Supremes Deny Prius Appeal

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Toyota’s petition for certiorari, refusing to review a lower court’s ruling that the Prius, Lexus RX400h and Highlander SUV hybrid cars infringe a patent owned by hybrid technology company Paice LLC. (read my previous post on Toyota’s appeal)  Toyota had argued that Paice’s statements in its patent that prior technology had “substantial deficiencies” and was “compex and difficult to manufacture” precluded infringement under the doctrine of equivalents because Toyota’s hybrid vehicles used an aspect of that prior technology.  But the appeals court ruled that language in a patent criticizing a prior invention had to be clear as to which aspect of the invention is being criticized for a court to deny that the patent scope covers the prior invention as an equivalent.   

So the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will stand.  In that decision, the Federal Circuit affirmed a $4.3 million jury verdict that Toyota’s hybrid drive trains infringed U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 as an equivalent system but vacated the district court award of a $25 per vehicle ongoing royalty.  (read my previous post on the Federal Circuit decision) Now the case will go back to the trial court to determine the amount of ongoing royalty Toyota will have to pay Paice.

As is typical, the Supreme Court did not give a reason for its decision to deny review.  But the denial means that fewer than four justices favored review of the case (if four justices vote to review, the high court grants the petition for certiorari).  I remember one of my law professors used to describe his exams as consisting of big issues, little issues and non-issues and advised students to figure out which is which and not spend any time on the non-issues.  Here, Toyota tried to dress up a non-issue as a big issue, and the Supremes wisely declined to spend any time on it.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.