As we last reported here, Motiva LLC has previously accused Nintendo Co., Ltd of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,292,151 (‘151 Patent). The ‘151 Patent, entitled “Human Movement Measurement System,” is generally directed to a system for measuring human body movements for exercise and physical rehabilitation, and Motiva alleged that Nintendo’s Wii Fit product was an infringement.Its previous efforts at enforcement stalled when the patent underwent reexamination at the PTO, but Motiva has just added a new chapter to the story. Last week, Motiva filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC), accusing Nintendo of infringing both the ‘151 Patent and a continuation application (U.S. Patent No. 7,492,268). The essential claims remain the same. Motiva claims that its patents cover the human movement tracking employed by the Wii Fit.
The alternative venue is not an uncommon one for asserting patents, and does not rule out or obviate parallel district court proceedings (although one can be stayed for the other).
In an ITC action such as this, a complainant alleges that some other person (a respondent) is importing goods that is otherwise harming an existing U.S. (domestic) industry. If the ITC concludes that such harm is being done, the ITC can issue an Exclusion Order, instructing U.S. Customs to block the future importation of goods that do the harm. To a company whose manufacturing facilities are located outside the U.S. (true for many consumer products companies these days), such an Exclusion Order can be every bit as painful as a district court injunction.
An ITC action is similar to a district court action in many ways. There is a complaint, there will be discovery (the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are adopted at the ITC for many aspects of case management), there are motions, and there will be a hearing that is conducted much like a trial.
There are differences as well. Most notably, an ITC action is much faster than a typical district court action. In the ITC, a typical proceeding is scheduled for completion in just over a year (can be a bit longer for "complex" cases). The compressed schedule puts pressure on everyone, but the pressure usually affects the accused infringer more, since they do not control the timing of when the complaint is filed.
Another difference is the presence of a third party in the case. Unlike a district court action, an ITC investigation will also have an Investigative Staff Attorney, who is there to represent the interests of the citizens of the U.S. The Investigative Staff can participate in the case much like a party, reviewing discovery, asking questions, and filing responses to motions and objections.
Another difference is at the outcome of the case. The ITC cannot award monetary damages, and cannot redress past infringement. Instead, the remedy is the Exclusion Order, which will only affect attempted importations after the Order takes effect. Additionally, when an Exclusion Order is issued, the President of the United States has a period of time in which to review the case and reject it. Such a rejection is not common, but it can be made, for example, if the President deems that excluding the importation would unduly harm international relations.
We'll keep you posted as to further developments, and in the meantime, please drop us a line if you have any questions about the case or the ITC.