MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Likelihood of confusion at USPTO may be preclusive in litigation

Post by Dan Lorentzen

Although trademarks exist outside of the federal trademark system set out in title 15 of the U.S. Code (the Lanham Act), federal trademark law provides a number of benefits to mark owners who register their trademarks through the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office. In the context of federal trademark law, a trademark owner's rights in a mark, and the validity of that mark, can be tested in two separate types of proceedings: a lawsuit in federal court, or opposition at the USPTO.  The recent Supreme Court decision in B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc. provides important clarification on how determinations in the two types of proceedings interact.

B&B registered its mark SEALTIGHT in 1993 for "“threaded or unthreaded metal fasteners and other related hardwar[e];namely, self-sealing nuts, bolts, screws, rivets and washers, all having a captive o-ring, for use in the aerospace industry.”  Hargis began producing metal screws for use in building construction using the mark SEALTITE, and sought to register the mark in 1996.  B&B sued Hargis in federal court for trademark infringement and also filed a concurrent opposition to Hargis' registration at the USPTO.  A central question in both proceedings was whether there was a likelihood of confusion between Hargis' SEALTITE mark and B&B's already registered SEALTIGHT mark. 

Before the District Court had ruled on the likelihood of confusion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the USPTO ruled on the opposition proceeding, determining that Hargis' mark could not be registered because there was a likelihood of confusion with respect to B&B's mark.  Hargis did not appeal the TTAB decision to either a district court or the Federal Circuit.   B&B, in turn, argued to the District Court that as a result of the TTAB's decision, Hargis could not contest likelihood of confusion in the pending court proceeding.  Following Eighth Circuit precedent, the District Court disagreed, reasoning that the TTAB is not a judicial body created by Article III of the Constitution, and so the TTAB decision could not have preclusive effect on the District Court.  The jury ultimately found there to be no likelihood of confusion.  B&B appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed the District Court on the basis that the TTAB weighs different interests (e.g., the right to register versus the right to use) and applies different factors in determining likelihood of confusion than a district court would. 

On ultimate appeal, the Supreme Court resolved a Circuit-split on this issue and held that determinations of likelihood of confusion at the USPTO could be preclusive for subsequent determinations in litigation.  The Court concluded that an administrative determination, such as by the USPTO, can be preclusive for determinations of the same issue in federal court when the administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity and resolves disputed issues of fact properly before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate.  The Court further determined that although the specific factors used by the district courts and the USPTO for determining likelihood of confusion may be different, the underlying legal standard is the same for both litigation and registration.  However, the holding is limited to situations where the application/registration at issue in the TTAB proceedings covers goods and services that are "materially the same" as those at issue in the federal court proceeding. 

It is worth noting that the Court's opinion relates to TTAB decisions regarding likelihood of confusion for trademark registration—that is, determinations proceedings such as oppositions where the parties have a chance to "litigate" the pertinent issues.  The same type of preclusion would not apply simply as a result of registration of a mark with the USPTO. 

As a result of this decision, parties considering taking action against a federal trademark applicant or registrant should carefully compare the goods/services shown in the trademark application/registration to the their own goods and services to determine whether they should proceed in the TTAB or a federal court.  Additionally parties trademark applicants/registrants who lose at the TTAB should strongly consider an appeal of that decision because that decision may now have preclusive effect in later federal court cases. 

The full decision is available here. 

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Russ Slifer Sworn-In as USPTO Deputy Director and Patent Quality Initiatives

Post by Jill Link


USPTO Director Michelle Lee nominated Russ Slifer as Deputy Director of the USPTO. Slifer previously served as the Regional Director for the Denver Satelite Office of the USPTO. He is a patent attorney with over 20 years experience, including 8 years as the Chief Patent Counsel for Micron Technology. Slifer was appointed by Secretary of Commerce for this political appointment, along with Director Lee who was also recently appointed and sworn in earlier this month (March 2015).  With both Director and Deputy Director in place the USPTO is now fully staffed again.

The Director has issued a focus for their remaining terms - Patent Quality Initiatives. For example, Deputy Director's first official day on the job was spent with the Director hosting the USPTO Patent Quality Summit. The Summit follows a Federal Register Notice setting forth various proposals for focus on patent quality. The Federal Register listed the following: 

1. USPTO proposes a mechanism for an applicant to request the Office of Patent Quality Assurance to review an examiner’s Office action during prosecution.

2. USPTO is seeking input on whether to conduct automated pre-examination searches for all applications, and if so, what tools might be used to complete those searches.

3. USPTO is seeking the public’s assistance in identifying ways to enhance the clarity and completeness of the official record during prosecution of an application.

4. USPTO is considering ways to measure and enhance the effectiveness of examiner training, and how best to improve quality metrics.

5. The USPTO is seeking input to help determine whether the current compact prosecution model should be modified.   In particular, is seeking ideas for proactive alternatives to Requests for Continued Examination filings and appeals to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

6. The USPTO is considering the viability of enabling applicants to have in-person interviews with examiners, regardless of the examiner’s duty station.

Filewrapper will keep you posted on further updates of these and other patent quality initiatives.



MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Michelle Lee Confirmed as USPTO Director

The Senate on Monday confirmed the White House's nominee for the long-vacant director position at the USPTO.  Director Lee had been serving as Deputy Director and acting Director for over a year, pending the nomination process. 

Director Lee takes over for former-Director Kappos, who left the position in February 2013.  The confirmation has been both long-expected and long-awaited. 


Congratulations to Director Lee.   

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: U.S. Takes Final Steps in Joining International Industrial Design System

Post by blog staff

The Hague system for registration of industrial designs offers applicants the potential for obtaining protection in a number of member countries and intergovernmental organizations by means of a single international application.  The system offers possible increased filing efficiencies and cost savings in pursuing protection for designs.

On February 13, 2015, the USPTO announced that the United States had deposited with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) its instrument of ratification to the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, representing the last step for the United States to join the Hague system. As a result, the treaty, which has already been ratified but not put into law, will go into effect in the U.S. on May 13, 2015.

As discussed in a prior blog post, the proposed rules will allow applicants to file a single international design application, potentially seeking protection of their industrial design in more than 40 countries. U.S. applicants would be able to file their applications with the USPTO as an “indirect filing” and the USPTO would then transmit the application to WIPO for review. The USPTO will continue its examination of design applications and grant patents, whether the application is filed under the Hague Agreement or as a U.S. design patent application.

Final rules will soon be published in the Federal Register and are expected be effective on May 13, 2015. U.S. design patents granted on or after this date will have a 15 year term.

More information on the Hague industrial design system is available here and here, and the USPTO press release is available here.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Federal Circuit Upholds First IPR Decision

Post by Dan Lorentzen


The America Invents Act (AIA) included provisions establishing new "trial" procedures at the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) for testing the validity of issued patents.  One such procedure, Inter Partes Review (IPR), has quickly become a common alternative or addition to traditional patent litigation since it was implemented in September of 2012. However, a number of issues relating to the operation and review of the new USPTO trial procedures have remained unresolved.


A three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit has upheld the decision of the PTAB in the very first IPR filed.   The Federal Circuit affirmed all of the PTAB's determinations, finding that the PTAB was not in error in applying the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) standard to the claims in the IPR proceeding, the PTAB properly determined obviousness, and the PTAB properly denied the patent owner's motion to amend the claims. 


Notably, the Federal Circuit declined to review the decision by the PTAB to institute the IPR.  The patent owner argued that the PTO improperly instituted the IPR on two of the patent claims because it relied on prior art that the party seeking the IPR did not identify in its petition with respect to those two specific claims.  The pertinent portion of the AIA (encoded in 35 U.S.C. § 314) provides that “[t]he determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.”  The patent owner asserted that this provision merely postpones review of the PTO’s authority until after the issuance of a final decision by the Board.  The Federal Circuit, however, concluded that § 314 prohibits review of the decision to institute IPR even after a final decision.  The court did note that mandamus may be available to challenge the institution of an IPR where the PTO has clearly any indisputably exceeded its authority. 


Although disagreement remains as to whether the Federal Circuit was correct in its determinations (see, e.g., Judge Newman's dissenting opinion), the decision provides some clarity as to the standards that apply during IPR proceedings at the USPTO.  The full decision is available here.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: USPTO Issues Examples of Abstract Ideas and Claim Eligibility

Post by Luke T. Mohrhauser



A threshold requirement for obtaining a patent is that the subject matter must meet eligibility requirements. Recent changes from the Supreme Court have impacted the types of patent eligible inventions as they relate to abstract ideas. In response to these changes the USPTO recently issued a set of Examples of claims including abstract ideas that both satisfy and do not satisfy the recently issued 2014 Interim Eligibility Guidance.


            For reference, the Guidance provides a two-step approach for determining subject matter eligibility, where Step 1 determines whether the claim is directed to a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. Step 2 is a two-part analysis where an examiner first determines whether the claim is directed to a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea (judicial exceptions). If no, the claim is eligible and examination should continue for patentability. If yes, the analysis proceeds to Step 2B to analyze whether the claim as a whole amounts to significantly more than the exception. At Step 2B, an examiner is to determine whether any element, or combination of elements, in the claim is sufficient to ensure that the claim as a whole amounts to significantly more than the judicial exception. This includes an analysis of the remainder of claim elements and how they add any inventive step to the claim.


            The Examples go through the analysis of explaining each part of the two-step approach to show how the claims all meet Step 1, but vary with regard to Step 2. There is a good presentation of the analysis of both Steps 2A and 2B, and how the various claim examples relate to Supreme Court precedent. For example, in claims where it is determined that the limitations are directed towards an abstract idea, the explanation of how any additional elements add enough of an inventive step to overcome the abstract idea can be very helpful.


            The Examples issued by the Patent Office include four claim sets that were deemed patent eligible, and four that were found ineligible.



Patent Eligible


            Examples of claims that were or would be patent eligible include the following:


1.      A method and computer medium for isolating and removing malicious code from electronic messages. The claims were not directed towards an abstract idea because they included a concept inextricably tied to computer technology and distinct from the types of concepts found by the courts to be abstract.


2.      E-Commerce Outsourcing System/Generating a Composite Web Page.  The claim was found not be directed towards an abstract idea because it does not merely recite the performance of some business practice known from the pre-Internet world along with the requirement to perform it on the Internet. Instead, the claimed solution is necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks.


3.      Methods and systems for halftoning a gray scale image. In the three claims provided in the Example, it is stated that they include mathematical steps that would constitute an abstract idea. However, the additional analysis of Step 2B above leads to a finding that taking all the additional claim elements individually, and in combination, the claim as a whole amounts to significantly more than the abstract idea of generating a blue noise mask, and therefore, the claims contain patent eligible subject matter.


4.      A method and system for calculating an absolute position of a GPS receiver and an absolute time of reception of satellite signals. The claims include calculating steps, and therefore, include mathematical equations that would make them abstract ideas. However, the additional limitations of the claim placed upon the application of the claimed mathematical operations show that the claim is not directed to performing mathematical operations on a computer alone. Rather, the combination of elements impose meaningful limits in that the mathematical operations are applied to improve an existing technology (global positioning) by improving the signal-acquisition sensitivity of the receiver to extend the usefulness of the technology into weak-signal environments and providing the location information for display on the mobile device, which indicates that the claims include patent eligible subject matter.


Patent Ineligible


            Examples of claims that were or would be patent ineligible include the following:


1.      Method of generating a device profile by generating first and second data and combining the same. While the claim met Step 1 of the analysis, it was found to be a mere gathering and combination that employed mathematical relationships, thus making it an abstract idea. The claim did not include any additional steps beyond the abstract generating and combining and thus, failed Step 2, making the claim ineligible.


2.      Computer system for electronically managing a game of Bingo. The claim included a computer and a program run on the computer. The program included steps that could be performed mentally, making the claim an abstract idea. The mere inclusion of a computer with a CPU did not add enough of an inventive step under Step 2B to overcome the abstract idea, and the claim was found to include ineligible subject matter.


3.      Methods for conducting reliable transactions in an e-commerce environment. The claim included steps of creating a contractual relationship, which is an abstract idea. Analyzing the claim as whole for an inventive concept, the claim limitations in addition to the abstract idea include a computer application running on a computer and the computer network. This is simply a generic recitation of a computer and a computer network performing their basic functions. Therefore, the claim is not patent eligible.


4.      A method for distribution of products over the Internet via a facilitator. The claim describes the concept of using advertising as an exchange or currency. This concept is similar to the concepts involving human activity relating to commercial practices (e.g., hedging in Bilski) that have been found by the courts to be abstract ideas. When viewed either as individual limitations or as an ordered combination, the claim as a whole does not add significantly more to the abstract idea of using advertising as an exchange or currency (The answer in Step 2B is no). The claim is not patent eligible.


These Examples should help both Applicants and Examiners navigate the new patent eligibility landscape under the Supreme Court's recent holdings on 35 U.S.C. § 101. 



MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Federal Circuit Emphasizes "Reasonable" in Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

Post by Dan Lorentzen



During examination, the claims of patent application are given their broadest reasonable interpretation ("BRI") by the patent examiner.  This USPTO standard is intentionally broad—broader than the interpretation applied in litigation—in order to reduce the possibility that the claim, once issued, will be interpreted more broadly than is justified.  A recent Federal Circuit decision, however, has indicated that the "reasonable" element of the standard is still essential.


In In re Imes, the application at issue was directed to a device for communicating digital camera image and video information over a network.  Independent claim 1 encompassed such a device having memory for storing digital images, a display for displaying the images, an input device for receiving a request for communication, and a housing that stores a first (wireless cellular) communication module and a second (“low power high-speed”) wireless communication module.  Two other independent claims recited communications modules operable to wirelessly communicate streaming video. 


During prosecution, the examiner rejected claim 1 as obvious over a reference that disclosed a first wireless communication module and second module in the form of a removable memory card.  The examiner concluded that the removable memory card met the BRI of the second wireless communication device because it had to be removed in order to communicate the information to a computer—i.e. the metal contacts between the memory card and the computer are not "wire," and therefore communication along the metal contacts to the computer are "wireless."  The examiner rejected the other independent claims as anticipated or obvious over a reference that disclosed a wireless digital camera system that transmits still images over the internet.  The examiner concluded that the BRI of "streaming video" included a continuous process of sending images. The applicant appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which affirmed the examiner's rejections.


On appeal, the Federal Circuit took issue with the reasonableness of the USPTO's interpretation of the claims.   The court emphasized that the interpretation must be reasonable in view of the specification.  With regards to the "wireless" element, the USPTO's interpretation was not reasonable because the specification defined the term to refer to electromagnetic waves moving through atmospheric space rather than along a wire.  Accordingly, communication through metal contacts—and not atmospheric space—cannot be reasonably interpreted to constitute "wireless" communication.


With respect to the "streaming video" element, the court concluded that the USPTO's interpretation was not reasonable because there was no substantial evidence to support the conclusion that sending a series of individual still images is equivalent to streaming video. 


The holding in this case can potentially provide some needed clarity to both applicants and examiners as to what is "reasonable" when interpreting claims during patent prosecution.  The full decision is available here. 

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Trade Secret Symposium

Post by Jill Link

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is hosting a Trade Secret Symposium on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. This symposium is the first of its kind for trade secrets. More information is available on the USPTO website. Both live and webcast attendance is available for this event.

The USPTO symposium will focus on the protection of U.S. trade secrets from misappropriation and is an administrative follow-up from the February 2013 Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets. Topics to be discussed include legislative proposals regarding trade secret protection, losses due to trade secret theft and challenges to protecting trade secrets, the intersection of patent and trade secret protection, issues in civil litigation, trade secret protection in foreign jurisdictions, and proposed responses to the threat of trade secret theft in the U.S. Presenters will include representatives of academia, government, legal counsel and industry, and will include time for audience questions.

There is no registration cost for attending either the live or webcast event taking place between 9 am EST and 3 pm EST this Thursday January 8, 2015.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: USPTO Releases New Guidelines on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility

Post by Dan Lorentzen

The USPTO today released new Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility.  The new guidance comes nearly 9 months after the first set of "2014 Procedure For Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis Of Claims Reciting Or Involving Laws Of Nature/Natural Principles, Natural Phenomena, And/Or Natural Products"  were released in March 2014.  The March guidelines sought to implement new procedures to address changes in the laws relating to patent subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in light of the Supreme Court's decisions in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. However, a new set of guidelines have been expected based on the more recent Supreme Court decision in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. V. CLS Bank International, and based on numerous comments and criticisms of the original guidelines. 


The new guidance presents a number of changes in relation to the March guidelines.

The new guidance also includes a new set of examples for "Nature-Based Products."  These examples replace the set of examples that were included with the March guidelines.  Additional explanatory example sets relating to claims that do and do not amount to significantly more than a judicial exception are apparently being developed to be issued at a future date.


A more detailed discussion of the new guidelines is forthcoming.





MVS Filewrapper® Blog: USPTO Publishes its 2014 Patent Public Advisory Committee Annual Report

By Jonathan Kennedy

The Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) for the USPTO published its Annual Report for the 2014 fiscal year.  The annual report is directed to the President of the United States and addresses many issues faced in the previous fiscal year, summaries of goals met, and recommendations for the future. 

The 2014 report expressed concerns over the effect of sequestration and the USPTO's budget.  At the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the USPTO netted $129 million in fees.  The report notes the USPTO's continued concern over high user fees and beginning in the 2015 year is conducting a biennial fee review to assess any chilling effect on innovation and disclosure due to patent office fees.  This will include an assessment of whether the fees are commensurate with the USPTO's projected needs. 

The 2014 report discussed many goals that were achieved during the 2014 fiscal year including a significant reduction in the backlog of Requests for Continued Examination (RCEs).  Between October 2009 and March 2013, the number of RCEs awaiting examination grew from approximately 17,000 to over 110,000.  As of October 2014, this number has been reduced to 46,441.  The PPAC recommends that the Office establish a goal that all RCEs be examined within four months at the latest—four months is currently the average for when an RCE is examined.  This would help to progress the examination of applications.

The 2014 report also highlights the importance of some programs instituted by the USPTO to decrease patent pendency.  During the 2014 fiscal year total patent application pendency was reduced to an average of 27.4 months.  Specifically the report highlights the use of the After Final Consideration Pilot 2.0, Track One Prioritized Examination, Patent Prosecution Highway (see our recent series on ways to accelerate examination, which addresses both the Track One Prioritized Examination and Patent Prosecution Highway and other programs), and the Quick Path Information Disclosure Statement (QPIDS).  The report notes that QPIDS allows applicants to have new prior art considered by the USPTO without the need for an RCE after payment of the issue fee.  In the 2014 fiscal year there were 2,241 QPIDS requests filed and 1,934 continued on to issue with an RCE.  This program appears to be quite effective.

The report also addressed the opening of satellite offices in Denver, Colorado, Silicon Valley, California, and Dallas Texas, in addition to the satellite office already opened in Detroit, Michigan.  The USPTO hired an additional 137 patent examiners and 47 judges.  Further, the report notes an additional 112 examiners are expected to be hired in the 2015 fiscal year.  At the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) had 214 judges. 

The report notes that the PTAB was kept busy during the 2014 fiscal year with appeals from examination and post-grant proceedings.  The PTAB affirmed or affirmed-in-part  67%, reversed 30%, and remanded or dismissed 3% examiner decisions on appeal.  Since the inception of the America Invents Act, the PTAB has received 2,082 petitions for post-grant proceedings—1,841 inter partes review petitions, 233 covered business method petitions, 2 post-grant review petitions, and 6 derivation proceeding petitions.   The report notes the vast majority of petitions related to the electrical and computer software arts at 71.6% of petitions.

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