The United State Supreme Court held oral argument on whether the equitable defense of laches (an unreasonable delay in filing suit) may be raised against a claim for damages based on patent infringement occurring within the six-year limitations period of 35 U.S.C. 286. SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag (SCA) produces adult incontinence products, as does First Quality Baby Products, LLC (First Quality). In 2003, SCA notified First Quality that First Quality was infringing on one of its patents, and First Quality responded by arguing that, because the SCA patent in question was essentially the same as a prior-filed patent, it was invalid so First Quality did not infringe. The two companies ceased communication on the issue, but in 2004, SCA requested that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) reexamine its patent in light of the prior-filed one, and in 2007, the PTO determined that the patent in question was valid.
Much of the questioning from the Justices focused on the argument that laches is a statutory defense incorporated into the defense of “unenforceability” at 35 U.S.C. 282(b)(1). Petitioner argued that, even if laches is incorporated into Section 282, it does not override the provisions of Section 286. Although Respondent contended that laches is codified in Section 282’s unenforceability defense, Justice Ginsburg replied “how could it be when it doesn’t make the patent unenforceable.”