Website Doesn’t Create Personal Jurisdiction in Patent Case

An Ohio court has transferred a patent case to the Eastern District of Washington after finding that the defendant’s website was insufficient to create specific personal jurisdiction.  Zen Indus., Inc. v. Hoffman Mfg., Inc., No. 1:16 CV 2352 (N.D. Ohio, Feb. 9, 2016).  Applying Federal Circuit law to consider personal jurisdiction with respect to the patent infringement claims, the court found that Hoffman’s website was insufficient to create the requisite minimum contacts with the state of Ohio.

Zen alleged that Hoffman infringed claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,884,760 and 9,181,802, directed to “high-pressure underground mine ventilation doors.”  Hoffman evidently marketed accused products on its website but, significantly, the website did not allow for sales; it merely provided contact information.  The website was “[t]he only fact plaintiff that points to in support of personal jurisdiction.”

The plaintiff, Zen, alleged “that the website is ‘sufficiently interactive’ to confer jurisdiction,” arguing that “the nature of . . . large mine ventilation doors that require measurements and installation, does not lend itself to online purchasing.”  According to Zen, “the website essentially serves as a nationwide advertisement of defendant’s products and services, including customers located in Ohio” because is solicited requests for price quotes.

But the website did not allow customers to place orders.  Moreover, the court emphasized that “plaintiff does not argue that defendant actually sold any product to an Ohio resident as a result of the website.”  This was significant because, “[i]n patent cases, the situs of the injury is the location at which a sale is made or the patentee loses business.”  Here, the claim for patent infringement did not arise out of any activities by the defendant in Ohio.

Lessons

It has long been clear from patent and other cases that merely having a website does not confer personal jurisdiction over the website owner.  The result here, especially given the simplicity of the recited facts, is unsurprising.  Nonetheless, this case is a good reminder that, even if a U.S. patent confers protection everywhere within the territorial boundaries of the United States, a patent owner cannot sue any defendant in any forum absent satisfaction of personal jurisdiction requirements.

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