Patent fights between basement inventors and big corporations tend to be emotional affairs. Dr. Bruce Saffran’s infringement lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson Inc. and its Cordis subsidiary, which climaxed in a $593 million loss for J&J in 2011, was no exception. It’s pretty apparent from court filings that the case slipped away from defense counsel at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler at trial. Saffran, a Philadelphia-area radiologist who obtained medical device patents as a young resident in the 1990s, won the jury’s sympathy, and J&J’s lawyers were unable to stop him.
J&J’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has been a totally different ballgame. Instead of emotionally charged testimony, there was enough technical jargon flying around at oral argument to make your head hurt. And, this time around, J&J’s lawyers at Patterson Belknap, led by Gregory Diskant, came out firmly on top.
As we reported, a Federal Circuit panel ruled 3-0 on April 4 that J&J drug-eluting cardiac stents don’t infringe Saffran’s patent. The court determined that the U.S. district judge who oversaw the case adopted a faulty claim construction. Under the proper claim construction, no reasonable jury could find that J&J infringed, the Federal Circuit concluded.
Barring further appeals, Saffran’s six-year old battle with J&J has come to an abrupt end. And the ruling almost certainly signals the end to a parallel infringement case Saffran brought against Abbott Laboratories Inc.
Before you feel too bad for Saffran, recall that he secured a $50 million settlement with Boston Scientific Corporation in 2009. Like J&J, Boston Scientific lost a $501 million jury verdict to Saffran in 2008. Saffran probably settled because he feared that the megaverdict wouldn’t hold up on appeal.
The April 4 ruling is a vindication for Diskant, since he represented J&J at trial along with his partner Scott Howard. "We’re enormously grateful to our client for standing by throughout this long process," Diskant said on Thursday. "Even for a company like Johnson & Johnson, $600 million is a lot of money."
The 2011 trial was clearly a frustrating one for Diskant. Before trial, he moved for summary judgment on the key question of whether J&J’s alleged infringement was willful. He worried that if the claim went to the jury, Saffran would be able to offer inflammatory testimony about how J&J stole his ideas. The trial judge refused to grant J&J summary judgment on willfulness. But, in an odd twist, the judge ended up siding with J&J on the willfulness question after the evidence came in.
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