Federal Circuit Holds that a State Entity Cannot be Joined as an Involuntary Plaintiff, But an Exclusive Licensee of the Patent May Proceed as the Plaintiff if its Interests are Identical to the State Entity

In Gensetix v. Univ. Texas v. Baylor College of Med.  (Fed. Cir. 2020), an appeal from District Court, the Federal Circuit found that UT may not be joined as an involuntary plaintiff.  On appeal at the Federal Circuit, Gensetix argued that the district court (1) erred in holding that sovereign immunity bars coercive joinder of UT; and (2) abused its discretion in determining that the infringement suit should be dismissed rather than proceed in UT’s absence.

In a plurality opinion, the Federal Circuit held that UT cannot be unwillingly brought into federal court, stating that “in the absence of a state voluntarily availing itself of federal court jurisdiction, or an express waiver of sovereign immunity, Rule 19(a) must yield to the state’s assertion of sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.”  However, the Federal Circuit also held, in a plurality opinion, that the district court abused its discretion in finding that the suit may not proceed in UT’s absence because the interests of the Gensetix were identical to those of UT – defending the validity of the patents-in-suit.