MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Should Trade Secret Misappropriation be Federalized?

The legal community (along with bipartisan legislation) has been discussing the creation of a private cause of action under federal laws for trade secret misappropriation – or trade secret theft. In light increased cyber-espionage and the apparent ease in which trade secrets can be misappropriated in the marketplace, Congress has taken an apparent interest in "strengthening" trade secret protections.

 

Currently, trade secrets are a matter of state law. This means that each state has established requirements for trade secret misappropriation. In sum, these require a finding that a trade secret holder has a "secret" with value as a result of it not being generally known by others (i.e. competitors), that the trade secret holder has taken efforts to maintain secrecy, and that the party alleged to have access or appropriated the secret used some sort of improper means. Although the precise definitions for these standards may vary among the states, there are relatively small distinctions among the states.

 

Both the House and the Senate may consider bills introduced as early as this fall to consider federalizing this cause of action. The "Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2014" ("DTSA") (S. 2267) and the "Trade Secret Protection Act of 2014" (H.R. 5233) have been introduced to create a private cause of action under the existing Economic Espionage Act of 1996.  The DTSA as drafted would authorize a trade secret owner to bring a civil cause of action in federal court for either (1) a violation of the Economic Espionage Act (which criminalized types of trade secret theft), or (2) a “misappropriation of a trade secret that is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.” The Judiciary Committee has held a hearing to discuss the benefits of the federal cause of action. A few of the purported benefits of establishing federal legislation would be to grant access to federal forums (based on the subject matter instead of matters of diversity and/or supplemental jurisdiction), along with granting access to federal remedies for seizures to prevent irreparable harm caused by trade secret misappropriation.

 

As expected, there are vocal critics of such federalization, including a group of legal scholars and professors (see opposition letter at http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/files/blogs/FINAL%20Professors%27%20Letter%20Opposing%20Trade%20Secret%20Legislation.pdf). As stakeholders continue to voice opinions (and concerns) over pending legislation, more information will be provided through Filewrapper.com.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Legitimate Advocacy and Genuine Misrepresentation of Material Facts

The Federal Circuit has issued a decision in Apotex Inc. v. UCB, Inc., upholding a district court's finding that Apotex's U.S. Patent No. 6,767,556 ("the '556 patent") is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct. 

 

Dr. Sherman, founder and chairman of Apotex, wrote the '556 patent application and is its sole inventor.  The '556 is based on Canadian application filed on April 5, 2000.  The ’556 patent is generally directed to a process for manufacturing tablets of moexipril tablets—an angiotensin-converting enzyme (“ACE”) inhibitor used to treat hypertension. The ’556 patent discloses a process of making moexipril tablets consisting mostly of moexipril magnesium obtained by reacting moexipril or its acid addition salts with an alkaline magnesium compound to improve stability and prevent degradation of the normally instable moexipril hydrochloride.

 

Two existing drugs— Univasc and Uniretic—were both cited as prior art in the prosecution of the '556 patent, and were also asserted to infringe the '556 patent after issuance.  During prosecution, Dr. Sherman, through his patent attorney, asserted that the prior drugs did not render the invention of the '556 patent obvious because the process for making them simply combined components, rather than reacting them.  However, evidence presented at trial indicated that Dr. Sherman suspected that the existing drugs were made by the process recited in his application at the time the application was filed, and later conducted experiments to confirm that the components in those existing drugs were reacted, rather than simply combined as he represented to the PTO.  The court also found that Dr. Sherman has misled or failed to inform a declarant, Dr. Lipp, regarding the true nature of the existing drugs in relation to the claimed invention, resulting in a declaration by Dr. Lipp that perpetuated Dr. Sherman's mischaracterizations of those existing drugs.  In addition, the court determined that Dr. Sherman withheld relevant prior art from the PTO.  The district court held the combined misrepresentations and withholdings were material to the prosecution of the '556 patent, and that Dr. Sherman intended to deceive the PTO based on his overall pattern of misconduct, and therefore the '556 patent was unenforceable due to inequitable misconduct. 

 

On appeal, Dr. Sherman argued that the conduct before the PTO was merely advocating a particular interpretation of the prior art.  However, the Federal Circuit determined that his statements were not mere advocacy for a preferred interpretation; his statements were factual in nature and contrary to the true information he had in his possession.  The court clarified that there is no duty to disclose suspicions or beliefs regarding the prior art, and that there is nothing wrong with advocating, in good faith, a reasonable interpretation of the teachings of the prior art.  However, affirmatively and knowingly misrepresenting material facts regarding the prior art goes beyond failing to disclose a personal belief or alternative interpretations of the prior art, and enters the realm of inequitable conduct, which may result in an unenforceable patent.

 

The full opinion is available here.  

 

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