more on cgl insurance policy coverage for patent disputes

Following up on my August 16 post concerning coverage for patent infringement claims under the “advertising injury” provision of a company’s Comprehensive General Liability (“CGL”) policy, Judge Kane of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued an opinion recently in which he offered a fairly bright line distinguishing what is covered from what is not.

In Dish Network v. Arch Specialty Ins. Co., Judge Kane explained:

…the fact that a patented technology is capable of advertising goods or carrying promotional messages does not transform the technology into an advertising idea. Patent infringement may, however, constitute an advertising injury where an entity uses an advertising technique that is itself patented. The crucial inquiry, therefore, focuses on whether the complained of advertisement incorporates a patented advertising techniques as an element. If so, then the alleged infringement may constitute ‘advertising injury.’ If, however, the alleged infringement concerns the method of conveyance there is no ‘misappropriation of advertising idea.’

The patents in suit addressed methods of automated telephone call processing. Claim 219 of one of the patents in suit, "Telephone interface call processing system with call selectivity" claimed “A telephone interface system according to claim 199, wherein said select interactive operating format involves advertising of a product for sale."  Claim 199 claimed a telephone interface system for individually interfacing callers at a multitude of remote terminals for voice-digital communication through a telephone communication facility….”

The Court held that the patents involved technology that was capable of advertising goods or carrying promotional methods rather than advertising techniques, and that the insurer had no duty to defend or indemnify Dish Network with respect to the patent infringement claims.

Check Your Insurance Policy, and the Case Law, Again

I’m not sure why we can’t seem to settle the question of what IP litigation is covered under the typical Comprehensive General Liability insurance policy. Whether it is because the form is continually evolving, insureds are ever-clever in their strategies for seeking coverage, or the language in the policies is just so bad, we cannot. As a result, every single time a potential coverage issue arises, insureds should check both their policy and the case law in the likely forum for litigation to see if there may be grounds to assert coverage.

A case from the Ninth Circuit, Hyundai Motor v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co., is the latest reminder that it pays to re-evaluate coverage every time. Hyundai was sued for patent infringement based on its “build your own car” feature on its Website. Patent infringement is not covered under the typical CGL policy. On that basis, the insurer declined coverage and declined to defend the lawsuit.

Hyundai reasoned that its build your own car feature was a form of advertising, and should have been covered under "advertising injury" clause in the policy. It sued the insurer and won. The court reasoned that the patents-in-suit involved advertising methods, therefore the patent infringement claims involved misappropriation of advertising ideas, and the claims were covered under the advertising injury clause.

Just goes to show you don’t ever know, so it pays to check both the policy and the case law every single time.