decided on May 1, 2018 by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
review by J. Matt Buchanan | published May 1, 2018 | updated May 1, 2018
In Disc Disease Solutions v. VGH Solutions, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had an opportunity to consider the heightened Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard, announced by the Supreme Court in 2015 and made effective later that year. The simple nature of the technology involved in the asserted patents, including U.S. Patent No. 8,012,113 [text], played a key role in the court's holding. In an interesting twist, instead of considering whether the new standard applied to a complaint that was filed the day before the effective date of the Iqbal/Twombly standard, the court concluded that Disc Disease's complaint, and its claims of patent infringement, "were sufficiently pleaded under [Iqbal/Twombly]." Clearly cognizant of the bar's thirst for clarity on the new standard and likely concerned about the risk of applying its holding here too generously, the court was careful to explain that "[t]his case involves a simple technology" and "[t]he asserted patents, which were attached to the complaint, consist of only four independent claims." (emphasis added) Together with the identification by name of the defendant's accused products, the court held that "[t]hese disclosures and allegations are enough to provide VGH Solutions fair notice of infringement of the asserted patents." Make no mistake, though—Disc Disease provides nothing more than an extremely small foothold. In the wake of the new Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard, even for cases involving simple technology and a small number of independent claims, plaintiffs still need to plead carefully.
Attaching patents to complaint and identifying accused products by name meets Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard in case involving simple technology and a small number of independent claims
Considering the sufficiency of a complaint filed the day before the effective date of the new Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard, the court skipped the question of which standard applies in light of its ultimate holding that the complaint met the new heightened standard. The district court had found the complaint insufficient under Iqbal/Twombly, but the Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that the plaintiff attached the asserted patents to the complaint and identified the defendant's accused products by name. The court tailored its holding to the nature of this particular case—the technology is "simple" and the asserted patents "consist of only four independent claims."
Disc Disease provides nothing reliable regarding the sufficiency of a complaint alleging patent infringement in the wake of the heightened Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard. If the technology is simple and the claims of infringement involve only a small number of independent claims, perhaps this decision provides some guidance. But, even then, the situation-specific holding of Disc Disease simply cannot be viewed as a reliable predictor of treatment of a complaint of infringement under Iqbal/Twombly. Plead carefully.