SimpleAir v. Google, 2:11cv587 (2/10/14)
Judge: Rodney Gilstrap
Holding: Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Partial Judgment on Infringement and Validity and for a New Trial on Damages Granted
As readers may recall, last month a Marshall jury in this case returned a unanimous verdict finding that defendant Google had infringed the five asserted claims, and that the asserted claims were not invalid, but left the damages question unanswered. The plaintiff then asked the court to enter a partial judgment as to infringement invalidity and order a new trial on damages. Google, on the other hand, opposed entry of such partial judgment and sought a new trial on infringement, invalidity and damages.
Judge Gilstrap began by noting that the controlling Federal Circuit law is clear the district courts may bifurcate damages issues from liability issues for trial in any given patent infringement case. (Bet you never thought it'd come up this way, did you?) Concluding that infringement, invalidity and damages were separate and distinct issues, the Court ordered a retrial limited to the unanswered issue of damages.
Google contended that a new trial was nonetheless appropriate because of the length of deliberation, the nine jury notes, and the court's Allen charge which it contended showed that the jury arrived at a compromise verdict. "While these events establish that the jury had great difficulty and, in fact could not arrive at a unanimous damages decision," Judge Gilstrap wrote, "nothing suggests that the verdict of infringement and patent validity were not the honest judgment of each individual juror." On the contrary, the Court interpreted the jury's failure to answer the damages question after the better part of two days of deliberation as indicating a "steadfast refusal" by the members of the jury to reach a compromise verdict.
"Based on the court's observations of the progression of events," the Court concluded that the jury appears to have resolved the questions of infringement and invalidity before they concluded the first day of deliberations. Supporting this was the fact that the first three jury notes plainly requested materials and information to address these first two questions. After that, the six subsequent notes indicated that the jury had moved on to the issue of damages, growing frustrated as deliberations went on.
Google focused on the terms "concessions" and "negotiations" which were used by the jury in certain of the later notes but concluded that that was in the context of discussing damages. The court found no signs that the jury was compromising between liability and the amount of damages other than Google's "self-serving" reading of the jury notes, a reading which the court concluded was not accurate.
Accordingly, Judge Gilstrap set the new trial for damages for a pretrial conference on March 10, with jury selection on March 17.