DuPont v. MacDermid Printing: The importance of a Patentee’s Pre-Filing Statements

by Dennis Crouch

A skilled patent attorney working with a qualified searcher could cobble together a colorable obviousness argument against the vast majority of issued patent claims.  Part of the difficulty for patentees stem from the the billions of prior art references available via increasingly effective search tools. Even when an invention results from a ‘flash of genius,’ patent law typically back-fills extensive knowledge for the obviousness analysis – even when that knowledge was not actually available at the time of the invention.  The larger difficulty though is likely the large number of hard-to-pin-down facts such as the motivations, common sense, and level of creativity of a person having ordinary skill in the art.

The “expansive and flexible” approach to nonobviousness is frustrating to many, but it is seen as a feature of the system fully supported by the Supreme Court.  In KSR, the court wrote:

Throughout this Court’s engagement with the question of obviousness, our cases have set forth an expansive and flexible approach. . . . Rigid preventive rules that deny fact finders recourse to common sense… are neither necessary under our case law nor consistent with it.

KSR v. Teleflex (2007) [04-1350].  Conventional wisdom post-1980 has been that the factual inquiry makes summary judgment of obviousness difficult for a patent challenger.  Rather, obviousness goes to the jury.  Since KSR, that attitude has shifted somewhat.  (The even newer model is that obviousness goes to the PTO in an IPR proceeding – save that for a different essay).

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Summary Judgment of Obviousness: In DuPont v. MacDermid Printing (Fed. Cir. 2016) [15-1777], the NJ district court granted summary judgment of obviousness against the patentee DuPont – holding that the asserted claims of DuPont’s U.S. Patent 6,773,859 invalid under 35 U.S.C. 103.   The ‘859 patent relates to the manufacture of  a flexo plate for digital printing — a plate used to print digital images on flexible materials.   The claimed advance involves heating-up the plate to remove unpolymerized material (rather than using a harsh solvent).

The obviousness case combines two prior art references: “Martens [a 3M patent] teaches a process for developing an analog plate using heat” and “Fan [DuPont patent] teaches developing a digital plate using solvents.”   The inventor (Roxy Fan) is also the first named inventor of DuPont’s ‘859 patent being challenged in this case. The Fan prior-art patent, however, was filed a decade prior.  Reviewing these two references, the court found that the ‘859 patent uses “the same technology and processes pertaining to digital imaging” previously disclosed by Fan and the same thermal development process disclosed in Martens.  In finding a motivation-to-combine these references, the district court walked through several factors.

  • Limited set of potential combinations: The prior art only had two imaging styles (digital and analog) and four development techniques (thermal, etc.) – this makes the ‘859 combination more likely obvious to try.
  • Benefits of Moving to Digital: The prior art taught benefits of switching to digital (thus suggesting the substitution), including an article published by DuPont
  • Market Incentive: DuPont marketing material suggest a “strong incentive” to combine the thermal process with digital plates.

The district court also rejected DuPont’s evidence of commercial success, longfelt need, and industry praise – finding them insufficient to overcome the “strong showing of obviousness.”

On appeal of this summary judgment finding, DuPont focused on the standard-of-review – noting that the district court had failed to “draw reasonable inferences” in its favor.  In the process, DuPont pointed to a long list of factual disputes between the parties where it would be reasonable to draw different conclusions from the evidences.

The Federal Circuit affirmed – finding that the strong undisputed evidence of prior art and motivation to combine fully supported the summary judgment finding.

[T]he record contains strong evidence that a skilled artisan would have had a reason to combine two known technologies and would have had a reasonable expectation of success in doing so. Indeed, DuPont itself promoted the digital and thermal technologies as technological breakthroughs in prior art publications. Thus, in view of the record as a whole, even drawing all justifiable inferences in favor of DuPont, the objective evidence is insufficient to preclude summary judgment on the ultimate legal conclusion of obviousness.

Doomed by Its Own Prior Statements: The obviousness case against DuPont here is interesting because (1) one of the core prior art references was a DuPont reference and (2) DuPont’s own statements regarding its prior inventions led to the motivation-to-combine finding.  DuPont’s private case study will likely walk through and consider whether it should have taken a different pathway regarding the public disclosures.

Caveat: Although the patentee’s pre-filing disclosures are important – it is also important to remember that the question of obviousness is an objective analysis focusing on the hypothetical mind of a person having ordinary skill in the art.  What this means is that the patentee’s disclosures are should not be treated as “party admissions” and given special treatment in the obviousness analysis.  Rather, the disclosures are simply added to the body of knowledge available to the artisan.  Here, the Federal Circuit came dangerously close to crossing the line into giving information actually available to and created by DuPont special weight in the obviousness analysis.

 

USPTO Launches Cancer Moonshot Challenge

The following was originally published on the USPTO Director’s Blog and is a guest post by USPTO Chief of Staff Vikrum Aiyer and Senior Advisor Thomas A. Beach

The USPTO is playing an important role in the National Cancer Moonshot, a Presidential initiative we blogged about earlier this summer, to speed up cancer advances, make more therapies available to more patients, and improve the ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. Today, we are launching the USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge to enlist the public’s help to leverage our intellectual property data, often an early indicator of meaningful research and development (R&D), and combine it with other economic and funding data (ie. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Food and Drug Administration reporting, National Science Foundation grants vs. philanthropic investments, venture capital funding, etc.). This comes on the heels of our Patents 4 Patients program, which was launched in July and aims to cut in half the time it takes to review patent applications in cancer therapy.

The USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge will conclude on September 12 and winners will be announced on September 26. Learn more about the prizes.

Participants will have the opportunity to leverage USPTO Cancer Moonshot patent data to reveal new insights into investments around cancer therapy research and treatments. Some questions to address include: What are the peaks and valleys in the landscape of cancer treatment technologies? What new insights can be revealed by correlating R&D spending/funding to breakthrough technologies? What would trace studies of commercially successful treatments from patent to product tell us? With the data sets released through the USPTO Developer Hub, users will be able to use analytic tools, processes and complimentary data sets to build rich visualizations of intellectual property data, which will help illuminate trend lines for new treatments. During the three week challenge, the USPTO will hold a USPTO Cancer Moonshot Workshop to assist participants, on Thursday August 25.

After the challenge has concluded, the USPTO, in tandem with other Moonshot Task Force partners, will look at further ways to use the findings. By bringing together cancer experts, policymakers, and data scientists, we can explore and identify how intellectual property data can be better leveraged and combined with other data sets to support cancer research and the development of new commercialized therapies. This will empower the federal government—as well as the medical, research, and data communities—to make more precise funding and policy decisions based on the commercialization lifecycle of the most promising treatments, and maximize U.S. competitiveness in cancer investments.

 We recognize that by enlisting the public’s assistance through our USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge, we can identify new and creative ways to fight cancer and work towards breakthroughs in treatment.  And by harnessing the power of patent data, and accelerating the process for protecting the intellectual property undergirding cancer immunotherapy breakthroughs, the USPTO is standing up and doing its part to help bring potentially life-saving treatments to patients, faster. Are you up to the challenge?

Summary Judgment on Anticipation

Semcon Tech v. Micron (Fed. Cir. 2016) (non-precedential opinion)

One narrative of the decision here could focus on the difference between the expert appellate court willing to dig into the language of the patent documents themselves and the generalist trial court ready to rely upon expert testimony explaining the underlying documents.  It is also a reminder that, for the Federal Circuit, the underlying patent and prior art documents represent the most important evidence available in a patent validity dispute.

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Summary judgment is a mechanism for short-cutting a lawsuit prior to trial.  The basic jurisprudential approach asks whether there are any genuine disputes of any material fact and whether the moving-party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56.  When considering the evidence produced, all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the nonmovant’s favor.

Here, the district court ruled on summary judgments that Semcon’s asserted wafer finishing method patent claims are invalid as anticipated by a prior U.S. patent.  (Holding that the claim of Semcon’s U.S. Patent No. 7,156,717 is as anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,010,538 (“Sun”)).   On appeal, the Federal Circuit has vacated that judgment – finding that the prior art is not as clear as the district court concluded.

Anticipation is an area ripe for summary judgment because the doctrinal question is based primarily upon objective and verifiable facts — has a single prior art reference been identified that teaches the claimed invention – including “each and every element as set forth in the claim.”

The actual dispute focuses on whether the prior art Sun describes the claimed step of relying upon both “in-situ process information” and “tracked information” to modify control parameters during the finish cycle.  For its part, the district court adopted Micron’s expert’s conclusions that Sun disclosed that claimed process. Semcon did not present competing expert testimony that seemed to seal-the-deal for the district court.

On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit dug-into the patent documents and found (as suggested by Semcon) that the portions of Sun cited by Micron’s expert did not actually support the conclusions drawn. “In fact, however, the cited portions of Sun do not appear to support Dr. Dornfeld’s characterization.”  The court then pointed to several portions of Sun that suggested that the “tracked information” was not used as a finish cycle control parameter.

Addressing the lack of competing-expert, the Federal Circuit wrote that “textual arguments” regarding the prior art reference as well as identifying inconsistencies in the opposing expert’s testimony were sufficient to create a dispute of material fact as to what was disclosed by Sun.

Publication of the Patent Case Management Judicial Guide (3rd edition)

District Court judges (and their clerks) across the country now rely heavily upon Patent Case Management Judicial Guide – that has now published in its third edition.  Professor Peter Menell (Berkeley) has lead the multi-party effort in cooperation with the Federal Judicial Center. Its popularity with judges means that it is also a necessary tool for patent litigators.

Get it:

The Third Edition ads substantial coverage of managing litigation to deal with parallel proceedings at the PTAB, pleading standards, patentable subject matter, claim construction, enhanced damages following Halo, and reasonable royalty disputes. The treatise also covers recent developments in ANDA and biologics litigation, design and plant patent litigation, and litigation at the Federal Court of Claims. The appendices provide case management checklists and exemplars of patent management filings.

Expanding the Scope of Ex Parte Reexaminations MidStream

by Dennis Crouch

A new petition by Pactiv (a Reynolds Co.) asks the Supreme Court to consider whether the PTO can expand the scope of an ex parte reexamination beyond the “substantial new question of patentability” identified in the Director’s order granting the reexamination.   Basically, can the reexamination examiner rely upon prior art different from that in the petition.

Question as presented to the Supreme Court:

Whether, because [35 U.S.C. §] 304 requires the Director to issue an order for a reexamination “for resolution of the question,” the “substantial new question of patentability” included in the Director’s order delineates the scope of the ex parte reexamination.

[Pactiv v. Lee petition]  Pactiv argues that the scope of reexaminations were intended to be limited to avoid becoming an “unbridled review system [that] could impose enormous burden and undue harassment on patentees.” (Petition).

Section 304 explains that the PTO Director can order ex parte reexamination after finding that “a substantial new question of patentability affecting . . . is raised.”  The statute goes on to state flatly that the reexamination order should be “for resolution of the question” — i.e., for resolution of the substantial new question raised in the petition.  That part of the statute is clear, however, the statute does not flatly bar modification of the question during the substantive reexamination.

The PTO’s position that allows for shifting rejections appears to stem from Belkin Intl Inc. v. Kappos, 696 F.3d 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2012), a decision involving inter partes reexamination.  Belkin is something of a mixed-bag.  In its decision, the Federal Circuit wrote that the inter partes challenger could not raise new questions of patentability beyond those in the SNQ order.  At the same time, the court also wrote (in dicta) that the PTO may, on its own, raise other issues. The court wrote:

Inter partes reexamination is not totally limited to those issues suggested by the requester that present a substantial new question of patentability. Indeed, the PTO may make any new rejection, as long as that rejection also meets the substantial new question of patentability requirement. See 35 U.S.C. § 303(a) (“On his own initiative, and any time, the Director may determine whether a substantial new question of patentability is raised by patents and publications discovered by him . . . .”). Thus, the scope of reexamination may encompass those issues that raise a substantial new question of patentability, whether proposed by the requester or the Director. . .

Belkin.  Pactiv challenges this dicta portion of Belkin – arguing that it is a misinterpretation of the statute and, in any event, does not apply to ex parte reexamination.  I would agree with Pactiv in its reading of this portion of the statute – if the USPTO wants to raise a new question on its own, the statute provides for a process of ordering reexamination rather than the implicit addition as done here.  At the same time, the availability of amendments and addition of new claims mean that new searches must be available in some form.  See 35 U.S.C. § 305.

For its part in the case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB determination without opinion (R.36 Affirmance).

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The patents at issue in the case are U.S. Patent No. 6,315,921 and U.S. Patent No. 6,395,195.  They relate to an oxygen absorber used in meat packaging.

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Obviousness of the New Mixture

Apotex v. Wyeth[1] is a relatively simple and straightforward nonobviousness decision in the pharma space (albeit non-precedential).  The Wyeth patent at issue here claims the compound that includes tigecycline mixed together with an acid as well as lactose.[2]  Although not claimed, the specification indicates that the mixture is beneficial because it helps tigecycline avoid degradation.  At the time of the invention (2005) tigecycline was a known tetracycline known to act as a broad spectrum antibiotic that degrades rapidly at a neutral PH.

The key prior art in the obviousness case was a Chinese patent publication that discloses minocycline mixed with both lactose and an acid in order to avoid degradation.[3]  Minocycline is a closely related tetracycline that is both structurally similar and operates by similar action.  (Tigecycline is a derivative of minocycline).

In both the Inter Partes Review proceedings and the appeal, the courts found insufficient motivation to combine the cited references by substituting the tigecycline into the minocycline compound.  Importantly here, the courts made this determination as a factual finding that “a skilled artisan would [not] have had a reason to combine the references.”[4]

Apotex (the challenger) argued that the similarity between the two forms of tetracycline and the fact that tigecycline was “known to work where other antibiotics have failed” both pushed toward a finding of a motivation to combine.  The courts however rejected this argument – finding that the structural similarities did not create “a potential motivating factor for a skilled artisan to substitute tigecycline for minocycline.”

[W]hile tigecycline is closely related to minocycline structurally and in terms of benefit, the Board did not err in concluding that there was insufficient basis in the record to show that it would have been obvious to a skilled artisan to substitute tigecycline in the prior art minocycline composition.

Although not mentioned by the courts, I would think it would also be important motivation to consider that – at the time of the invention here – tigecycline was not just some random minocycline derivative – rather tigecycline was being considered as an important last-resort MRSA treatment and under consideration for fast-track FDA approval.

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A first thought that comes to my head in this case is whether the outcome here stems from the fact that this is a pharmaceutical case rather than one focusing on electronics or mechanical engineering.  Perhaps not, the court does explain here the lack of assurances (pre-invention) that the claimed mixture would substantially reduce degredation.  That factual-setup can be distinguished from a case like KSR where a good engineer could give pre-assurances that they could get the combination to work.

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One aspect of the decision involves underlying distinctions between the ultimate question of obviousness (an issue of law) and the factual underpinnings (such as  motivation to combine references).  Here, of course, once the facts were determined, the question of law was instantly answered.

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Notes:

[1] Apotex Inc. v. Wyeth LLC, App. No. 15-1871 (Fed. Cir. August 16, 2016).

[2] U.S. Patent No. 7,879,828, claim 1 taken as typical.

[3] Chinese Patent Pub. No. 139055A.

[4] See In re Hyon, 679 F.3d 1363 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

A Specification’s Focus on Particular Embodiment Not Limiting if Other Embodiments are also Expressly Contemplated

CollatingBottlesScriptPro v. Innovation Associates (Fed. Cir. 2016)

Very Slow Roller Coaster: This Kansas-based infringement lawsuit was filed back in 2006.  The case was stayed pending an inter partes reexamination.  Once re-opened, the district court held that ScriptPro’s asserted claims invalid for lack of written description under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 1.  In a 2014 appeal of that decision, the Federal Circuit reversed – finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether a skilled artisan deem the patentee in possession of the invention upon reading the specification. On remand, the district court again held the claims invalid on written description grounds and citing the oft maligned ‘essential element’ cases of Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp., 134 F.3d 1473 (Fed. Cir. 1988) and ICU Medical, Inc. v. Alaris Medical Systems, Inc., 558 F.3d 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2009).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has now reversed again and remanded for trial.

The claim at issue is directed to a conveyor and “automatic” collating system for prescription containers. U.S. Patent No. 6,910,601, Claim 8.  The claim itself does not specify how the collation occurs, but throughout the specification the patentee indicates that the containers will be collated by patient name and storage space availability.  Seeing that distinction, the district court agreed with the challenger that the claims fail because they were not commensurate with the written description of the invention.

The District Court:

[O]ne of [the invention’s] central purposes is to collate and store prescriptions by patient. But the claims do not limit the ways in which the prescription containers are stored. They do not specify any type of collation or storage. . . .

These broad claims are not supported by the much-more-limited specification. They do not require that the control system organize containers based on patient name and space availability. During its appeal, ScriptPro repeatedly emphasized a central purpose of the ′601 patent: to “keep [ ] track of slot use by particular customers and slot availability.” [quoting Federal Circuit decision] This means that the use of any other method for automatic storage is outside this purpose. Based on the broad claim language that is outside a central purpose of the patent, the court determines that no reasonable jury could find the written-description requirement met. . . . ScriptPro argues, keeping track of slot use by particular customers and slot availability is only one of several goals. But ScriptPro does not identify any alternate goals.

The court finds ScriptPro’s argument unpersuasive. While every claim need not encompass every goal, here the claims do not address one of the invention’s central goals—one that ScriptPro repeatedly emphasized on appeal. It is disingenuous for ScriptPro to now downplay the significance of the goal. Without including a limitation to address the storage by patient name, the claims are simply too broad to be valid.

[District Court Decision]

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has reversed – holding that the patentee included a sufficient number of wobbly-words to avoid limiting the specification.

It is true, as Innovation argues, that much of the ’601 patent’s specification focuses on embodiments employing a sorting and storage scheme based on patient-identifying information. See, e.g., ’601 patent, 4:21–25 (“[t]he unit stores prescription containers according to a storage algorithm that is dependent on a patient name for whom a container is intended”), 5:40–47 (“a prescription for a patient is entered into the control system of the ADS along with identifying information for the prescription, such as the patient name . . . [t]he control system next determines in which holding area to store the container”), 6:36–37 (“[t]he collating unit is also operable to associate a stored container with a patient based on the patient’s name”). And it is also true that the specification explains that prior art automated control centers that store containers “based on a prescription number associated with the container, as opposed to storing the container based on a patient name” are “especially inconvenient for several reasons.” ’601 patent, 3:6–11. But a specification’s focus on one particular embodiment or purpose cannot limit the described invention where that specification expressly contemplates other embodiments or purposes.

[Appellate Decision]. (patent drafters consider the plural in of “other embodiments“)

An amazing aspect of this case is that the distinguishing feature for written description is the focus on whether a patient’s name is being used to sort bottles (vs some number).  On remand, the defendant’s next round involve Alice.

 

 

En Banc Query: Must the PTO Allow Amendments in IPR Proceedings?

AquaImageby Dennis Crouch

In its original Aqua Products decision, the Federal Circuit upheld the USPTO’s tight limits on amendment practice in IPR proceedings. Under the rules, a patentee has one opportunity to propose amendments or substitute claims. However, the proposal will only be granted if the patentee also demonstrates in the motion that the proposed amendments would make the claims patentable over the known prior art.

In a new order, the Federal Circuit has now granted the appellant’s en banc rehearing request – asking the parties to focus solely on the following questions regarding the burdens:

(a) When the patent owner moves to amend its claims under 35 U.S.C. § 316(d), may the PTO require the patent owner to bear the burden of persuasion, or a burden of production, regarding patentability of the amended claims as a condition of allowing them? Which burdens are permitted under 35 U.S.C. § 316(e)?

(b) When the petitioner does not challenge the patentability of a proposed amended claim, or the Board thinks the challenge is inadequate, may the Board sua sponte raise patentability challenges to such a claim? If so, where would the burden of persuasion, or a burden of production, lie?

En Banc Order.  The court has invited views of amici curiae.  Those briefs will be due October 5, 2016 (unless supporting the PTO’s position and then you get an extra month).  Appellant’s brief will be filed by September 26, 2016. Oral argument are already scheduled for Friday, December 9, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.

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The underlying case involves Aqua Products’ self-propelled robotic pool cleaner that uses an internal pump both as a vacuum cleaner to power the propulsion system.   U.S. Patent No. 8,273,183.  Competitor Zodiac Pool Systems filed for IPR which the PTO instituted as to some of the challenged claims and ultimately issued a final decision that the claims were invalid as obvious over a combination of two prior-art references.

Motion to Amend: In a timely motion, Aqua moved to amend three of the claims to include the limitations found in the non-instituted claims. (In particular, the patentee asked to substitute claims 1, 8, and 20 with claims 22-24 respectively.  The PTAB agreed that these new claims satisfied the formal requirements of Section 316(d), but refused to enter the amendment – finding that the patentee’s motion had failed to show that the substitute claims were distinguishable over the prior art.

The parties (Aqua & Zodiac) settled the underlying infringement case in April 2015 and so Zodiac did not participate in the appeal. However, the USPTO intervened in the case to defend Aqua’s appeal of the PTAB invalidity holding.

The PTO’s position in the case remains defiant.  The Agency argues that its rules regarding amendments and its application of those rules are both reasonable and entitled to substantial deference.

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Documents:

 

 

 

 

 

GEA Process: Appealing IPR Termination Decision

Following Cuozzo, I largely wrote-off GEA Process (“GPNA”) v. Steuben as having any chance for certiorari. However, the petitioner’s newly filed reply brief offers an opportunity for revival.

In its decision on an IPR appeal, the Federal Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review claims that the PTAB exceeded the PTO’s statutory authority by “terminating and vacating five instituted and near-final IPR proceedings, without determining patentability vel non as Congress had intended.”  Thus, the question presented is:

Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that, even if the Patent Trial and Appeal Board exceeded its statutory authority by terminating an instituted IPR proceeding with a final written decision, the PTAB’s final decision is judicially non-reviewable.

Following the original petition filing, the Supreme Court decided Cuozzo v. Lee and held that the PTO’s decision to institute an inter partes review is not appealable.

GPNA distinguishes its petition from Cuozzo on the grounds that it “is seeking to appeal is a final written decision terminating GPNA’s IPR proceedings without deciding patentability, nine months after granting institution (“Termination Decision”).”

GPNA is not appealing or seeking to change those institution decisions. . . . The Termination Decision was based upon the panel’s legal error in assuming that 35 U.S.C. § 312(a)(2) stated a jurisdictional requirement, the failure of which nullified the validity of the proceeding. . .

[T]his Petition addresses an agency action that is not barred from review by § 314(d) and it presents a legal issue as to which the salutary “presumption of reviewability” should apply. The Federal Circuit erred in summarily refusing jurisdiction, both by appeal and writ of mandamus, and this Petition should be granted.

[GEA Petition; Steuben Brief in OppositionGEA Process Reply]

The uphill battle for certiorari here begins with the fact that the PTAB has now changed its approach now interprets § 312(a)(2) as suggested by GPNA.  Going to the merits, the question is whether termination of an IPR because it never should-have-instituted is effectively a decision regarding institution.

The Supreme Court has scheduled its first conference on the case for September 26, 2016.

Apple v. Samsung: Justifying Profit Disgorgement

AppleBriefApple has filed its merits brief defending the longstanding principle of profit-disgorgement as a remedy for design patent infringement. [AppleResponse]

The statute states that an adjudged infringer “shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit.” 35 U.S.C. 289.  Apple argues that the lower courts are correct in finding that Samsung should be liable for profits associated with sales of its Galaxy phones that were adjudged to be infringing Apple’s iPhone design patents.

Apple writes:

The only issue before this Court is whether Samsung will be able to avoid fairly compensating Apple for its adjudicated infringement. Samsung takes aim at 35 U.S.C. § 289, which provides that a design patent infringer is “liable … to the extent of his total profit” on the “article of manufacture” to which the patented design has been applied. Congress enacted this remedy because it recognized that “it is the design that sells the article” and, because profits attributable to design are often “not apportionable,” “[i]t is expedient that the infringer’s entire profit on the article should be recoverable, as otherwise none of his profit can be recovered.” 18 Cong. Rec. 834 (1887). As the Solicitor General correctly notes (Br. 10-15), Samsung’s effort to read an apportionment requirement into § 289 is at odds not only with the statute’s plain language, but also with Congress’s contemporaneous explanation that the remedy was enacted in response to decisions of this Court taking exactly the approach Samsung now advocates. And as the government also correctly explains (Br. 16-31), identification of the relevant “article of manufacture” on which § 289 allows an award of total profit is a factual question for the jury on which the defendant bears the burden of proof. . . .

Samsung invokes highly speculative policy grounds that it believes justify upending the settled interpretation of a statutory remedy first adopted in 1887, readopted in 1952, and left unchanged since then. Samsung’s arguments are addressed to the wrong branch of government: It is not for this Court to decide whether to alter the statutory balance that Congress has chosen and left undisturbed for decades. Samsung’s farfetched hypotheticals are just that; and they ignore the reality of this case. Samsung is a sophisticated company that chose to copy the design innovations of its biggest competitor and profited significantly from doing so. That is precisely the type of conduct Congress long ago decided deserves an effective remedy.

What makes this case so big is the numbers involved – Here, the profits disgorged are hundreds of millions of dollars.

Noted design patent attorney Perry Saidman filed an amicus brief supporting Apple’s case on behalf of a group of companies that rely upon design patents in their business.  Saidman argues that design patents are critical to allow companies to protect ‘visually striking products’, and that the profit disgorgement “gives teeth to design patents” in a way that promotes settlements.   [AppleSaidman]

An additional supportive brief was filed on behalf of a group of “113 distinguished industrial design professionals and educators.”  The brief – filed by Mark Davies – argues that a product’s visual design is critically important in the sales of complex products. “[A] product’s visual design has powerful effects on the human mind and decision making processes, and eventually comes to signify to the consumer the underlying function, origin, and overall user experience of that product. [AppleDesigners]

The these two friend-of-the-court briefs are interesting in that they essentially make the same argument that I made in my old paper on Design Patents as Trademarks.

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Oral arguments for the case are set for October 11, 2016 in Washington DC.

The Limited Role of Common Sense in the Obviousness Analysis

by Dennis Crouch

Decisions by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board are rarely overturned on appeal.  I expect that result is largely due to the fact that the Patent Office has staffed the Board with highly trained and skilled patent law experts.  The other important factor though, is the standard of review.  Factual findings made by the Board are reviewed for “substantial evidence” — meaning that the findings need not be “correct” but rather rather merely supported by “more than a mere scintilla of evidence.”  Thus, patentees are hard-pressed to get a reversal based upon erroneous factual conclusions.  (For a counter-example, see In re Warsaw Ortho (Fed. Cir. 2016).

In the new decision captioned Arendi S.A.R.L. v. Apple Inc., Appeal No. 15-2073 (Fed. Cir. 2016) [ArendiApple], the court has reversed the Board – finding an erroneous application of the law.  This approach to an appeal tends to work better – because issues of law decided by the PTAB are ordinarily reviewed de novo on appeal (except where the agency’s interpretation is given deference).

The holding:

Because the Board misapplied our law on the permissible use of common sense in an obviousness analysis, we reverse.

The software patent at issue involves a identifying a key in a document (such as a person’s name) and then searching a separate data-source for further information on that key. U.S. Patent No. 7,917,843 (claiming 1998 priority).

Single Reference Plus Common Sense: In its obviousness decision, the Board identified a single prior art reference (Pandit) that teaches the recognition of text classes (such as phone numbers) and then providing additional suggestions based upon that recognition (such as dial, add to contacts, etc.).  However, Pandit did not expressly teach a search of the separate data-source.  In concluding that the invention was obvious, the Board found that it would have been “reasonable . . . common sense” that Pandit would search through the contact list for the phone number before actually adding a new contact number. The board wrote:

[I]t would have been obvious to the ordinary artisan to utilize a computerized search for duplicate telephone entries when entering a telephone number in an electronic address book database as taught by Pandit.

In making its determination, the Board held that common sense must be applied throughout the obviousness analysis, and not only when combining references that disclose all the required limitations.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected the Board’s analysis – holding that Common Sense must be confined to its “proper place in the obviousness inquiry.” (I expect that this line from the opinion is one that will likely upset members of the Supreme Court because it is ridiculous.).

Caveats to Common Sense: In confining the use of common sense, the Federal Circuit identified three “caveats” to its use:

  1. “First, common sense is typically invoked to provide a known motivation to combine, not to supply a missing claim limitation.”
  2. Second, when common sense is used to supply a missing claim limitation, it should only apply where the missing limitations is “unusually simple and the technology particularly straightforward.”
  3. “Third . . . common sense . . . cannot be used as a wholesale substitute for reasoned analysis and evidentiary support, especially when dealing with a limitation missing from the prior art references specified.”

Although not listed specifically as a caveat, the court also discussed a fourth – that statements of common sense or general knowledge cannot overcome “important” claim limitations without supporting evidence.

Question of Substantial Evidence: Stepping back from these broad statements of law, the court partially reforms its opinion to the proper question –  “whether there was substantial evidence supporting the Board’s finding that common sense would lead one to search for the telephone number in Pandit.”  In the appeal, the Federal Circuit found that no evidence had been presented regarding the common sense conclusion but rather only attorney argument. “Specifically, Appellees have failed to show why it would be common sense for the ‘Add to address book’ function to operate by first ‘search[ing] for entries with the same telephone number.'”

To be clear – I am 100% on board here – that an obviousness finding must be supported by evidence.  Unfortunately, that is not what the Supreme Court appeared to rule in KSR v. Teleflex — where it suggested that “analysis” can do the trick.

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Arendi has infringement cases pending in Delaware against Blackberry, Motorola, Google, Apple, Sony, Nokia, HTC, Yahoo!, Samsung, and LG.  Arendi is a Luxembourg patent owner created by the ‘843’s Norwegian inventor Atle Hedløy.

Some thoughts on Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

By Jason Rantanen

A few weeks ago, my curiosity took me into trying to figure out what broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) actually means as an approach to claim construction and how it differs from claim construction in infringement proceedings.  Surprisingly, there’s relatively little in treatises or academic work on this subject so I ended up putting together a short essay on the subject.  Here are links to the essay on SSRN and SocArXiv.

The abstract:

In this essay, I examine the meaning of “broadest reasonable interpretation” along two dimensions: how it affects the Federal Circuit’s review of Patent Office claim constructions and what it seems to mean in substantive terms. Central to both is the term “reasonable.” How should that term be understood? Does it mean that the Federal Circuit grants deference to the Patent Office when reviewing its constructions, as some commentators describe and some opinions suggest? And, perhaps more importantly, what is a “broadest reasonable interpretation” and how does that fit into the process of claim construction generally?

Here, I argue that regardless of one’s view on the historical nature of judicial review of Patent Office claim interpretation, any deference is inconsistent with the Federal Circuit’s use of a de novo standard when reviewing claim interpretations by the Patent Office (with the exception of findings of fact relating to extrinsic evidence). Second, I argue that the still-developing jurisprudence at the Federal Circuit is coalescing around a meaning of “broadest reasonable interpretation” that allows for the existence of multiple ordinary meanings and reads the intrinsic evidence with a certain degree of “looseness,” but which is still hesitant to embrace ambiguity within the application of the tools of claim construction.

Enhancing Damages in Halo v. Pulse

The 2012 jury verdict form in Halo v. Pulse asks “Has Halo proven that it is highly probable that Pulse’s infringement was willful?”  The jury answered “YES.”

HaloVerdict

Judge Pro instructed the jury that:

Halo must prove willful infringement by clear and convincing evidence. This means Halo must persuade you that it is highly probable that prior to the filing date of the complaint, Pulse acted with reckless disregard of the claims of Halo’s patents. To demonstrate such reckless disregard, Halo must persuade you that Pulse actually knew or it was so obvious that Pulse should have known, that Pulse’s actions constituted infringement of a valid patent. In deciding whether Pulse acted with reckless disregard for Halo’s patents, you should consider all of the facts surrounding the alleged infringement including, but not limited to, whether Pulse acted in a manner consistent with the standard of commerce for its industry. You should base your decision on the issue of willful infringement on all of the evidence, regardless of which party presented it.

When it originally denied enhanced damages, the district court did not mention this verdict but rather focused on its conclusion that Pulse had a legitimate (but ultimately losing) obviousness defense sufficient to defeat the ‘objectively reckless’ portion of the Seagate willfulness analysis.

On remand the district court will be hard-pressed to find that the infringement was not willful – based upon the apparently unchallenged verdict.  Still, it will be within the district court’s discretion to decide whether the willfulness warrants enhanced damages under Section 284. If enhanced damages are warranted, the district court must then determine how much to award (with an upper limit of treble damages).

The setup thus-far appears to fairly neatly wrap up the case in Halo’s favor in terms of enhanced damages.  Perhaps the only abuse-of-discretion at this point would occur if the district court refused to award any enhancement at all.  In the four-years since the 2012 jury verdict, Judge Pro has retired and a new judge assigned to the case – it will be interesting to see his take on this decade-long litigation.

Indefiniteness: Terms Cannot be Moving Targets

IconIconby Dennis Crouch

Icon Health v. Polar Electro & Garmin Int’l. (Fed. Cir. 2016) [IconHealth]

In a non-precedential opinion, the Federal Circuit has affirmed that Icon’s asserted patent claims are invalid because they “fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention.”  Although indefiniteness is a question of law subject to de novo review, the starting point of that review is almost always the district court opinion – thus the court here looked for errors in the district court decision.  That is especially true here where the district court decision was based in part on underlying factual conclusions that receive deference under Teva.

Claims define the scope of the exclusive patent right and there are a number of benefits associated with having that scope clearly delineated.  Because patentees have control of claim language, the law places a burden on patentees to also ensure clarity.  Section 112 of the Patent Act requires that requires “one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention.” In Nautilus, the Supreme Court interpreted the statute as requiring claims to “inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty.”  As I have written before, “reasonable certainty” is generally thought of as a high standard that is difficult to meet, but the Supreme Court did not elaborate on its meaning in the patent context. Up to now, the Federal Circuit has also resisted an exploration of the term’s meaning other than noting that the standard is significantly higher than was was previously in play.

The patent at issue covers an “exercise system” that includes “in-band communication” with a local server; “out-of-band communication” with the user; and a “relationship” between the in-band and out-of-band communication.  Both the district and appellate courts found that this “relationship” was undefined and that the distinction between the two forms of communication was unduly ambiguous.

At the Markman hearing, the district court allowed expert testimony on the meaning and definiteness of these terms and the Federal Circuit approved of that approach – since “the indefiniteness of the claim terms simply cannot be resolved by reference solely to the intrinsic evidence (i.e., the claims, specification, and prosecution history).”  The defendants here took an interesting tack of presenting ten-different extrinsic references and showing that the meaning of the communication forms would vary depending upon which was chosen. Thus, based upon that evidence, the courts found “that those skilled in the art understand that the terms ‘in-band’ and ‘out-of-band’ are relative terms, and only have meaning in a given context with a defined reference, such as a frequency, a channel, a protocol, time slots, and data streams.”  Because the patents themselves offered no such context, they were deemed indefinite.

= = = = =

I mentioned above that indefiniteness is a question of law.  A major limitation on that approach however comes from Teva, where the Supreme Court held that underlying factual conclusions regarding evidence extrinsic to the file history should be given deference on appeal.  Here, the court found that the conclusions regarding the ten extrinsic references “constitute findings of fact, and we review such factual findings for clear error. Teva.”

= = = = =

Level of Proof Depends upon Purpose of Proof: Teva does offer an interesting dichotomy regarding factual conclusions that may need further exploration. Although parties may benefit from deference on appeal – there is also the higher standard of proof – “clear and convincing evidence” – that must be met before a claim may be found invalid.  The result of this evidentiary burden then is that the level of proof required to support factual conclusions underlying a claim construction determination will depend upon the purpose for which the claim construction is being used.  If invalidity then the underlying conclusions require presentation of clear-and-convincing evidence; if infringement then the court’s underlying conclusions require only a preponderance of the evidence.

Federal Circuit: District Courts Must Exercise their Discretion and in Deciding Whether to Enhance Infringement Damages

by Dennis Crouch

Halo Electronics v. Pulse Electronics (Fed. Cir. 2016)

On remand from the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit has shifted its holding on enhanced damages (as required by the Supreme Court) and remanded for reconsideration:

Because the district court applied the Seagate test in declining to enhance damages . . . we vacate its unenhanced damages award with respect to products that were delivered in the United States, and remand for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion on enhanced damages.

The only remaining in the case is that of enhanced damages under 35 U.S.C. § 284.  In its Halo decision, the Supreme Court held that the provision “gives district courts the discretion to award enhanced damages . . . in egregious cases of misconduct beyond typical infringement.”  The court rejected the Federal Circuit’s prior test under Seagate, noting that it was both “unduly rigid” and “impermissibly encumbers the statutory grant of discretion to district courts.” (quoting Octane Fitness).

According to the evidence previously presented,

“Pulse allegedly knew of the Halo patents as early as 1998. In 2002, Halo sent Pulse two letters offering licenses to its patents, but did not accuse Pulse of infringement in those letters. The president of Pulse contacted a Pulse engineer, who spent about two hours reviewing the Halo patents and concluded that they were invalid in view of prior Pulse products. Pulse did not seek an opinion of counsel on the validity of the Halo patents at that time and continued to sell its surface mount electronic package products. A Pulse witness later testified that she was “not aware of anyone in the company . . . that made a conscious decision” that “it was permissible to continue selling” those products.”

Hearing this evidence, the jury found that “it [was] highly probable that Pulse’s infringement was willful.”  However, the district court held that it could not find willfulness under Seagate because the obviousness defense was not objectively baseless.

On remand, the district court must now “exercise its discretion and to decide whether, taking into consideration the jury’s unchallenged subjective willfulness finding as one factor in its analysis, an enhancement of the damages award is warranted.”  The statement from the Federal Circuit here is interesting and important in its focus on the question of enhancement rather than willfulness. Notably, the court does not suggest that the district court first determine whether Pulse was a willful infringer and then determine whether to enhance damages.  Rather, the Federal Circuit indicates that the discretion for enhanced damages is a full bundle of discretion and willfulness only “one factor in [the] analysis.”  This approach matches with the statutory language of Section 284 that does not mention willfulness but rather simply indicates that “the court may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.”

florence-nightingale-1[1]At the Time of the Infringement: Of course, as the Supreme Court wrote, the discretion is not limited. In considering Pulse’s culpability, the Federal Circuit also noted the Supreme Court’s statement that “culpability is generally measured against the knowledge of the actor at the time of the challenged conduct.”   Thus, an important question on will be the level of culpability at the time of infringement. There will also be a question of who-knew-what and the extent that the court will follow Florence Nightengale’s opinion that the person ‘in charge’ must “not only to carry out the proper measures yourself but to see that every one else does so too; to see that no one either willfully or ignorantly thwarts or prevents such measures.”

“Consisting Of” Limits Markush Group to Only Those Elements Listed

by Dennis Crouch

Although our attention over the past few years has focused more on eligibility and definiteness issues, claim construction continues to befuddle the courts.  In MultiLayer Stretch Cling Film v. Berry Plastics (Fed. Cir. 2016), the Federal Circuit has offered a split interpretation of the patent’s Markush group claim element.

The asserted cling-film claim requires “five identifiable inner layers with each layer being selected from the group consisting of LLDPE, VLDPE, ULDPE, and mLLDPE resins.”

The accused products include inner layers made of a different resin (not listed in the claim) and also layers with blends of the above listed resins.  In claim-construction mode, the court found that the claim would not extend to these embodiments.  The court particularly focused on the “consisting of” language used in defining the group and noted that a broader approach would have written “comprising.”

What is critical here is that the transitional phrase . . . “consisting of,” is a term of art in patent law with a distinct and well-established meaning. Use of the transitional phrase “consisting of” to set off a patent claim element creates a very strong presumption that that claim element is “closed” and therefore “exclude[s] any elements, steps, or ingredients not specified in the claim.” . . . Thus, if a patent claim recites “a member selected from the group consisting of A, B, and C,” the “member” is presumed to be closed to alternative ingredients D, E, and F. By contrast, the alternative transitional term “‘comprising’ creates a presumption that the recited elements are only a part of the device, that the claim does not exclude additional, unrecited elements.”

The majority agreed with the dissent that elements of the specification as well as other claims suggest that the broader invention includes other non-listed resins.  However, the majority and dissent disagreed on the impact of those alternative facts.

The majority:

We do not think that the listing of these other resins in the specification is sufficient to overcome the presumption created by the “consisting of” claim language. . . . [Further], ‘[t]he dependent claim tail cannot wag the independent claim dog.’

The Dissent:

I think that this is a close call, but I would conclude that the claim language is not so plain.

The dissent’s textual argument is that, although “layer consisting of [listed resins]” would have been clear, that clarity was muddied by the patentee’s more complex “layer being selected from the group consisting of [listed resins].”   The actual claim language leaves “semantic uncertainty” that then opens the door to more consideration of the specification and claim differentiation.

 

 

Dear USPTO: Nine-Month Delay is not Prompt Publication as Requied by Statute

by Dennis Crouch

In researching for my recent essay on Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom S.A. (Fed. Cir. August 1, 2016), I looked into the family of the three invalidated patents.[1]  As I expected, the patentee has at child-applications still pending.

  • Application No. 14/954,886 filed on 11-30-2015 which is Pending; and
  • Application No. 15/080,578 filed on 03-24-2016 which is Pending.

Following the court’s decision, these likely will be (or perhaps already have been) amended in attempt to recapture coverage lost by the invalidations. Unfortunately, we don’t know what is happening with these cases.

Although both of these pending applications apparently claim priority back to a 2003 application and multiple issued patents, neither file-history is publicly available via PAIR since neither application has been published.  This, despite the statutory requirement that applications “shall be published . . . promptly after the expiration of a period of 18 months from the earliest filing date for which a [priority] benefit is sought.”[2]

The 9-month delay in publication here is inappropriate and problematic. When an application already qualifies for publication as of its filing date, then it should be immediately published and the file history automatically laid open for public inspection and consideration.  It is these late-family applications where applicant game playing is most likely.  And, although public access is not a cure, it can help address some of the potential issues.

It turns out that most continuation and divisional applications are published about 4-months after filing even though the 18-month date had already passed as of the filing date. That delay is already unduly long, it is unclear why the PTO has taken so much longer with these cases.

Moving forward, the USPTO Director is already empowered to make this change.  Technological feasibility can perhaps justify the historic delay.  However, a multi-month delay can no longer realistically square with the requirement that applications be published “promptly” following the 18-month date.

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[1] U.S. Patent Nos. 7,233,843; 8,060,259; and 8,401,710.

[2] 35 U.S.C. § 122(b).

Letter to Congress from 28 Law Professors & Economists Urging Caution on the VENUE Act

In July 2016, I discussed a letter from 45 professors arguing for statutory reforms to limit venue in patent infringement cases.  The letter focused on the “staggering concentration of patent cases in just a few federal district courts” and offered the the positive conclusion that such a concentration is “bad for the patent system.”  In the abstract, concentration of cases is not necessarily bad — here though, the particular arguable “badness” is that the high concentration of cases is in the Eastern District of Texas rather than Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago, or Delaware.

Now, a competing group of law professors has offered their suggestion – urging caution in terms of patent venue reform, especially with regard to the pending VENUE Act. Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act, S.2733, 114th Cong. (2016).   The proposed VENUE Act would allow patent actions to be brought only in judicial districts where:

  • the defendant has its principal place of business or is incorporated;
  • the defendant has committed an act of infringement of a patent in suit and has a regular and established physical facility that gives rise to the act of infringement;
  • the defendant has agreed or consented to be sued;
  • an inventor named on the patent conducted research or development that led to the application for the patent in suit; or
  • a party has a regular and established physical facility and has managed significant research and development for the invention claimed in the patent, has manufactured a tangible product alleged to embody that invention, or has implemented a manufacturing process for a tangible good in which the process is alleged to embody the invention.

Under the current statutory framework (as interpreted), venue is proper in any jurisdiction where the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendants.  For any large company operating in the US, this current approach leads to the results that venue for a patent infringement case is proper in any federal court across the country – including those located in the Eastern District of Texas.

The new letter argues that the venue limiting proposals are basically serving as a mechanism of weakening the power of patent holders: “The reality is that the major proponents of changing the venue rules are primarily large high-tech companies and retailers with an online presence sued in the Eastern District of Texas that would rather litigate in a small number of more defendant-friendly jurisdictions.”

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[Read the Full Letter]

Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, Chairman Goodlatte, and Ranking Member Conyers:

As legal academics, economists, and political scientists who conduct research in patent law and policy, we write to express our concerns about the recent push for sweeping changes to patent litigation venue rules, such as those proposed in the VENUE Act.[1] These changes would vastly restrict where all patent owners could file suit—contrary to the general rule that a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against a corporate defendant can select any court with jurisdictional ties to the defendant.[2]

Given the recent changes in the patent system under the America Invents Act of 2011 and judicial decisions that have effectively weakened patent rights,[3] we believe that Congress should adopt a cautious stance to enacting additional changes that further weaken patent rights, at least until the effects of these recent changes are better understood.

Proponents of amending the venue rules have an initially plausible-sounding concern: the Eastern District of Texas handles a large percentage of patent infringement lawsuits and one judge within that district handles a disproportionate share of those cases. The reality is that the major proponents of changing the venue rules are primarily large high-tech companies and retailers with an online presence sued in the Eastern District of Texas that would rather litigate in a small number of more defendant-friendly jurisdictions.

Indeed, the arguments in favor of this unprecedented move to restrict venue do not stand up to scrutiny. Specifically:

  • Proponents for the VENUE Act argue that “[t]he staggering concentration of patent cases in just a few federal district courts is bad for the patent system.”[4] As an initial matter, data indicates that filings of patent lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas have dropped substantially this year—suggesting a cautious approach until trends have stabilized.[5]
  • Contrary to claims by its proponents, legislative proposals like the VENUE Act would not spread lawsuits throughout the country. In fact, these same proponents have found that restricting venue in a manner similar to the VENUE Act would likely result in concentrating more than 50% of patent lawsuits in just two districts: the District of Delaware (where most publicly traded corporations are incorporated) and the Northern District of California (where many patent defendants are headquartered).[6] Instead of widely distributing patent cases across numerous districts in order to promote procedural “fairness,” the VENUE Act would primarily channel cases into only two districts, which happen to be districts where it is considered much more difficult to enforce patent rights.[7]
  • Proponents for the VENUE Act have argued that the Eastern District of Texas is reversed more often by the Federal Circuit than other jurisdictions, claiming that in 2015 the Federal Circuit affirmed only 39% of the Eastern District of Texas’s decisions but affirmed over 70% of decisions from the Northern District of California and District of Delaware.[8] These figures are misleading: they represent only one year of data, mix trials and summary judgment orders, and fail to take into account differences in technology types and appeals rates in each district. In fact, a more complete study over a longer time period by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that the Eastern District of Texas affirmance rate is only slightly below the national average for all districts.[9]
  • The Federal Circuit recently confirmed in In re TC Heartland (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2016) that 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) provides that a corporate defendant in a patent case—like corporate defendants in nearly all other types of cases—may be sued in any district in which personal jurisdiction lies. Constitutional due process requires a “substantial connection” between the defendant and forum.[10] Thus, contrary to its title and the claims of its proponents, the VENUE Act does not re-establish a “uniform” litigation system for patent rights by requiring substantial ties to the forum. Instead, the Act thwarts the well-established rule that plaintiffs can bring suit in any jurisdiction in which a corporate defendant has committed substantial violations of the law.[11]
  • The VENUE Act would raise costs for many patent owners by requiring them to litigate the same patent against multiple defendants in multiple jurisdictions, increasing patent litigation overall. In recent years, the America Invents Act’s prohibition on joinder of multiple defendants in a single lawsuit for violating the same patent has directly resulted in increased lawsuits and increased costs for patent owners.[12] Moreover, the VENUE Act would also result in potentially conflicting decisions in these multiple lawsuits, increasing uncertainty and administration costs in the patent system.
  • The VENUE Act encourages the manipulation of well-settled venue rules across all areas of law by the self-serving efforts of large corporate defendants who seek to insulate themselves from the consequences of violating the law. By enacting the VENUE Act, Congress would send a strong signal to corporate defendants that they can tilt the substantive playing field by simply shifting cases to defendant-friendly jurisdictions.

Innovators and their investors have long been vital to a flourishing innovation economy in the United States.  Startups, venture capitalists, individual inventors, universities, and established companies often rely heavily on patents to recoup their extensive investments in both R&D and commercialization.  We urge you to exercise caution before enacting further sweeping changes to our patent system that would primarily benefit large infringers to the detriment of these innovators and, ultimately, our innovation economy.

[Footnotes]

[1] S.2733, Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act of 2016,  https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2733/BILLS-114s2733is.pdf.

[2] See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c)(2). See generally Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494 U.S. 516, 527 (1990) (“a plaintiff . . . has the option of shopping for a forum with the most favorable law”).

[3] These include, among others: (1) administrative procedures for invalidating patents created by the America Invents Act, which have had extremely high invalidation rates, leading one former federal appellate judge to refer to these procedures as “death squads,” and (2) several decisions by the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit that have drastically curtailed patent rights for many innovators. See Adam Mossoff, Weighing the Patent System: It Is Time to Confront the Bias against Patent Owners in Patent ‘Reform’ Legislation, Washington Times, March 24, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/24/adam-mossoff-weighing-the-patent-system/.

[4] Colleen Chien & Michael Risch, A Patent Reform We Can All Agree On, Wash. Post, June 3, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/11/20/why-do-patent-lawyers-like-to-file-in-texas/.

[5] See Michael C. Smith, “Hot But No Longer Boiling“ – EDTX Patent Case Filings Down almost Half; New Case Allocation and Procedures (No More Letter Briefing for SJ motions), EDTexweblog.com, July 21, 2016, http://mcsmith.blogs.com/eastern_district_of_texas/2016/07/edtx-patent-case-filing-trends-new-case-allocation-and-procedures.html.

[6] Colleen Chien & Michael Risch, What Would Happen to Patent Cases if They Couldn’t all be Filed in Texas?, Patently-O, March 11, 2016, http://patentlyo.com/patent/2016/03/happen-patent-couldnt.html. This study also finds that 11% of cases would continue to be filed in the Eastern District of Texas, concentrating nearly two-thirds of all cases in three districts. See id. The authors of this study are presently expanding their investigation to an enlarged data set, which will also capture additional aspects of the VENUE Act. Neither the data nor their results are available yet. However, we have no reason to believe that the expanded data or analysis will produce results other than what has already been shown: a high concentration of patent cases in a small number of districts.

[7] See PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 2015 Patent Litigation Study (May 2015) (“PWC Study”), http://www.pwc.com/us/en/forensic-services/publications/assets/2015-pwc-patent-litigation-study.pdf.

[8] Ryan Davis, EDTX Judges’ Love of Patent Trials Fuels High Reversal Rate, Law360 (Mar. 8, 2016), http://www.law360.com/articles/767955/edtx-judges-love-of-patent-trials-fuels-high-reversal-rate.

[9] See PWC Study, supra note 7 (finding an average affirmance rate of 48% for all districts, compared to an affirmance rate of 42% for the Eastern District of Texas).

[10] See Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985).

[11] See generally Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947) (“[T]he plaintiff’s choice of forum should rarely be disturbed.”).

[12] See Christopher A. Cotropia, Jay P. Kesan & David L. Schwartz, Unpacking Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), 99 Minnesota Law Review 649 (2014), http://www.minnesotalawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/REVISEDSchwartzetal_MLR.pdf.

 

35 U.S. Code § 316 – Conduct of inter partes review

(a)Regulations.—The Director shall prescribe regulations—

(1) providing that the file of any proceeding under this chapter shall be made available to the public, except that any petition or document filed with the intent that it be sealed shall, if accompanied by a motion to seal, be treated as sealed pending the outcome of the ruling on the motion;
(2) setting forth the standards for the showing of sufficient grounds to institute a review under section 314(a);
(3) establishing procedures for the submission of supplemental information after the petition is filed;
(4) establishing and governing inter partes review under this chapter and the relationship of such review to other proceedings under this title;
(5) setting forth standards and procedures for discovery of relevant evidence, including that such discovery shall be limited to—
(A) the deposition of witnesses submitting affidavits or declarations; and
(B) what is otherwise necessary in the interest of justice;
(6) prescribing sanctions for abuse of discovery, abuse of process, or any other improper use of the proceeding, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or an unnecessary increase in the cost of the proceeding;
(7) providing for protective orders governing the exchange and submission of confidential information;
(8) providing for the filing by the patent owner of a response to the petition under section 313 after an inter partes review has been instituted, and requiring that the patent owner file with such response, through affidavits or declarations, any additional factual evidence and expert opinions on which the patent owner relies in support of the response;
(9) setting forth standards and procedures for allowing the patent owner to move to amend the patent under subsection (d) to cancel a challenged claim or propose a reasonable number of substitute claims, and ensuring that any information submitted by the patent owner in support of any amendment entered under subsection (d) is made available to the public as part of the prosecution history of the patent;
(10) providing either party with the right to an oral hearing as part of the proceeding;
(11) requiring that the final determination in an inter partes review be issued not later than 1 year after the date on which the Director notices the institution of a review under this chapter, except that the Director may, for good cause shown, extend the 1-year period by not more than 6 months, and may adjust the time periods in this paragraph in the case of joinder under section 315(c);
(12) setting a time period for requesting joinder under section 315(c); and
(13) providing the petitioner with at least 1 opportunity to file written comments within a time period established by the Director.

(b)Considerations.—

In prescribing regulations under this section, the Director shall consider the effect of any such regulation on the economy, the integrity of the patent system, the efficient administration of the Office, and the ability of the Office to timely complete proceedings instituted under this chapter.

(c)Patent Trial and Appeal Board.—

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board shall, in accordance with section 6, conduct each inter partes review instituted under this chapter.

(d) Amendment of the Patent.—

(1)In general.—During an inter partes review instituted under this chapter, the patent owner may file 1 motion to amend the patent in 1 or more of the following ways:
(A) Cancel any challenged patent claim.
(B) For each challenged claim, propose a reasonable number of substitute claims.
(2)Additional motions.—
Additional motions to amend may be permitted upon the joint request of the petitioner and the patent owner to materially advance the settlement of a proceeding under section 317, or as permitted by regulations prescribed by the Director.
(3)Scope of claims.—
An amendment under this subsection may not enlarge the scope of the claims of the patent or introduce new matter.

(e)Evidentiary Standards.—

In an inter partes review instituted under this chapter, the petitioner shall have the burden of proving a proposition of unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence.