Adult-Diaper Dispute Gets U.S. Supreme Court Review in Patent Test

The U.S. Supreme Court will use a dispute over adult diapers to clarify the rules governing how long patent holders have to file infringement lawsuits.

The justices Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a Svenska Cellulosa AB unit that says a smaller competitor copied its patented diaper design. A federal appeals court threw out some of the suit, saying the Swedish company waited too long to sue First Quality Products Inc. and affiliated companies. SCA’s Tena adult diapers compete with First Quality’s Prevail products.

At issue is whether companies being accused of patent infringement can use a legal doctrine, known as laches, which applies when the plaintiff’s delay in suing deprives the other litigant of a fair chance to mount a defense.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said defendants can invoke that doctrine even when a patent holder files suit within the six-year time limit set by the federal patent statute.

The Supreme Court in 2014 curbed the use of the laches defense in copyright cases, saying it doesn’t bar claims filed within the three-year statute of limitations. That ruling allowed a lawsuit over rights to the 1980 Oscar-winning movie “Raging Bull.”

The new case, which the court will consider during the nine-month term that starts in October, is SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, 15-927.

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