Hitkansut LLC v. United States, No. 19-1884 (Fed. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Hitkansut owns the patent, entitled “Methods and Apparatus for Stress Relief Using Multiple Energy Sources.” While the application that later issued as that patent was pending, Hitkansut entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and provided ORNL with a copy of the then-unpublished patent application. ORNL staff prepared research reports, received funding, authored publications, and received awards for research, based upon unauthorized use of the patent. Hitkansut sued ORNL, alleging infringement under 28 U.S.C. 1498. The Claims Court determined that certain claims of the patent were invalid but that other claims were valid and infringed. Although Hitkansut originally sought a royalty between $4.5-$5.6 million, based on a percentage of the research funding obtained by ORNL, the Claims Court awarded $200,000, plus interest, as the hypothetically negotiated cost of an up-front licensing fee. The Federal Circuit affirmed.
Hitkansut then sought attorneys’ fees and expenses under 28 U.S.C. 1498(a). The Claims Court awarded $4,387,889.54.The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 1498(a) provides for the award of attorneys’ fees under certain conditions, unless “the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified.” The “position of the United States” in this statutory provision refers to positions taken during litigation and does not encompass pre-litigation conduct by government actors, but the examples of conduct cited by the Claims Court demonstrate that the position of the United States was not substantially justified even under this narrow definition