Professor Amy Landers’ article, “Proximate Cause and Patent Law,” was recently published in the 25th volume of the Boston University Journal of Science and Technology Law. The article focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp. decision, providing a full analysis of the role that proximate cause may soon play in patent litigation.
In tort law, a plaintiff must generally show a proximate cause in order to receive relief, answering the question of “whether imposing liability in a particular case is consonant with the law’s purpose.” It includes two factors: cause – whether there is a factual relationship between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s harm – and proximate cause – a “shorthand for the policy-based judgment that not all factual causes contributing to an injury should be legally cognizable causes.”
In WesternGeco, the Supreme Court broadened the role of proximate cause in patent cases specifically, bringing them in line with other civil causes of action. Landers looks at the application of proximate cause to the patent system, arguing that it will resolve several existing problems with patent litigation, including “determining the appropriate extraterritorial reach of the system, accounting for the social benefits of infringing implementations, addressing the multiple serial plaintiff problem, and the problem of patent infringement actions brought against end-user consumers.”
Landers concludes that the patent litigation system as it currently stands “can result in judgments that threaten to chill valuable innovative activity, as well as activity that is beyond the scope of United States law,” and that the application of proximate cause analysis to many patent cases would ensure that the system operates “in a just manner.”
The director of the law school’s Intellectual Property Law program, Landers is the author of “Understanding Patent Law,” now in its third edition, co-editor of “Intellectual Property and the Public Domain” and co-author of “Global Issues in Intellectual Property Law” and “Global Issues in Patent Law.”