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for the Southern District of New York

Heightened Pleading Standard Applies to Patent Invalidity Counterclaims

In an August 7, 2013 ruling, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer granted-in-part the motion to strike certain affirmative defenses and to dismiss counterclaims of non-infringement and invalidity in plaintiff Orientview Technologies LLC's patent infringement action against Seven for All Mankind, LLC ("7FAM").  Most notably, the Court ruled that an invalidity counterclaim must meet the heightened pleading standards under Twombly  and Iqbal.  In dismissing the invalidity counterclaim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), Judge Engelmayer noted the split in the cases about whether the relaxed pleading standard for patent infringement cases or the more rigorous Twombly and Iqbal standards applied, and held that "in the absence of any directive that claims of invalidity, like claims of direct infringement, should be measured under a different standard than almost all other claims in this Circuit are, the Court declines to do so." 

Regarding the affirmative defenses, while the motion was pending the parties agreed that two of the defenses at issue, concerning indirect infringement which was not alleged by plaintiff and injunctive relief which plaintiff had not sought, are not relevant to the case, and the Court struck them as "immaterial" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f).  Plaintiff challenged a third affirmative defense, that the scope of the patent-in-suit was not broad enough to encompass the defendant's conduct, on the ground that it was duplicative of another defense that the defendant has not infringed any claim.  In denying the motion, Judge Engelmayer noted that courts have broad discretion in deciding motions to strike and that such motions are generally disfavored.  The Court found that to "the extent Overview argues that the defense is redundant, its retention poses no risk of prejudice to Overview which is already obligated to defend itself against" the supposedly duplicative defense and the non-infringement counterclaim.

The plaintiff also moved to strike the non-infringement counterclaim under Rule 12(f) as the "mirror image" of its infringement claim.  The Court noted that "'in an infringement action, a counterclaim seeking a declaration of non-infringement will be viable only when it presents an independent case or controversy that would survive a dismissal of the plaintiff's infringement claim.'"  Judge Engelmayer found that, particularly in light of the fact that the defendant also asserted an invalidity defense, "[w]ere the case to be dismiss short of a ruling on the merits, 7FAM would remain vulnerable to liability on the same claims," and declined to strike the counterclaim.
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