Judge Trims Wilful Patent Infringement Claims from Suit Against Netflix

By opinion issued on Tuesday, Judge Jon S. Tigar dismissed inventor Lauri Valjakka’s wilful infringement claims against Netflix Inc., finding them insufficiently pleaded. The case concerns two patents Valjakka said Netflix infringes through its Open Connect program and website, which relates to “digital push distribution through P2P networks.” 

The plaintiff filed suit in September 2021 in the Western District of Texas, claiming wilful infringement on the basis of a September 2014 letter to Netflix notifying it of one of the two asserted patents. The parties subsequently agreed to shift the case to Netflix’s home district, the Northern District of California.

Netflix moved for dismissal of the pre- and post-suit wilful infringement claims, arguing the complaint does not show that Netflix intentionally copied Valjakka’s intellectual property. Valjakka responded that Netflix’s request is procedurally improper at the pleadings stage because willful infringement is not an independent claim under the applicable Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

Without delving into the substance of the technology at issue, Judge Tigar ruled for Netflix. He first opined that courts can weigh requests to dismiss claims for willful infringement at the pleading stage over Valjakka’s objections. 

The 2014 letter was insufficient to sustain the plaintiff’s pre-suit infringement claim because it merely notified Netflix of the existence of a patent but did not accuse it of infringement. “Plaintiff’s remaining allegation that Netflix knew from the letter that its conduct constituted infringement does not support the plausible inference that Netflix had the specific intent to infringe,” the opinion added.

Netflix also successfully challenged the post-suit infringement claim. In part relying on its previous analysis and in part pointing to the opposition brief’s lack of a response, the court likewise granted dismissal of that claim.

Judge Tigar permitted leave to amend solely to cure the deficiencies cited in the opinion.

Valjakka is represented by Mahamedi IP Law LLP and Ramey LLP. Netflix is represented by Perkins Coie LLP.