The Federal Circuit looked at a verdict for $6.5 million this week and held that the jury meant to award more.

The case involved three patents relating to "transmission of data in telecommunications networks."  Telcordia Technologies, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc., No. 09-1175, slip op. at 3 (Fed. Cir. July 7, 2010).  One patent dealt with "Method and Apparatus for Multiplexing Packet and Circuit Traffic", the second with "Survivable Ring Network", and the third "Synchronous Residual Time Stamp for Timing Recovery in a Broadband Network".  Id.

Telcordia alleged that Cisco infringed the patents by making and selling "Cisco routers and switches that transmit asynchronous transfer mode ('ATM') cells and other types of packets over synchronous optical network [sic] ('SONET')".  Id.

The district court granted Cisco summary judgment of non-infringement as to the first patent.  The other patent claims went to a jury, which found willful infringement and awarded $6.5 million in damages.  The district court entered judgment on the verdict but also concluded that the damages award didn't include any amount for future infringement and directed the parties to negotiate a reasonable royalty going forward.  The Federal Circuit largely affirmed.

But not before things got odd.  Telcordia's expert set the amount of damages from past infringement at $75 million.  Cisco's put the amount at $5 million for past and future infringement.  The damages question asked the jury to "identify the amount of monetary damages that will compensate Telcordia for Cisco's infringement."  Id. at 22-23.

The Federal Circuit held that the district court had discretion to construe the jury's answer as referring to damages only for past infringement.  It said:

District courts have broad discretion to interpret an ambiguous verdict form, because district courts witness and participate directly in the jury trial process.  The district court was in a position to assess whether the verdict figure represented past infringement as well as ongoing infringement.  In the absence of an express statement in the verdict, this court cannot determine whether the jury compensated Telcordia for all of Cisco's infringing activities.  The $6.5 million award is closer to $5 million proposed by Cisco for past and ongoing infringement by Cisco for past and ongoing infringement than $75 million proposed by Telcordia.  However, neither party proposed the exact $6.5 million figure.  In any event, this courts holds that the district court's finding that the jury's verdict compensates Telcordia for past infringement is not clearly erroneous.  In the circumstances of this case, this court finds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interpreting the verdict form.

Id. at 23-24.  Come again?  The jury question asked for a number "that will compensate Telcordia for Cisco's infringement."  Blawgletter sees no ambiguity there.  "Cisco's infringement" means all of Cisco's infringement.

Nor do we find any ambiguity in the jury's $6.5 million answer.  Didn't the jury simply take Cisco's figure and bump it a bit?  To get to $6.5 million from Telcordia's past-only number would have required the jury to cut Telcordia by $68.5 million.  Raising Cisco's amount by $1.5 million looks more likely to us than cutting Telcordia's by $68.5 million.

And since when do district courts have discretion to interpret an ambiguous verdict form without at least trying to explain why they construe it as they do?