Attorney fees awarded since patentee knew it had a losing case.

by Dennis Crouch

This decision suggests that the Federal Circuit is acceding to the Supreme Court’s approach giving broad discretion to the district courts in attorney fees cases rather than nit-picking individual elements of the totality-of-the-circumstances test.  But, we’ll see. 

Energy Heating, LLC v. Heat On-the-Fly, LLC (Fed. Cir. 2021)

In a prior appeal in this case, the the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s holding that Heat On-The-Fly’s U.S. Patent No. 8,171,993 was unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.  By the critical date (1-year-before-filing), the patentee had done about $2 million in jobs using the invention, but did not disclose those sales/uses to the USPTO during prosecution.

On remand, the district court awarded attorney fees to the defendants — finding the large number of undisclosed sales sufficient to constitute “affirmative egregious conduct” and then pursued aggressive litigation despite knowing that the patent was invalid.

The patent act provides a district court with discretion to award “reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party” in “exceptional cases.”  Once you have a prevailing party, the district court needs to determine whether the case is “exceptional.”  If so, the district court will then determine whether to award attorney fees, and the amount to award.  These determinations are within the district court’s equitable discretion based upon a broad “totality of the circumstances”  test.  On appeal, the district court’s factual and equitable determinations are given deference and only overturned based upon an abuse of discretion. Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 572 U.S. 545 (2014); Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. Sys., Inc., 572 U.S. 559 (2014).

On appeal, the patentee challenged the “exceptional case” finding, but the appellate panel found no abuse of discretion.

Inequitable conduct is an equitable defense that is traditionally decided by a judge rather than a jury.  An oddity of the case is that the jury was actually asked whether the patentee had represented in bad faith that it held a valid patent as part of the defendant’s state law claim counterclaim of “deceit.”In the appeal, the patentee argued that it was improper for the district court to rely upon the jury’s bad faith determination. I don’t understand that argument and neither did the Federal Circuit.

The jury found bad faith, but actually sided with the patentee on the ultimate question of deceit under N.D. Law.  On appeal, the patentee argued that the no-deceit conclusion should be determinative of no inequitable conduct as well. Of course, the prior appeal determined inequitable conduct and the Federal Circuit did not allow the issue to be relitigated in this appeal. The Federal Circuit did rule though that “the jury’s finding of no state-law ‘deceit’ simply has no bearing on inequitable

Finally, the patentee noted the absence of an express finding of litigation misconduct absent continuing to litigate losing positions. On appeal, the Federal Circuit found no problem with finding the case exceptional even absent particular litigation misconduct issues.

In re ESIP: No Arthex challenges in closed case

By Jason Rantanen

In re ESIP (Panel: O’Malley, Reyna, Chen) (link to decision: In re ESIP SERIES 2)

This is a short nonprecedential decision in a petition for a writ of mandamus that was issued today but that isn’t on the Federal Circuit’s website.  (I don’t see why the Federal Circuit doesn’t just put all dispositive orders on its website; it already puts Rule 36’s and many orders in petitions for writs of mandamus on the site.)   The petitioner, ESIP, was the patent owner of a patent that was the subject of an inter partes review proceeding at the PTO.  The PTO initiated review over ESIP’s objection, and subsequently concluded that the claims were obvious.  ESIP appealed.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the obviousness determination and held that it was barred from reviewing the institution decision because that decision is nonreviewable under 35 U.S.C. 314(d).  The Supreme Court subsequently denied cert and the PTO issued a certificate of cancellation.

After the Supreme Court issued its Arthrex decision, ESIP filed a petition for Director review in the IPR proceeding in light of Arthrex.  The PTO sent an email saying that the petition was untimely.  ESIP petitioned the FEderal Circuit for a writ of mandamus.

The Federal Circuit denied the petition, ruling that (1) under the circumstances ESIP cannot directly appeal from the PTO’s email, and (2) mandamus is inappropriate here.  “ESIP could have raised an Appointments Clause challenge and sought rehearing in its prior appeal. Moreover, ESIP has not pointed to any clear and indisputable authority that the PTO violated in refusing to reopen and rehear this particular matter, which is subject to a final judgment and cancellation certificate.”

Petition denied.

Update: The Order is now available on the court’s website: 



Federal Circuit Rejects Arguments of Bias at the PTAB

Mobility WorkX v. Unified Patents (Fed. Cir. 2021)

In a 2-1 decision, the Federal Circuit has rejected Mobility’s argument that the PTAB Judges have an improper financial interest in instituting AIA proceedings.  The baseline here is that the patentee presented evidence that Board members who institute more AIA proceedings receive better performance reviews and more bonus money.  A higher institution rate also ensures job stability for administrative patent judges.  The argument then is that those incentives to institute constitute a due process violation under cases such as Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927) and Ward v. Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57, 60 (1972).

To be clear, none of the USPTO rules or practices provide expressly give more money or quota-points for initiating IPR.  However, the only way to receive points for judging an IPR is to first institute the IPR. And, most of the quota-points are accumulated post-institution.  Likewise, the PTO receives substantial fees for institution.

The majority entertained the arguments, but ultimately rejected them after concluding that any financial interest was too remote.

Amicus curiae US Inventor, Inc. presents a statistical study purportedly showing that there are more meritorious institution decisions in September (at the end of the APJ performance review year) than in October (at the beginning of the performance review evaluation period). This hardly establishes that APJs are instituting AIA proceedings to earn decisional units.

Slip Op. at Note 7.

The majority decision was authored by Judge Dyk and joined by Judge Schall.

Judge Newman wrote in dissent arguing that the status quo creates the potential appearance of bias and that it is the Federal Circuit’s responsibility to resolve the concerns.

Disclaimer in Prosecution cannot be Recaptured in Litigation

by Dennis Crouch

Traxcell Technologies, LLC v. Sprint Communications Company, No. 20-1440 (Fed. Cir. 2021); Traxcell Technologies, LLC v. Nokia Solutions and Networks, No 20-1440 (Fed. Cir. 2021)

The patentee primarily these cases on claim construction on two simple terms — based largely on statements made during prosecution to skirt the prior art. 

“Location” – some of the asserted claims take various actions related to the “location of [a] mobile wireless device.”  During prosecution the patentee had argued that its location ability was not limited to “a position in a grid pattern” and did not require a grid pattern overlay.  Rather its location sense was more “adaptable” and “refined.”  The courts found this clear prosecution history disclaimer and so the location term is properly construed to require “not merely a position in a grid pattern.”  This construction excused Nokia from infringement, since the accused Nokia system is arranged in a grid of 50-meter-by-50-meter bins.

“A Computer” – the claims all required “a computer” or “first computer.” The problem was that the accused devices performed the various functions across a set of computers. The district court construed “first computer” and “computer” to mean a single computer that can perform each and every function.  That construction was affirmed on appeal after the Federal Circuit reviewed the claims and specification for supporting evidence.

[I]t would defy the concept of antecedent basis—for the claims to recite “the computer” or “said first computer” being “further” programmed to do a second set of tasks if a different computer were to do those tasks instead.

Slip Op.  This interpretation was also confirmed by the prosecution history statement including a responsive argument submitted to the PTO titled ““Single computer needed in Reed v. additional software needed in Andersson.”  Reed is the Traxcell patent; Andersson was the prior art.  One computer requirement meant no infringement. 

Means For: The case against Sprint partially turned on a means-plus-function limitation: “means for receiving said performance data and corresponding locations from said radio tower and correcting radio frequency signals of said radio tower.”  The patentee pointed to an algorithm disclosed in the specification as the corresponding structural disclosure.  Under Section 112(f), a means-plus-function claim “shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure … in the specification and equivalents thereof.”  It was clear that Sprint did not use the identical algorithm, but the question was whether the “equivalent” penumbra of the claim was broad enough.  In order to determine equivalents under Section 112, the district court applied the function-way-result test generally used in DOE cases.  See Applied Med. Res. Corp. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 448 F.3d 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2006).  Generally, the function-way-result test ends up with a quite narrow band of equivalents.  Here, the court found that the accused activity not proven to be done “substantially the same way” as that claimed and so was not an equivalent. An aspect of this doctrine that continues to create confusion is whether this “equivalent” evidence is an element of claim construction as suggested by the statute or instead post-construction infringement analysis.

Indefiniteness: Some of the claims were also invalidated as indefinite, even after a certificate of correction. In particular, the those claims required a “means for … suggesting corrective actions . . based upon . . . location” but the specification did not disclose how that might take place. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed. “Although Traxcell demonstrated that the structure makes corrections based on other performance data, it hasn’t shown that any corrections are made using location.”

The Federal Circuit uses a simple if-then shortcut for its indefiniteness analysis of claims that include means-plus-function language. If the specification lacks sufficient structure to support the claimed means; Then the claim is invalid as indefinite.  This approach is probably too rule based. Rather, each time the Federal Circuit should use its lack-of-structure analysis to ask does the claim at issue “particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[] the subject matter which the inventor or a joint inventor regards as the invention.” 35 U.S.C. 112(b).

The four asserted patents U.S. Patent Nos. 8,977,284 (“the ’284 patent”), 9,510,320 (“the ’320 patent”), 9,642,024 (“the ’024 patent”), and 9,549,388. 

En Banc Petition: Counting to Two Alice Style

by Dennis Crouch

Apple Inc. v. Universal Secure Registry LLC, Docket No. 20-01223 (Fed. Cir. 2021)

In August, the Federal Circuit sided with Apple and affirmed the district court determination that USR’s asserted claims were all directed to abstract ideas — and thus ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. When I first wrote about the original decision, I noted the high correlation between the two steps of Alice: “if a claim fails step one, it usually fails step two as well.”  However, this particular decision stood-out because of the extent that the step-one analysis “borrow heavily from typical step two analysis.”  Crouch, When Two become One, Patently-O (Aug 29, 2021).

USR has now petitioned for en banc rehearing, and focused-in on the panel’s overlapping analysis regarding step one and step two. Questions presented:

  1. Whether step one of the Alice test for patentable subject matter requires a showing of “specificity,” “unexpected results” or unconventional claim elements.
  2. Whether the two steps of the Alice test are distinct requirements that must both
    be separately met to invalidate a patent claim.

USR Apple Petition.

Alice Corp v. CLS Bank: When Two Become One

The patents at issue are related to securing electronic payments without giving a merchant your actual credit card number. The merchant is given a time-varying code instead of a credit card number.  That code is then sent to the credit card company servers for authorization, including any restrictions on transactions with the merchant.  The company then either approves or denies the transaction.  This approach allows for purchases without actually providing the merchant with the “secure information” such as the credit card or account number.

In rejecting the claims, the court noted that cases “often turn[] on whether the claims provide sufficient specificity to constitute an improvement to computer functionality itself.” Universal Secure Registry LLC v. Apple Inc., 10 F.4th 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2021). I read this as requiring: (1) that the claims be drafted with specificity; and (2) that the element claimed by an “improvement to computer functionality.”  Generic claims are not enough; neither are specific claim limitations directed toward elements already well known in the art. The court found that the claims were directed toward “conventional actions in a generic way.”  That conventional-generic combination was enough to fully answer both steps of the Alice analysis.

USR’s petition argues that the decision improperly conflates the two steps of Alice:

At step one, the panel imposes a heightened “specificity” requirement for patents on authentication technology; requires “unexpected results” and “unconventionality”; and imports into Section 101 the definiteness requirement of Section 112—none of which has any basis in the statute or Supreme Court precedent. At step two, the panel opinion collapses Alice/Mayo’s two distinct steps into one by applying the same analysis as at step one.


The petition here was filed prior to the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in CosmoKey Sols. GmbH & Co. KG v. Duo Sec. LLC, 2020-2043, 2021 WL 4515279 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2021).  In that case, the majority skipped Alice Step One, but then relied upon seeming step-one analysis to make a determination regarding Alice Step Two.  Both decisions were authored by Judge Stoll.

= = = = =

Claim 22 of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,856,539:

A method for providing information to a provider to enable transactions between the provider and entities who have secure data stored in a secure registry in which each entity is identified by a time-varying multi character code, the method comprising:

receiving a transaction request including at least the time-varying multicharacter code for an entity on whose behalf a transaction is to take place and an indication of the provider requesting the transaction;

mapping the time-varying multicharacter code to an identity of the entity using the time-varying multicharacter code;

determining compliance with any access restrictions for the provider to secure data of the entity for completing the transaction based at least in part on the indication of the provider and the time-varying multicharacter code of the transaction request;

accessing information of the entity required to perform the transaction based on the determined compliance with any access restrictions for the provider, the information including account identifying information;

providing the account identifying information to a third party without providing the account identifying information to the provider to enable or deny the transaction;

and enabling or denying the provider to perform the transaction without the provider’s knowledge of the account identifying information.

How does the USPTO Decide the Discretionary Aspect of Institution?

by Dennis Crouch

US Inventor Inc. v. Hirshfeld, No. 21-40601 (5th Cir. 2021)

In February 2021, US Inventor and others collectively sued the USPTO asking the court to order the USPTO to issue rulemaking regarding discretionary considerations at the institution stage of AIA Trials.  That case is now on appeal.

Standards for Discretionary Dismissals: The statute particularly requires the PTO Director to issue regulations “setting forth the standards for the showing of sufficient grounds to institute a review [and] shall consider the effect of any such regulation on the economy, the integrity of the patent system, the efficient administration of the Office.” 35 U.S.C. 316.  Although the USPTO has issued regulations about what counts as “sufficient grounds” to institute, the regulations do not consider discretionary denials, a potentially key aspect of the institution decision.  Of course, the importance of discretion depends upon how discretion is wielded.  The PTO has declared a “standard operating procedure,” and the plaintiff here argues that the SOPs were illegal rulemakings (“promulgated without lawful adherence to the strictures of the Administrative Procedure Act.”).

Abuse of Discretion: Courts and administrators are often given discretionary authority to make decisions.  But, discretion still requires that the decision-maker make a non-arbitrary decision that at least has a rational basis after considering both the law and the evidence at hand.  Arbitrary decisions represent an abuse of discretion and are regularly overturned on appeal.  AIA Trial Institution decisions are problematic to that general scheme because institution decisions are not appealable. Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to the rescue with 5 U.S.C. 706 authorizing actions to compel agency to stop any behavior that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Hurdle of Concrete Harm: Although the APA permits an action to compel agency action, the statute typically requires that the plaintiff be “a person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action.” 5 U.S.C. 702.  In addition to this statutory injury requirement the Supreme Court has also interpreted Article III of the U.S. Constitution to require that the plaintiff identify some concrete harm caused by the defendant’s action (or inaction).  The case must be dismissed for lack of standing absent that concrete harm.

In this case, the PTO argued (1) that the statute does not require rules on that discretionary aspect of institution. And, (2) even if it was supposed to put the rules in place, the plaintiffs here have not suffered any concrete harm due to the lack of regulations.

Case Dismissed: Judge Gilstrap dismissed the case in July 2021 — agreeing with the USPTO that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The court’s opinion suggests that a patentee might never have standing for such a challenge:

For patentees, the notion of a concrete interest in discretionary denials of AIA petitions is particularly tenuous. Although the institution decision is a step on the road to invalidation, there is no dispute that discretionary denials under §§ 314(a) and 324(a) necessarily occur in situations where the PTAB has proper authority to institute. There is also no apparent dispute that the PTAB can exercise that discretion, at least on a panel-by-panel basis. As a result, the factors considered in the challenged PTAB decisions are neither dispositive nor exclusive. In the case of a discretionary denial, there is no harm to patentees because the proceeding ends and the patent rights are unaffected; the status quo is maintained.

District Court Dismissal Order. I struggle to understand the court’s logic associated with panel-to-panel variance. If that variance is due to different standards being applied then the situation seems to be begging for agency regulation.  Judge Gilstrap’s decision is now on appeal.

Where to Appeal?: One quirk of the appeal is that it is not entirely clear whether the case should go to the Fifth Circuit or the Federal Circuit.  US Inventor’s attorney Robert Greenspoon decided to play-it-safe to make sure he preserved his right to appeal by filing a notice of appeal in both courts.  Greenspoon asked the Federal Circuit to then pause the appeal deadlines until the Fifth Circuit determines whether jurisdiction is appropriate. And, the Federal Circuit has granted that motion.

In the Fifth Circuit, the USPTO filed a motion to dismiss the appeal–arguing that the case arose under the patent laws and therefore should go to the Federal Circuit.  Rather than deciding that issue directly, the Fifth Circuit has announced that it will carry that motion to the merits oral arguments and decided it all together.

Section 1295 provides statutory guidance as to when an appeal is directed to the Federal Circuit.

(a)The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit shall have exclusive jurisdiction—(1) of an appeal from a final decision of a district court of the United States … in any civil action arising under, or … in which a party has asserted a compulsory counterclaim arising under, any Act of Congress relating to patents or plant variety protection.

28 U.S.C. 1295 (Jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit).

Arising under the Patent Laws: A key underlying issue in the case is the extent that the patent laws require the USPTO to issue certain regulations.  In other words, the patent laws are integral to the lawsuit.  At the same time, the actual cause of action does not stem from the patent laws but rather from the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).  The Supreme Court has explained that the first go-to for arising under jurisdiction is the cause of action. Nonetheless, a case may still arise under the patent laws if “plaintiff’s right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law.” Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800 (1988).

The Federal Circuit has repeatedly held that APA cases such as the one here do arise under the patent laws–meaning that any appeals should be heard by the Federal Circuit.  See, for example, Helfgott & Karas v. Dickinson, 209 F.3d 1328 (Fed. Cir. 2000) and Star Fruits S.N.C. v. United States, 393 F.3d 1277 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (Because APA claim “involves the Director’s duties ‘[i]n the course of examining or treating a matter . . . in a reexamination proceeding,’ it raises a substantial question under the patent laws” over which the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction).  However, those decisions were released prior to the Supreme Court’s most recent statement on the issue. Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251 (2013).

Gunn was an attorney negligence case brought under Texas state law, but the case was depend upon whether the attorney erred in his application of federal patent law. The Federal Circuit had previously found that this type of case raised substantial patent law questions and therefore should be heard in Federal Court with appeals going to the Federal Circuit. In Gunn, the Supreme Court disagreed with that approach and explained instead that state-law based attorney malpractice “will rarely, if ever, arise under federal patent law.”  Gunn paralleled its analysis to that of a the prior non-patent arising under case Grable & Sons Metal Prod., Inc. v. Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005) and concluded that the patent issues at stake in the malpractice case were not “substantial” in the context of the patent system as a whole. Although the patent issues in the malpractice case may have been important to the parties involved, nothing from that case was going to make any difference to the patent laws or federal patent litigation.

The USPTO does not cite or mention the Gunn decision in its motion in the 5th Circuit appeal in US Inventor.  One reason perhaps is that Gunn focuses on a slightly different situation.

  • Gunn: Whether the lawsuit “arises under” the patent laws and thus gives a Federal District Court original jurisdiction under 28 USC 1338.
  • US Inventor: Whether the lawsuit “arises under” the patent laws and thus gives the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit appellate jurisdiction under 28 USC 1295.

Both Section 1338 and Section 1295 use the identical “arising under” language and nothing in the legislative history suggests to me that they should be interpreted differently. Both of these provisions channel patent cases into certain courts for the purpose of “the development of a uniform body of law.”  Bonito Boats, Inc. v. Thunder Craft Boats, Inc., 489 U.S. 141 (1989). In Gunn, the court explained that:

Congress ensured such uniformity by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over actual patent cases in the federal district courts and exclusive appellate jurisdiction in the Federal Circuit.

Gunn (referring to Section 1338 and Section 1295 respectively). Still, there is some tension between the two provisions that comes out of Gunn. In particular, the Supreme Court’s reticence to expansive federal jurisdiction was grounded in principles of federalism. The Court recognized that a local interest of states in having state courts decide cases arising from state law.  In order to deprive states of those cases, the patent issue must be substantial.   One outcome of Gunn is that state courts are now more often hearing patent law issues as they arise in various non-patent causes of action.

This state vs federal debate is only relevant in the context of original jurisdiction questions under Section 1338 where a case might be filed in state court or instead in federal court.  There are no such federalism concerns in US Inventor – rather the question is which of two federal appellate courts will hear the appeal. This difference offers one reason to interpret the two statutes a bit differently, perhaps requiring more substantiality in one situation than in the other. But, I would suggest that tweaking is not worth the candle and probably not what Congress intended. And, the Federal Circuit has agreed in post-Gunn decisions that the Gunn analysis impacts both Section 1295 and 1338.  Bottom line here is that the USPTO should not have simply relied upon its pre-Gunn APA decisions.

In his 2019 article, Prof. Paul Gugliuzza proposes a simple rule that is consistent with both statutes and the requirements of Gunn.

For a case that does not involve claims of patent infringement to nevertheless arise under patent law, it must present a dispute about the content of federal patent law or a question about the interpretation or validity of the federal patent statute; questions about the validity or scope of a particular patent are not sufficient.

Paul R. Gugliuzza, Rising Confusion About “Arising Under” Jurisdiction in Patent Cases, 69 Emory L.J. 459 (2019).  Although Gugliuzza’s proposal here is straightforward, the parties in US Inventor disagree as to the outcome of the test.

The 5th Circuit appeal is now in-briefing and we’ll will likely not see a decision in the case until 2022.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes by Juvan Bonni

Recent Headlines in the IP World:

Commentary and Journal Articles:

New Job Postings on Patently-O:

Trademark: Uggs are generic in Australia, Can I import them without a license from UGG®?

by Dennis Crouch

In Australia, the term “ugg boots” refers to a general style of sheepskin shoe with the fleece turned in for warmth.  It is a generic term, and not a trademark – in Australia.  And, there are dozens of companies that make and sell ugg boots in that country, including Australian Leather Pty. Ltd..  The original name “ugh” came from 1970s surfer Shane Stedman who has been quoted as saying “We called them Ughs because they were ugly.”

UGG is a registered trademark in the USA, now owned by Deckers Outdoor Corp. Back in 2016, Deckers learned that Australian Leather had imported 12 pairs boots labelled “ugg boots” into the USA and sued for trademark infringement.  The defendant argued that it should be able to import its boots to the US since the term is generic in Australia, but the district court sided with the plaintiff in rejecting that defense. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed in a R.36 Judgment without any opinion (the original complaint included some design patents as well).

Australian Leather has now petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking two questions:

1. Whether a term that is generic in the English-speaking foreign country from which it originated is ineligible for trademark protection in the United States.

2. Whether and, if so, how the “primary significance to the relevant public” standard in 15 U.S.C. § 1064(3) for determining whether a registered trademark has “become” generic applies where a term originated as generic before registration.

[Petition]. This is an interesting new trademark petition that suggests some nuance from the Court’s 2020 decision in BOOKING.COM.


Jury Verdict on the Factual Underpinnings of Eligibility

by Dennis Crouch

Infernal Tech LLC v. Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC (E.D.Tex. 2021)

Today’s jury verdict in E.D. Tex. favored the accused infringer Sony.  The patentee alleged that Sony’s Spider-Man and God of War games infringed its U.S. Patent Nos. 6,362,822 (claim 1) and 7,061,488 (claims 1, 27, and 50.  The jury found, however, that neither game infringed.


The more interesting part of the jury verdict was Question 2 where Judge Gilstrap asked the jury to opine on the factual underpinnings of Alice Step 2. In particular, the jury was asked whether Sony had proven “by clear and convincing evidence that the Asserted Claims only involve technologies and activities that were well-understood, routine, and conventional, from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art, as of [the Filing Date].”   The jury sided with the defendant and answered “yes.”  The case will next go through some post-verdict motion practice (JNOV/New-Trial) and then will likely be appealed. However, barring some claim construction problem it will be difficult to overcome this non-infringement decision on appeal.

Claim 1 of the ”822:  A shadow rendering method for use in a computer system, the method comprising the steps of:

providing observer data of a simulated multi-dimensional scene;

providing lighting data associated with a plurality of simulated light sources arranged to illuminate said scene, said lighting data including light image data;

for each of said plurality of light sources, comparing at least a portion of said observer data with at least a portion of said lighting data to determine if a modeled point within said scene is illuminated by said light source and storing at least a portion of said light image data associated with said point and said light source in a light accumulation buffer; and

then combining at least a portion of said light accumulation buffer with said observer data; and

displaying resulting image data to a computer screen.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by Buether Joe LLP out of Dallas and the Defendants by Erise IP out of Kansas City. 

Avoiding IPR via Contract

by Dennis Crouch

Kannuu Pty. LTD v. Samsung Electronics Co., LTD (Fed. Cir. 2021)(KannuuSamsungDecision)

US Courts typically enforce choice-of-forum provisions found within contracts between two business entities.  Here, Kannuu and Samsung entered into a non-disclosure agreement as part of a potential deal, and the contract included a choice-of-forum provision that directed “any legal action” stemming from the agreement to courts located in New York City “and no other jurisdiction.”  The potential deal fell apart and Kannuu eventually sued Samsung for patent infringement.  Samsung responded with an inter partes review (IPR) petition. Kannuu then asked the USPTO to drop the petition based upon the forum-selection-clause and, failing that, also petitioned the district court for an order that Samsung drop the IPR.  The district court denied Kannuu’s motion for preliminary injunction and then appealed.

On appeal, the court centers-in on the issue:

The underlying question that this case presents is one of first impression: Does the forum selection clause in the non-disclosure agreement between the entities prohibit Samsung from petitioning for inter partes review of Kannuu’s patents at the Board?

Slip Op. Apart from the general legal question of whether such a clause can operate to keep the case out of IPR, Kannuu’s case has a more fundamental problem identified by the district court — “the plain meaning of the forum selection clause in the NDA [does] not encompass the inter partes review proceedings.” Slip Op.

The district court case is only at the preliminary injunction stage, and the appellate panel found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s finding that the IPR proceedings are not covered by the agreement since the agreement focuses on confidentiality rather than intellectual property rights.

On the bigger question of whether such a contract, if properly drafted, might be enforceable, the court explains that it “might” work:

Had Kannuu and Samsung entered a contract which applied to inter partes review proceedings, a forum selection clause in that hypothetical contract might permit Kannuu to avoid inter partes review and its inherent features. But, they did not enter such a contract.

Id.  The court has previously found such a clause enforceable to prevent a post-grant-review proceeding, but only in a non-precedential opinion. Dodocase VR, Inc. v. MerchSource, LLC, 767 F. App’x 930 (Fed. Cir. 2019).

The majority opinion was written by Judge Chen and joined by Judge Prost.

Writing in dissent, Judge Newman argued that “the forum selection clause is clear and unambiguous, and law and precedent require that it be respected and enforced.”

= = =

I should note that the patent at issue here has the auspicious title of “Process and apparatus for selecting an item from a database.” [Link]

Federal Circuit Further Eases Path for Obtaining Design Patents

by Dennis crouch

In re Surgisil, LLP, — 4th — (Fed. Cir. 2021).

This is an important design patent decision that substantially narrows the scope of prior art available for anticipation rejections in design patent cases.  The result is that it should become easier to obtain design patent protection.  The decision is only about 600 words long — fewer than may writeup about the case. 

My children have a variety of paper stumps that they use for smoothing and blending their pencil drawings. The first image below shows a typical paper stump that artists have been using for many decades. The second image shows the design for Surgisil’s article of manufacture that it is attempting to patent (design patent).  I also recall being fascinated by double-sharpened pencils that you can see in the third image. 

Although the three are basically identical in shape, Surgisil still believes it should be able to obtain a design patent because its patent is directed toward something different, the “ornamental design for a lip implant.” 

The USPTO examiner rejected Surgisil’s claims and the Patent Trial & Appeal Board affirmed. The PTAB held particularly that for anticipation purposes, “it is appropriate to ignore the identification of the article of manufacture in the claim language.” Further, although these might not be analogous art, “whether a reference is analogous art is irrelevant to whether that reference anticipates.”

On appeal the Federal Circuit reversed and instead held that the Surgisil’s claim language limited its invention to a design for “lip implants.” As such, prior art directed to drawing stumps and pencils do not anticipate a lip implant.  The court explains:

Here, the claim identifies a lip implant. The claim language recites “a lip implant,” and the Board found that the application’s figure depicts a lip implant, As such, the claim is limited to lip implants and does not cover other articles of manufacture. There is no dispute that Blick discloses an art tool rather than a lip implant. The Board’s anticipation finding therefore rests on an erroneous interpretation of the claim’s scope.

Slip Op.

The decision here goes a bit further than Court’s 2019 decision in Curver Luxembourg, SARL v. Home Expressions Inc., 938 F.3d 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2019).  Curver Luxembourg held that a particular claim was limited to the wicker pattern applied on an the article of manufacture recited in the claim (a chair) and thus did not cover the use of the same pattern on a basket or other non-claimed article.  The PTO had attempted to distinguish that case as applying to the particular situation where the drawings do not actually show the claimed article of manufacture. In particular, the court held we “that claim language can limit the scope of a design patent where the claim language supplies the only instance of an article of manufacture that appears nowhere in the figures.”  The drawing in Curver was an abstraction showing only the wicker design, and so the claim was important to tie the design to a particular article of manufacture.

The terse Surgisil decision did not attempt to explain why this case extends beyond the language of Curver.

For many years, the USPTO has followed the same policy — the claimed article does not make any difference for anticipation purposes.  That rules stems from an old CCPA case known as In re Glavas, 230 F.2d 447, (CCPA 1956).

It is true that the use to which an article is to be put has no bearing on its patentability as a design and that if the prior art discloses any article of substantially the same appearance as that of an applicant, it is immaterial what the use of such article is. Accordingly, so far as anticipation by a single prior art disclosure is concerned, there can be no question as to nonanalogous art in design cases.

Id.  One problem with Glavas is that it was an obviousness case and so the statement above is dicta. The court previously recognized this dicta in Curver. The court also suggested that Glavas had been implicitly overruled by Egyptian Goddess.  In Egyptian Goddess, the en banc court held that the ordinary observer test applies to anticipation analysis. In that regard, an ordinary observer would not be likely to confuse a sharpened pencil with a lip insert. (Note, this last sentence is implied by the court in Curver, but not expressly stated).

Surgisil is in some tension with precedent holding that the claim scope should be limited only to ornamental features. See, e.g., In re Zahn, 617 F.2d 261 (CCPA 1980) (“[35 U.S.C] 171 refers, not to the design of an article, but to the design for an article.”);  OddzOn Prods., Inc. v. Just Toys, Inc., 122 F.3d 1396 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (design patent scope is limited to the ornamental features).  The appellate panel here did not address that argument presented by the USPTO on appeal.

Generally, the USPTO will see this case as a major change to anticipation analysis.  In the end, it will make it even easier to obtain design patents — and seemingly permits someone to obtain a design patent by grabbing a design that is known in the art and applying it to a new article of manufacture.



Wag the Dog: The Federal Circuit’s Advancement of Fifth Circuit Law

by Dennis CrouchThe Federal Circuit has been tearing through mandamus petitions on the issue of inconvenient venue under Section 1404(a). The issue comes up in cases where venue is proper and the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant, but for whatever reason the particular venue chosen by the plaintiff is inconvenient. Thus, the statute provides a district court with discretion to move venue “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404.  Section 1404 appeals are traditionally quite rare. The issue comes up at the very beginning of the case, but there is no immediate right appeal the grant or denial of the transfer motion. By the time the district court reaches final judgment any harm due to litigating in an inconvenient forum is typically water-under-the-bridge leaving no cognizable harm for the appeal.  The shortcut then is to petition for mandamus as soon as the district court grants or denies a motion to transfer.

An oddity of patent litigation jurisprudence is that Section 1404 determinations are not deemed patent-law specific.  Thus, the district court is bound to follow the law of the regional circuit court. And, although patent-litigation mandamus petitions go to the Federal Circuit, the appellate court purports to apply the law of the relevant regional circuit court.  Since most of the transfer cases before the Federal Circuit are originally filed in Texas, the Federal Circuit regularly applies Fifth Circuit law.

The chart above comes from a simple Westlaw case search of appellate decisions referencing both Section 1404(a) and mandamus.  What you’ll notice is a relatively large number of decisions from the Federal Circuit, the vast majority of these out of the Fifth Circuit region.  Anyone following the cases will also know that the Federal Circuit has substantially advanced the doctrine over the past 4 years, even though during that time the FifthCircuit has not decided any Section 1404 cases.  By the time the Fifth Circuit hears another mandamus petition, I expect that the court may be a bit shocked to see where their doctrine has gone.

One note on this data – Prof. Jason Rantanen has written about missing appellate decisions, and mandamus decisions are right in the sweet-spot of  decisions that potentially don’t find their way into Westlaw.  So, bottom line is that these numbers are likely an undercount.

Eligibility: Turning Application On-and-Off for Authentication Patent Eligible

by Dennis Crouch

CosmoKey Solutions v. Duo Security (Fed. Cir. 2021)

Patentee wins this one–with the Federal Circuit reversing the district court and finding the claims on patent-eligibility under Alice step-two.  This is another case that serves as a data-point, but I struggle to differentiate it from similar cases finding claims ineligible.

CosmoKey’s U.S. Patent No. 9,246,903 is directed a low-complexity, high-security method of authenticating a user transaction. (2011 priority filing date).  The basic idea here is two-factor-authentication that uses a second communication channel (mobile phone) to authenticate a transaction.  This general idea was already in the prior art, but the claims add a couple of additional features:

  • Authentication function is normally inactive on the mobile device but is activated by the user for the transaction; and when once the transaction is done the authentication function is automatically deactivated.  This on/off function is designed to both save power on the device and also help prevent hacking.
  • As part of the authentication, there is a check on how long the user takes to respond (whether a predetermined time relation exists between the transmission of the user identification and a response from the second communication channel);

See ‘903 Patent Claim 1.

The district court found the claim ineligible under Section 101 after finding them closely parallel to the authentication method claims invalided in Prism Techs. LLC v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 696 F. App’x 1014 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential opinion).  In particular, the district court found the claims directed to “the abstract idea of authentication—that is, the verification of identity to permit access to transactions”  (Alice Step 1) and that the claims recite generic computer functionality that were all well understood, routine, and conventional activities at the time of the invention (Alice Step 2).

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has reversed — holding that the patent “discloses a technical solution to a security problem in networks and computers.”  That statement suggests reversal on Alice Step 1; but the court actually leapt to Step 2 without a clear holding on Step 1.  Here, the court found that the claimed steps were (1) developed by the inventors; (2) not admitted prior art; and (3) yield advantages over the described prior art.  The court noted the difficulty with this case — the purpose of the invention was to “reduce significantly” “the complexity of the authentication function.”  But, simplification can quickly suggest abstraction.

Eligibility Jurisprudence: It has been quite difficult to nail down the meaning of “abstract idea.”  The Supreme Court suggested that we look back to prior cases to find the answer, and that is the same approach that has been followed by the lower courts as well as the USPTO.  Here, however, the Federal Circuit cautioned that analysis:

While prior cases can be helpful in analyzing eligibility, whether particular claim limitations are abstract or, as an ordered combination, involve an inventive concept that transforms the claim into patent eligible subject matter, must be decided on a case-by-case basis in light of the particular claim limitations, patent specification, and invention at issue. Here, the  claim limitations are more specific and recite an improved method for overcoming hacking by ensuring that the authentication function is normally inactive, activating only for a transaction, communicating the activation within a certain time window, and thereafter ensuring that the authentication function is automatically deactivated.

Slip Op.

The court’s opinion was written by Judge Stoll and joined by Judge O’Malley.  Judge Reyna penned a concurring opinion arguing that the two step Alice approach should be taken in-order:

The majority skips step one of the Alice inquiry and bases its decision on what it claims is step two. I believe this approach is extraordinary and contrary to Supreme Court precedent. It turns the Alice inquiry on its head.

Concurring Opinion. Judge Reyna goes on to explain how Step 2 should be seen as a “lifeline” that only comes into play to save claims that are directed toward abstract ideas.  But, we can’t know if there is “something more” without first answering the question “more than what.”

Step two is rendered superfluous and unworkable without step one. Without the benefit of a step-one analysis, we are hobbled at step two in reasonably determining whether additional elements transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application of the abstract idea. And by skipping step one, we create a risk that claims that are not directed to an abstract idea might be deemed to “fail” at
step two.

Id.  Judge Reyna then goes on to conclude that the claims are not directed to an abstract idea. Id. Quoting the majority statement that “the claims and specification recite a specific improvement to authentication that increases security, prevents unauthorized access by a third party, is easily implemented, and can advantageously be carried out with mobile devices of low complexity.”

Patent Eligibility Jurisprudence

The USPTO is seeking comments on “the state of patent eligibility jurisprudence” and how eligibility law impacts both innovation and investment-in-innovation.  The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2021..

The USPTO is planning a report to Congress and the agency is hoping that these comments will serve as fundamental building blocks for the report.


FRANCE.COM: Trademark Transferred to French Government without Recourse in US Courts

When you visit the website, you’ll be quickly redirected to the French government’s explore-France travel site:  But, the US-company, Inc. believes that the country stole the .com site.  The case is now pending before the Supreme Court on petition for writ of certiorari is v. The French Republic, Docket No. 21-448 (Supreme Court 2021).

Jean-Noel Frydman registered the domain back in 1994 and began using it to operate his commercial tourism business. Frydman eventually registered the domain as a trademark — primarily in the travel related field. During that time the French National Tourist Office lauded Frydman’s work and and website.

In 2016, was pursuing a private trademark claim in a French-based court.  The French Government intervened in the lawsuit and was able to convince the French court to order the domain name to be transferred to the French Government.  The petitioner here calls that decision “in contravention of and hostile to United States law.”

Subsequently, France.Com filed the present lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court seeking an order transferring the domain name back.  Rather than delving into the merits, 4th Circuit ordered the case be dismissed. In particular, the district and appellate courts found the lawsuit barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). And, that the FSIA’s commercial activity exception to sovereign immunity did not apply.  The petition for writ of certiorari focuses on that question:

Whether the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and other lower federal courts have misapplied this Court’s decision in OBB Personenverkeher v. Sachs, 577 U.S. 27 (2015), as allowing courts to determine the gravamen of Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act “commercial activity” exception suits without analyzing distinct claims presented.


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§ 1604. Immunity of a foreign state from jurisdiction

Subject to existing international agreements to which the United States is a party at the time of enactment of this Act a foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States and of the States except as provided in sections 1605 to 1607 of this chapter.

§ 1605. General exceptions to the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state

(a) A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of courts of the United States or of the States in any case — (2) in which the action is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state; or upon an act performed in the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere; or upon an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States;

New PatentlyO L.J. Article: The AIA at Ten – How Much Do the Pre-AIA Prior Art Rules Still Matter?

New Patently-O Law Journal article by Colleen V. Chien, Professor of Law and Co-Director, High Tech Law Institute, and Janelle Barbier and Obie Reynolds, both second-year JD students; all at Santa Clara University School of Law.  Below they summarize their findings.

As the America Invents Act (AIA) turns 10, patent students across the country may be asking: if the law is already a decade old, why am I spending so much time learning pre-AIA law? Though patents filed before the transition date will remain in force up through March 2033, a good 10+ years away, teachers may also be wondering which regime to emphasize and for how long the pre-AIA rules will still be considered fundamental rather than footnote material. We address these questions empirically by analyzing the effective dates of patents and patent applications currently being litigated or pursued. Our analysis resoundingly confirms that both regimes matter and that the pre-AIA prior art regime appears likely to continue to be relevant for much of the next decade. But how much it matters depends: as the graphs below show, patent lawsuits overwhelmingly continue to feature pre-AIA patents. We estimate that ~90% of patent litigations initiated in 2020 included a patent with an effective filing date before the AIA transition date of March 16, 2013. But the inverse is true of patents currently being  prosecuted: ~94+ of applications currently pending before the USPTO, we estimate, are governed by the AIA. In the accompanying PatentlyO Bar Journal article, The AIA at Ten – How Much Does the Pre-AIA Prior Art Regime Still Matter?, 2021 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 35, we explain our methods, sources, and approach and how pre- and post-AIA law are likely to both remain important for some time but that the distinction doesn’t necessarily matter in the vast majority of cases.

Figure 1: Percentage of Patent Litigations Including a Pre-AIA Patent, by Year Litigation Initiated

Figure 2: 2021 Pending Patent Applications Pre- vs. Post-AIA (Point Estimate)

We thank LaTia Brand of Harrity Analytics and the Stanford NPE Database, described in Shawn Miller et al., Who’s Suing Us? Decoding Patent Plaintiffs since 2000 with the Stanford NPE Litigation Dataset, 21 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 235 (2018) for sharing data with us. Our data can be found at:

Read: Colleen Chien, Janelle Barbier, and Obie Reynolds, The AIA at Ten – How Much Does the Pre-AIA Prior Art Regime Still Matter?, 2021 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 34. (Chien.2021.Pre-AIAPatents)

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

  • Nicholas Shine, Covid-19 Pandemic’s Impact on the U.S. Patent System Through November 2020, 2021 PatentlyO Law Journal 27 (2021) (Shine.2021.COVID-19Impact)
  • Thomas F. Cotter, Is Global FRAND Litigation Spinning Out of Control, 2021 PatentlyO Law Journal 1 (2021) (Cotter.2021.GlobalFRANDLitigation)
  • Colleen V. Chien, Nicholas Halkowski, Maria He, and Rodney Swartz, Parsing the Impact of Alice and the PEG, 2020 Patently-O Law Journal 20 (2020) (Chien.2020.ImpactOfAlice)
  • Paul R. Michel and John T. Battaglia, eBay, the Right to Exclude, and the Two Classes of Patent Owners, 2020 Patently-O Law Journal 11 (2020) (Michel.2020.RightToExclude)
  • Thomas F. Cotter, Two Errors in the Ninth Circuit’s Qualcomm Opinion, 2020 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (2020). (Cotter.2020.TwoErrors.pdf)
  • Jasper L. Tran & J. Sean Benevento, Alice at Five, 2019 PatentlyO L.J. 25 (2019) (Tran.2019.AliceatFive.pdf)
  • Bernard Chao, Implementing Apportionment, 2019 PatentlyO L.J. 20 (Chao.2019.ImplementingApportionment)
  • Jeremy C. Doerre, Is There Any Need to Resort to a § 101 Exception for Prior Art Ideas?, 2019 PatentlyO L.J. 10. (2019.Doerre.AnyNeed)
  • Colleen V. Chien, Piloting Applicant-Initiated 101 Deferral Through A Randomized Controlled Trial, 2019 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (2019.Chien.DeferringPSM)
  • David A. Boundy, Agency Bad Guidance Practices at the Patent and Trademark Office: a Billion Dollar Problem, 2018 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 20. (Boundy.2018.BadGuidance)
  • Colleen Chien and Jiun-Ying Wu, Decoding Patentable Subject Matter, 2018 PatentlyO Patent Law Journal 1.
  • Paul M. Janicke, Patent Venue: Half Christmas Pie, And Half Crow, 2017 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 13. (Janicke.2017.ChristmasPie.pdf)
  • Paul M. Janicke, The Imminent Outpouring from the Eastern District of Texas, 2017 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (2017) (Janicke.2017.Venue)
  • Mark A. Lemley, Erik Oliver, Kent Richardson, James Yoon, & Michael Costa, Patent Purchases and Litigation Outcomes, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 15 (Lemley.2016.PatentMarket)
  • Bernard Chao and Amy Mapes, An Early Look at Mayo’s Impact on Personalized Medicine, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 10 (Chao.2016.PersonalizedMedicine)
  • James E. Daily, An Empirical Analysis of Some Proponents and Opponents of Patent Reform, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (Daily.2016.Professors)
  • Tristan Gray–Le Coz and Charles Duan, Apply It to the USPTO: Review of the Implementation of Alice v. CLS Bank in Patent Examination, 2014 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (GrayLeCozDuan)
  • Robert L. Stoll, Maintaining Post-Grant Review Estoppel in the America Invents Act: A Call for Legislative Restraint, 2012 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (Stoll.2012.estoppel.pdf)
  • Paul Morgan, The Ambiguity in Section 102(a)(1) of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 29.  (Morgan.2011.AIAAmbiguities)
  • Joshua D. Sarnoff, Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 12 (sarnoff.2011.derivation.pdf)
  • Bernard Chao, Not So Confidential: A Call for Restraint in Sealing Court Records, 2011 Patently-O Patent Patent Law Journal 6 (chao.sealedrecords.pdf)
  • Benjamin Levi and Rodney R. Sweetland, The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Recommendations to the International Trade Commission (ITC):  Unsound, Unmeasured, and Unauthoritative, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (levi.ftcunsound.pdf)
  • Kevin Emerson Collins, An Initial Comment on King Pharmaceuticals: The Printed Matter Doctrine as a Structural Doctrine and Its Implications for Prometheus Laboratories, 2010 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 111 (Collins.KingPharma.pdf)
  • Robert A. Matthews, Jr., When Multiple Plaintiffs/Relators Sue for the Same Act of Patent False Marking, 2010 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 95 (matthews.falsemarking.pdf)
  • Kristen Osenga, The Patent Office’s Fast Track Will Not Take Us in the Right Direction, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 89 (Osenga.pdf)
  • Peter S. Menell,  The International Trade Commission’s Section 337 Authority, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 79
  • Donald S. Chisum, Written Description of the Invention: Ariad (2010) and the Overlooked Invention Priority Principle, 2010 Patently‐O Patent L.J. 72
  • Kevin Collins, An Initial Comment on Ariad: Written Description and the Baseline of Patent Protection for After-Arising Technology, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 24
  • Etan Chatlynne, Investigating Patent Law’s Presumption of Validity—An Empirical Analysis, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 37
  • Michael Kasdan and Joseph Casino, Federal Courts Closely Scrutinizing and Slashing Patent Damage Awards, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 24 (Kasdan.Casino.Damages)
  • Dennis Crouch, Broadening Federal Circuit Jurisprudence: Moving Beyond Federal Circuit Patent Cases, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 19 (2010)
  • Edward Reines and Nathan Greenblatt, Interlocutory Appeals of Claim Construction in the Patent Reform Act of 2009, Part II, 2010 Patently‐O Patent L.J. 7  (2010) (Reines.2010)
  • Gregory P. Landis & Loria B. Yeadon, Selecting the Next Nominee for the Federal Circuit: Patently Obvious to Consider Diversity, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1 (2010) (Nominee Diversity)
  • Paul Cole, Patentability of Computer Software As Such, 2008 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1. (Cole.pdf)
  • John F. Duffy, The Death of Google’s Patents, 2008 Patently O-Pat. L.J. ___ (googlepatents101.pdf)
  • Mark R. Patterson, Reestablishing the Doctrine of Patent Exhaustion, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 38
  • Arti K. Rai, The GSK Case: An Administrative Perspective, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 36
  • Joshua D. Sarnoff, BIO v. DC and the New Need to Eliminate Federal Patent Law Preemption of State and Local Price and Product Regulation, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 30 (Download Sarnoff.BIO.pdf)
  • John F. Duffy, Are Administrative Patent Judges Unconstitutional?, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 21. (Duffy.BPAI.pdf)
  • Joseph Casino and Michael Kasdan, In re Seagate Technology: Willfulness and Waiver, a Summary and a Proposal, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1 (Casino-Seagate)


Preclusion; Customer Lawsuits; and the Kessler Doctrine

by Dennis Crouch

PersonalWeb Technologies, LLC v. Patreon, Inc., Docket No. 20-1394 (Supreme Court 2021).

This is a core civil procedure case pending before the Supreme Court.  Of course, procedure can and often does have a major impact on substantive rights.  The Supreme Court has now issued a Call for the Views of the Solicitor General (CVSG)–seeking the government’s input on whether to hear the case.  Although certiorari is certainly not guaranteed, CVSG is generally seen as a major step in that direction.

We know about issue preclusion and claim preclusion. This case is about a quirky intermediary known as the Kessler Doctrine. See, Kessler v. Eldred, 206 U.S. 285 (1907).

  • Claim Preclusion (res judicata) prevents a party from re-litigating a claim once a court has issued a final judgment on that claim.  Claim preclusion is powerful, in part, because it does not require the claim to be actually litigated (just be subject to the final judgment).  Further, claim preclusion bars both those claims that were brought as well as claims stemming from the same transaction or occurrence that could have been brought in the earlier lawsuit.  However, claim preclusion is quite narrow because it does not apply in the non-mutual setting.
  • Issue Preclusion (collateral estoppel) prevents a party from re-litigating an issue of fact or law that was already determined in a prior case.  Issue preclusion is powerful because it applies in non-mutual settings.  Issue preclusion can prevent a patentee from later arguing in a new lawsuit that its patent is valid after an earlier finding of invalidity, even if the new lawsuit is against a different party.  The major weakness of issue preclusion is that it requires that the issue have been actually decided in the prior lawsuit, with a full-and-fair opportunity to litigate, and be essential to the prior judgment (not just dicta). As an example, issue preclusion does not attach following a settlement.
  • Kessler Doctrine is particular to patent law and falls somewhere in-between issue and claim preclusion–allowing preclusion in instances where it would not be traditionally available.  In particular, the doctrine bars a patent infringement lawsuit suit against the customer of a seller who had previously prevailed against a patentee in an earlier patent infringement suit. Kessler v. Eldred, 206 U.S. 285 (1907).  In that situation claim preclusion would not apply because of non-mutuality; and issue preclusion might not apply if the issues being barred were not actually litigated in the first case.

One justification for the Kessler doctrine back in 1907 was that issue preclusion generally did not apply to unrelated parties.  However the 20th century saw a great expansion of issue preclusion that culminated with the Supreme Court’s 1971 decision in Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313 (1971) (“the principle of mutuality of estoppel … is today out of place”).  However, rather than relegating Kessler to a prior time, the Federal Circuit has recently substantially expanded the doctrine even beyond its usual bounds.  That revival began with the 2014 decision in Brain Life, LLC v. Elekta Inc., 746 F.3d 1045 (Fed. Cir. 2014), but has subsequently been relied upon in a series of cases from the appellate court. SpeedTrack, Inc. v. Office Depot, Inc., 791 F.3d 1317, 1323-1329 (Fed. Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 577 U.S. 1063 (2016); SimpleAir, Inc. v. Google LLC, 884 F.3d 1160, 1169-1170 (Fed. Cir. 2018); Mentor Graphics Corp. v. EVE-USA, Inc., 851 F.3d 1275, 1301 (Fed. Cir. 2017), cert. dismissed, 139 S. Ct. 44 (2018);  Xiaohua Huang v. Huawei Techs. Co., 787 F. App’x 723, 724 (Fed. Cir. 2019); In re PersonalWeb Techs. LLC, 961 F.3d 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2020); ABS Glob., Inc. v. Cytonome/ST, LLC, 984 F.3d 1017, 1022 (Fed. Cir. 2021).

The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined (in other situations) to expand preclusion beyond its traditional bounds without congressional intervention. See Lucky Brand Dungarees v. Marcel Fashions Grp., Inc., 140 S. Ct. 1589, 1594-95 (2020) (rejecting “defense preclusion” as a cognizable doctrine).  Likewise, the court has rejected patent-specific procedural rules.  Those lines of cases all suggest a good likelihood that the court cabin-in the doctrine.

Preclusion cases always involve two lawsuits, and the question is whether something that happened in the first lawsuit precludes a party from taking some action in the section lawsuit.   Here, PersonalWeb sued Amazon for patent infringement back in 2011 based upon Amazon’s use of its S3 cloud storage services. However, after a narrow claim construction, PersonalWeb stipulated to dismissal of its case with prejudice.  In 2018, PersonalWeb sued a number of Amazon customers for post-2011 activities.  The courts dismissed the case — holding that the action was barred by the Kessler Doctrine.

PersonalWeb’s petition for certiorari begins with a preamble and then asks two questions:

This Court has repeatedly held that, absent guidance from Congress, courts should not create special procedural rules for patent cases or devise novel preclusion doctrines that stray beyond the traditional bounds of claim and issue preclusion. Nonetheless, over the past seven years, the Federal Circuit has created and then repeatedly expanded a special, patent-specific preclusion doctrine that it attributes to this Court’s 114-year-old decision in Kessler v. Eldred, 206 U.S. 285 (1907)—a case this Court has not cited for almost 70 years. The Federal Circuit now routinely applies its so-called “Kessler doctrine” to reject suits like this one that would survive under ordinary preclusion principles.

The questions presented are:

1. Whether the Federal Circuit correctly interpreted Kessler to create a freestanding preclusion doctrine that may apply even when claim and issue preclusion do not.

2. Whether the Federal Circuit properly extended its Kessler doctrine to cases where the prior judgment was a voluntary dismissal.

[Petition for Certiorari]

In its responsive briefing, Amazon and its customers have rewritten the questions in slightly different form, emphasizing their arguments.

In Kessler v. Eldred, 206 U.S. 285 (1907), this Court held that a patent-infringement judgment establishing the right of a manufacturer to make and sell a product includes “the right to have others secure in buying that article, and in its use and resale.” Rubber Tire Wheel Co. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 232 U.S. 413, 418 (1914). Accordingly, “a judgment in [the manufacturer’s] favor bars suits against his customers.” Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 185 (1952). The questions presented are:

(1) whether the Federal Circuit properly interpreted Kessler as a bar on suits against customers for use of the same articles that were the subject of the prior judgment, rather than a mere application of non-mutual issue preclusion;

(2) whether Kessler should be overruled, despite stare decisis, when Congress has never revised the Patent Act to overrule Kessler, and when its rule is necessary to prevent the kind of vexatious litigation in which the district court found Petitioner to have engaged; and

(3) whether Kessler applies to judgments of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, which this Court has long held to have the same preclusive effect as an adjudication on the merits of a claim.

[Brief in opposition].

Next stop in this case is input from the Biden Administration via the Solicitor General.  That brief probably won’t be submitted until Spring 2022.

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Note – Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 185 (1952) was decided prior to the Patent Act of 1952.