Bot M8 LLC v. Sony Corp. of Am., No. 20-2218 (Fed. Cir. July 13, 2021)
By: Summer Associate, Tyler A. Gruttadauria
In Bot M8, the Federal Circuit held that plaintiffs at the pleading stage in a patent infringement suit must meet the plausibility standard established by Iqbal/Twombly. But, plaintiffs are not necessarily required to plead infringement on an element-by-element basis to meet this standard. Thus, the district court erred in its dismissal of two of Bot M8’s patents because it applied an excessive pleading standard.
Bot M8 alleged that Sony infringed five patents that were related to gaming machines and directed to video games. Sony filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. After requiring Bot M8 to “explain in [the] complaint every element of every claim that you say is infringed and/or explain why it can’t be done,” the district court dismissed Bot M8’s allegations for four of the five patents.
Prior to 2016, a plaintiff could assert a claim for patent infringement alleging nothing more than the minimum set of facts required by Form 18 in the appendix of forms for the Federal Rules. That is, the plaintiff essentially only had to identify the patent, claim ownership of the patent, and allege the defendant infringed.
In 2016, the Supreme Court abrogated Form 18, and now patent claims have to satisfy the pleading standard established by Iqbal/Twombly. However, in the years since this abrogation, district courts have struggled to resolve a single, clear standard for what a plaintiff is required to allege in order to plead a claim for patent infringement that is plausible on its face.
The Federal Circuit held that the Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard does not necessarily require a plaintiff to allege infringement with an element-by-element analysis. The court found that the district court simply required too much and that Bot M8 need not prove its case at the pleading stage. Instead, the relevant inquiry under Iqbal/Twombly is whether the factual allegations in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. Given the context-specific nature of such an inquiry, the level of detail necessary for a pleading varies depending on the complexity of the technology, materiality of any given element, and the nature of the infringing device.
The court further noted that it was possible to plead too much. It chided Bot M8 for its “kitchen sink” pleading approach for two patents, which revealed inconsistencies in the pleadings that led to the district court’s proper dismissal of those claims of infringement.
Bot M8 supported two of its patent infringement claims with specific factual assertions identifying error codes displayed by Sony’s PlayStation 4 prior to a game starting that supported a plausible inference that the PS4’s fault inspection program can be concluded prior to the start of a game, rendering the claim of infringement at least plausible. To avoid a motion to dismiss under Rule 12, nothing more is required, and thus, the district court erred.
In order to plead a claim for patent infringement that satisfies the Iqbal/Twombly standard, claim charts are not necessarily required. Rather, it is usually enough that a complaint place the alleged infringer on notice of what activity is being accused of infringement.
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