Keith Manufacturing Co. v. Butterfield, No. 19-1136 (Fed. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Keith sued its former employee, Butterfield, after he filed a patent application for what eventually issued as the 520 patent. The employer alleged that the patent was based on inventions made during Butterfield’s employment and sought declaratory judgments of noninfringement and invalidity; alleged breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets; and sought correction of inventorship. Butterfield later sent the employer a covenant not to sue and moved to dismiss in part, arguing that the covenant not to sue mooted the declaratory judgment claims and that the applicable statutes of limitation and the doctrine of laches barred the state-law claims. The court dismissed the declaratory judgment claims but allowed the state-law claims to proceed. The parties later filed a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice (Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii)), which required no court order.
Days later, Butterfield moved for attorney’s fees under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d). In denying the motion, the court cited the 2017 Supreme Court decision, “Microsoft” and held that Rule 54 requires a judgment, “a decree and any order from which an appeal lies,” and that the parties’ stipulation to dismiss did not satisfy Rule 54’s judgment requirement because it was not an appealable order. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that Microsoft did not apply. Judgment in the context of Rule 54 does not raise the same concerns about finality and piecemeal litigation that motivated the Microsoft opinion.