There is a debate brewing in the patent litigation community over the correct scope of a state institution’s waiver of 11th Amendment immunity when that institution asserts its patents. In Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999), the Supreme Court held that state institutions were immune from patent infringement suits. Of course, if a state institution asserts a patent claim against a party, immunity is generally waived as to that party for counterclaims. But the Federal Circuit recently held in BPMC v. California Dept. of Health (Fed. Cir. 2007), that when the California Department of Health (“Cal. DoH”) intervened as a plaintiff in a patent suit (which is considered a waiver of immunity), it is only a waiver as to that suit. So, when the original suit was dismissed because of improper venue, the waiver was rescinded. As a result, the defendant in the first case, BPMC, could not bring a declaratory judgment suit that mirrored the original suit because of the Cal. DoH’s 11th Amendment immunity.
The Federal Circuit’s decision has ignited substantial controversy (click here for the WSJ Law Blog’s article on the subject and click here for IP Biz’s responsive blog post) and some are predicting that this will be the next patent case that the Supreme Court takes on cert. It is an interesting issue, but not one that we see often in the Northern District, which caused me to investigate whether Chicago-area colleges are prolific patentees. None makes the top ten, like my alma mater the University of Michigan – Go Blue! But there is some substantial patenting going on at Chicago-area universities. The following chart show the number of patents assigned to the identified universities or their related entities between 1969 and 2005:
|U of Chicago
|U of Illinois
As you can see from the chart, this issue has significant consequences for Chicago-area schools. I will keep you posted as the case develops.