Ever since the early seventeenth century, when Lord Coke condemned a playing-card patent for reducing those in the subject trade to “idleness and beggary,” the judiciary has been charged with discerning the line between property rights and monopoly. So for patent practitioners, an antitrust decision, even if outside Title 35’s domain, is worth noting. Delaware District Judge Sue L. Robinson recently issued such an opinion, providing authority on private antitrust remedies, personal jurisdiction, and venue.
The Court began by rejecting the assertion that an earlier finding of competitive harm in favor of the government necessarily meant that a later private plaintiff also established the requisite injury in the same market. According to the Court, this collateral estoppel argument “impermissibly combines the concepts of causation and injury.” In the absence of proof of an injury in fact, there is no avenue by which the Court could “infer that a finding of anticompetitive effects necessarily implies a finding that consumers . . . have been hurt.” Relatedly, the Court also questioned the need for a private injunction in addition to one the government had already obtained: “Clearly any [class member] can notify the government of any further antitrust violations by [defendant], regardless of the status of the instant private litigation.”
Evaluating several personal-jurisdiction motions, the Court also rejected the claim that “personal jurisdiction in federal antitrust litigation is assessed on the basis of a defendant’s aggregate contacts with the United States as a whole.” Noting Third Circuit precedent, the Court held that the “national contacts” test applies only to foreign parties. The Court’s grasp over a domestic entity is instead determined, as in most other cases, by “traditional long-arm jurisprudence.” On the question of venue, however, the Court declined to apply the general venue statute, opting instead for the narrower antitrust provision: “[S]ection 12 of the Clayton Act may not be supplemented with the general venue provisions . . . for purposes of establishing venue for domestic defendants, and must be considered independently of those provisions.”
Although the battleground may have now shifted to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, among others, the discourse on competition provoked by the Lord Chief Justice perseveres.