12/14/16

The Bedeviling Mess of ePlus, Contempt, and Article III


The Bedeviling Mess of ePlus, Contempt, and Article III

Wayne A. Kalkwarf and Matthew D. Tanner

ePlus, Inc. v. Lawson Software, Inc.1 concerns the cancellation of patent claims. Although a judicial decision cancelling a patent claim would not necessarily warrant significant scrutiny, ePlus addresses an issue beyond the scope of routine patent jurisprudence. The decision involves a basic constitutional power of the judicial branch.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was presented with the question of whether civil contempt sanctions imposed by a district court for violation of an injunction were still valid when the relevant patent claim had been cancelled in a subsequent United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) proceeding. A divided panel concluded that “[c]ivil contempt sanctions must be set aside when the resolution of the case requires overturning the injunction on which those sanctions are based.”

The law of contempt has been pronounced a “mess.” As was so eloquently summarized decades ago: “Few legal concepts have bedeviled courts, judges, lawyers and legal commentators more than contempt of court.” Time has not brought clarity, and now, the ePlus odyssey contributes further to this “bedeviled mess.”

Despite the muddled chaos, numerous attempts have been made to address and resolve the problems that haunt the doctrine. ePlus once again examines the power of judicial contempt, the Constitution, and the implications of that power in the field of patent litigation

98 J. Pat. & Trademark Off. Soc’y 306 (2016)

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