Hughes motion requests court to reaffirm earlier decision; $114 million judgement against U.S. Government still in force.
Hughes Electronics Corporation, parent of Hughes Aircraft, filed the motion Friday with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, a Supreme Court ruling that sent the Hughes patent case back to the Court of Appeals for review did not set aside a $114 million judgement against the U.S. Government as reported in some media accounts. The judgement of liability and the $114 million damages award are still in full force and the burden of proof to overturn the judgement is on the U.S. Government
The Supreme Court on April 21 ordered the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to reconsider its earlier decision upholding the judgement in Hughes Aircraft Company v. United States in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Warner-Jenkinson v. Hilton-Davis case. Having the Court of Appeals reconsider the matter does not vacate the award and the court's action was not unusual; three other patent cases were remanded for further consideration in light of Warner-Jenkinson.
The question now before the Federal Circuit is whether the Warner-Jenkinson decision on the patent law doctrine of equivalents has any effect on its 1995 re-affirmation of its 1983 liability judgement, which remains the law of the case pending the court's consideration. In its motion, Hughes argues that Warner-Jenkinson does not in any material respect alter the doctrine of equivalents.
Under the doctrine of equivalents, a patent owner can prove infringement by a product that, although not identical to the invention claimed in the patent, contains elements that are equivalent to the elements of the invention claimed in the patent.
The court ruling is the most recent development in a long standing and complex intellectual property infringement struggle that started in April 1960 when Hughes applied for a patent on a pioneering communications satellite attitude control system invented by scientist Donald Williams a year earlier.
The U.S. Patent Office in 1966 allowed Williams' claim, which was challenged by the U.S. Government. After several years in court, a U.S. patent was issued to Hughes in 1973. Hughes that year filed suit against the Government, charging the Government used the patented invention without authority and seeking reasonable compensation.
The invention was used on every geosynchronous orbit satellite from 1963 through 1974, and on every satellite from 1963 until 1982 that used a solid fuel motor in its transfer to geosynchronous orbit.
After another decade of litigation, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1983 ruled that the Williams patent was valid and that both real-time and store-and-execute spacecraft infringed.
The case was returned for an accounting trial to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which ruled that 81 spacecraft out of more than 100 contested, infringed the Williams patent. The court in 1994 ordered the U.S. Government to pay Hughes $114 million for its infringement over a span of two decades.
In 1994, after Hughes appealed the accounting trial court's damages determination to the Federal Circuit, the Government sought to re-open the 1983 liability judgement on the ground that an intervening change in the patent law doctrine of equivalents had rendered that judgement invalid. In 1995, the Court of Appeals rejected the Government's argument and the Government appealed to the Supreme Court.
After that decision, and while the Government's petition to review the case was pending, the Supreme Court decided another case, Warner-Jenkinson v. Hilton-Davis, in which the Court reaffirmed the doctrine of equivalents in patent cases and specified how that doctrine should be applied in a legal analysis of patent infringement.
CONTACT: Hughes Electronics Corporation
Richard Dore, 310/568-6324