The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed a patent infringement lawsuit, finding that the Plaintiff lacked standing to sue because he failed to join his ex-wife as a party. James R. Taylor v. Taylor Made Plastics, Inc., Case No. 8:12-CV-746-T-EAK-AEP (M.D. Fla. April 29, 2013) (available here). Plaintiff James Taylor sued Defendant Taylor Made Plastics for patent infringement. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that because Plaintiff’s ex-wife was not a party to the lawsuit that Plaintiff did not have standing to sue. The Court agreed and dismissed the case, finding that Plaintiff’s ex-wife had legal title under Florida law.
After Plaintiff (“Husband”) married his ex-wife, he patented a storm drainage conduit plug and sealing band. They divorced in 2011, and the divorce settlement divided the marital property equitably. The divorce settlement listed three patents as the primary assets of the marriage, and instructed that 60% of the proceeds from the patents be paid to the ex-wife. Husband sued Defendant in 2012, alleging patent infringement. The ex-wife was not a party to the suit with Husband. Defendant’s motion to dismiss alleged that Husband lacked standing to sue without joining his ex-wife as a party.
While patent disputes are primarily governed by federal law, standing (that is, whether Husband and his ex-wife share legal title to the patent) is resolved by state law. Florida law presumes that property acquired during the marriage is a marital asset. Florida law also establishes that patents are personal property subject to equitable distribution. The Florida Supreme Court held that “a final judgment of dissolution settles all such matters as between the spouses … and acts as a bar to any action thereafter to determine such rights and obligations.” Davis v. Die ujuste, 496 So.2d 806, 809–10 (Fla.1986). Husband received the patent while he was married, therefore the patent is presumed to be a marital asset that was subjected to equitable distribution.
The Court gave the divorce settlement full faith and credit. Since the divorce settlement reinforces the ex-wife’s ownership interest in the patent, Husband’s complaint must be dismissed because the ex-wife, as an equitable owner of the patent, was not made a party to the lawsuit. As a result, the Court dismissed Husband’s complaint.