Post-Loper Bright Patent Law: Will SCOTUS Redefine PTAB Discretion?

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court has requested a response to a pending petition for certiorari in United Therapeutics Corp. v. Liquidia Technologies, Inc., indicating that at least one justice sees potential merit in the case. The petition challenges the Federal Circuit’s application of the statutory limits on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) authority in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings.  I believe that there is a potential that the Court will issue a grant-vacate-remand (GVR) order, asking the Federal Circuit to reconsider its deferential decision based upon Loper Bright.

UTC owns the patent at issue, U.S. Patent No. 10,716,793, which is directed to methods of treating pulmonary hypertension using treprostinil. (more…)

The Long Arm of APEX: When (and Where) does Amazon’s Private Enforcement Mechanism Create Personal Jurisdictional

By Dennis Crouch

This case would be great for a 2L law review note.

Back in May 2024, the Federal Circuit issued an important decision holding that a patentee’s use of Amazon’s patent enforcement process (APEX) to target an alleged infringer’s listings can subject the patent owner to specific personal jurisdiction in the alleged infringer’s home state – despite no direct contacts with that state.  SnapRays, LLC v. Lighting Defense Group, LLC, No. 2023-1184 (Fed. Cir. 2024). The patentee has now petitioned for en banc rehearing, arguing that the opinion conflicts with prior Federal Circuit precedent and makes a holding that the Supreme Court at least implicitly rejected in Walden.  The case is important as APEX and other similar private sales-channel enforcement processes become increasingly popular. SnapRays En Banc Petition.

My view: The Federal Circuit erred here. (more…)

Guest Post by Profs. Lemley & Ouellette: Fixing Double Patenting

Guest post by Professors Mark A. Lemley and Lisa Larrimore Ouellette of Stanford Law School.

Two of the most controversial patent law changes of the past year have involved obviousness-type double patenting, which allows applicants to patent obvious variants of their earlier patents by disclaiming the extra term of the later-expiring patent. First, the Federal Circuit held in In re Cellect that patents tied by double patenting must expire on the same day even if one of the patents has received a patent term adjustment (PTA) giving it a more-than-twenty-year term. The en banc denial and pending cert petition in Cellect have attracted substantial interest from amici and commenters. Second, the USPTO proposed that terminal disclaimers include a commitment to not enforce the patent if any claims in the patent to which it is tied are found to be obvious or not novel. Early commentary on the proposal was “overwhelmingly negative.”

In our new draft article, Fixing Double Patenting, we argue that this outcry is unwarranted. (more…)

Fixing Double Patenting: The Procrustean Solution?

by Dennis Crouch

I recently provided a set of interesting data on the large number of patents that are “at risk” of being invalidated based on the Federal Circuit’s Cellect decision. This post follows up with a discussion of a recent article titled “Fixing Double Patenting” released in draft form by Stanford Professors Mark Lemley and Lisa Larrimore Ouellette. The article takes a critical look at the practice of obviousness-type double patenting in the U.S. patent system.

(more…)

The Emperor’s New Judgments: Rule 36 and the Invisible Cloth of Patent Law

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s practice of issuing no-opinion affirmances under Rule 36 is facing renewed scrutiny in two recent petitions for rehearing en banc. In UNM Rainforest Innovations v. ZyXEL Communications Corp. and Island Intellectual Property LLC v. TD Ameritrade, Inc., the petitioners argue that the court’s use of one-word Rule 36 judgments allowed it to sidestep key legal and factual issues raised on appeal. These petitions highlight ongoing concerns about the Federal Circuit’s frequent use of Rule 36 and its impact on patent law development.  The failure to provide an explanatory opinion is an appellate-procedure issue – the two patentees also argue that the lower tribunal made substantive legal errors.

I don’t see the court as having a truly nefarious reason for its common no-opinion judgments, but the situation does call to mind the ancient fable about the emperor’s new clothes adapted and popularized by Hans Christian Andersen.  (more…)

A few initial thoughts on Loper Bright and the end of Chevron Deference

by Dennis Crouch

This is just a first look at how overturning Chevron may impact patent practice. 

In the past, both the USPTO and patent attorneys have largely ignored the larger scope of administrative law, but in recent years USPTO operations have been under tighter control from the White House, and courts have increasingly asked whether the agency is following the rules.  Administrative patent law was truly launched with  the American Invents Act of 2011 and the resulting administrative patent trials by the PTAB — resulting in hundreds of appeals arguing that the USPTO’s procedural approach is an abuse of administrative power.  Importantly, the Supreme Court in Cuozzo Speed Techs. v. Com. for Intell. Prop., 579 U.S. 261 (2016) provided the patent office with Chevron deference for its determinations regarding AIA trials, including issues such as its approach to claim construction.  But Chevron has now been overruled, and many are wanting the Federal Circuit to revisit the USPTO approach.

Although I expect that the outcome (more…)

Pending IP Cert Petitions at the Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court’s 2023 year draws to a close, the court has denied certiorari in the vast majority of IP related cases, with the Dewberry trademark damages case left as the only IP case granted certiorari.  Seven petitions remain undecided and the court will pick them up again when it begins the 2024 term in late September.  This post briefly reviews these cases. I’m listing some cases that I have not previously discussed first.

 I. United Therapeutics Corporation v. Liquidia Technologies, Inc. (Case No. 23-1298)

This case centers on the Federal Circuit’s role in overseeing inter partes review proceedings. Petitioner is challenging the standard of review applied by the Federal Circuit when examining the Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) decisions in IPR cases.  Paraphrased issues:

  1. Should the Federal Circuit review the PTO’s reliance on new grounds and new printed publications (not raised in the initial petition) de novo or only for an abuse of discretion when deciding to cancel patent claims?
  2. Should the Court overrule the Chevron deference doctrine?

On the second question, the court is currently considering a Chevron case and is likely to significantly change the doctrine within the next few days.

II. Bill Gaede, et ux. v. Michael Delay, et al. (Case No. 23-1252)

This is a bit of an odd case raising the concept of “scientific priority,” which I believe is really a right of attribution: Can the usurpation of scientific priority be considered a violation under the Lanham Act or the Copyright Act?

The Gaedes claimed that the defendants (Michael Delay, Anastasia Bendebury, and Biospintronics, LLC) had misappropriated their ideas and theories, attempting to assert copyright protection over these ideas and alleging unfair competition under the Lanham Act. Specifically, the Gaedes contended that Bill Gaede was the originator of certain theories and ideas, and that the defendants were wrongfully presenting these ideas as their own in services they sell on the internet.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal; holding that the Gaedes were trying to protect ideas, which are not copyrightable and that the unfair competition claim was not viable based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

III. Kirk Johnston v. Nickleback (Case No. 23-1243)

Petitioner, Kirk Johnston allegedly wrote the song “Rock Star” and is suing Nickelback band members for copyright infringement based upon its own rock star song.  The district court dismissed the case on summary judgment, writing that both songs include lots of tropes about famous musicians but that the two songs “do not sound alike.”   In his petition, Johnston argues that the lower court improperly decided the facts on summary judgment:

1. Can courts disregard expert evidence on substantial similarity at the summary judgment stage?
2. Should courts make factual determinations on access and substantial similarity at the summary judgment stage, potentially denying plaintiffs their right to a jury trial?
3. How should courts handle the “discovery rule” in copyright cases, particularly regarding the scope of available damages?

Johnston is pro se in this case.

IV. Cellect, LLC v. Vidal (Case No. 23-1231)

I’ve previously written about this case which focuses the interplay between statutory provisions and old judge-made doctrines in patent law. Specifically, the case asks whether a patent procured in good faith can be invalidated for obviousness-type double patenting when family member patents have varying expiry dates due to Patent Term Adjustment (PTA) caused by USPTO delays in granting patent rights.

V. Chestek PLLC v. Vidal (Case No. 23-1217)

This is an administrative law case asking when the APA requires the PTO to conduct  formal rulemaking.  Is the PTO exempt from notice-and-comment requirements when exercising its rulemaking power under 35 U.S.C. § 2(b)(2)?

VI. Eolas Technologies v. Amazon.com, Inc., et al. (Case No. 23-1184)

This case, also involving accused infringers Google and Walmart focuses on patent eligibility.

  1. Are claims drawn to solving specific problems in computer-network technology patent-eligible under § 101 and Alice?
  2. Can Alice’s two-step eligibility analysis properly subsume considerations traditionally falling under §§ 102, 103, and 112?
  3. Are the specific claims of the ‘507 patent eligible for patenting under § 101 and Alice?

The patent at issue (9,195,507) includes aspects of the internet that many see as fundamental — perhaps it claims priority back to 1994.

VII. Tarun Surti v. Fleet Engineers, Inc. (Case No. 23-1142)

This case raises several issues related to patent infringement litigation, particularly focusing on the rights of individual inventors and small entities. The petitioner, a pro se individual inventor, is challenging various aspects of the lower courts’ handling of his patent infringement case, including application of the doctrine of equivalents; proper remedies for patent infringement, and tortious interference in the context of patent disputes.

Texas Startup Must Litigate Apple in California because of Convenience to the Tech Giant

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit recently denied a petition for mandamus seeking to overturn a district court order transferring a patent case from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California. In re Haptic, Inc., No. 2024-121 (Fed. Cir. June 25, 2024). This case was filed in Austin and assigned to Judge Robert Pittman with Haptic alleging that Apple’s “Back Tap” feature on iPhones infringes U.S. Patent No. 9,996,738 relating to gesture detection systems. Haptic is headquartered in Austin at the home of its longtime CEO and listed inventor Jake Boshernitzan.  The company was part of Techstars Austin Accelerator as it developed its product known as Knocki that allows users to tap on ordinary surfaces to control various actions on phones and other devices. Knock on wood. The patent and Knocki product are designed to expand touch interfaces beyond traditional touchscreens, potentially opening up new modes of interaction with smart devices and appliances. The ‘738 patent particularly issue covers systems and methods for detecting tapping or knocking gestures on surfaces to control electronic devices.

Apple also has a major presence in Austin, with about 10,000 Austin employees and a billion-dollar second headquarters campus in the city. Nevertheless, Judge Pitman (more…)

Amarin v. Hikma: Federal Circuit reverses Inducement Dismissal in Skinny-Label Case

by Dennis Crouch

Amarin Pharma, Inc. v. Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., No. 2023-1169 (Fed. Cir. June 25, 2024).

This is another “skinny label” generic pharmaceutical patent case.  The basic setup involves a drug that has several different approved uses; with the branded manufacturer holding patents covering only some of the uses.  The generic company is then permitted to sell the drug, but is labelled only for non-patented uses. These labels are known as  carve-out or “skinny” labels under 21 U.S.C. § 355(j)(2)(A)(viii).

It is inevitable that people will purchase and use the generic drugs for the patented uses, and that the generic distributer will be accused accused of inducing  those infringing acts.  Although the generic typically makes a profit on these sales, it those profits pale in comparison to the profits lost by the branded company.

Amarin v. Hickma highlights some of the challenges that generics are facing when marketing drugs with these carved-out labels.  One difficulty is that the FDA severely limits what the generic can say about the drug and its uses, and the carve-out is generally based upon statements made by the patentee.  Here, the court follows a label-plus approach. The skinny label itself will not be enough to show inducement, but that evidence can be combined with other evidence (such as marketing) to prove liability. (more…)

Dewberry Group: Structuring the Firm to Avoid Trademark Liability

by Dennis Crouch

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Dewberry Group, Inc. v. Dewberry Engineers Inc., a trademark damages case focused on how corporate separateness principles apply to disgorgement remedies under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a). The Fourth Circuit’s decision affirmed a $43 million disgorgement award against petitioner Dewberry Group (DG) for trademark infringement, an amount that included profits earned by DG’s “legally separate” corporate affiliates. Apparently, the affiliates were “single-purpose entities,” also privately owned by John Dewberry, whose sole function was to own commercial properties serviced by DG.

Pierce the Veil: In its literal sense, a veil is a delicate fabric that separates the visible from the concealed, a barrier that can be easily lifted or parted. However, the phrase has a history of extending beyond the material world, with a veil often serving as a boundary between the physical and spiritual realms in our universe. Many of us go through life, only occasionally glimpsing beyond this veil into the hidden spiritual dimensions that, according to story tellers, lie alongside our own. In the corporate world, the veil of corporate personhood serves to shield the owners from personal liability, creating a legal fiction that separates the actions of the company from those of its shareholders. This veil of protection is not impenetrable, however, and can be pierced by the courts in cases of serious misconduct or wrongdoing, exposing the owners to personal responsibility. Although the truth of owner identity may already be known, piercing the corporate veil removes the protection against responsibility  by attempting to holding accountable those who would misuse its protections. But, the legal doctrine of corporate separateness is quite strong and I might venture that it is easier to pierce the veil of our spiritual realms than the corporate analogue. (more…)

Sitting By Designation, Judge Albright Pens First Federal Circuit Opinion Vacating PTAB Decision for Failing to Consider Petitioner’s Reply Brief Claim Construction Arguments

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s 2023 decision in Axonics, Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc. marked an important change in inter partes review procedure, ensuring petitioners have an opportunity to respond patentee’s newly proposed arguments, with the hope of discouraging patent owners from holding-back (“sandbagging”) at the institution stage.  Case-in-point is the Federal Circuit’s recent Apple v. Omni MedSci decision authored by Judge Alan D. Albright sitting by designation.

(more…)

Does Justice Thomas Hate Invention or Just the Hubris of Inventors?

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court recently decided Moore v. United States, — U.S. — (June 20, 2024), a case focusing on the constitutionality of the Mandatory Repatriation Tax (MRT). While the majority opinion, authored by Justice Kavanaugh, upheld the MRT, Justice Thomas published a strong dissent relying upon an invention metaphor in a decidedly negative light, something that he has done in several other recent opinions. For Thomas, judicial invention is a synonym to judicial activism and antithetical to his approach that looks primarily to historic preservation, especially when interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

In Moore, the majority held that the MRT, which attributes the realized and undistributed income of an American-controlled foreign corporation to the entity’s American shareholders and then taxes those shareholders, “falls squarely within Congress’s constitutional authority to tax.” The Court reached this holding by relying on its “longstanding precedents” that allow Congress to attribute the undistributed income of an entity to the entity’s shareholders or partners for tax purposes.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, dissented. He argued that the Sixteenth Amendment requires realization for income to be taxed without apportionment.  His main complaint against the majority opinion is that it “invent[ed]” a new attribution doctrine to reach its conclusion.

Justice Thomas’ negative invocation of “invention” in Moore is part of a broader trend in his recent opinions. Just a week before Moore, in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, 602 U.S. — (June 13, 2024), Justice Thomas refused to “invent a new doctrine of doctor standing,” concluding that “there would be no principled way to cabin such a sweeping doctrinal change to doctors or other healthcare providers.”  Similarly, in a recent concurring opinion, Justice Thomas argued that “Federal courts have the power to grant only the equitable relief ‘traditionally accorded by courts of equity,’ not the flexible power to invent whatever new remedies may seem useful at the time.” Alexander v. S.C. State Conf. of the NAACP, 144 S. Ct. 1221 (2024) (Thomas, J., concurring).  And in his dissent in US v. Rahimi, 602 U.S. — (June 21, 2024), Justice Thomas complained that “At argument, the Government invented yet another position.”

Justice Thomas is not alone in his negative view of judicial invention. In a recent dissent, Justice Gorsuch lamented that “Despite [a] settled rule, the Court today doubles down on a new tort of its own recent invention.” Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon, Ohio, 602 U.S. — (June 20, 2024) (Gorsuch, J., dissenting).

This antipathy to judicial invention truthfully in line with the stated approach of all judges today. Claiming judicial restraint, “calling balls and strikes,” avoiding judicial activism. In Moore, for instance, the majority opinion also tied its holding to history.  Although what caught my attention in the case is that the majority opinion does also reference invention — applauding the taxpayers’ attorneys for being inventive, even if ultimately unpersuasive on a particular point. The Court wrote, “Moores’ effort to thread that needle, although inventive, is unavailing.”  The concept of invention also appeared in Justice Barrett’s concurring opinion in Moore, but in a different context. She wrote, “A patent is an inventor’s property, and royalties are the income she receives from licensing it. A capital fund is a banker’s property, and interest is the income she receives from lending it.” Here, Justice Barrett was distinguishing between a “seed” (property) and its “fruit” (income), not commenting on judicial invention.

Showing that it is not only the conservative Justices, in a recent majority opinion, Justice Jackson also used the term “invention” pejoratively, arguing that “the dissent invents new arguments to arrive at its favored outcome.” Office of U.S. Tr. v. John Q. Hammons Fall 2006, LLC, 602 U.S. — (U.S. June 14, 2024). Justice Jackson noted that the dissent’s purported inventiveness was two-fold problematic: (1) it went beyond the arguments of the parties, and (2) it went beyond controlling precedent.

I have been delving into mythology recent as part of an academic project, and Justice Thomas’ approach calls to mind the many ancient myths that warn against hubris that often leads to folly. To escape from the labyrinth, the great inventor Daedalus created wings for himself and his son Icarus using feathers and wax. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, as the heat would melt the wax. But, Icarus could not listen: The wax melted and Icarus plummeted into the sea and drowned. Thomas views “judicial invention” as a dangerous flight too close to the sun – risking the integrity of the legal system that has stood for so many years.  But, this analysis is a bit too quick because the myth does not condemn invention itself, but rather reckless and unrestrained use of it. Daedalus, after all, successfully used his invention to escape, demonstrating that innovation, when applied with restraint, can be beneficial. In the context of jurisprudence, this suggests to me that there might be a middle ground for judicial invention – one that provides due respect to established precedents and historic traditions while allowing for thoughtful adaptation to new societal challenges. Just as Daedalus found the right balance in his flight, perhaps there’s a path for judicial reasoning that innovates responsibly.

You might think that Justice Thomas believes that invention is best left to those seeking patents, not those wearing judicial robes. But, Justice Thomas is also no friend to patents or patent owners.  Rather, he is author of key opinions that  have greatly weakened patent rights over the past two decades, including eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006); Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Intern., 573 U.S. 208 (2014); and Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, 584 U.S. 325 (2018).   Hate is a strong word, but perhaps the answer is that Justice Thomas does not favor invention.

Patentees Out of Luck Again: CAFed Sides with DraftKings that Remote Gambling Patent Ineligible

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit has affirmed a D.N.J. court’s dismissal of patentee Beteiro’s infringement complaints against DraftKings, et al., agreeing that the asserted claims are directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Beteiro, LLC v. DraftKings Inc., No. 2022-2275 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2024). The patents at issue were directed to methods of facilitating remote gambling activity using devises equipped with GPS.  (more…)

Double Trouble: IPO asks for Supreme Court review of PTA/ODP Cellect dispute

by Dennis Crouch

A second amicus brief has been filed – this one from the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) – encouraging the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in Cellect, LLC v. Vidal, No. 23-1231. The case concerns the interplay between the Patent Term Adjustment (PTA) statute, 35 U.S.C. § 154(b), and the judicially-created doctrine of obviousness-type double patenting (ODP). (more…)

Trade Secret Misappropriation Preliminary Injunction Reversed

By Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit has reversed a preliminary injunction order in a trade secret misappropriation case, finding that the district court abused its discretion by failing to properly evaluate the likelihood of success on the merits and the balance of harms. Insulet Corp. v. EOFlow, Co., No. 2024-1137 (Fed. Cir. June 17, 2024). The appellate court held that the district court’s analysis was deficient in several key respects, including not addressing the statute of limitations defense, defining trade secrets too broadly, and not sufficiently assessing irreparable harm and the public interest.

This classic trade secret case involves former employees left to join a competitor.  As free humans, they are permitted to take their skill and wisdom to the new jobs, but are forbidden from misappropriating trade secret knowledge.  That line drawing is particularly difficult, and one reason why many employers moved toward contractual non-compete agreements. The case is also complicated because the defendant here admit to reverse engineering that apparently lead to some substantial similarities between the products.

The decision highlights a high bar for obtaining a preliminary injunction, even in trade secret cases involving competitors where we previously may have assumed irreparable harm.  The Federal Circuit here explained that lower courts are required to individually evaluate each of the four injunction factors – likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, balance of hardships, and public interest. Conclusory assertions of competitive harm are insufficient to show irreparable injury.  For trade secret claims in particular, the alleged trade secrets must be defined with specificity. But, this proof is often difficult at the preliminary injunction stage of a case when the particular knowledge used by the defendant has not been fully discovered.

The Federal Circuit has been seen as largely supporting strong trade secrecy rights. However, this decision may put a damper on forum shopping attempts. (more…)

Democracy on Trial: Chestek and the Future of USPTO Accountability

by Dennis Crouch

The pending petition for certiorari in Chestek v. Vidal focuses on the extend that the APA requires the USPTO to follow notice-and-comment requirements when promulgating regulations under 35 U.S.C. § 2(b)(2). In its decision below, the Federal Circuit held that the USPTO is exempt from these requirements because the types of rules it is authorized to issue under Section 2(b)(2) are procedural in nature, and the APA excuses “rules of agency … procedure” from the requirements.  There are two ways that the Federal Circuit potentially erred:

  1. The TM applicant home-address requirement being challenged here is not the type of procedural rule exempted under the APA; and
  2. Even if it is procedural, the particular requirements of the Patent Act’s section 2(b)(2) requires following the notice and comment requirements.

The Federal Circuit agreed that 35 U.S.C. § 2(b)(2) requires USPTO regulations to be “made in accordance with” the APA — but disagreed that this requires notice-and-comment for all new regulations. The court concluded that the APA inherently includes an exception for procedural requirements and so the USPTO was not required to follow notice-and-comment rulemaking when promulgating the trademark applicant home-address rule, because the court deemed it to be a procedural rather than substantive rule exempt from those APA requirements.

Five amicus briefs were recently filed in support of the petitioner, arguing that Supreme Court review is warranted to correct the Federal Circuit’s erroneous decision, arguing that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of Section 2(b)(2) is flawed and undermines important principles of administrative law. (more…)

Federal Circuit Affirms Patent Rejection for Lack of Enablement in In re Pen

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently affirmed a USPTO enablement rejection — holding that the patentee did not enable the “full scope” of the claimed invention.  In re Pen, 23-2282 (Fed. Cir. 2024) (non-precedential).  As an aside, the listed inventor’s legal name is “The Pen;” first and last name respectively, with no middle initial.  Based upon Pen’s address, he is related to “The People’s Email Network.”  In the case, Pen represented himself pro se.

Pen’s patent claimed “polycyclic metallole heteroatom rich conductive long chain polymers” comprised of certain repeating units. The idea here is to create a conductive polymer for use in new battery technology.  Key limitations in the claims at issue here are that the metallole heteroatom is nitrogen, there are more than eight repeating units (n>8), and a substituent R can be any substituent.

In affirming the PTO’s refusal, the Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s factual findings on the Wands factors and found no legal error in its enablement analysis.

As the Supreme Court did in Amgen, the Federal Circuit focused on the breadth of the claims compared to the teachings of the specification and the along with the state of the prior art. The court noted that the claims allow R to be any substituent and also permitted any number of repeating units n to be over 8.

The state of the prior art also weighed against enablement, as the closest prior art polymers only had n=8 repeating units. The court rejected the appellant’s argument that this reasoning was illogical because it would require the invention to already exist in the prior art. Rather, the proper analysis looks at the gap between the scope of the claims and what the prior art already enables.  That gap must be filled by the specification.

Additionally, the court found that the field of conductive metallole polymers is unpredictable, further weighing against enablement. While the appellant argued that a skilled artisan could polymerize the monomers and carry out the claimed reactions based on the specification, the court emphasized that this does not necessarily enable the full scope of n values and R substituents covered by the claims.

Regarding the amount of guidance and examples in the specification, as well as the quantity of experimentation required, the court agreed with the Board that the specification did not provide sufficient guidance to enable the full claim scope without undue experimentation. Even if the specification enables some n values and R substituents, that is inadequate when the claims have open-ended ranges tat are much broader.

Throughout its opinion, the Federal Circuit stressed the breadth of the claims compared to the more limited disclosure. “The specification must enable the full scope of the invention as defined by the claims. . . . In short, the more you claim, the more you must explain.”  Citing Amgen Inc. v. Sanofi, 143 S. Ct. 1243 (2023).

The appellant made several arguments that the Federal Circuit rejected. First, the appellant argued that the choice of R substituent does not affect the conductivity or synthesis of the polymer.  The idea here is that comprising-style claims are always extremely broad in areas of less importance, and that reality should not spoil the validity of those patents.   Instead of fully engaging, the court noted this argument was made for the first time on appeal and was therefore forfeited.

Second, the appellant challenged the Board’s reliance on references not cited by the Examiner when discussing the closest prior art. The court disagreed that this constituted a new ground of rejection, finding the Board merely further explained the Examiner’s reasoning and the underlying legal standards.

Finally, the appellant argued that the Examiner’s analysis on some of the Wands factors was conclusory and irrelevant included boilerplate language, and that the Board had improperly relied upon that analysis. While the court agreed some of the Examiner’s language was “less than exemplary,” it found no reversible error in the Board’s ultimate conclusions on the Wands factors.

This case again includes strong language surrounding the enablement requirement.  However, the case arises in the “unpredictable arts” of chemistry that appears continue to be a key feature of enablement rejections that stick.

Trump Too Small: Supreme Court Upholds Lanham Act’s Restriction on Registering Marks With Living Individual’s Names Without Consent

by Dennis Crouch

In an important trademark law and free speech decision, the Supreme Court held in Vidal v. Elster, 602 U.S. ___ (2024), that the Lanham Act’s “names clause” barring registration of a mark that “[c]onsists of or comprises a name . . . identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent”, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(c), does not violate the First Amendment. Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas distinguished this case from the Court’s prior decisions in Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. 218 (2017) (disparaging marks) and Iancu v. Brunetti, 588 U.S. 388 (2019) (scandalous marks), which struck down other Lanham Act restrictions as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Although content-based, the Court concluded that the names clause is viewpoint-neutral and consistent with the longstanding history and tradition of trademark law.

In the case, Steve Elster sought to register the trademark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” for use on t-shirts and other tchotchkes, referencing a comment made during a 2016 presidential primary debate. The USPTO refused the registration based on the Lanham Act’s “names clause,” which prohibits trademarks that consist of or comprise a name identifying a particular living individual without their consent.  Elster did not dispute that TRUMP referenced Donald Trump who was not directly involved in the case.

The Thomas opinion consists of Parts I-IV. However, part III was joined only by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, and so is not part of the majority opinion.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh joined I, II, and IV, and Justice Barrett joined Parts I, II-A, and II-B.  A key distinction among the justices is the role of history – with Justice Thomas indicating in Part III that history is dispositive. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, agreeing with upholding the names clause but suggesting a viewpoint-neutral provision could be constitutional even without such historical support. Justice Barrett filed an opinion concurring in part, joined by Justice Kagan, arguing the names clause is constitutional because it reasonably serves trademark’s source-identifying function, not based on history and tradition alone (Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joined parts of Justice Barrett’s opinion.)  Justice Sotomayor also filed an opinion concurring only in the judgment.

Lets look at the majority opinion: The Court first held the names clause is viewpoint-neutral because it applies regardless of the message conveyed and does not target particular views. This contrasts with the disparagement clause in Tam and immoral/scandalous bar in Brunetti, which the Court found impermissibly discriminated based on viewpoint.  However, the Court acknowledged the names clause is content-based since it turns on whether the mark contains a person’s name.

In my view, this aspect of the decision is in error — the use of an individual’s name (such as Trump) is at least as viewpoint based as the immoral/scandalous marks in Brunetti.  This is especially true if you recognize that an individual’s name is permitted to be registered – with permission.  But the problem here is that the court had found the restriction viewpoint based, it would have been hard pressed to find the names-restriction constitutional, which is the correct outcome.

Of course, even content-based speech restrictions are typically presumptively unconstitutional. Here though the court declined to apply strict scrutiny to this content-based. The court emphasized that trademark law has been content-based since the Founding without raising First Amendment concerns, reflecting the inherently source-identifying function of trademarks.

The Court traced the history of trademark law from English common law through the first American trademark statutes to the Lanham Act, showing restrictions have always been based on a mark’s content.  This history, in the Court’s view, establishes that content-based trademark rules have long coexisted with the First Amendment, so heightened scrutiny is unwarranted.

Turning to the names clause specifically, the Court found it has “deep roots in our legal tradition”, with restrictions on trademarking names “grounded in the notion that a person has ownership over his own name.”  See, Brown Chemical Co. v. Meyer, 139 U.S. 540, 542 (1891).  The Court also found no evidence the common law  or speech rights allowed using another living person’s name as a trademark without consent.  It explained this rule reflects trademark’s goals of identifying a product’s source and safeguarding the markholder’s goodwill and reputation.  A person “has no First Amendment right to piggyback off the goodwill another entity has built in its name.” San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S. Olympic Comm., 483 U.S. 522 (1987)).  Based on this history and tradition, the Court concluded the names clause comports with the First Amendment.  Although the limitations found in Brunetti and Tam were also longstanding, those are distinguishable by the court because they were deemed viewpoint based rather than viewpoint neutral.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, agreed the names clause is constitutional based on the historical evidence, but suggested a viewpoint-neutral provision could satisfy the First Amendment even without such history.

Justice Barrett, in an opinion concurring in part joined by Justice Kagan, argued the focus on history was misplaced and the Court should have evaluated the names clause under a generally applicable First Amendment framework.  She contended content-based trademark rules are constitutional if they reasonably relate to trademark’s source-identifying purpose and preventing consumer confusion.  In her view, the names clause is constitutional under that standard because it helps ensure marks identify source and safeguards markholder goodwill. Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joined this portion of Justice Barrett’s opinion.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Sotomayor maintained the Court should have resolved the case based on its precedents rather than an ill-defined history-and-tradition test.  Drawing on cases involving limited public forums and government subsidies (where, IMO, speech rights are more tenuous), she argued viewpoint-neutral trademark criteria are constitutional if reasonable in light of trademark’s purpose.  The names clause satisfies that standard, in her view, because it facilitates source identification and prevents consumer confusion.

Elster provides important guidance on the constitutionality of content-based trademark registration restrictions, and also provides an indication that the Court is unlikely to further dismantle trademark law based upon free-speech grounds. The decision suggests provisions that have long been part of U.S. trademark law are likely valid, even if content-based, so long as they are viewpoint-neutral. However, the splintered reasoning leaves uncertainty about the proper framework for evaluating provisions without such historical pedigree.