WE HAVE AN INJUNCTION, WHY CAN'T WE GET CONTEMPT?

It is not always the case that once a court issues an injunction prohibiting further patent infringement , any further infringement will be punishable by contempt. That is often a disappointment for patent owners, but the recent Federal Circuit en banc opinion in Tivo v. Echostar explains how this can occur.

A two part inquiry is required to determine whether the enjoined party may be found in contempt. The first question is whether there are “colorable differences” between the enjoined product and the re-designed product. The crucial question for determining whether there are colorable differences is: what are the differences between the features relied on to determine infringement and the modified features? If the differences are “colorable” or “significant” there can be no contempt, even if the re-design still infringes the patent. If, on the other hand, any differences are not colorable, the court must then determine whether the re-design infringes the patent. The enjoined party should be held in contempt only if the differences are non-colorable and the re-design infringes.

On a motion for contempt, the patentee bears the burden of proving both the absence of colorable differences and the continuing infringement by clear and convincing evidence. It is no defense, however, that the enjoined party did not intend to violate the injunction, although the court may in its discretion consider diligence and good-faith efforts for purposes of mitigating the punishment.

The Court rejected Echostar’s argument that it should not be held in contempt because the injunction was vague and overbroad. The Court emphasized that the time to challenge the clarity of the injunction is when it issues; a party cannot act first and then complain about ambiguity or breadth when it is caught.