Supreme Court Preview: The Top 10 Manufacturing Cases

The Supreme Court’s new term began this month with only eight Justices, with prospects slim for adding a ninth in time to participate in any of the cases being argued over the next seven months. It is thus harder to get a majority of five to agree on a result and therefore more likely that rulings already made by the lower courts will stand.

Nevertheless, oral arguments will proceed, and manufacturers are concerned about 10 upcoming decisions that will affect their competitiveness and ability to create jobs.

High on our priority list is Microsoft v. Baker, a class action involving the Xbox 360 console. The Supreme Court will decide whether an appeals court was correct in allowing an immediate appeal of a decision that refused to allow a group of plaintiffs to file a class action when they had already voluntarily dismissed their claims. It’s a tortured procedural issue but will determine whether class-action plaintiffs can appeal decisions that deny class certificationthat is, decisions that require each plaintiff to sue individually for the damages they allege. The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action filed briefs in this case.

Another important case challenges whether the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board properly authorized thousands of complaints against companies for labor law violations. The outcome could affect decisions made by senior government officials at six other government agencies as well. See our previous blog post here for details.

Other significant cases on the docket include the following:

  • Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc.: Apple claimed that Samsung infringed upon the patented design of Apple’s iPhone. The legal issue involves calculating damages for infringementwhether “total profit” from the infringement is calculated from sales of all the phones, or rather whether it should be some fraction of that based on the extent to which the design was used on the infringing phones.
  • Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc.: The Supreme Court will explain the appropriate test to determine when the design of a useful article is protected by copyright law. Designs may be copyrighted, but “useful articles” may not.
  • SCA Hygiene Prod. v. First Quality Baby Prod.: Patent owners may lose their rights if they don’t sue fast enough for infringement. The Supreme Court will clarify the doctrine of “laches” under the patent laws.
  • Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l.: A company sued Venezuela for expropriating 11 oil drilling rigs and related property, and the question is whether that government can be sued under provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
  • Life Technologies Corp. v. Promega Corp.: At issue is whether supplying a single component of a patented multicomponent invention violates a law prohibiting companies from supplying “all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” and from inducing the combination of components overseas in a way that would infringe a patent. The Supreme Court will decide how broadly this statute should be interpreted to punish manufacturers of parts that are incorporated into others that infringe patents.
  • Visa, Inc. v. Osborn: Industry trade associations must be careful to avoid agreements in restraint of trade under the antitrust laws, and this case involves whether members of an association are deemed to have entered into an agreement merely because they agree to adhere to an association’s governance rules. The issue arose from an agreement among credit card companies and banks over fees when using automated teller machines. It could result in even stricter limits on association activities.
  • Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman: The government regularly compels manufacturers to say things about their products or services that are controversial, without sufficient legal justification. This case involves a law that allows different pricing for cash and credit-card transactions but prohibits retailers from calling a credit-card differential a “surcharge.” The Supreme Court will decide whether this law violates the First Amendment because it restricts what merchants can tell their customers.
  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber Cov.  Haeger: If a manufacturer hires trial counsel to defend a product liability case, and that counsel fails to turn over relevant documents during discovery, what sanction may a court impose on the company? In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether the damages must be limited to the harm directly caused by the misconduct, or can be much higher, without affording the parties the protections of criminal due process.

In addition to some of these cases, the Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action has been active in others awaiting a decision whether the Supreme Court will hear the appeals. We will provide an update on those cases in another blog post shortly.

Quentin Riegel

Quentin Riegel

Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at National Association of Manufacturers
Quentin Riegel is the vice president and deputy general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). As part of the Manufacturers' Center for Legal Action, Mr. Riegel works to strengthen the NAM's ability to promote manufacturing policy objectives through litigation. He also serves as general counsel for the Council on Competitiveness, a group of CEOs, university presidents and labor leaders working to ensure America's competitiveness. Mr. Riegel has been in the General Counsel's office since 1980.
Quentin Riegel

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