The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with California-based Life Technologies Corp. in a patent infringement case that limits the international reach of U.S. patent laws.
The justices ruled unanimously that the company's shipment of a single part of a patented invention for assembly in another country did not violate patent laws.
Life Technologies supplied an enzyme used in DNA analysis kits to a plant in London and combined it with several other components to make kits sold worldwide. Wisconsin-based Promega Corp. sued, arguing that the kits infringed a U.S. patent.
A jury awarded $52 million in damages to Promega. A federal judge set aside the verdict and said the law did not cover export of a single component.
The federal appeals specializing in patent cases reversed and reinstated the verdict.
Patent laws are designed to prevent U.S. companies from mostly copying a competitor's invention and simply completing the final phase overseas to skirt the law. A violation occurs when "all or a substantial portion of the components of a patent invention" are supplied from the United States to a foreign location.
Writing for the high court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the law addresses only the quantity of components, not the quality. That means the law "does not cover the supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention," Sotomayor said.
Only seven justices took part in the ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts heard arguments in the case, but later withdrew after discovering he owned shares in the parent company of Life Technologies.
A Swedish court has handed life sentences to two men and prison sentences to six others in a high-profile gang-related shooting that left two dead and eight wounded in the city of Goteborg last year.
The Goteborg District Court said Monday the two key suspects were found guilty of murder for opening fire with automatic weapons in a crowded Goteborg restaurant in March, 2015 as people were watching a Champions League soccer match.
The court said six other defendants were charged with murder, attempted murder, planning and assisting the crime, and were given prison sentences between 7 and 14 years. Disputes between criminal gangs are believed to have motivated the shooting.
All eight men have denied the charges but it wasn't immediately clear whether they would appeal the verdict.
Justice Stephen Breyer said Monday that the Supreme Court has not been diminished by having only eight members since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February.
Breyer suggested in response to questions at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress that Scalia would have made a difference in only four or five cases out of more than 70 the court will decide this term.
"We may divide 4-4 in four or five cases, we may not," Breyer said of the term than will end in June.
That could include some of the term's biggest cases involving abortion and immigration. A tie vote would leave the lower court ruling in place and prevent the court from setting a legal precedent that applies to the entire country.
The court has already deadlocked in three cases, including a high-profile dispute over public-sector labor unions. And last week, the justices returned a dispute over access to birth control to lower courts, suggesting they could not form a majority that would have settled a major conflict over the scope of the nation's health care law.
Breyer stressed that the court in recent years has ruled unanimously about half the time and divided 5-4 in only a small percentage of cases. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan also have said in recent public comments that the court would find its way until a ninth justice is confirmed.
Breyer did not address the partisan debate over whether the Senate should confirm Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by Obama to take Scalia's seat. Senate Republicans have refused to hold a hearing on Garland's confirmation or schedule a vote, saying the choice should be left to Obama's successor.
Breyer was at the ceremony, the Burton Awards for Legal Achievement, to receive an award for his latest book about the use of foreign law in American courts.
Mobile phones ordinarily are strictly forbidden in the marble courtroom of the nation's highest court, but the justices are making an exception next week when roughly a dozen deaf and hard-of-hearing lawyers will be admitted to the Supreme Court bar.
The lawyers will use their phones to see a real-time transcript as they take part in an April 19 swearing-in ceremony featuring the largest group of hearing-impaired attorneys ever admitted at one time to practice before the high court.
Advocates for deaf lawyers say they hope the event will encourage others with disabilities to pursue legal careers.
"We wanted to do an event that would help break down stereotypes and demonstrate clearly that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can achieve anything they set their minds to," said Anat Maytal, a New York lawyer and president of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association.
Nearly 4,000 lawyers join the Supreme Court bar each year, though the vast majority will never actually represent a client there. Membership requires a $200 fee, membership in a state bar for three years and sponsorship by two current Supreme Court bar members.