Golden Hour Data Systems, Inc. v. emsCharts, Inc. and Softtech (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Opinion by Judge Dyk and joined by Judge Friedman. Dissent by Judge Newman.
After trial, Judge Ward (E.D.Tx.) rejected the jury verdict of infringement and granted JMOL for the defendants — holding that no single party had infringed each element of the asserted claims. The lower court also held the asserted patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during prosecution.
Joint Infringement: EMS delivers web-based medical charting. Softtech’s software coordinates air-flight information. The two companies formed a “strategic partnership” and signed a distribution agreement that would allow their two products to combine as a package. The products were then sold as a package.
Patent law doctrine allows a finding of direct infringement only when a single entity is responsible for practicing each element (or step) of a claimed invention. Federal Circuit law holds that two or more entities can avoid liability for infringement so long as (1) each entity is responsible for practicing only a subset of the claimed elements and (2) no single entity exercises “control or direction” over the entire infringing process. Here, as in other Federal Circuit cases, such as Muniauction v. Thomson and BMC v. Paymentech, the Federal Circuit continued this doctrinal line — holding that the claim against emsCharts must fail because the plaintiff presented insufficient evidence for the “jury to infer control or direction.”
In BMC, Judge Rader acknowledged that strict adherence to the “control or direction” requirement highlighted an easy avenue for avoiding infringement. “This court acknowledges that the standard requiring control or direction for a finding of joint infringement may in some circumstances allow parties to enter into arms-length agreements to avoid infringement. Nonetheless, this concern does not outweigh concerns over expanding the rules governing direct infringement.”
Dissenting from this opinion, Judge Newman argued that, despite Muniauction and BMC, the law of joint infringement does not strictly require that a single entity have control of the operation. Rather, a “collaborative effort as here . . . is not immune from infringement simply because the participating entities have a separate corporate status.” Here, the two companies “combined their procedures into an integrated system that met all of the limitations of claims 1, 6-8, and 15-22, thus finding joint infringement and inducement to infringe these claims. The panel majority acknowledges that the defendants in collaboration infringed the claims, but without discussion overturns the jury verdict.”
Inequitable Conduct: The court also addressed inequitable conduct. Golden Hour had failed to submit an un-dated brochure that included undisclosed information that contradicted statements made by the applicant regarding a prior art AeroMed system.
Golden Hour first suggested that it had no duty to disclose the brochure because it was not clearly prior art. The Federal Circuit rejected that argument because the duty of disclosure is not limited to prior art. As stated in the MPEP, “[t]here is no requirement that the [submitted] information must be prior art references in order to be considered by the examiner.” MPEP § 609 (2008).
On materiality, the court held that the brochure was clearly material because it contradicted a statement made by the applicant in the specification. In finding the contradiction, the court looked to English grammar. The specification stated that the AeroMed system “does not” provide comprehensive integration. According to the court, the present-tense representation indicates the applicant’s contention that the AeroMed system will not provide comprehensive integration at any time “throughout the pendency of the application.” (DDC Says: What is Judge Dyk thinking?).
On intent to deceive the PTO, the court held that intent could be inferred if there was evidence that either of the prosecuting attorneys actually read the brochure (but if they did not read the reference then they would only be guilty of gross negligence). Here, the court did not find evidence that the attorneys actually read the reference and therefore vacated the inequitable conduct decision for lack of intent to deceive. (The appellate court suggests that inequitable conduct will likely be found again on remand.).
In Dissent, Judge Newman wrote:
As for materiality, I do not share the conclusion that the undated AeroMed brochure, obtained at a trade show (the Association of Aeromedical Services) a few weeks after this patent application was filed, and found not to be invalidating prior art, was so clearly and convincingly “material to patentability” that failure to provide a copy of the brochure while quoting its front page, invalidates the patent that was found valid over the entire content of the brochure. The record does not show that the brochure was published before the Golden Hour patent application was filed. The defendants provided no documentary evidence of any publication date, and the district court did not find the brochure to be prior art; their only evidence was the “uh-huh’s” of the brochure’s author, quoted at footnote 1 of the majority opinion.
The record showed that when the brochure came into Golden Hour’s possession at the trade show, it was given to Golden Hour’s patent attorney, who referred to it in the Invention Disclosure Statement filed with the PTO, including quotation of the cover page but not the inner page. At the trial, the full brochure was in evidence, and stressed by the defendants, and the jury found that it was not invalidating. In view of the majority’s ruling that deceptive intent was not established in the district court, and the jury’s verdict of validity despite the brochure, the charge of inequitable conduct should be laid to rest.