MVS Filewrapper® Blog: New and Useful - August 26, 2013

·         In University of Utah v. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the Federal Circuit held that a patent lawsuit between a state university and the officers of another state university is not a controversy between two states.  The case began when the University of Utah (“UUtah”) sued the Max Planck Institute and the University of Massachusetts (“UMass”) to correct inventorship of two patents—U.S. Patent Nos. 7,056,704 and 7,078,196.  The basis of UUtah’s claim was that the named inventor of the patents—Dr. Thomas Tuschl, a UMass Professor—incorporated the ideas of a UUtah Professor—Dr. Brenda Bass—and did not name her as an inventor.  UMass argued that the dispute was between two states as both UUtah and UMass are state institutions.  This presents constitutional law questions.  In particular, two provisions of the Constitution are at issue, Article 3, §2, cl.2 and the 11th Amendment.  The 11th Amendment provides sovereign immunity to state governments from any cause of action brought by citizens of another state in Federal Court.  However, Article III of the Constitution provides for state-versus-state lawsuits, for which the United States Supreme Court has original jurisdiction.  Thus, under UMass’s argument, only the United States Supreme Court should have jurisdiction to hear the matter.  In response to UMass’s argument, UUtah amended its complaint and substituted UMass with four UMass officials as defendants.  The district court held that the action was no longer a state-versus-state action and could proceed.  Immediate appeal was heard by the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the district court in a 2-1 decision.  Judge Moore provided a notable dissent arguing that UMass is an indispensable party and should be a named defendant and the case is in fact a controversy between two states.

·         In Skinmedica v. Histogen, the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement.  Skinmedica asserted infringement of two of its patents covering methods for producing dermatological products containing “novel cell culture medium compositions.”  The Federal Circuit noted that “[d]uring prosecution of the ’494 patent, the inventors limited their claimed inventions to pharmaceutical compositions comprising cell culture medium conditioned by animal cells only in three-dimensions” in order to overcome an anticipation rejection.  Histogen cultures cells beginning with “one- or two-dimensional growth” on beads that “evolves into a three-dimensional growth phase in which the cells crawl off the beads.”  On appeal Skinmedica argued “that the district court erroneously excluded beads from the definition of ‘culturing . . . cells in three-dimensions.’”  The Federal Circuit, however, found no basis to overturn the district court’s construction of the phrase “culturing . . . cells in three-dimensions.”  This was because the patents-in-suit define “three dimensional culturing” to exclude beads by “expressly confin[ing] culturing with beads to two-dimensional culturing.”  In light of this, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment of non-infringement. 

·         In Ex parte Mewherter, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board held that a software composition cannot meet the requirements of patentable subject-matter under § 101 unless the invention excludes transitory media such as signals and carrier waves.  Independent claim 16 was rejected under § 101.  Claim 16 recited in pertinent part, “A machine readable storage medium having stored thereon a computer program for converting a slide show presentation for use within a non-presentation application.”  The Examiner rejected the claim arguing that the phrase “machine-readable storage medium” encompassed transitory media “such as signals, carrier waves, etc.”  The patent Applicant—IBM—countered that the term “storage” differentiates the claimed invention from the non-patentable subject matter “machine-readable medium” because it requires permanent storage.  The Board, however, affirmed the Examiner’s rejection noting that the specification failed to exclude transitory signals from its definition of “machine-readable storage medium.”  As a result, the Board held that one of skill in the art would construe the term to encompass transitory media and not be limited exclusively to permanent storage media.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Supplier's Agreement to Manufacture May Trigger On-Sale Bar

In an Opinion on August 14, 2013 (Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc. v. Sunbeam Products, Inc.), the Federal Circuit ruled that the on-sale bar was triggered when a purchase order for slow cookers by patentee Hamilton Beach was confirmed by its supplier. The Court stated that Hamilton Beach’s transaction with its supplier was an offer for sale of a product that anticipated the asserted claims and that the invention was ready for patenting prior to the critical date.

Under § 102(b) (pre-AIA), a person shall be entitled to a patent unless "the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States." Note that, post-AIA, § 102(a)(1) includes similar language, but the Hamilton Beach patent falls under the pre-AIA rules. The on-sale bar invalidates a patent when the invention was sold or offered for sale more than one year prior to the filing date of the patent application. Although Hamilton Beach neither sold nor offered its invention for sale, the Federal Circuit considered the Hamilton Beach supplier's offer to manufacture the invention an offer for sale. The Court noted in its opinion that there is no "supplier exception" to the on-sale bar. Since the supplier's offer to manufacture the invention was more than one year prior to the patent application filing date, the Court ruled that the claims were invalid.

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