EDVA Orders Severance of Unrelated Patent Defendants
On January 13, 2012, the EDVA issued an order in Automated Tracking Solutions v. Awarepoint Corp. et al., dismissing all but the first-named defendant without prejudice for improper joinder. Before passage of the America Invents Act, 35 U.S.C. § 299, which now prohibits the filing of a single lawsuit against multiple unrelated defendants in a patent case, ATS filed suit in the EDVA for patent infringement against Awarepoint, RadarFind, Impinj, SimplyRFiD, TeleTracking, and Bode. TeleTracking, RadarFind, Impinj, and SimplyRFiD moved to dismiss the case against them for improper joinder pursuant to Rules 20 and 21. They argued that the claims asserted against the defendants did not arise from the same transaction or occurrence, because the defendants were unrelated and were accused of infringing different claims by way of different products and systems, and asserted that mere accusations of infringement of the same patent, without more, were insufficient to join the defendants in a single suit. Judge Smith agreed.
In the Order, the Court relied on Colt Def. v. Heckler & Koch, No. 2:04-cv-258, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28690 (E.D. Va. Oct. 22, 2004), and Bear Creek Techs. V. RCN Communications, No. 11-cv-103, 2011 WL 3626787 (E.D. Va. Aug. 17, 2011), and noted that, although the plaintiff purportedly relied on judicial economy to oppose the dismissal, the Court need not rely on judicial economy when there is not enough commonality among the defendants. In particularly strong language, the Court stated:
[H]ow can judicial economy be served by attempting to try five or six different infringement actions at one time? This type of joinder in the case at bar represents judicial ineconomy and serves no purpose but to thwart the rules of proper procedure for filing separate lawsuits…. Judicial economy does not exist when six separate cases of infringement are to be presented. Asking a jury to keep all of this evidence properly sorted against this many defendants in an infringement case creates confusion that could lead to an inability to decide the case.
The Court thus granted the motion to dismiss, including sua sponte as to the two nonmoving defendants, Awarepoint and Bode, and dismissed without prejudice all but Awarepoint, the first-named defendant. Despite section 299, there nonetheless have been instances of plaintiffs in patent cases filing suit against multiple defendants, as discussed here by Alison Frankel at her ON THE CASE blog. This decision by the EDVA indicates they likely will not be successful doing so in this Court.