proven to be impactful on a business and one that the judicial system take seriously. How the evaluation of willful infringement will continue to evolve is yet to be seen but not something to be taken lightly.

This article is provided for informational purpose only and is not intended as a form of legal advice. If you have any questions on the subject matter of this article, call Roland Tong, at 949-298-6867 or email Mr. Tong at [email protected]. Mr. Tong has been obtaining patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret protections for his clients since 2001. He has represented a wide range of clients from start-up companies to Fortune 500 companies in a wide range of industries.