MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Is the Supreme Court Re-Aiming Markman?

Post by Alex Christian

The 1996 United States Supreme Court decision in Markman v. Westview Instruments established a landmark change for claim construction in patent infringement cases.  That case established that the meaning of the claim language of a patent is a matter of law for a judge to decide, and not a matter of fact that should be determined by the jury. Since the decision, what is now known as a "Claim Construction Hearing" or a "Markman hearing" is now common place in patent infringement cases.  Nearly two decades after the Markman decision, the Supreme Court has taken a case with the potential to dramatically alter this aspect of patent litigation.

The Markman hearing has become one of—if not the single—most important events in a patent infringement case.  In a Markman hearing, the Court is required to interpret any claims at issue in the case brought forth by the parties.  This usually includes extensive briefing, expert reports, expert testimony, and oral arguments before the Court. Markman hearings are so important and so influential that often the party who prevails in the Markman hearing will go to be the successful party—whether by trial or by settlement—in the case.

On October 15, 2014, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case of Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz.  The case is centered on the question of what appellate rules should apply to claim construction decisions.  Currently, there is tension between the Federal Circuit case law and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure regarding the way in which a district court's factual findings relating to claim construction are treated on appeal. The specific issue presented to the Supreme Court is:   

Whether a district court's factual finding in support of its construction of a patent claim term may be reviewed de novo, as the Federal Circuit requires (and as the panel explicitly did in this case) or only for clear error, as Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) requires.

Among the issues addressed during oral arguments, a significant amount of the debate dealt with the framework through which to view patent claims: similar to statues, which receive a de novo review; or like contracts, for which the district courts are given deference for underlying conclusions. You can find the transcript to the oral arguments here.

This particular case highlights the complexities Markman hearings have introduced into patent litigation, and the potentially tenuous ground upon which patent litigation has settled in the last several decades.  Perhaps the most complex issue that could be raised by the Supreme Court's eventual decision in this case, is that Markman hearings are considered by some as a violation of a plaintiff patent-owner's 7th Amendment right to a jury trial.

For additional background on the Markman decision, see Ed Sease's article, "Markman Misses the Mark, Miserably" available here.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Federal Circuit Schedules Oral Hearing in First Appeal of Inter Partes Review

Post by Jonathan Kennedy

The Federal Circuit has scheduled oral arguments for the first appeal of an inter partes review ("IPR") decision by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("PTAB").  Oral arguments have been scheduled for November 3, 2014.  The appeal involves a number of interesting issues.  First, it arises from the first IPR filed with the PTAB—Garmin USA, Inc. v. Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC (IPR2012-00001).  In that IPR, the PTAB invalidated three claims (claims 10, 14, and 17) of U.S. Patent No. 6,778,074.  Second, pursuant to a settlement agreement, Garmin agreed not to take part in any appeal.  Instead, once Cuozzo appealed the PTAB's decision, the Patent Office intervened under 35 USC § 143 to oppose Cuozzo's appeal, effectively taking Garmin's place. 

 

Cuozzo appealed four issues from the PTAB decision, relating both to procedural and substantive matters:  (1) "Whether the PTAB lacked authority to institute IPR for claims 10 and 14 on grounds of unpatentability not identified in the Petition"; (2) "Whether the B[roadest] R[easonable] I[nterpretation] standard applies to IPR, and whether the PTAB erred by construing the term 'integrally attached'"; (3) "Whether, if the PTAB had jurisdiction over claim 10, it erred in cancelling claim 10 as invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 103"; and (4) "Whether the PTAB erred in denying Cuozzo's motion to amend the claims." 

 

The petition for IPR originally filed by Garmin alleged forty-three different grounds of invalidity based on a number of patents.  The PTAB rejected forty-one of those grounds and chose to institute the IPR based on two grounds of invalidity alleged by Garmin against dependent claim 17.  However, when instituting the IPR the PTAB applied those same two grounds of invalidity against claims 10 and 14, even though Garmin had not asserted those grounds against claims 10 or 14.  In its final decision, the PTAB cancelled claims 10, 14, and 17 based on the two grounds Garmin had raised against claim 17.  Whether the PTAB can expand the scope of its review by applying grounds of invalidity against claims in a manner not raised by the Petitioner is a significant question and clarity from the Federal Circuit is greatly anticipated. 

 

Garmin's petition did not set forth any proposed claim constructions.  Despite this, in instituting the IPR—without any input from either party—the PTAB chose to construe the claim term "integrally attached" based on the broadest reasonable interpretation standard.  In its brief, Cuozzo argues this standard is improper for PTAB and only appropriate during examination and reexamination.  Instead, Cuozzo argues that the PTAB should be held to the standards set forth in the Federal Circuit's Phillips' decision.  The PTAB's construction of the term was pivotal in the other decisions in the IPR.  For example, the PTAB denied Cuozzo's motion to amend claims during the IPR under 35 USC § 316(d) based on the construction of the term "integrally attached."  Clarification regarding the claim construction standard that applies to the PTAB will be critical moving forward.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Internet Discussion Systems as Prior Art

The Federal Circuit's recent decision in Suffolk Technologies, LLC, v. AOL Inc., and Google Inc., adds another item to the list of "printed publications" that may preclude patenting of a claimed invention:  posts on internet newsgroups. 

 

In June 2012 Suffolk Technologies, LLC sued Google Inc. for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,081,835 ("the '835 patent"), related to "methods and systems for controlling a server that supplies files to computers rendering web pages."  Google argued that a newsgroup post—made nine months before the priority date of the '835 patent by a college student in response to a question posed in a discussion of common gateway interface—anticipated the claims at issue. 

The district court agreed with Google and granted summary judgment of invalidity.

 

Suffolk appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court improperly construed the claim term "generating said supplied field," and that the newsgroup post should not be considered a printed publication under 35 U.S.C. § 102.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court on both counts.

 

Suffolk argued that the district court erred by deciding that the newsgroup post was prior art, deciding that the post was accurate and reliable, omitting the testimony of their validity expert, and ultimately granting summary judgment.  Suffolk asserted that the post was not made publically accessible because locating it would be too difficult, and the audience was mostly "beginners" and therefore not those of ordinary skill in the art.  Suffold also asserted that, if presented to a jury, a "'second-hand reproduction of an old Usenet post'" would be discredited and that the testimony of their validity expert was crucial to the decision, and as a result summary judgment was inappropriate.  The Federal Circuit was unpersuaded by any of Suffolk's arguments.

 

Of particular note, while the post in question was non-indexed and non-searchable, the Federal Circuit held that is was nonetheless sufficiently publically accessible to be considered a printed publication because someone interested in the topic could easily locate a list of posts in the newsgroup based on its hierarchical organization.  Further, the court held that the post in question was sufficiently disseminated because dialogue with the intended audience was the entire purpose of the newsgroup posting; the post elicited a number of responses; and many more people may have viewed the post.

 

While the decision deals with printed publications and public disclosure under pre-AIA § 102, the analysis is unlikely to be any different under the AIA. 

 

The full decision is available here.

 

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Competing Without Practicing—Preliminary Injunctions for Patent Infringement

In Trebo Manufacturing, Inc., v. Firefly Equipment, LLC, the Federal Circuit held that a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction for patent  infringement does not need to practice the patent at issue in order to receive an injunction, so long as it sells a competing product.  Trebro brought suit alleging that FireFly's sod harvester product infringed its U.S. Patent No. 8,336,638, and seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the infringement.  The United States District Court for the District of Montana denied Trebro's request for a preliminary injunction, finding insufficient likelihood of success on the merits of the patent infringement claims and no irreparable harm to Trebro. 

 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated, finding that the district court erred in its claim construction, and that it therefore abused its discretion in finding no likelihood of success on the merits.  In addition, the Federal Circuit held that "the fact that Trebro does not presently practice the patent does not detract from its likely irreparable harm."  Because Trebro and FireFly compete in the same tiny, niche market, there is a strong probability of irreparable harm, and "a party that does not practice the asserted patent may still receive an injunction when it sells a competing product."

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: New and Useful - July 10, 2013

·         In Convolve v. Compaq Computer the Federal Circuit affirmed in part the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruling that Compaq Computer Corp., Seagate Technology, LLC., and Seagate Technology, Inc. did not misappropriate 11 of 15 alleged trade secrets from Convolve, Inc.  In addition, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment that 8 claims of U.S. Patent No. 4,916,635 (“the ’635 patent”) are invalid.  However, the Federal Circuit vacated the district court’s ruling that Compaq did not infringe several claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,314,473 (“the ’473 patent”), and remanded the case for further proceedings relating to that patent. 

Convolve and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) sued Compaq and Seagate for both trade secret misappropriation and patent infringement, all related to technology developed by Dr. Neil Singer while a graduate student at MIT.  The technology involves seeks in computer hard drives, and minimizing the vibrations created by those seeks—the ’635 patent discloses a method “for generating an input to a system to minimize unwanted dynamics in the system response and to reduce energy consumed by the system during moves,” and an apparatus for shaping commands to a system “to reduce endpoint vibration.” The ’473 patent covers the same type of technology, but relating specifically to data storage devices such as computer disk drives.  The ’473 patent is owned by Convolve, a company owned by Dr. Singer, and the ’635 patent is owned by MIT.  Convolve is the exclusive licensee of MIT software motion control technology called Input Shaping, which Convolve alleges is covered by the trade secrets and patents involved in the case. 

Convolve entered into licensing discussions with Compaq, which included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by both parties and covering confidential information disclosed between August 13, 1998 and October 15, 2000, but explicitly excluding any information that: (1) the recipient possessed prior to disclosure; (2) was a matter of public knowledge; (3) was received from a third party without a duty of confidentiality attached; (4) was independently developed by the recipient; (5) was disclosed under operation of law; or (6) was disclosed by the recipient with the discloser’s prior written approval.  The NDA further stated that any confidential material or presentations must be particularly identified as confidential.  Compaq sought to include Seagate as the potential designer and manufacturer of hard disk drives incorporating Convolve’s technology to include in Compaq’s computers.  Convolve then disclosed its technology to Compaq and Seagate, but Convolve and Compaq/Seagate never entered into a licensing agreement.

Convolve filed suit alleging breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, patent infringement of the ’473 patent, ’635 patent and breach of good faith and fair dealing.  The district court granted Compaq and Seagate’s motions for summary judgment, dismissing Convolve’s claims of breach of contract, infringement of the asserted claims of the ’473 and ’635 patents, and misappropriation of a subset of the trade secrets asserted against Compaq and Seagate; and granting Seagate’s motion for summary judgment for invalidity of the ’635 patent.  

Regarding the alleged trade secrets, the Federal Circuit upheld the district courts findings and judgment that Compaq and Seagate had not misappropriated 7 of the asserted trade secrets because Convolve disclosed the information in the absence of a written confidentiality follow-up memorandum mandated by the NDA.  The Federal Circuit also affirmed the district court’s ruling that 6 of the asserted trade secrets were either generally known before any disclosure by Convolve or were not used by Seagate following any disclosure by Convolve.  Further, the court rejected Convolves argument that Seagate’s actions constituted trade secret misappropriation under the California Uniform Trade Secret Act notwithstanding the NDA, concluding that where the parties have contracted the limits of their confidential relationship regarding a particular subject matter, one party should not be able to circumvent its contractual obligations or impose new ones over the other via some implied duty of confidentiality.

The Federal Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Seagate and Compaq for non-infringement of the asserted claims of the ’473 patent, concluding that there were material issues of fact that precluded a grant of summary judgment  as to direct or indirect infringement.  The court also concluded that there was sufficient evidence to preclude summary judgment for induced infringement on the basis of the court’s recent holding in Toshiba Corp. v. Imation Corp. that when an alleged infringer instructs users to use a product in an infringing way, there is sufficient evidence for a jury to find direct infringement.

·         The Federal Circuit in Wyeth v. Abbott Laboratories upheld the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey's grant of summary judgment that claims 1 and 2 of U.S. Patent No. 5,516,781 and claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 5,563,146 are invalid for nonenablement.  The patents relate to the use of rapamycin for the treatment of restenosis.  The patents disclosed use of the rapamycin species sirolimus to reduce thickening of arterial walls.  Wyeth sued the defendants for patent infringement for their products that elute everolimus and zotarolimus.  These compounds fall under the umbrella of rapamycin, but are not mentioned in the specification of the Wyeth patents.

The main issue on appeal was whether practicing the full scope of the claims requires excessive experimentation.  The specification describes assays used to determine whether a potential rapamycin compound exhibits the desired characteristics of immunosuppressive and antirestenotic effects.  Wyeth argued that even though millions of compounds would meet these criteria, one of skill in the art would know that an effective compound had to be small enough to permeate cell membranes.  However, that still leaves tens of thousands of compounds to test and the specification gave no indication of which types of rapamycin compounds would be preferable over others, leaving scientists to synthesize and screen each and every compound. 

While synthesizing and screening compounds is considered routine experimentation, the Court noted in Cephalon, Inc. v. Watson Pharm., Inc. that routine experimentation is "not without bounds."  One indication of excessive experimentation is length of time that would be spent to do the experiments.  Wyeth's expert admitted that it would take technicians weeks to complete each of the assays. 

A final indicator that the invention is not enabled is the unpredictability of the field.  Simply offering a starting point for further research in field like organic chemistry does not properly enable an invention.  Due to the uncertainty, there needs to be more concrete guidance given in the specification in order to avoid undue experimentation.

Ultimately, the Federal Circuit determined that synthesizing and screening tens of thousands of candidate compounds constituted undue experimentation.  While they did not draw a definitive line between routine experimentation and undue experimentation, the Court did provide some guidance on what could be considered excessive experimentation in organic chemistry.

·         In Commil USA v. Cisco Systems, Cisco Systems appealed a district court final judgment in favor of Commil, asserting that the district court gave erroneous jury instructions, improperly precluded Cisco from presenting evidence of good-faith belief of invalidity, and abused its discretion by granting a new partial trial.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the district court gave erroneous instructions to the jury with respect to indirect infringement and that evidence of a good-faith belief of invalidity may negate the intent required to show induced infringement.  The Court determined that the district court did not err in granting the partial new trial.

In regard to the issue of indirect or induced infringement, the jury had been instructed in part that to show induced infringement, "Cisco knew or should have known that its actions would induce actual infringement."  In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Global-Tech Applicances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., which held that induced infringement "requires knowledge that the induced acts constitute patent infringement," a finding of induced infringement may no longer be based on recklessness or negligence.  As such, the Federal Circuit concluded that the jury instructions were erroneous as a matter of law.  The Court found that this erroneous instruction could have changed the result of the trial.  Due to the prejudicial effect of the jury instruction, the Court vacated the verdict of induced infringement and remanded for a new trial. 

With respect to invalidity, Cisco had provided evidence to support its good-faith belief that the patent at issue was invalid.  However, the district court granted Commil's motion in limine to exclude that evidence.  Federal Circuit case law has shown that evidence of a good-faith belief of non-infringement tends to show that an accused inducer of infringement lacked the requisite intent.  Similarly, the Court in this case found that a good-faith belief of invalidity serves the same purpose as a good-faith belief of non-infringement as far as specific intent is concerned.  The Court noted that "one could be aware of a patent and induce another to perform the steps of the patent claim, but have a good-faith belief that the patent is not valid.  Under those circumstances, it can hardly be said that the alleged inducer intended to induce infringement."  The Federal Circuit ultimately held that a good-faith belief of invalidity can negate the specific intent required for induced infringement.

Judge Newman dissented with regard to this portion of the ruling, finding that the Court had changed the law of induced infringement.  She stated that a good-faith belief in invalidity does not avoid liability for infringement because infringement in fact does not depend on the belief of the accused infringer.  Judge Newman relied on tort theory to support her position that "A mistake of law, even if made in good faith, does not absolve a tortfeasor."

With respect to the decision to grant a partial new trial on the issues of indirect infringement and damages, the Federal Circuit determined that it did not violate the Seventh Amendment because the issues were distinct and separable.  The jury in the partial trial was asked to determine whether Cisco possessed a good-faith belief of invalidity, but not whether the patent was in fact invalid.  Cisco argued that these issues are intertwined, but the Court determined that they could be separate issues. 

Judge O'Malley disagreed with this part of the decision, believing that Cisco was deprived of its right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.  She noted that because statements by Cisco's counsel were prejudicial towards the Jewish inventors of Commil, the entire trial was affected.  As a result, Commil was entitled to an entire retrial of all of the issues instead of a partial new trial.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: New and Useful - July 8, 2013

·         The Federal Circuit in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC held that the district court erred in holding that the subject matter of U.S. Patent No. 7,346,545 ('545) is not a "process" within the language and meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101.  The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded this case stating the claims were not abstract and were patent eligible.

The '545 patent claims a method for distribution of copyrighted products over the Internet where the consumer receive the product for free in exchange for viewing an advertisement, and the advertiser pays for the copyrighted content.  In other words, it is a method for monetizing and distributing copyrighted products over the Internet.

Ultramercial originally sued Hulu, LLC ("Hulu"), YouTube, LLC ("YouTube"), and WildTangent, Inc. ("WildTangent"), alleging infringement of the '545 patent.  Hulu and YouTube were later dismissed from the case.  WildTangent then moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).  The United States District Court for the Central District of California granted the dismissal holding that patent '545 did not claim patent-eligible subject matter.  The Federal Circuit had previously reversed the district court's holding and remanded the case, but that earlier decision was vacated by the United States Supreme Court. 

The district court’s grant of the motion to dismiss was based on its conclusion that there was no reasonable construction that would render the subject matter patent-eligible.  The Federal Circuit took issue with this approach, and explained that inquiries into patent-eligibility under § 101 would often involve factual questions, and that claim construction would often be necessary.   In this case, the Federal Circuit determined that the factual determinations were key to deciding eligibility, and that a construction most favorable to the patentee should be applied. 

In its analysis, the Federal Circuit reiterated that under the “abstract ideas” limitation to patent-eligibility of 35 U.S.C. § 101, a claim is not patent eligible only if, instead of claiming an application of an abstract idea, the claim is instead to the abstract idea itself.  A claim may be premised on an abstract idea and, indeed, the abstract idea may be of central importance to the invention—the question for patent eligibility is whether the claim contains limitations that meaningfully tie that abstract idea to an actual application of that idea through meaningful limitations.  In determining if the claim is abstract or not, the court must look at the claim as a whole and "cannot go hunting for abstractions by ignoring the concrete, palpable, tangible limitations of the invention the patentee actually claims."

The Federal Circuit looked to the Supreme Court for guidance on discerning whether or not a claim is an abstraction.  First, the Supreme court in Prometheus stated that a claim is not meaningfully limited if it merely describes an abstract idea or in essence simply adds the words "apply it."  Second, a claim is invalid if the subject matter preempts all practical uses of an abstract idea.  In other words, a claim is invalid if it covers every practical application of that abstract idea.  Finally, the Supreme Court in Prometheus stated "that a claim is not meaningfully limited if its purported limitations provided no real direction, cover all possible ways to achieve the provided result, or are overly-generalized."

With this guidance in mind, the Federal Court held that the claims of '545 were patent eligible and not invalid under § 101.  The court noted that by its terms, patent '545 invokes computers and applications of computer technology.  Even without claim construction, several of the steps require that the method be performed though computers, on the internet, and in a cyber-market environment.  Further, if the products are offered for sale on the internet, they must be restricted by complex computer programming as well.  Viewing the subject matter as a whole, the invention recites a process, it does not pre-empt all use of the abstract idea, the recited steps are not all pre- or post-solution steps, and the claim is not overly generalized.  The claims also do not involve a mathematical algorithm, a series of purely mental steps, or any similarly abstract idea.  Thus the claims of patent '545 were found to be patent-eligible.  

  

·         In Authors Guild v. Google Inc., the Second Circuit vacated a class certification by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and remanded the case back for further consideration, without prejudice to any renewal of the motion for class certification.

The suit commenced in 2005 when The Authors Guild, an association of authors, and several individual authors sued Google alleging copyright infringement by Google Books.  Google Books would scan and index books and make short snippets of the books available for public viewing without payment to the authors.

Following a course of discovery and settlement agreements, both parties moved for an approval of an amended proposed class settlement agreement.  After the court refused the motion, the plaintiff moved to certify a proposed class of "[a]ll persons residing in the United States who hold a United States copyright interest in one or more books reproduced by Google."  The district court allowed the certification.  Google opposed the motion for class certification and appealed the District Court's grant of class certification to the Second Circuit.  In its appeal, Google stated they intended to raise a "fair use" defense, which might moot the litigation.  Google also raised the defense that the class representatives do not adequately protect the interests of the class as a whole.

The appellate court set aside Google's second defense and chose to just focus on the fair use argument, stating "the resolution of Google's fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues."  The court believed that Google's fair use defense should be fully resolved before questions regarding class certification are decided on.  The court vacated the District Court's decision to allow certification of the proposed class and remanded the case back for consideration of the fair use issues, without prejudice to any renewal of the motion for class certification.

·         In Fresenius USA v. Baxter Inter'l, the Federal Circuit decided whether the cancellation of the asserted claims by the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"), pursuant to the agency's statutory reexamination authority, must be given effect in pending infringement litigation.  The Federal Circuit held that it did, and dismissed the district court's decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss.

The case commenced when Fresenius USA and Fresenius Medical Care Holdings (collectively, "Fresenius") brought a declaratory judgment action against Baxter International and Baxter Healthcare Corporation (collectively "Baxter") alleging that claims of U.S. Patent No. 5, 247, 434 ('434) were invalid and not infringed.  Baxter counterclaimed for infringement.  The district court found in favor of Baxter that Fresenius infringed the claims and that the claims were not invalid.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, but remanded to reconsider its injunction and post-verdict damages.

While the litigation was pending on remand to the District Court, the PTO completed a reexamination of the patent and determined that all asserted claims were invalid.  After the PTO made its determination, the district court entered judgment against Fresenius in the pending infringement proceeding.  On appeal, Fresenius argued that Baxter no longer had a cause of action because the PTO gave its ruling before the district court gave theirs.

The reexamination statute of 1928 authorized the PTO to reconsider patents of "doubtful" validity, and to cancel "defectively examined and therefore erroneously granted patents."  Looking at the language and legislative history, the court noted that reexamination is supposed to occur concurrently with litigation, and that cancellation of claims during reexamination would be binding on concurrent infringement litigation.  After looking at all applicable precedent, the court concluded that if the PTO confirms the original claim in identical form, a suit based on that claim may continue, but if the original claim is cancelled or amended to cure invalidity, the patentee's cause of action is extinguished and the suit would fail.

Baxter contends that this rule does not apply to the present case because their case was conclusively decided before PTO gave their decision.  The Federal Circuit disagreed. The court stated that their original decision was not sufficiently final as to immunize it from the PTO's decision.  The court's original decision left open many aspects that still needed to be decided upon by the lower court.  The court explained "it is well-established that where the scope of relief remains to be determined, there is no final judgment binding the parties or the court."  For the PTO's decision to have no effect, a final decree must have been given, leaving nothing further to be done except the execution of it.  Since the PTO invalidated the claims before the lower court decided the injunction and post-verdict damages issues, Baxter no longer had a cause of action and the suit would fail.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Intrinsic Evidence Can Provide Adequate Support to Overcome Indefiniteness

In Biosig Instruments, Inc. v. Nautilus, Inc., the Federal Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York finding a patent invalid for indefiniteness, relying on intrinsic evidence.  Biosig Instruments, Inc. (“Biosig”) is the assignee of U.S. Patent No. 5,337,753 (“the ’753 patent”).  The ’753 patent is directed to a heart rate monitor for use with exercise equipment and exercise procedures.  Biosig sued Nautilus, Inc. (“Nautilus”) for patent infringement alleging that claims 1 and 11 of the ’753 patent were infringed by Nautilus’s exercise equipment that has a mounted heart rate monitor. 

In the late 1990s, Biosig was in negotiations with Stairmaster Company—Nautilus’s predecessor—regarding Biosig’s patented technology, but the companies failed to reach an agreement.  Stairmaster, and eventually Nautilus, started to sell exercise equipment with mounted heart rate monitors.  Biosig sued Nautilus in August 2004, alleging that the equipment infringed its patent.  Following reexaminations and re-filed patent infringement suits, the District Court for the Southern District of New York eventually conducted a Markman hearing on the asserted claims of the ’753 patent in September 2011.  Among the terms the court construed was the term “spaced relationship.”  The district court construed the term to mean that “there is a defined relationship between the live electrode and the common electrode on one side of the cylindrical bar and the same or a different defined relationship between the live electrode and the common electrode on the other side of the cylindrical bar.”  Following the district court’s claim construction, Nautilus moved for summary judgment of non-infringement and invalidity for indefiniteness.

In February 2012, the district court ruled on the summary judgment motions, denying the motion for summary judgment of non-infringement and granting the motion for invalidity based on indefiniteness.  The district court’s holding of invalidity for indefiniteness was founded on the conclusion that the term “spaced relationship” was ambiguous, despite the fact that the court had construed the term in its Markman order.  Biosig appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, with the sole issue on appeal being the indefiniteness of “spaced relationship.” 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit’s analysis began with a summary of the standards of indefiniteness, stating “[a] claim is indefinite only when it is ‘not amenable to construction’ or ‘insolubly ambiguous.’”  The Court went on to discuss words of degree, for which “the court must determine whether the patent provides ‘some standard for measuring that degree.’”  In this instance, the Court concluded that the term was not indefinite, as it “was amenable to construction,” whereas “indefiniteness . . . would require a showing that a person of ordinary skill would find ‘spaced relationship’ to be insolubly ambiguous—that it fails to provide sufficient clarity delineating the bounds of the claim to one skilled in the art.”  The Federal Circuit specifically relied on the intrinsic evidence that the district court used in construing the term in its Markman order.  In doing so, the Federal Circuit noted that the specification described the “spaced relationship” of the electrodes in terms of their function, and cited the evidence submitted during the reexamination, including a declaration by the inventor, used to traverse a rejection by the USPTO.  In light of the specification and intrinsic evidence, the Federal Circuit held that the term “spaced relationship” was not indefinite; and therefore, that the grant of summary judgment was in error.  Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s invalidity determination and remanded the case for further proceedings.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: New and Useful - April 23, 2013

·         In K-Tech Telecoms v. Time Warner Cable, the Federal Circuit confirmed that the standard for evaluating the adequacy of complaints alleging direct patent infringement remains Form 18 of the Appendix of Forms to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Form 18").  K-Tech filed separate complaints against Direct TV and Time Warner Cable (“TWC”) on the same day, alleging infringement of four patents.  Direct TV and TWC each moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting the complaint, as filed, lacked sufficient factual specificity to state a cause of action for direct patent infringement.  K-Tech sought, and was grated, leave to amend the complaints.  After K-Tech filed its amended complaints, TWC and Direct TV again moved to dismiss under 12(b)(6).  The district court granted the motions to dismiss, stating that the amended complaints failed to cure the defects with the original complaint, namely that the complaints did not explain why K-Tech believed the defendants were utilizing the methods and products protected by the asserted patents, rather than using other noninfringing methods and products, and therefore failed to meet the standards articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009).  K-Tech appealed the dismissal two weeks before the Federal Circuit issued its decision in R+L Carriers, Inc. v. DriverTech LLC (In re Bill of Lading Transmission & Processing System Patent Litigation), 681 F.3d 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2012). The Federal Circuit consolidated the appeals.

On appeal, K-Tech argued that the amended complaints complied with Form 18 and that the district court applied the incorrect standard.  The defendants argued that sufficiency with respect to Form 18 must be interpreted in light of Twombly and Iqbal, and Ninth Circuit law, and that the amended complaints failed to meet either the plain language of Form 18 or the requirements of Twombly and Iqbal.  The court relied on its recent decision in R+L Carriers in reasserting the sufficiency of Form 18 for pleading patent infringement, and that to the extent any conflict exists between Form 18 and Twombly/Iqbal, the form controls.  Because Form 18 does not include any indication that a patent holder must explain why it believes that a defendant is utilizing the methods and products protected by the asserted patents, rather than using other noninfringing methods and products, such assertions are not required to survive a motion to dismiss.  Further, the court held that the failure of K-Tech to identify a particular allegedly infringing device or devices—by name, model number, or otherwise—did not bar K-Tech from filing a complaint in accordance with Form 18, stating, “A defendant cannot shield itself from a complaint for direct infringement by operating in such secrecy that the filing of a complaint itself is impossible. Nor is a defendant immune from a direct infringement claim because he does not make a ‘device’ but, rather, infringes through a system or method.” 

·         In Lazare Kaplan Int’l, Inc. v. Photoscribe Techs., Inc., the Federal Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granting summary judgment of invalidity of two claims of a patent owned by Lazare Kaplan (“LK”), and asserted against  Photoscribe Technologies, Inc. and the Gemological Institute of America (collectively “Photoscribe”).  The Federal Circuit also reversed the district court’s granting of a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) filed by Photoscribe that vacated the district court’s prior judgment finding the same claims not invalid.  LK sued Photoscribe alleging infringement of Lazare Kaplan’s patent covering systems and methods for microinscribing gemstones.  In the ensuing trial, the asserted claims of the LK patent were adjudged not invalid and not infringed, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.  LK appealed the judgment of noninfringement, but Photoscribe did not appeal the judgment that the asserted claims were not invalid.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the judgment as based on erroneous claim construction and remanded the case.  On remand, the district court retried both the invalidity and infringement issues, and granted Photoscribe’s motions for summary judgment of invalidity and for relief from the prior judgment under Rule 60(b) while denying LK’s motion for summary judgment of infringement.  LK again appealed the district court’s ruling.

The Federal Circuit, in the second appeal, reversed the grant of relief under Rule 60(b) and vacated the finding of invalidity, with instructions to the district court to reinstate the original judgment of non-invalidity.  The court concluded that the district court erred by allowing Photoscribe to address validity on remand despite its failure to file a cross-appeal from the adverse final judgment on validity in the original trial.  The court also concluded that under Second Circuit precedent, Rule 60(b) could not provide the relief granted by the district court.  The court then remanded the case again, with instructions for the district court to assess infringement under the construction the Federal Circuit had set forth in the prior appeal. 

 

Judge Dyk dissented in the opinion, arguing that the inconsistency of allowing the patentee to assert infringement based on a broad claim construction while defending against invalidity based on a narrower claim construction should be alleviated by Rule 60(b), notwithstanding the fact that Photoscribe did not appeal the original judgment that the asserted claims were not invalid. 

 

 

·         In Aspex Eyewear, Inc. v. Zenni Optical LLC, the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision by the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida holding that Aspex was collaterally estopped from pursuing the suit against Zenni based on earlier litigation between Aspex and Altair Eyewear, Inc. for infringement of the same patents.  The previous Altair litigation involved the same three patents, U.S. Patents No. 5,737,054 (the ’054 patent), No. 6,012,811 (the ’811 patent), and No. 6,092,896 (the ’896 patent), with many of the same claims asserted.  The district court in the Altair litigation held that the ’811 and ’896 patents were not infringed, and the asserted claim of the ’054 patent was invalid for obviousness.  The district court’s rulings were affirmed by the Federal Circuit. 

The district court applied the Altair rulings to the issues in the suit against Zenni, holding that the accused products were materially indistinguishable and the previous decisions settled the question of whether the accused Zenni product could infringe the asserted patents, and Aspex was therefore collaterally estopped from bringing suit against Zenni.  Aspex appealed the district court’s decision, arguing that the issues at stake were not identical because the claim terms that were construed and applied in the Altair litigation were not the same as the claim terms requiring construction in the Zenni suit. The Federal Circuit concluded that every claim asserted against Zenni contained the same limitation, in the same context, that was previously determined to be dispositive of non-infringement.  As a result, even though some of the claims asserted against Zenni were not construed of applied, this did not create a new issue to defeat preclusion.  The court further determined that Aspex had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the asserted patents, and the selection of additional claims for litigation and additional terms for construction could not override the holding of non-infringement.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: New and Useful - April 10, 2013

·       In In re Hubbell the Federal Circuit confirmed the rejection of all of the pending claims in an application, filed with Jeffrey Hubbell, Jason Schense, Andreas Zisch, and Heike Hall as named inventors.  The invention disclosed in the application was based on research performed while all of the named inventors were at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). As a result, the application is assigned to CalTech.  Approximately five years before the CalTech application was filed, Hubbell left CalTech for Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETHZ).  A second application filed based on research Hubbell and Schense conducted at ETHZ was filed less than a year before the CalTech application, which is assigned to ETHZ and Zurich University.  Aside from Hubbell and Schense, the two patents do not have identical inventive entities, or common owners or assignees.  The ETHZ application, which issued as a U.S. patent in 2009, was used as the basis for an obviousness-type double patenting rejection, which was upheld by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.

Hubbell appealed the Board decision, arguing that the judicially created obviousness-type double patenting rejection should not apply where an application and a conflicting patent share common inventors, but do not have identical inventive entities, were never commonly owned, and are not subject to a joint research agreement.  Alternatively, Hubbell argued that should the court find the obviousness-type double patenting rejection is applicable, he should either be allowed to file a terminal disclaimer as an equitable measure, or the court should employ a two-way obviousness analysis for the rejected claims. 

 

The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board, finding that both the MPEP and Federal Circuit precedent supported application of the obviousness-type double patenting rejection to cases where an application and a conflicting patent have one or more inventors in common but the inventive entities are not identical and the applications were never commonly owned.  The court rejected Hubbell’s argument that the case precedent only involved applications that were once commonly owned by the same entity, and did not apply to his application because CalTech never controlled the ownership of the second application.  The court based its decision on the underlying concerns over the possibility of harassment by multiple assignees that exists when issued patents lack common ownership—if the claims of the ETHZ application were to issue, a potential infringer could be subject to suit from both CalTech and ETHZ.  The court also rejected Hubbell’s argument that a terminal disclaimer should be permitted, based on the fact that there is no statutory basis for doing so.  Finally, the court affirmed the Board’s rejection of Hubbell’s request to have the two-way obviousness analysis applied in the case.  The court concluded that Hubbell’s application did not meet the requirements to apply the narrow exception to the general rule of the one-way test.  

Judge Newman dissented in the opinion, concluding that the majority’s decision is a “flawed ruling on incorrect law.”  Specifically, Judge Newman concluded that because there are different inventive entities and that there is not common ownership, obviousness-type double patenting does not apply, but if there indeed is obviousness-type double patenting, then a terminal disclaimer is necessarily available. Judge Newman took issue with the circularity of the majority opinion—a terminal disclaimer is not available because there is not common ownership, yet if there is not common ownership or common inventorship, there cannot be double patenting. 

·       In Dawson v. Dawson, the Federal Circuit upheld the USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) decision determining that an earlier-filed patent application for topically treating and preventing infections of the eye, naming Dr. Chandler Dawson as inventor, had priority over a later-filed patent application, also naming Dr. Chandler Dawson as inventor.  The earlier-filed application was submitted by Dr. Dawson and Dr. Lyle Bowman and assigned to InSite Vision Incorporated.  The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) filed the later-filed application, without the involvement of Dr. Dawson but naming Dr. Dawson as the sole inventor, for the sole purpose of instituting an interference.  The BPAI determined that UCSF had not met its burden to show that Dr. Dawson had conceived of the invention prior to his collaboration with Dr. Bowman.   

On appeal to the Federal Circuit, UCSF asserted that the invention embodied in the InSite application was conceived of by Dr. Dawson while he was employed at UCSF and before he joined InSite, and therefore priority of the invention should rest in the UCSF later-filed application.  UCSF argued that the conception requirement was met by the time Dr. Dawson made a presentation at a WHO conference, as demonstrated by documents produced from that conference.  UCSF argued that even though the conference documents lacked the particular carrier and concentrations recited in the claims, conception was achieved because the documents showed that Dr. Dawson had formed the idea that of topical use of azithromycin would be effective for treating eye infections, and that the subsequent preparation of an effective ointment was merely corroboration of the idea.  

The court rejected UCSF’s arguments, reasoning that the WHO documents themselves demonstrated the lack of conception because they constituted “a ‘preliminary’ statement about a ‘possibility’ or ‘potential use,’ alongside a recommendation for continued work and a ‘report back’ in the future.”  The court concluded that this fell short of the requirement for a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention, as it is to be applied in practice, as set out in Hybritech Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies, Inc.  The court further held that UCSF failed to make a sufficient showing with respect to the individual interference counts—the specific concentrations, the suspending agent, or the claimed “amount effective to treat infection in a tissue of the eye.”  Finally, the court rejected UCSF’s argument that the BPAI had improperly required a showing of reduction to practice in order to prove conception, concluding that UCSF’s argument was based on an erroneous view of what is needed to prove conception, and holding that “there is a critical difference between conceiving a way to make an idea operative and knowing that a completed invention will work for its intended purpose.” 

Judge Reyna dissented in the opinion, concluding that the record was sufficient to demonstrate that Dr. Dawson possessed a definite and permanent idea of his complete and operative invention when he was employed by UCSF, not InSite, and therefore UCSF had demonstrated prior conception.   

·       In Saffran v. Johnson &Johnson, Dr. Bruce N. Saffran (Saffran) sued Johnson & Johnson and Cordis Corporation (collectively “J&J”), alleging that J&J infringed a number of claims in Saffran’s U.S. patent.  The patent involved methods and apparatus that would sequester macromolecules within a defined area, for example a sheet that could be wrapped around a bone fracture that would keep growth factors from diffusing out of the fractured area.  The claims of the patent were also drawn to the additional capability of controlled release of a substance incorporated into the apparatus via a “means for release.”  The alleged infringing device was a drug-eluting stent comprising a metallic mesh with a microscopic layer of polymer that coats the surface of each strut, the polymer being mixed with a macromolecular drug that would gradually escape through gaps in the polymer matrix.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas held that J&J infringed the patent based on its construction of the terms “device” and “release means”.  J&J appealed to the Federal Circuit, arguing that the district courts construction of the two terms was erroneous, and that a proper construction precluded infringement. 

 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit construed the term “device”—as used in the preamble and body of independent claim 1, in the bodies of independent claims 8 and 15, and at least by reference in each of the dependent claims—to mean a continuous sheet and to exclude stents having open mesh holes.  The court came to this conclusion based on the prosecution history, during which the patentee sought to distinguish the prior art by asserting that the device used in the invention is a sheet rather than the structure disclosed in the prior art reference.  The court confirmed that this corresponded to the disclosure in the specification, and Saffran’s argument that the specification contained alternative embodiments did not persuade the court otherwise.   

The court confirmed that “[u]nder § 112, ¶ 6, the question is not what structures a person of ordinary skill in the art would know are capable of performing a given function, but what structures are specifically disclosed and tied to that function in the specification” and “a patentee cannot rely on claim differentiation to broaden a means-plus-function limitation beyond those structures specifically disclosed in the specification.”  Thus, the court construed “release means” to only include treating material attached to the substantially impermeable sheet via hydrolyzable bonds or an equivalent thereof.

Based on its construction of “device” and “release means” the court concluded that J&J did not infringe the asserted Saffran patent. 

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