Court Finds Inequitable Conduct Defense Insufficiently Pled
Applying the pleading requirements of the Federal Circuit's Exergen Corp v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. decision, Magistrate Judge Everingham of the Eastern District of Texas concluded in SynQor, Inc. v. Artesyn Techs., Inc. that Defendant Bel Fuse Inc.'s inequitable conduct defense was not pled with sufficient particularity.
By way of background, Bel Fuse's answer included an inequitable conduct defense based upon comments made by the inventor of the patents-in-suit, Martin F. Schlecht, regarding two papers by Loveday Haachitaba Mweene.
Bel Fuse alleged that the inventor had falsely characterized the Mweene papers to the Patent and Trademark Office. The plaintiff moved to strike Bel Fuse's inequitable conduct defense based on a failure to plead with the particularity required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b).
The Magistrate Judge found that Bel Fuse's defense fell short of the Exergen pleading requirements for inequitable conduct. The allegations did not "satisfy the 'how' and 'why' requirements of Exergen because they do not allege facts sufficient to show specifically why Schlecht's alleged misstatements were material and how the examiner would have used the information in assessing the patentability of the claims of the '190 patent."
Further, the Magistrate Judge concluded the inventor's citation of an article in a separate patent application over 17 years before the alleged mischaracterization to the Office regarding the Mweene papers did not give rise to a reasonable inference that the inventor knew of the specific material information contained in the article that allegedly rendered his statements to the Office false.
Based on the findings, the Magistrate Judge recommended Bel Fuse's inequitable conduct defense be dismissed without prejudice and leave to file an amended defense be granted. This case is a good reminder that inequitable conduct must be pled with the sufficient particularity required by the Federal Rules.