Preliminary Injunctions and Obviousness in Design Patent Law

Titan Tire Corp. v. Case New Holland, Inc.pic-44.jpg 2008-1078 (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Titan (the patentee) and Goodyear (the exclusive licensee) combined to sue Case for infringement of its tractor tire design patent. (Des. Pat. No. D. 360,862). The district court rejected Goodyear’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief – finding that the evidence indicated that the patent claim was probably obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Standard for Preliminary Relief: In order to obtain the “extraordinary” relief of a preliminary injunction to stop infringement before a final judgment, the a patentee must prove that “(1) it is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities tips in its favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.” The likelihood of success requires proof that the patentee “will likely prove infringement, and that it will likely withstand [validity] challenges, if any.” When a defendant challenges a patent’s validity, the district court must weigh the evidence (both for and against) to determine whether the challenge “raises a substantial question” of validity.

“Thus, when analyzing the likelihood of success factor, the trial court, after considering all the evidence available at this early stage of the litigation, must determine whether it is more likely than not that the challenger will be able to prove at trial, by clear and convincing evidence, that the patent is invalid. We reiterate that the “clear and convincing” standard regarding the challenger’s evidence applies only at trial on the merits, not at the preliminary injunction stage. The fact that, at trial on the merits, the proof of invalidity will require clear and convincing evidence is a consideration for the judge to take into account in assessing the challenger’s case at the preliminary injunction stage; it is not an evidentiary burden to be met preliminarily by the challenger.”

The trial court’s decision on preliminary injunctive relief is reviewed for abuse of discretion.

Obviousness of Design Patents: Design patent claims are subject to the nonobviousness requirement of Section 103(a) — asking whether “the claimed design would have been obvious to a designer of ordinary skill who designs articles of the type involved.” However, it is unclear how KSR applies to design patent cases. Unfortunately, this decision provides no answers except that “it is not obvious that the Supreme Court necessarily intended to exclude design patents from the reach of KSR.”

Ordinarily, design patent obviousness analysis begins with a primary reference with design characteristics that “are basically the same as the claimed design.” Secondary references are then combined so long as the secondary references are “so related [to the primary reference] that the appearance of certain ornamental features in one would suggest the application of those features to the other.” Here, the lower court did not use the language of “primary and secondary references”, but the Federal Circuit found that the lower court’s obvious analysis was sufficient to for its denial of preliminary relief.

“[W]e cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that Titan was unlikely to withstand Case’s challenge to the validity of the ’862 patent on obviousness grounds.

Notes:

  • Read the case: 08-1078.pdf
  • The court explicitly avoided indicating whether obviousness analysis for design patents should be modified to conform to either KSR or Egyptian Goddess.

Appealing BPAI Rejections to the Federal Circuit

In re Baggett (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential)

The Board rejected Bagget's patent claims as obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit largely affirmed – holding that the the administrative body's factual findings were supported by the requisite "substantial evidence" and that the Board had properly “articulated [its] reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness" as required by KSR. (Quoting KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 418 (2007)).

The only portion vacated involves an error interpreting the term "memoization." The Board had initially misinterpreted the term as memorization. After a petition for rehearing, the Board corrected its mistake – but only as to one of the four claims containing the term. On appeal, PTO Solicitor Chen explained that Baggett had only addressed the one claim in the petition for rehearing, but offered that a remand would still be appropriate.

Notes:

  • This case may serve to emphasize the difficulty in appealing an obviousness decision from the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences. The "substantial evidence" standard is low, i.e., "more than a mere scintilla of evidence." Likewise, the legal conclusion of obviousness now looks merely for "some rational underpinning."
  • In a note, Hal Wegner identifies four Federal Circuit appeals up for review that may focus on obviousness: In re Applied Materials Israel Ltd., Fed. Cir. No. 2009-1083 (argument July 7, 2009); In re Mettke, Fed. Cir. No. 2009-1125; In re Roth, Fed. Cir. No. 2009-1223; and In re Rivera, Fed. Cir. No. 2009-1123.
  • Although it may have been amended during prosecution, the original claim 1 reads as follows: 1. A method of producing constructed fares that includes an arbitrary added to a published fare, said method executed in a computer system, the method comprising: determining interior cities that appear with gateway cities in arbitraries for the airline; searching for gateway cities corresponding to the determined interior cities appearing in the arbitraries; and applying an arbitrary corresponding to one of the interior cities to a published fare involving one of the gateway cities to produce the constructed fare.
  • Read the decision: 09-1029.pdf

Lack of Standing: Dismiss with(out) prejudice

University of Pittsburgh v. Varian Medical (Fed. Cir. 2009)

The district court dismissed Pitt’s infringement action for lack of standing because Carnegie Mellon is a co-owner. Ordinarily all co-owners must join as plaintiffs in an infringement suit, and here Carnegie Mellon did not join. Notably, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice – barring Pitt from later re-filing the lawsuit once Carnegie is on-board.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit took a minimalist approach – holding only that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing with prejudice rather than without prejudice.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) allows a district court to dismiss an action for failure to join a party under Rule 19. However, it is clear that a dismissal for failure to join a party is not an adjudication on the merits, and thus, should not have preclusive effect—i.e. such a dismissal should be without prejudice. See Hughes v. United States, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 232, 237 (1866).

Fieldturf, Inc. v. Sw. Recreational Indus., 357 F.3d 1266, 1269 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“Ordinarily, dismissal for lack of standing is without prejudice. On occasion, however, a dismissal with prejudice is appropriate, especially where it is plainly unlikely that the plaintiff will be able to cure the standing problem.”).

08-1441.pdf

Court Costs: $1,000,000 in Translation Costs Awarded to Prevailing Party

Ortho-McNeil Pharm., Inc. v. Mylan Labs., Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2009)(Dyk, J.),

In 2005, the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court ruling in this case supporting the validity of Daiichi’s Levofloxacin’s patent.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (R. 54(d)), non-attorney-fee costs are presumptively awarded to the prevailing party. These usually include costs associated with court fees, subpoena fees, transcripts, copying, and translations.

Daiichi calculated its costs as $2.2 million, but the district court reduced those costs to $1.3 million (including $1 million in translation costs). On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed these costs.

The one exception to the affirmance involves a parallel case against Teva. Although there was no joint discovery agreement, some depositions were taken jointly by Mylan and Teva for the convenience of Daiichi. Because the Teva case settled, the court in that case did not award any costs. However, Mylan argued that Teva’s portion of the costs was implicit in the settlement payment. The Federal Circuit agreed – holding that Mylan should not be required to pay more than 50% of the costs for the joint depositions.

Here it is apparent that Daiichi has in effect already recovered some amount of costs through its settlement agreement with Teva. Although Teva did not actually pay costs to Daiichi in cash, the taxable costs in the New Jersey action (including deposition costs) were unquestionably taken into account by the parties’ settlement, in which Daiichi agreed not to seek actual payment of costs as consideration for Teva foregoing its appeal. Having recovered the value of those costs in the form of the foregone appeal, Daiichi cannot now recover more than its total entitlement by obtaining those same costs again from Mylan. . . . Because the district court here did not apportion costs between the two actions, we vacate the award of costs in this one respect and remand for further proceedings.

Affirmed in part

Read the Decisions:.08-1600.pdf

Injunctive Relief: District Court Abused Discretion by Failing to Consider eBay Factors

Ecolab v. FMC Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Both Ecolab and FMC sell chemical mixtures used by beef and poultry factories to help protect raw meat from “pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella.” Both parties hold patents on their mixtures, and in litigation each asserted infringement against the other. A jury awarded both parties damages for infringement. However, the district court refused to issue permanent injunctive relief. On appeal, the Federal Circuit invalidated Ecolab’s claims and then focused on whether the district court erred in refusing to grant an injunction to stop Ecolab from infringing.

Injunctive relief is awarded according to the traditional principles of equity. In eBay v. MercExchange, the Supreme Court interpreted those principles to require a patentee seeking injunctive relief to demonstrate “(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.”

In this case, the district court did not explicitly consider any of the eBay factors. “That is an abuse of discretion.” In this instance, the Federal Circuit refused to consider whether – based on the fact at hand – an injunction would be proper. Rather, on remand the district court must consider whether relief is warranted based on a consideration of the four listed factors.

Note:

  • While construing claims, the decision distinguishes Chef America’s statement that claims are construed “as written, not as the patentees wish they had written it.” “Because the claim language at issue in Chef America was unambiguous, that case is distinguishable from the present case. In the present case, the definition of “sanitize” is ambiguous in that it does not indicate when consumption is to take place . . . and the district court did not err when it construed the term “sanitize” to mean that the treated meat has become safe for human handling and post-cooking consumption.”

Written Description: Araid Petitions en banc Federal Circuit to Eliminate Separate Written Description Requirement

Ariad v. Eli Lilly (en banc suggestion 2009)

Ariad has petitioned the Federal Circuit for an en banc rehearing – boldly asking the court to eliminate the written description test as a distinct requirement of patentability under 35 USC Section 112, paragraph 1. The petition – drafted by Professors Duffy and Whealan – is essentially a well-formed collage of quotations from Federal Circuit dissents and 19th Century Supreme Court decisions.

The petition raises the following two questions:

(1) Whether this Court has erred by “engrafting . . . a separate written description requirement onto section 112, paragraph 1 …. ” Ariad Pharms., Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 560 F.3d 1366, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (Linn, J., concurring).

(2) What is the proper test to satisfy the requirement in Section 112, paragraph 1, that a patent specification contain “a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same”?

Apart from the merits of this case, the brief notes that half of the Federal Circuit judges “have either voted to grant en banc review of this Court’s written description jurisprudence (Newman, Rader, Bryson, Gajarsa, and Linn, JJ.), or have expressly noted that future en banc review may be appropriate because this Court’s written description standards are unsatisfactory. (Dyk, J.).

Notes:

  • Ariad Brief: ariadrehearingpetition.pdf
  • Federal Circuit Decision
  • The original opinion was written by Judge Moore and joined by Judge Prost. Judge Linn wrote a concurring opinion as a reminder of his belief that the written description requirement should be eliminated and enablement be allowed to do its job.
  • Patent Docs has more.

Tafas v. Doll (En Banc Suggestion)

Tafas v. Doll (En Banc Suggestion)

Both Tafas and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have filed petitions for en banc rehearing asking the Federal Circuit to stop the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) from implementing any of its proposed rules on continuations and claims.

The proposed rules can be split into two major categories: Rule 75 (requiring applicants to submit Examination Support Documents (ESD) to accompany any application that includes more than five independent or 25 total claims); Rule 78 (limiting applicants to two continuation applications absent a showing of need for more).

In a split decision, the Federal Circuit held that the limitations on continuations improperly conflict with 35 U.S.C. § 120, but that the remaining limits are "within the scope of the USPTO's rulemaking authority." (Limitations on RCEs do not create a problem).

In the motion for en banc rehearing, GSK raises the the questions of:

  1. Whether the Panel majority erred in rejecting the test for determining whether a Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") rule is "substantive," as set forth in the controlling precedent of Chrysler, supra; Animal Legal Defense Fund, supra; and Cooper Technologies, supra.
  2. Whether the Panel majority erred in holding that the challenged Final Rules, 72 Fed. Reg. 46,716 (Aug. 21, 2007), fall within the PTO's limited, non-substantive rulemaking authority.

Tafas raises similar questions of whether the Federal Circuit:

  1. misapplied significant binding Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent concerning the correct standard for classifying administrative rules as "substantive" versus "non-substantive";
  2. failed, contrary to Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent, to fully consider evidence that the Final Rules significantly and adversely affect individual rights and obligations under the law;
  3. failed to correctly address, as required by Supreme Court precedent, the threshold question of whether the PTO has the jurisdictional authority under 35 U.S.C. § 2(b)(2) to enact the Final Rules; and
  4. misapplied Chevron deference to its improper determination that Final Rules 75, 265 and 114 were not "inconsistent with existing law".

The federal circuit majority opinion by Judge Prost included a dissent by Judge Rader (arguing that the rules are substantive) and a concurring opinion by Judge Bryson (arguing that the conflict with Section 120 only applies to continuations that are co-pending with the first-filed application).

The diversity of opinion here gives this case an excellent chance at being heard by the full 12-member court. The important administrative law issues will also be appealing to the Supreme Court when it comes time to petition for certiorari.

Fractured Claim Construction

Agilent Tech., Inc. v. Affymetrix, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Agilent’s microarray hybridization genetic analysis patent issued in 2003. After seeing those issued claims, Affymetrix amended a pending application by adding identical claims in order to provoke an interference. The Agilent patent has a priority date of 1998 while the Affymetrix application claims priority back to 1995. The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) awarded priority to Affymetrix in 2006. That holding was upheld by a N.D. California district court in 2008.

Here, the Federal Circuit reverses – holding that Affymetrix cannot claim priority back to its 1995 filing because that original application “does not satisfy the written description requirement for the claims at issue.” Written description is particularly relevant in interference cases where one party typically copies claims from another patent document.

Claim Construction in an Interference: Several articles have been written on the complicated and ever-changing scope of a patent claim. At the PTO, claims are usually given their broadest reasonable meaning while in litigation, courts look for how a PHOSITA would interpret the scope, etc.. Phillips teaches that proper claim construction looks at the literal language of the claims as well as supporting information from the specification and prosecution history. In an interference, however, the copied claims originally came from another application.

Faced with a split of precedent, the Federal Circuit here decided to continue with multiple interpretations of an individual claim. Following Spina, the court holds that – for the purposes of the written description requirement – the newly added claims should be interpreted based on the specification and history of the opposing source application. However, following Rowe, the Federal Circuit held that for the purposes of novelty and nonobviousness, the newly added claims should be construed based on the specification and history of the amended application.

To be clear, as this court explained in Rowe, when a party challenges written description support for an interference count or the copied claim in an interference, the originating disclosure provides the meaning of the pertinent claim language. When a party challenges a claim’s validity under § 102 or § 103, however, this court and the Board must interpret the claim in light of the specification in which it appears.

This change in primary interpretative materials allowed the Federal Circuit to also change the claim construction and consequently hold that Affymetrix’s application “does not satisfy the written description requirement for the claims at issue.”

Notes:

  • As a pending application, Affymetrix’s claims had no presumption of validity. “Thus, Agilent’s burden of proving a lack of written description in Affymetrix’s Besemer application is a simple preponderance of the evidence. Eli Lilly & Co. v. Aradigm Corp., 376 F.3d 1352, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2004).”   

Bilski v. Doll: Reconsidering Patentable Subject Matter

Bilski v. Doll (Supreme Court 2009)

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in an important case challenging the scope of patentable subject matter. [Order]

Questions Presented:

Whether the Federal Circuit erred by holding that a “process” must be tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or transform a particular article into a different state or thing (“machine-or-transformation” test), to be eligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101, despite this Court’s precedent declining to limit the broad statutory grant of patent eligibility for “any” new and useful process beyond excluding patents for “laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.”

Whether the Federal Circuit’s “machine-or-transformation” test for patent eligibility, which effectively forecloses meaningful patent protection to many business methods, contradicts the clear Congressional intent that patents protect “method[s] of doing or conducting business.” 35 U.S.C. § 273.

Prior Coverage of the Case:

Documents:

Amicus Support:

  • According to the Supreme Court rule, the petitioner (here Bilski) now has 45 days to file its opening brief on the merits. The respondent's brief is ordinarily due within thirty days of that date. Any amicus brief would be due 7 days after the filing of the brief for the party being supported. This pushes the deadline for the first round of amicus briefs to the week of July 20.

Discovery Misconduct

Boss v. Yamaha (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Boss sued Yamaha for infringement of its patents covering a snowmobile seat. After an unfavorable claim construction, Boss admitted that it could not prove infringement. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the construction and the verdict of noninfringement.

The interesting portion of the opinion focused on the alleged discovery abuses by Yamaha’s counsel. Although a moot point (because Boss did not appeal its motion for sanctions that had been denied), the Federal Circuit felt compelled to at least verbally admonish the attorneys “unacceptable” conduct.

[I]t appears from the record presented to us that Yamaha’s discovery practices were less than commendable. For example, on several occasions Yamaha date-stamped documents to be filed with the district court using the court’s time stamp, but did not actually place the document in the court’s drop-box at that time. Rather, Yamaha actually filed the documents, by placing them in the drop-box, several days after the “filed” stamp was placed on the documents. After the district court realized that this was not an isolated incident, but happened several times, it admonished Yamaha, stating that “[t]his deceitful conduct will not be tolerated” and that this inappropriate practice “is particularly egregious when . . . the court is liberal in granting extensions of time.” The court further noted that “counsel in this case have been admonished before about the gamesmanship that has been taking place in this lawsuit.” In addition, regarding Yamaha’s interpretation of communications with the district court, the court further characterized Yamaha’s actions as “unreasonabl[e]” and “disingenuous.” This type of conduct during litigation is unacceptable and reflects a lack of respect for both the opposing party and the court.

Despite the ruling on misconduct, Yamaha walks away without any sanctions.

Paragon v. Timex: Claims with Contextual Limitations

Paragon Solutions v. Timex (Fed. Cir. 2009) pic-37.jpg

Paragon’s patent covers a GPS/physiologic exercise monitoring system that displays realtime calculated values such as heartrate, altitude, velocity. The components of the invention are divided between a data acquisition unit and a display unit. After an unfavorable claim construction, Paragon stipulated to a non-infringement judgment. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated judgment – finding that the district court had improperly construed the terms.

Disavowal of Claim Scope : The district court concluded that the claimed “data acquisition unit” must be a single structure encompassing both GPS and physiologic sensors. That ruling was critical because the accused device (Timex Biolink) physically separates the GPS and physiologic monitors. Although the claim language did not limit the acquisition unit to a single physical device, the district court found that Paragon had disavowed that scope

pic-38.jpg

when it amended the claims to require that the acquisition unit be separate from the display unit.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed that the patentee had clearly disavowed a single structure. However the court could not find a reason that the amendment would limit the acquisition unit to a single device.

We conclude that, read in light of the specification, the claim term “data

acquisition unit” is not limited to a single structure but may comprise multiple physically separate str

uctures, and that the applicants did not make a clear and unmistakable disavowal of multiple physically separate structures during prosecution.

Parallel Construction: In construing claims, courts presume that a term in one claim will hold its meaning throughout the claims. That presumption is overcome when “it is clear from the specification and prosecution history that the terms have different meanings at different portions of the claims.” Here, because the claimed “acquisition unit” can be multiple structures, the Federal Circuit found that the claimed “display unit” may also include multiple structures.

Real Time Data: The district court interpreted the claimed “real time” display of data as contextual. For some activities – such as mountain climbing – a thirty second delay may well be “real time.” However, for ot

her activities, a thirty second delay would not be considered real time.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that this context-dependent definition is not proper in an apparatus claim. “[A]pparatus claims cover what a device is, not what a device does.” Hewlett-Packard v. Bausch & Lomb, 909 F.2d 1464, 1468 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

Absent an express limitation to the contrary, any use of a device that meets all of the limitations of an apparatus claim written in structural terms infringes that apparatus claim. … Construing a non-functional term in an apparatus claim in a way that makes direct infringement turn on the use to which an accused apparatus is later put confuses rather than clarifies, frustrates the ability of both the patentee and potential infringers to ascertain the propriety of particular activities, and is inconsistent with the notice function central to the patent system.

Consequently, the Federal Circuit modified the construction of “displaying real-time data,” to be “displaying data without intentional delay, given the processing limitations of the system and the time required to accurately measure the data.”

Based on these modifications to the claim construction, the Federal Circuit vacated the finding of non-infringement and remanded for further proceedings. I wonder — if the specification had clearly indicated that the definition of “real-time” could shift depending on the type of use, would the claim then be held invalid as indefinite under 35 USC 112.

Notes:

  • This case could potentially have an impact on pharmaceutical composition claims that include limitations such as “a physiologically sufficient amount.” Of course, whether a drug is “physiological sufficient” will often depend upon the individual patient and that patient’s particular situation at that time.
  • There are two major difference between the Paragon situation and my hypothetical compound claim. First, the real-time display capability in Paragon was seen as a structural limitation while the “physiologically sufficient” amount could be seen as a functional limitation. This difference is important because the Federal Circuit expressly limited its holding to the construction of “non-functional term[s].” However, that distinction is slight because it is unclear what the court meant by “non-functional.” (I.e., “a non-functional term” could be a purely aesthetic limitation; it could be a means-plus-function term; it could be a term that defines the purpose of a particular structure; etc.) A second distinction is that Paragon’s claim is an apparatus claim not a compound claim. Neither of these distinctions appear compelling.

Declaratory Judgment: Personal Jurisdiction over Foreign Patent Holder

Autogenomics v. Oxford Gene Tech (Fed. Cir. 2009) 08-1217.pdf

The opposing viewpoints of Judges Newman and Moore continues to be seen in Federal Circuit decisions. This appeal arrived at the Federal Circuit after the Central District of California district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment defendant (and patent holder) Oxford Gene Technology.Writing for the majority, Judge Moore (joined by N.D. Ill. Judge Gettleman sitting by designation) affirmed the judgment. Judge Newman wrote in dissent.

Even in patent cases, a federal court’s personal jurisdiction over parties is based on state boundaries. Here, the case was filed in a federal court sitting in California. When a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the court must consider two general factors: (1) whether the forum state’s long-arm statute permits service of process and (2) whether assertion of personal jurisdiction would violate due process.” Most states have extended their long-arm statutes to the bounds of due process. Thus, the question collapses to a consideration of the US Constitutional as applied at the geographic state boundaries.

The Constitutional limits of due process can be met by either showing general personal jurisdiction (based on continuous and systematic contacts with the state) or specific personal jurisdiction (based on a defendant’s activities in the state that relate to the cause of action.)

Focusing on specific personal jurisdiction, this case is in some ways a repeat of the court’s 2008 Avocent holding that a patentee’s efforts at commercialization are irrelevant to the specific jurisdiction question. Rather, the minimum contacts for specific jurisdiction must relate to “only enforcement or defense efforts related to the patent.” Thus, although Oxford has licensed its patents to several California companies, those licenses do not work toward a finding of specific personal jurisdiction over the foreign company.

DJ Jurisdiction over a Non-US Company: Both the majority and dissent expressed concern that foreign patent holders may often fly under the radar in such a way that no US court would have personal jurisdiction. Of course, the patent statute deals with that potential eventuality. For a non-US patent holder, the District of Columbia Federal Court has jurisdiction “to take any action respecting the patent or rights thereunder” to the same extent “that it would have if the patentee were personally within the jurisdiction of the court.” 35 USC 293.

Section 293 makes an exception for non-US patent holders who designate a US person to receive process. The statute does not indicate that such designation serves as consent to personal jurisdiction in the person’s home location. However, cases have held that designating a US process agent under Section 293 operates as consent to personal jurisdiction. See In re Papst Licensing, 590 F. Supp. 2d 94 (D.D.C. 2008).

Section 293 reads as follows.

Every patentee not residing in the United States may file in the Patent and Trademark Office a written designation stating the name and address of a person residing within the United States on whom may be served process or notice of proceedings affecting the patent or rights thereunder. If the person designated cannot be found at the address given in the last designation, or if no person has been designated, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia shall have jurisdiction and summons shall be served by publication or otherwise as the court directs. The court shall have the same jurisdiction to take any action respecting the patent or rights thereunder that it would have if the patentee were personally within the jurisdiction of the court.

In the past year, about 11 patent infringement cases were filed in DC District Court.

Appellate Practice: Working Models for the Court

Farrago v. Rawlings Sporting Goodspic-36.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Farrago’s patent covers a pad for relieving knee stress. The argument focused on whether Rawlings’ product has four surfaces (as claimed) or only three surfaces (as Rawlings argues). On appeal, the Federal Circuit quickly affirmed summary judgment of noninfringement without opinion. (A narrowing amendment during prosecution precluded application of the doctrine of equivalents.)

I’ll only focus here briefly on the appellate practice. Farrago submitted a sample of the accused product to the appellate court so that the judges and clerks could examine the product prior to oral arguments. During oral arguments, the court thanked Farrago’s attorney – noting that the sample “was very helpful.” Of course, the court needed only 24 hours to release its opinion against Farrago.

Genentech & Volkswagen: Federal Circuit Splits on Venue Transfer Cases

In re Genentech (Fed. Cir. 2009)(granting mandamus and ordering transfer) 09-M901.pdf
In re Volkswagen of America (Fed. Cir. 2009)(denying mandamus) 09-M897.pdf

Since deciding TS Tech, the Federal Circuit has received a gaggle of Mandamus petitions – most of them asking the appellate court to order cases transferred out of the Eastern District of Texas to more convenient locations. In a pair of opinions – both authored by Judge Linn and released on the same day – the appellate court has provided additional guidance on deciding these transfer issues.

Genentech – Transfer Granted:

  • Key Witnesses: Genentech identified several witnesses in Northern California and argued it would be more convenient for them to attend trial in that locale. The district court, however gave little weight to Genentech list because the did not identify location of “key” witnesses. On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that at such an early stage of trial, it is unreasonable to require a defendant to show that potential witnesses are “more than relevant” or face denial of transfer.
  • European Witnesses: Several identified witnesses would come from Europe. The Texas court held that it would be more convenient for the European witnesses to travel to Texas than to California because California is further from Europe than is Texas. Here, the district court directly followed the Fifth Circuit’s proportionality test that “[w]hen the distance between an existing venue for trial of a matter and a proposed venue under § 1404(a) is more than 100 miles, the factor of inconvenience to witnesses increases in direct relationship to the additional distance to be traveled.” On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that the difference in distance should be given less weight when the witnesses are already traveling a great distance.
  • Centralized Location: Although Texas is certainly a more central location, the Federal Circuit held that the factor could not favor a Texas venue because none of the identified witnesses reside in Texas. Rather, the court found that California is more centralized because a number of material witnesses reside within California.
  • Convenience to the Parties: Genentech is in Northern California, Biogen (another defendant) is in San Diego, Sanofi (the plaintiff) is in Germany.
  • Availability of Compulsory Process: If trial is in Texas, there may be several third-party witnesses that could not be compelled to attend because they are in California – outside the long-arm of Texas jurisdiction.
  • Evidence: “In patent cases, the bulk of the relevant evidence comes from the accused infringer.” Here, all of Genentech & Biogen’s relevant evidence is in California.
  • Prior Suit: Genentech has been a plaintiff in the Eastern District of Texas and the district court. On appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that it would be legal error to consider a prior case that would not otherwise provide for judicial economy.
  • California’s Jurisdiction over Sanofi: There is some question of whether the California court has jurisdiction over Sanofi. The Federal Circuit held that the potential lack of personal jurisdiction in the transferred venue does not weigh heavily against transfer. “There is no requirement under § 1404(a) that a transferee court have jurisdiction over the plaintiff or that there be sufficient minimum contacts with the plaintiff.”
  • Court Congestion: This is a speculative factor and given little weight.

In re Volkswagen – Mandamus Denied:

  • The plaintiff – MHL – is a small company headquartered in Michigan, but registered in Texas.
  • In two lawsuits separate lawsuits (both in the Eastern District of Texas), MHL has sued over thirty US & Foreign automobile companies for patent infrignement.
  • VW has asked that the case be transferred from the Eastern District of Texas to the Eastern District of Michigan.
  • Multiple Lawsuits: The Federal Circuit identified the “existence of multiple lawsuits” involving the same patents and overlapping issues to be “a paramount consideration when determining whether a transfer is in the interest of justice. … Although these cases may not involve precisely the same issues, there will be significant overlap and a familiarity with the patents could preserve time and resources. Because the district court’s decision is based on the rational argument that judicial economy is served by having the same district court try the cases involving the same patents, mandamus is inappropriate under our precedents.”

Comment: In patent cases, these venue games tend to approach the absurd, and I am surprised that the Federal Circuit has taken these cases so seriously. Defendants want to move out of the Eastern District of Texas because they fear trial and the potential major damage award. The “convenient venue” argument is concocted because the Eastern District of Texas is clearly a “proper forum” with personal jurisdiction over the defendants.

MHL is a patent holding company that registered as a Texas business in June of 2007. That registration appears to have served its purpose – to win the Texas venue argument even though the principles of the business are all located in Michigan. On the other side – it looks like the Federal Circuit refused to consider the two most important facts of convenience in the Genentech case. First, in 2006, Genentech sued MedImmune for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Texas. At that time, Genentech calculated that Texas was perfectly suitable even though neither party was located in the state. Yet, the Federal Circuit held that it was legal error for the district court to consider Genentech’s prior activities in the present motion for Venue. The second issues is jurisdiction – it just does not make sense to transfer a case to a new forum without some assurances that the court has personal jurisdiction over the parties.

Disclaimer: I just noticed that my former firm MBHB (who is now a sponsor of Patently-O) is involved in the Genentech case. I do not represent any clients these days. One reason why I have enjoyed having MBHB as a sponsor is that the firm has never tried to exert editorial control over the blog or its content beyond the layout of the firm’s ad.

Impact of Merger/Buyout on Prior Agreement to Not Challenge Patent Validity

Epistar v. ITC (and Philips Lumileds Lighting) (Fed. Cir. 2009) 07-1457.pdf

Merger: Lumileds owns a patent covering a light-emitting diode (LED) with an electrically conductive window layer that is both brighter and more efficient than other LEDs. The conductive layer helps spread the flow of electrical current avoid “current crowding.”

At issue in this case is the impact of a corporate merger/buyout on a settlement agreement that included a promise to not challenge a patent’s validity.

Lumileds and Epistar have signed at least two prior settlement agreements involving the patent at issue here. In those agreements, Epistar agreed to pay a licensing fee for certain products, but reserved its right to challenge the patent if Lumileds asserted the patent against other patents. A third company, UEC, agreed that neither it nor its successors would later challenge the validity of the Lumileds patents.

Subsequently, Epistar purchased UEC, and the patentee argued that UEC’s agreement should also bind Epistar. On appeal, the Federal Circuit partially rejected that argument – holding that the UEC settlement continues to bind the parties, but only “as understood and intended by them, according to its ordinary terms.” Thus, even though Epistar took on all the legal obligations of UEC, Epistar can still challenge the Lumileds patent if the case does not involve UEC related products.

UEC’s settlement agreement has preclusive effect upon Epistar only “to the same extent as upon [UEC it]self.” Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 43 (1982). The preclusive effect of that agreement, if any, is limited to UEC’s pre–Epistar product lines. To paraphrase this court in International Nutrition v. Horphag Research, Epistar’s acquisition of UEC does not have the effect of limiting Epistar’s rights that are unrelated to the product lines it acquired from UEC. Accordingly, this court overturns the Commission’s final determination that Epistar is estopped from challenging validity of the ’718 patent when asserted against its own products, separate from the UEC–Lumileds settlement agreement.

Here, the court could have done well to cite the Supreme Court’s decision of Lear v. Adkins and its statements favoring the ability to challenge patent validity based on on “the strong federal policy favoring the full and free use of ideas in the public domain.”

Patent Licenses Include Inherent Rights Allowing Third-Party Manufacture

Corebrace, LLC. v. Star Seismic LLC pic-35.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009) 08-1502.pdf

Corebrace’s patent covers an earthquake-resistant brace for steel framed buildings. The original rights-holder (the inventor, Benne Murthy Sridhara from Bangalore) first licensed patent rights to Star. Later, the patent rights were assigned to Corebrace.

Star’s nonexclusive license from the inventor grants a right to “make, use, and sell” licensed products. The license also includes a restriction that Star may not “assign, sublicense, or otherwise transfer” its rights – except to an affiliated company. The inventor did already have a relationship with CoreBrace and reserved for that company “all rights not expressly granted” including any improvements created “by a third party whose services have been contracted.”

The question on appeal is whether the license grants Star the right to use third-party contractors to manufacture licensed products for its own use. The Federal Circuit answered in the affirmative – holding that absent a clear disclaimer, a patent license includes a right to use a third party manufacturer.

The right to “make, use, and sell” a product inherently includes the right to have it made by a third party, absent a clear indication of intent to the contrary. (Following Utah law)

Patent licensing is complicated because the contracts are interpreted under state law. Here, the contract indicates that Utah law should be followed. There is not Utah decision on point. However, the Federal Circuit noted its own precedent as well as California Supreme Court cases that “have both persuasively held that a ‘have made’ right is implicit in a right to make, use, and sell, absent an express contrary intent. We consider that the Utah Supreme Court would therefore likely arrive at the same conclusion were it to consider the issue.”

Often, exclusive licensees are implicitly granted greater rights than their non-exclusive counterparts. In the non-exclusive setting – allowing the licensee to subcontract undercuts the patent-holder’s rights; while in an exclusive licensee scenario, the patentee is presumed to have fully exploited its patent rights in that one contract. In this case, however, the Federal Circuit ruled that the implicit right to sub-contract manufacturing does not depend on any exclusive license status.

Dickson Industries: Inequitable Conduct Holding Vacated

Dickson Industries, Inc. v. Patent Enforcement Team, L.L.Cpic-34.jpg . (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential) 08-1372.pdf

Application of inequitable conduct jurisprudence continues to divide the Federal Circuit. Judge Rader has perhaps been the most outspoken critic of the current over-use of inequitable conduct allegations. In this case, Judge Rader was joined by Judges Mayer and Posner (by designation) in vacating a lower court finding of inequitable conduct.

The PET patent covers an apparatus for making drainage grooves at the edge of a roadway. Prior to litigation, PET had argued that the machines for making rumble strips at the side of the road also violate the patent rights. Subsequently, Dickson sued for declaratory relief.

The jury found the patent invalid and found the patent holder liable for $1.5 million for tortiously interfering with with Dickson’s business relationships. The court then also (1) found the patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during reexamination for failure to disclose material information and (2) awarded attorney fees to Dickson.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the anticipation decision, but vacated the decision on inequitable conduct.

The case largely centered around one prior art reference – “Spangler” – which discloses an apparatus to make rumble strips. PET knew about Spangler during reexamination of its patent, but did not disclose that reference to the PTO.

Agreeing with the Jury, the Federal Circuit found substantial evidence indicating that Spangler discloses all the elements of PET’s patent – rendering the patent invalid.

Ordinarily, after finding the patent invalid, the court would not need to decide issues of inequitable conduct. Here, however, the appellate panel addressed inequitable conduct because that conduct served as the basis for the lower court’s award of exceptional case attorney fees.

Amending Pleadings to Add Inequitable Conduct Charges: Allegations of inequitable conduct are parallel to charges of fraud and ordinarily must be pled with specificity. Thus, in most cases the accused infringer does not have sufficient evidence to allege inequitable conduct in the initial filing of defenses. Here, the court initially denied Dickson’s motion to amend its complaint to add IC charges. However, at trial the court changed its mind and allowed the issue to be presented.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that PET was “prejudiced” by the inconsistent orders and was thus denied “the opportunity to adequately defend against the allegation of inequitable conduct at trial. For instance, PET was denied the opportunity to introduce evidence of good faith, which militates against a finding of deceptive intent.”

The district court’s contradicting positions undermine the legitimacy of its ruling on inequitable conduct. This court cannot say with confidence that the record regarding inequitable conduct is not incomplete. Thus, this court vacates the district’s decision on the issue of inequitable conduct and remands to provide an opportunity to fully develop the record regarding inequitable conduct. Further, this Court vacates the award of attorney fees premised on inequitable conduct as premature.

In a warning to the lower court, Judge Rader again raised the notion that inequitable conduct litigation “has become an absolute plague.”

Given the severe consequences of unenforceability when it is imposed on a patent, it is paramount that the district court exercise necessary caution to ensure that the patent owner met its burden of proof with respect to both the materiality and deceptive intent.

Vacated-in-part.

Notes:

  • Judges Mayer and Posner (sitting by designation) participated in the panel.
  • Update: I have fixed an important typographical error. Judge Rader indicated that inequitable conduct litigation is the problem (not inequitable conduct itself).

Deference to ITC Claim Construction Decisions?

Erbe Elektromedizin v. ITC and Canady Techpic-33.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009) 08-1358.pdf

Erbe’s patent appears to cover aspects of a surgical flesh-welding technique known as argon plasma coagulation (APC). After narrowly construing the claimed plurality of endoscopic “working channel,” the ITC found no evidence of direct infringement. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

I’ll avoid the claim construction particulars, but focus here on whether the Federal Circuit can properly review ITC Claim Construction decisions de novo.

Claim construction is a matter of law, and under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Federal Circuit reviews ITC decisions of law for “correctness.” However, in the usual course, agency decisions interpreting a matter of law are ordinarily given at least Skidmore level deference. See Christensen v. Harris County.

En Banc Federal Circuit: Infringement of Product-by-Process Claim Requires Practicing the Process

Abbott Labs v. Sandoz (Fed. Cir. 2009) (en banc) 07-1400.pdf

The Federal Circuit had developed two opposing lines of cases for interpreting the scope of a product-by-process claim. Acting en banc sua sponte sub secretum, the appellate body sided with the Atlantic Thermoplatics line in holding that infringement of a product-by-process claim requires practicing the claimed process steps. This decision makes Judge Newman’s 1991 Scripps decision no longer good law. (Note, the en banc portion is only Section III.A.2).

[T]his court now restates that “process terms in product-by-process claims serve as limitations in determining infringement.”

The holding here explicitly focuses on claim construction for the purposes of infringement. Based on my first-pass, it appears that the court has left undecided whether this rule applies for validity purposes. I.e., can a product-by-process claim now cover a well known product made through a new process?

Notes

  • This is a very interesting decision and more analysis will be forthcoming.
  • Perhaps the most interesting portion of the decision is Judge Newman’s 39 page dissent.
  • Based on this Decision, generic Omnicef will continue to be available.

BPAI Precedential Opinion on Rejecting Software Means Claims

Ex parte Catlinpic-32.jpg (BPAI 2009)(precedential) fd073072.pdf.

The first-time around, the BPAI found some of Catlin’s claims patentable. On rehearing (requested by the SPE), the BPAI reversed course – finding the means-plus-function claims indefinite under 35 USC § 112.

Catlin’s claim one reads as follows:

1. A method for implementing an on-line incentive system, said method comprising the steps of:
providing, at a merchant’s web site, means for a consumer to participate in an earning activity to earn value from a merchant; and
transferring value from said merchant to said consumer for participation in said earning activity, if said consumer qualifies, without re-directing said consumer away from said merchant’s web site, whereby said consumer’s focus of activity remains at said merchant’s web site.

The Patent Act allows a patentee to claim inventive elements using “means plus function” language. A means plus function term is construed to cover the corresponding structures as described in the specification as well as any equivalents. This rule of construction means that seemingly broadly written means limitations are often quite limited in practice — especially when the specification is not thoroughly drafted.

If no corresponding structure can be identified in the disclosure, then the claim will be found “invalid as indefinite.”

Here, the claim recites a “means for a consumer to participate in an earning activity to earn value from a merchant.” On rehearing, the BPAI could not find any corresponding structure in the specification. In particular, the Board was looking for an algorithm for performing the claimed function.

[W]e have thoroughly reviewed the Appellants’ Specification and have not been able to locate an adequate disclosure of structure, material, or acts corresponding to the functions of allowing a consumer to participate in an earning activity and earn value from an earning activity. In particular, the Specification does not disclose any specific algorithm that could be implemented on a general purpose computer to allow a consumer to participate in an earning activity and earn value from an earning activity.

Holding: Claims indefinite.