MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Federal Circuit Weighs in on Stays for Post-Grant Review

The Federal Circuit has issued an opinion in VirtualAgility Inc. v. Salesforce.com, Inc., providing clarification regarding how court should properly determine whether to stay litigation during later-requested post-grant PTO proceedings.  Under the America Invents Act, a district court is permitted, but not required, to grant such a stay.  The statute also provides a list of four factors that the district court is to consider when deciding whether to grant a stay of litigation:

 

(A) whether a stay, or the denial thereof, will simplify the issues in question and streamline the trial;

(B) whether discovery is complete and whether a trial date has been set;

(C) whether a stay, or the denial thereof, would unduly prejudice the nonmoving party or present a clear tactical advantage for the moving party; and

(D) whether a stay, or the denial thereof, will reduce the burden of litigation on the parties and on the court.

 

In January 2013 VirtualAgility Inc. ("VA") sued Salesforce.com, Inc. and a group of other businesses for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,095,413.  Salesforce then filed a petition with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) for a post-grant review of the patent under the Transitional Program for Covered Business Method Patents (CBM Program), asserting that all of the claims were patent-ineligible.

 

In May of 2013, Salesforce and the other defendants filed a motion to stay district court proceedings in accordance with AIA Section 18(b)(1).  In denying the motion, the District Court took into account the four factors provided by statute.  The District Court conducted its own
review of the file history, and determined that the PTAB would not likely cancel some or all of the claims, despite the he PTAB’s determination that the claims of the ’413 patent are more likely than not invalid.  The district court therefore determined that the first factor, simplification of the issues, was either neutral or slightly against a stay.  The district court also determined that the fourth factor, burden of litigation, had substantial overlap with the first and would only slightly favor a stay.  The court decided the second factor favored a stay because it was early on in the litigation, and the third factor weighed against a stay because VirtualAgility would suffer from lost market share and consumer goodwill, in addition to the fact that "VA would be unduly prejudiced 'because certain witnesses are of an advanced age.'"

 

The Defendants appealed the denial of the motion to stay to the Federal Circuit, which reversed the district court and concluded that the balance of the factors favored a stay pending the outcome of the CBM review.  The court held that the district court's review the PTAB's determination that the claims of the ’413 patent are more likely than not invalid was an error as a matter of law because under the statutory scheme district courts have no role in reviewing the PTAB’s determinations regarding the patentability of claims that are subject to CBM proceedings.  

 

The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court's determination that the second factor weighed in favor of a stay, but disagreed with the district court's determination that the third factor weighed heavily against a stay.  In concluding that the undue prejudice factor weighed only slightly against a stay, the Federal Circuit held that the district court erred in failing to take into account the fact that VA did not move for a preliminary injunction, and that if VA needed injunctive relief as soon as possible it would have pursued a preliminary injunction, or filed suit earlier. 

 

Ultimately, with three factors heavily favoring a stay and one slightly against a stay, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed district court and remanded the case with instructions to grant the motion to stay the litigation pending CBM review at the PTO.

 

The full opinion is available here.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Federal Circuit Finds Clones Unpatentable

The Federal Circuit issued its opinion in In re Roslin Institute, a case involving cloned animals.  The Roslin Institute (Roslin) owns a patent for methods of cloning animals, based on the work that created Dolly the Sheep.  The inventors of that patent also assigned to Roslin an application claiming protection for the clones themselves.  During prosecution, the USPTO deemed the claims to the clones contained in that application to be directed to non-statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because the clones constituted a natural phenomenon that did not possess markedly different characteristics than any found in nature.  The USPTO decision was appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which upheld the rejection. 

 

On appeal to the Federal Circuit, the appellate court affirmed the PTAB decision, concluding that genetic identity of a clone to a progenitor/donor animal precludes it from patent protection, despite the fact that such a clone itself does not exist in nature.  The court held that "clones are exact genetic copies of patent ineligible subject matter, [and as a result] they are not eligible for patent protection."

 

Interestingly, the court dismissed Roslin's arguments that environmental factors lead to phenotypic differences between its clones and their donor mammals that render their claimed subject matter patentable, stating that any such differences were not claimed.  In contrast, the court focused on the genetic aspect of the clones—which although similarly unclaimed—the court determined was implicit in the use of the term "clones".  The court further discounted any phenotypic differences as being the result of "environmental factors" uninfluenced by Roslin's efforts. 

 

The court ultimately qualified it's holding, stating that "having the same nuclear DNA as the donor . . . may not necessarily result in patent ineligibility in every case," but that in this case "the claims do not describe clones that have markedly different characteristics from the donor animals of which they are copies."

 

The full opinion is available here

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: "Insolubly Ambiguous" Standard not Applicable at the USPTO

In In re Packard the Federal Circuit held that the USPTO need not follow the insolubly ambiguous standard in order to satisfy a prima facie rejection for indefiniteness.  Rather, the Federal Circuit held that

when the USPTO has initially issued a well-grounded rejection that identifies ways in which language in a claim is ambiguous, vague, incoherent, opaque, or otherwise unclear in describing and defining the claimed invention, and thereafter the applicant fails to provide a satisfactory response, the USPTO can properly reject the claims claim as [indefinite]. 

(emphasis added).  The Federal Circuit tempered this holding by citing to Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. U.S. Plywood Corp., 258 F.2d 124, 136 (2d Cir. 1958), stating,

At the same time, this requirement is not a demand for unreasonable precision.  The requirement, applied to the real world of modern technology, does not contemplate in every case a verbal precision of the kind found in mathematics. . . .  Rather, how much clarity is required necessarily invokes some standard of reasonable precision in the use of language in the context of the circumstances.

 The patent application on appeal (Serial No. 12/004,324) was directed to a coin change holder shown in Figures 1 and 2 above.  Claims 28 through 37 were on appeal—claims 1 through 27 were cancelled during prosecution.  Claim 28 is representative of the issue on appeal:

28.       I claim a small, thin, flat plane, rectangular change holding card and wallet/billfold or purse construction with the front top side of the card comprising three raised, straight, parallel, double flanged separators and two raised, straight, parallel, double flanged side edges and a raised side edge end thereby forming four parallel, side by side, flanged coin holding channels or rows of the same length and of different widths, one for quarters, one for dimes, one for nickels, and one for pennies, that are similarly blocked at one side edge by the raised side end edge with the other side of the channel/rows open except for small, fixed, flexible, partially moveable, rubber or plastic retainers that are attached to the topside and ends of the double flanged separators such that coins can be retained on the card and yet slide freely above the surface of the card and obliquely overlap as necessary within the channel/rows between the separators while the bottom, back side of the card is constructed with a wallet, billfold or purse extending from it.

The Examiner rejected the claim as indefinite for lack of written description and as obvious.  The Examiner asserted that multiple limitations were indefinite for lacking antecedent basis or "were otherwise unclear."  Mr. Packard appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).  The PTAB affirmed the rejection citing MPEP § 2173.05(e) which states, "[a] claim is indefinite when it contains words or phrases whose meaning is unclear."  Mr. Packard appealed the PTAB's decision to the Federal Circuit.  On appeal, Mr. Packard argued that the test applied by the PTAB, as set forth in the MPEP, fails to meet the insolubly ambiguous standard articulated by the Federal Circuit. 

The Federal Circuit noted that no case had previously addressed the question presented by this case—"what standard for indefiniteness should the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office apply to pre-issuance claims." The Federal Circuit made clear that a different standard applies to pre-issuance claims (i.e. patent applications under prosecution) that to post-issuance claims (i.e. when an issued patent is being challenged).  Further, the Federal Circuit noted a basis for its decision is that "Congress assigned to the USPTO the responsibility to examine applications to ensure compliance with the statutory criteria for issuance of a patent."  Thus, "indefiniteness rejections by the USPTO arise in a different posture from that of indefiniteness challenges to an issued patent."  

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.

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