Sovereign Immunity from Patent Infringement for Indian Tribes

One of the interesting cases that might be appealed to the Federal Circuit soon is Specialty House of Creation, Inc. v. Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, 10-CV-371-GKF-TLW (N. D. Okla. Jan. 27, 2011).  The case concerns whether an American Indian tribe can be sued for patent infringement if it has not consented to be sued.  The judge in the Quapaw case ruled in favor of the tribe and its assertion of lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The district court cited an earlier district court case concerning patent infringement, Home Bingo Network v. Multimedia Games, Inc., 2005 WL 2098056 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 30, 2005), and a second circuit copyright case  Bassett v. Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, 204 F.3d 343, 357-58 (2nd Cir. 2000)

Interestingly, the district  court cited  Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Manufacturing Tech., Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 754 (1998) for the proposition that “[a]s a matter of federal law, an Indian tribe is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity.”  Id.    The oral argument at the Supreme Court was argued by Federal Circuit nominee Edward DuMont.  You can listen to that oral argument here: [Listen][Read].

Sovereign immunity from patent infringement is an economically powerful asset.  As Indian nations seek to provide good jobs for their tribe members, it will be interesting to see if any attempt is made to rely on this asset and how it might be done. 

You can read the Quapaw decision here: [Read].

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