In Lexmark International, Inc. v. Impression Products, Inc., No. 14-1617 (Fed. Cir. 2016), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided en banc that a U.S. patent owner’s “first sale” of items in a foreign country does not exhaust the patent owner’s right to sue for patent infringement when those items are later imported into the U.S. In contrast, the Supreme Court in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 1351 (2013) came to a different conclusion under copyright law, finding that the “first sale,” or exhaustion, doctrine allows the owner of a copy of a copyrighted work, which was lawfully made in a foreign country, to import and sell that copy in the United States without further permission from the copyright owner. But, as the Federal Circuit recognized, patent law and copyright law are not always aligned.
The Lexmark dispute arose in conjunction with Lexmark’s toner cartridges for its printers. Lexmark offers its customers the choice of buying a “Regular Cartridge” at full price with no restrictions on its re-use/resale or a discounted cartridge, subject to a single-use/no-resale restriction. Lexmark sold some of the cartridges in the United States and some abroad. Some of the foreign-sold cartridges and all of the U.S.-sold cartridges at issue were sold subject to an express single-use/no-resale restriction.