WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The New York Times Co (NYT.N), J.C. Penney Corp and CBS Corp (CBS.N) lost a round Tuesday in a patent fight with Helferich Patent Licensing, LLC, which had accused them of infringing on patents for looking at websites on mobile telephones.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a lower court decision which had said that because the mobile phone makers had licensed the patents there was no need for content providers to do so.
"We reverse, concluding that patent exhaustion has not reached that far," the court, which specializes in patent appeals, said in its decision.
Between mid-2010 and March 2012, Helferich filed complaints against the New York Times, J.C. Penney Corp, G4 Media LLC, the Bon-Ton Stores, and CBS. Helferich said the companies infringed patents for handling content on smartphones.
The handset makers licensed the Helferich patents, so smartphone users are not liable for infringement under the theory of "patent exhaustion," which says that if a corporation licenses a patent then the purchaser of the corporation's product does not infringe on the patent-holder's rights.
In 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the New York Times and other content providers victory in a summary judgment saying that they were also covered by licenses to handset makers. Helferich appealed, and the Federal Circuit overturned the summary judgment decision.
That said, the court left the door open to a patent exhaustion defense that is presented differently.
"We do not foreclose an exhaustion defense that is tied to particular handset claims and targets particular content claims," the court said in its decision, calling the defense presented by the content companies a "broad-brush defense."
Representatives of Helferich, J.C. Penney Corp, G4 Media LLC and Bon-Ton could not immediately be reached for comment. The New York Times and CBS had no immediate comment.
The case is Helferich Patent Licensing, LLC v. The New York Times Company, J.C. Penney Corp, G4 Media LLC, the Bon-Ton Stores and CBS Corp in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 2014-1196.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Grant McCool