Monday, February 15, 2021

The Gillette Defence Is Typically Unhelpful

Western Oilfield Equipment Rentals Ltd v M-I LLC 2021 FCA 24 Locke JA: Gleason, Mactavish JJA affg 2019 FC 1606 O'Reilly J

            2,664,173 / Shaker and Degasser Combination

Friday’s post provided some background on this case and addressed the issue of reasonable compensation. Today’s post reviews Locke JA’s very helpful discussion of the Gillette defence. (The discussion did not turn on the way the issue arose on the facts and the issue did not affect the result.)

Locke JA began by reiterating the classic understanding of the Gillette defence, which permits a defence based on establishing that its allegedly infringing product is the same as, or not patentably distinct from, the prior art; if that can be established on the facts, the asserted claims must necessarily be invalid or not infringed: [75]–[76] citing Gillette (1913) 30 RPC 465 (HL) and JK Smit [1940] SCR 279. While this is not new law, it is important nonetheless, as Locke JA emphasized that “contrary to some of the jurisprudence of the Federal Court, the success of a Gillette defence does not depend on a conclusion that the claim in question is invalid for anticipation or obviousness. Quite the contrary, the principal benefit of a Gillette defence is to avoid the need to construe the claims and reach a conclusion on validity and infringement issues.” [79]. Locke JA noted that the FCA itself in Eurocopter had skirted with a similar misunderstanding [80]

The theory of the Gillette defence is that it permits “a shortcut around the often difficult and time-consuming process of construing the claims of a patent, and then determining whether those claims are valid and whether they have been infringed” [77]. Unfortunately, in practice the Gillette defence has often complicated rather than simplified the proceedings. The defendant will rarely risk everything on the Gillette defence, but will typically assert it as an alternative to the analysis of claim construction and validity [78]–[79]. This means that even when the Gillette defence is raised, the court will normally have to construe the claims and assess validity and infringement, in order to address the other anticipation and infringement arguments. In that case, the Gillette defence is superfluous; rather than simplifying proceedings, by obviating the need to consider infringement and validity, it complicates matters by introducing an extra and unnecessary argument, which may lead to confusion [79].

The general message is that when claim construction, validity and infringement are fully argued, it is probably preferable to avoid the Gillette defence entirely.

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