The U.S. Supreme Court eliminated a defense against the patent equivalent of a late hit in football, saying the ancient doctrine of laches, or needless delay, doesn’t apply.
The widely expected ruling follows the reasoning in the court’s 2014 decision in Petrella v. MGM, which eliminated laches in copyright suits in a lawsuit over the rights to the story in “Raging Bull.” In both cases the court found that Congress established a statute of limitations to limit the amount of time for which plaintiffs can collect damages, stripping from judges the power to utilize the older power of laches.
The practical impact of the decision is to allow patent holders more time to determine whether a competitor’s products are successful before suing to recover six years worth of royalties for infringement. While that scenario may be distasteful to some judges, wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority, separation-of-powers doctrine requires courts to defer to Congress and Congress decided a “hard and fast rule” was preferable to fact-based judicial determinations.
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