Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. v. Nagata
By Erica Larson – Edited by Suzanne Van Arsdale
Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. v. Nagata, No. 2012-1245 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 11, 2013)
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Northern District of California, which ruled that plaintiff Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. (“SEL”) could not establish federal jurisdiction over defendant Dr. Yujiro Nagata. The courts rejected a novel offensive application of assignor estoppel, traditionally a defense, which bars the previous holder of a patent from attacking the patent’s validity when sued for infringement by the assignee.
SEL asserted the doctrine offensively, arguing that Nagata had violated assignor estoppel in a previous lawsuit by testifying against SEL, giving rise to a federal cause of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a). Like the district court before it, the Federal Circuit did not reward plaintiff’s legal creativity. Instead the court held that the argument lacked precedent or strong supporting authority and declined to extend the doctrine. Semiconductor Energy Laboratory at 6–7.
Property, intangible provides an overview of the decision and prior events. Dennis Crouch, writing for Patently-O, speculates that the Federal Circuit would have affirmed without opinion were the Supreme Court not presently considering Gunn v. Minton, a case which questions the extent of federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(b). Minton v. Gunn, 355 S.W.3d 634 (Tex. 2011) cert. granted, 133 S.Ct. 420 (2012) (focusing on whether the state law attorney malpractice case raises a federal cause of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(b)). (more…)