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Spineology, Inc. v. Wright Medical Technology, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

December 14, 2018

SPINEOLOGY, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
WRIGHT MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota in No. 0:15-cv-00180-JNE-FLN, Judge Joan N. Ericksen.

          Randall Thomas Skaar, Skaar Ulbrich Macari, P.A., Minnetonka, MN, argued for plaintiff-appellee.

          Anthony James Fitzpatrick, Duane Morris LLP, Boston, MA, argued for defendant-appellant. Also represented by Christopher S. Kroon; Diana Sangalli, Thomas W. Sankey, Houston, TX.

          Before Prost, Chief Judge, Dyk and Moore, Circuit Judges.

          Moore, Circuit Judge.

         Wright Medical Technology, Inc., appeals the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota's denial of its motion for attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285. Because we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Wright's motion, we affirm.

         Background

         Spineology, Inc., is the assignee of U.S. Patent No. 6, 383, 188, reissued as No. RE42, 757, which describes an "expandable reamer" for use in orthopedic surgery. '757 patent at 1:16-17. Wright manufactures a reamer known as the X-REAM®. In 2015, Spineology sued Wright, alleging the X-REAM® infringes claims 15, 21- 23, and 33-35 of the '757 patent.

         The district court issued a claim construction order in 2016. In the order, it acknowledged that the parties disputed construction of the term "body," but it declined to adopt either party's construction. Wright and Spineology then filed cross-motions for summary judgment on infringement. Recognizing the alleged infringement depended on how "body" was construed, the district court construed "body" consistent with Wright's non-infringement position and granted Wright's motion.[1]

         Wright then moved for attorney fees, arguing Spine-ology's proposed construction of "body," its damages theories, and its litigation conduct rendered this case "exceptional" under § 285. The district court denied the motion. It determined that, while ultimately the court rejected Spineology's proposed construction, "[t]he attempt was not so meritless as to render the case exceptional." J.A. 64. It similarly determined "the arguments made by Spineology to support its damages theory . . . are not so meritless as to render the case exceptional." J.A. 65. It concluded "[n]othing about this case stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of Spineology's litigating position or the manner in which the case was litigated." J.A. 65-66.

         Discussion

         Under § 285, "[t]he court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party." "[A]n 'exceptional' case is one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party's litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated." Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1749, 1756 (2014). "District courts may determine whether a case is 'exceptional' in a case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances." Id. We review "all aspects of a district court's § 285 determination for abuse of discretion," keeping in mind that "the district court 'is better positioned' to decide whether a case is exceptional, because it lives with the case over a prolonged period of time." Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. Sys., Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1744, 1747 (2014) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 559-60 (1988)).

         Because we hold the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Wright's motion for attorney ...


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