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Another Look at MedImmune v. Genentech

Written by on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007 Print This Post Print This Post

The Medimmune v. Genentech case has received extensive media coverage since the Supreme Court decision earlier this year, but if you still have questions about the case and its anticipated impact, you should check out the recap published on IP Frontline by attorney Dennis Fernandez and college student Brian Bensch.

In their article "The Impact of MedImmune v. Genentech," the authors describe the potential implications of MedImmune as follows:

The major implication of MedImmune is that potential and current licensees will find it incredibly easier to file a declaratory judgment action. . . . After MedImmune, licensees will be able to recklessly challenge contracts knowing that the worst possible consequence is that the contract is upheld. . . .

[T]he implications of MedImmune are already taking shape. Since the MedImmune ruling only four months ago, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has begun to clarify the impact of MedImmune by dropping the "reasonable apprehension" clause of its subject matter jurisdiction test in its decision in SanDisk Corporation v. STMicroelectronics, Inc. . . .

 [I]n its decision on March 26 of this year, the CAFC established a new test that "holds that "where a patentee asserts rights under a patent based on certain identified ongoing or planned activity of another party, and where that party contends that it has the right to engage in the accused activity without license," the party may bring a declaratory judgment action."

In the end, the authors conclude that the impact of the ruling will be as follows:

[T]he Supreme Court’s MedImmune decision weakened the stability of both future and current licensing agreements. While the federal circuit’s precedent had been rather unambiguous, the Supreme Court accepted the circularly reasoning and exaggerated risk claimed by MedImmune and allowed it to file for declaratory judgment relief against its licensor without first ending their licensing agreement. The decision gives a blank check to licensees to challenge their licensor on patent invalidity charges if they feel they have any chance at success.

As a licensing attorney looking at this case and the subsequent San Disk ruling, I can’t help but wonder if the impact of these decisions is really going to be as severe as legal commentators are predicting.  While certainly this line of cases enables licensees to challenge licenses more easily, I question whether this will really happen with the kind of frequency you might expect from the commentary.  Is it possible that they are looking at these cases from litigator’s perspective rather than considering the business realities that would often caution against souring an otherwise cordial business relationship?

The vast majority of licensing negotiations are not done at the end of a big stick, and that there are generally sound business reasons to maintain a good relationship with the other side of the negotiating table.  While it is true that these cases make it easier for licensees to challenge a licensing relationship, I question whether it will make good business sense for licensees to do so as frequently as it has been suggested they will do.  Will licensors really want to do deals with licensees who have challenged other licensing agreements with third parties?  Will licensors really want to develop relationships with licensees who have challenged  other licensing arrangements with prior licensors? 

In the end, I suspect that the application of these cases will depend largely on the realities of the business world.  I find it hard to believe that regularly challenging license agreements will ultimately prove to be a good business strategy as the dust settles on these decisions.  I anticipate that in the end declaratory judgments will be used a little more judiciously to challenge relationships that have already soured, in much the same way that litigation and the threat of litigation have been used prior to the MedImmune ruling.  When a relationship can be managed outside of the courtroom, I continue to believe that, despite the hype to the contrary, the average licensee is going to stick with negotiation and stay away from the courts. 

 

 

 

 

 

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