Three patent infringement awards of $1 billion or more topped Litigation 2013 affiliate VerdictSearch‘s Top 100 Verdicts of 2012. Among the 100 verdicts, intellectual property verdicts represented the largest category in number and dollar value last year. The trio of mega-awards represents a noticeable jump over results from the past three years, which each saw just one IP verdict higher than $1 billion.
The billion-dollar awards that dominated this year’s total reflect how pervasive technology has become in the nation’s economy, says Van Beckwith, a Dallas senior partner at Baker Botts, which had two successful patent infringement verdicts on the list last year. "Much of that technology is technology we all use every day," he says. "Many of these products are wildly popular. If you have infringement, and it goes against you with a jury, the numbers can be huge."
To be sure, verdicts worth billions aren’t new to the list. The largest verdicts in 2011 were $150.4 billion for a wrongful death suit, $2.3 billion in an IP dispute, and $1.5 billion in a toxic torts claim. (The first two cases were outliers since the defendants were not represented at trial.)
In intellectual property verdicts last year, the total dollar amount of nearly $4.4 billion was 17 percent less than it was in 2011, but that’s because the 2011 total was driven by the $2.3 billion outlier verdict. Without that case, intellectual property verdicts in 2012 would have been up by more than 45 percent from 2011.
The highest IP verdict was Carnegie Mellon Univer­sity’s nearly $1.17 billion award in December against Marvell Technology Group Ltd. Heard in federal district court in Pittsburgh, the case revolved around two patents related to integrated circuit technology. The jury also found that Marvell willfully infringed, so Carnegie Mellon has sought to triple the damages. Carnegie Mellon’s attorneys, K&L Gates partners Douglas Greenswag in Seattle and Patrick McElhinny in Pittsburgh, declined to comment.
In the second-highest IP verdict, Apple Inc. was awarded $1.05 billion in August in its battle against Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. over patents tied to smartphone and tablet devices. The jury found Samsung, maker of the Galaxy phone, had willfully infringed six patents, but ruled against Apple on its claims of antitrust violations and breach of contract. (The award was reduced to $598.9 million in March after the presiding judge decided that the jury improperly calculated damages on half of the Samsung products at issue in the case.)
The third-largest IP verdict was a $1 billion award to Monsanto Company in its suit against E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company and one of its subsidiaries for patent infringement [see "Seeds of a Settlement"].
Some trends continued last year. In 2011 product liability verdicts—once one of the categories with the largest awards—dropped 24 percent in value, to $1.38 billion. In 2012 the category continued its downward spiral, plummeting to less than $373 million in value, with the number of awards on the top-100 list dropping from 19 to nine.
The largest product liability award was a $75.4 million verdict, coming in at number 34, in a wrongful-death smoker case in Fort Lauderdale against Reynolds American Inc., Philip Morris International Inc., Lorillard Inc., and Liggett Vector Brands LLC. Beckwith, of Baker Botts, says tort reform has limited the ability of plaintiffs attorneys to bring lucrative product liability cases, and more defendants have settled these cases.
But medical malpractice verdicts, once a tort reform target, jumped a startling 140 percent in value: more than $1 billion in 2012, compared with $430 million the year before. The largest med-mal award also topped last year’s: $178.4 million to a man who suffered brain injuries due to complications from weight loss surgery. Plaintiffs attorney Thomas Edwards, a senior partner at Edwards & Ragatz in Jacksonville, says medical malpractice verdicts are up because insurance carriers are forcing more cases to trial and medicine has become more institutionalized, leading to more errors. "In the medical malpractice arena, you’d find an increasing number of trials across the board," he says. "We’re seeing more big verdicts, but also more defense verdicts."
In other categories, some outlier verdicts boosted dollar totals in fraud, nursing home abuse, and dram shop-shop cases.