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Your guide to a busy SCOTUS term for IP cases

The US Supreme Court ruled on eight intellectual property cases this term. Get up to speed with our overview of the cases and links to our analysis of the decisions and arguments

US Supreme Court 1 Credit Joao FernandesThis week saw the final US Supreme Court intellectual property ruling of a busy term. As is often their way, the justices saved probably the most high-profile decision until last. The Court in Matal v Tam found the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act unconstitutional.

It was the eighth ruling handed down this Supreme Court term – which started in October and ends this month – with six patent cases, one copyright case and one trade mark case.

This week it rounded out its IP-related activity by denying cert to five cases, including the dancing baby case.

But the Court does not appear to be losing its appetite for IP cases. It had previously taken on two Patent Trial and Appeal Board appeals that have the potential to completely reshape the Board’s role.

The Court will assess the constitutionality of PTAB trials, after this month granting cert in Oil States Energy Services v Green’s Energy Group. And in May, the courtgranted cert in SAS Institute v Lee to consider whether the Board must issue a final decision on all challenged patent claims or if it can use its discretion to issue final decisions on only some claims brought in an IPR.

From the rulings handed down this term, Tam and TC Heartland are the two blockbuster cases. But there was plenty else that will impact IP practitioners, including the high court shaping law on biosimilars, copyright in cheerleading uniforms, design patents, laches in patent cases, exhaustion and much more.

Below is a summary of each case, with links to the Supreme Court ruling and Managing IP’s analysis of oral arguments and the decisions.

NameDate granted certDate arguedDate decidedArgued by (bold denotes which party the opinion was most favourable to)Opinion delivered byHolding
Samsung v AppleMar 21 2016Oct 11 2016Dec 6 2016Kathleen Sullivan of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan for Samsung; Seth Waxman of WilmerHale for AppleSotomayor for a unanimous courtIn the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant article of manufacture for arriving at a damages award under Section 289 of the Patent Act need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product.
LifeTech v PromegaJun 27 2016Dec 6 2016Feb 22 2017Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin for Life Technologies; Seth Waxman of WilmerHale for PromegaSotomayor; Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan joined; Thomas and Alito joined as to all but part II–C; Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas joined. Roberts took no part.The supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention for manufacture abroad does not give rise to §271(f)(1) liability
SCA Hygiene v First Quality Baby ProductsMay 2 2016Nov 1 2016Mar 21 2017Martin Black of Dechert for SCA; Seth Waxman of WilmerHale for First QualityAlito; Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined; Breyer filed a dissenting opinion.Laches cannot be invoked as a defense against a claim for damages brought within §286’s 6-year limitations period
Star Athletica v Varsity BrandsMay 1 2016Oct 31 2016Mar 22 2017John Bursch of the American Law Institute for Star Athletica; William Jay of Goodwin Proctor for VarsityThomas; Roberts; Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy joined.A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work — either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression — if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated.
TC Heartland v Kraft FoodDec 14 2016Mar 27 2017May 22 2017James Dabney of Hughes Hubbard & Reed for TC Heartland; William Jay of Goodwin Proctor for KraftThomas; all other members joined, except Gorsuch, who took no part.The amendments to §1391 did not modify the meaning of §1400(b) as interpreted by Fourco. A domestic corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.
Impression v Lexmark Dec 2 2016Mar 31 2017May 30 2017Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown for Impression; Constantine Trela of Sidley Austin for LexmarkRoberts; Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Gorsuch took no part.A patentee’s decision to sell a product exhausts all of its patent rights in that item, regardless of any restrictions the patentee purports to impose or the location of the sale.
Sandoz v AmgenJan 13 2017Apr 26 2017Jun 12 2017Deanne Maynard of Morrison & Foerster for Sandoz; Seth Waxman of WilmerHale for AmgenThomas for a unanimous court. Breyer filed a concurring opinion.An injunction is not available under federal law, but the court below will decide whether an injunction is available under state law. An applicant may provide notice before obtaining a license from the FDA for its biosimilar.
Matal v Tam Sept 29 2016Jan 18 2017Jun 19 2017Malcolm Stewart of Department of Justice on behalf of the government; John Connell of Archer for TamAlito, with various Justices joining and concurring in part (see bottom of this article for full details)*The disparagement clause of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional under the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause

Samsung v Apple

Supreme Court December 6 ruling


Samsung v Apple: SCOTUS redefines article of manufacture

Argument analysis

Samsung v Apple SCOTUS arguments: Tests proposed for "article of manufacture"

LifeTech v Promega

Supreme Court February 22 ruling


SCOTUS rules in Life Tech v Promega: One is not enough

Argument analysis

Analysing Life Tech v Promega arguments at the US Supreme Court

SCA Hygiene v First Quality Baby Products

Supreme Court March 21 ruling


US Supreme Court rules no laches defence available in patent cases

Argument analysis

Laches and patent law: SCA Hygiene v First Quality Baby Products SCOTUS arguments

Star Athletica v Varsity Brands

Supreme Court March 22 ruling


US Supreme Court finds cheerleading uniform designs copyright eligible

Argument analysis

Star Athletica arguments: Will SCOTUS find a uniform test for useful articles?

TC Heartland v Kraft Food

Supreme Court May 22 ruling


SCOTUS limits patent venue in Heartland ruling

TC Heartland – initial reaction to “most significant patent law decision since Alice”

Predicting the future for the Eastern District of Texas after TC Heartland

What will become of patent reform legislation post-TC Heartland?

Argument analysis

US Supreme Court revisits patent venue in TC Heartland v Kraft arguments

Impression v Lexmark 

Supreme Court May 30 ruling


US Supreme Court overturns Federal Circuit patent exhaustion stance in Impression v Lexmark

Interview: Inside Impression Products’ win at the Supreme Court

Argument analysis

Impression v Lexmark arguments analysis: When are patent rights exhausted?

Sandoz v Amgen

Supreme Court June 12 ruling


SCOTUS rules biosimilar applicants can provide notice before FDA approval

Is an injunction available in biosimilar cases under state law? 

Argument analysis

The patent dance takes the US Supreme Court floor in Sandoz v Amgen oral arguments

Matal v Tam 

Supreme Court June 19 ruling


Disparagement clause offends First Amendment, says SCOTUS in Tam

Argument analysis

US Supreme Court examines many angles in Slants oral arguments

*Alito with respects to Parts I, II and III-A; Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined; Thomas joined except Part II; Alito delivered opinion with respects to Parts III-B, III-C and IV; Roberts, Thomas and Breyer joined; Kennedy concurred in part, joined by Sotomayor and Kagan; Thomas concurred in part. Gorsuch took not part.

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