All posts by Dennis Crouch

About Dennis Crouch

Law Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Pride in Patent Ownership Act

by Dennis Crouch

A bipartisan pair of Senators have proposed the “Pride in Patent Ownership Act.”  The premise is that if you own a patent, you should be proud to own the patent — and actually record your ownership interest.  The bill pushes this pride by requiring patent owners to record their ownership with the kicker that those who fail to record lose their right to punitive damages for any infringement that occurs prior to recordation.

If a patentee fails to comply … no party may recover, for infringement of the applicable patent in any action, increased monetary damages under section 284 during the period beginning on the date that is 91 days after the effective date of the issuance, assignment, grant, or conveyance with respect to the patent, as applicable, and ending on the date on which that issuance, assignment, grant, or conveyance is properly requested to be recorded.

[Read the proposed legislation here].

The proposal also adds requirement anytime patent preparation, prosecution, or maintenance fees (including attorney fees) are paid by a “governmental entity, including a foreign governmental entity.”   The applicant needs to provide a statement “describing the amount and source of funding” provided by the governmental entity.  The provision would also retain the rule that an unrecorded interest is “void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee” who purchases without notice of the prior conveyance.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Leahy (D) and Tillis (R) who are the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

Senator Tillis: “The public has a right to know who is a patent’s true owner. Patents provide a limited term monopoly against the public, and it’s in the public’s interest and benefit to know who owns that monopoly. I’m a strong supporter of patent rights, but those rights have to be balanced against the public’s interest. This commonsense bill will achieve that goal and I look forward to working towards its passage this Congress.”

Senator Leahy: “One of the fundamental underpinnings of the patent system is transparency. In exchange for the exclusive rights over an invention granted by a patent, the public has a right to know who owns the rights to particular inventions. We are working to ensure a fair innovation system for small businesses, non-profits, and independent entrepreneurs who have a right to know, without expensive litigation, who has the exclusive patent rights over a particular invention.”

The pair also proposed a second proposal that they call “Unleashing American Innovators Act.” The proposal focuses primarily on outreach mechanisms for new entrants into the patent space and would also require a new Southeast Regional Office — perhaps in Sen Tillis’s home city of Charlotte.

For those who don’t know. Sen. Tillis was a computer systems specialist who worked for Wang Labs., PWC, and IBM (although mostly in management).

Small Changes to Tech-Background Requirement to become a Patent Attorney

by Dennis Crouch

All of us who represent clients in patent cases before the USPTO share a common background.  We all have a background in science or technology and we have all passed the registration exam (and paid the accompanying fees).

The USPTO offers three ways to show sufficient background in science or technology:

  • Category A: A university degree in science or engineering;
  • Category B: Sufficient university coursework in science or engineering; or
  • Category C: Sufficient practical experience in science or engineering.

One problem: It seems that every year I have a law student who has a science or engineering degree that does not qualify in the list of appropriate Category A degrees (bioengineering; or a PhD in Chemistry). In addition, that student might not satisfy Category B either because of the stringent requirement of two in-sequence lab courses in either chemistry or physics.  At times, my students have taken concurrent science class while in law school to make sure they qualify; others have taken the requirement as a sign that patent law is not the right field for them.

One Solution: The USPTO has now finalized a set of rules that will help ease this process for my students, while still endeavoring to ensure that all patent attorneys and patent agents have a solid tech background.

[NEW RULES]

The basic changes:

  1. Expand the majors accepted under Category A.  The PTO took a small step here and basically only added majors that basically always qualify under the old Category B.  These new degrees: aerospace engineering, bioengineering, biological science, biophysics, electronics engineering, genetic engineering, genetics, marine engineering, materials engineering, materials science, neuroscience, ocean engineering, and textile engineering.
  2. Allow post-bachelor degrees (Masters or PhD) to count under Category A, so long as the coursework shows acceptable technical and scientific training.
  3. Modify the Core Science Requirement for Category B.4 to allow non-sequential lab courses in any combination of chemistry, physics, or biology.

These changes are taking effect immediately.

Patent Law at the Supreme Court September 2021

by Dennis Crouch

So far, the Supreme Court has not granted certiorari in any patent cases for its 2021-2022 Term.  Still, there are a couple dozen cases pending that may offers some interest.  On September 27, 2021, the court is meeting privately for what is known as the “long conference” to decide the fate of the petitions for writ of certiorari that have piled-up over the summer.  There are also a host of additional petitions scheduled for a later conference or not yet scheduled.  Although the total number of petitions is down from last year, there is much more diversity since we have now largely moved past the appointments-clause issues.

Capacity to Sue: My favorite pending case is Tormasi v. Western Digital.  Tormasi is a convicted murderer and also a patentee seeking to enforce his disk-drive patent. The Federal Circuit held that Tormasi lacked the “capacity to sue” under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 17(b).  That provision states that an individual’s capacity to sue is determined by “the law of the individual’s domicile.” Tormasi lives in New Jersey (state prison) and the administrative rule in N.J. bars a prisoner from conducting business activities without the Wardon’s approval.  The courts held that his enforcement action is an “unauthorized patent monetization business” and thus that he has no capacity to sue.  Tormasi argues that this conclusion violates his due process and other constitutionally protected rights.  There are other standing-related cases pending in the trademark context: Naked TM, LLC v. Australian Therapeutic Supplies Pty. Ltd. (standing to petition cancel a TM registration); See also Kaszuba v. Hirshfeld (pro se, standing of USPTO to intervene in TM appeal).

Eligibility: The Supreme Court has shown the most interest in hearing American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC by Calling for the Views of the Solicitor General (CVSG).  I expect for the SG to file a brief by the end of calendar year 2021.  And, there is a good chance that the SG brief will support the petition. At that point, there would still be time for the Court to grant certiorari and decide the case before the end of June 2022. American Axle asks two questions:

1. What is the appropriate standard for determining whether a patent claim is  directed to” a patent-ineligible concept under step 1 of the Court’s two-step framework for determining whether an invention is eligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101?

2. Is patent eligibility (at each step of the Court’s two-step framework) a question of law for the court based on the scope of the claims or a question of fact for the jury based on the state of art at the time of the patent?

There are Am.Axle follow-on cases asking the same questions: iLife Technologies, Inc., v. Nintendo of America, Inc.; VoIP-Pal.com, Inc. v. Apple, Inc. (also raising 112/101 coordination issue). See also Mohapatra v. Hirshfeld (pro se)

Preclusion: I am generally interested in the concept of preclusion. This typically comes in the forms of issue and claim preclusion. In patent law, we also have the “Kessler doctrine,” which sits between the two.  PersonalWeb Technologies, LLC v. Patreon, Inc. challenges the ongoing viability of Kessler, especially as expanded by the Federal Circuit in recent cases.  Kessler allows for non-mutual issue preclusion even in cases where the particular issue was not actually litigated or decided.

Process-by-Product Claim: In Biogen MA Inc., Petitioner v. EMD Serono, Inc., the Federal Circuit found the claimed treatment method anticipated by use of a naturally occurring protein. But, the claims required use of a “recombinant” protein — i.e., genetically modified.   Can Biogen distinguish the prior art by simply adding a “man made” limitation? “Whether courts may disregard the express claim term “recombinant” so as to render a method-of-treatment patent anticipated—and thus invalid—in light of prior-art treatments that used the naturally occurring human protein, where it is undisputed that the recombinant protein was not used in the prior art?”

Printed Publication: A core patent law question is what can qualify as a printed publication under 35 U.S.C. § 102(a).  Centripetal Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc., asks whether a user-manual counts for a machine that costs $25,000. (The Federal Circuit said “yes, it counts.”)

Writing Opinions: A few years ago, I wrote a paper arguing that the Patent Act requires the Federal Circuit to actually write opinions when judging appeals from the USPTO. Although dozens of briefs have subsequently argued this point, the Federal Circuit has refused to make any statement regarding its ongoing practice of no-opinion R.36 judgments.  Ultratec, Inc. v. CaptionCall, LLC asks the Supreme Court to weigh in on the question of whether the use of Federal Circuit Rule 36 to summarily affirm decisions from the PTAB “without opinion” violates 35 U.S.C. § 144.  A second case, Bobcar Media, LLC v. Aardvark Event Logistics, Inc., also argues that R.36 decisions are improper, although relies upon Constitutional principles rather than statutory guidance.

IPR IssuesUltratec, Inc. v. CaptionCall, LLC (retroactive application of IPR to already issued patents). Mylan Laboratories Ltd., v. Janssen Pharmaceutica (appealing institution denials); Apple Inc. v. Optis Cellular Technology, LLC (appealing institution denials); Infineum USA L.P. v. Chevron Oronite Company LLC (post-arthrex timing issue)

Utility: Hu v. Hirshfeld, focuses on a heightened utility requirement that seems to appear when a patentee seeks rights covering an invention that pushes the bounds of traditional scientific principles.  Hu’s inventions, for instance, cover various ways to make use of quantum entanglement.  Hu argues that the court moved the standard from a preponderance of the evidence to something akin to “a statistical certainty.”

Indefiniteness: Rain Computing, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc. focuses on the intersection of Sections 112(b)/112(f). The Federal Circuit uses an algorithmic approach: if a claim is interpreted under Section 112 and the specification fails to include corresponding structure, then the claim is invalid as indefinite.  Rain says ‘not so fast.’  The court is forgetting to ask the actual pertinent question: whether the scope is reasonably certain to a person of skill in the art.  The petition also argues that underlying issues of fact tending to show invalidity must be proven with clear and convincing evidence. Infinity Computer Products, Inc. v. Oki Data Americas, Inc. also raises an indefiniteness question — again arguing that the Federal Circuit took a shortcut in its analysis and refused to give deference to factual findings.

Most Common Design Patents 1842-2021

by Dennis Crouch

This is a remake of a video I made a few weeks ago. This time, I was able to go back to the 1840s and show the most-common design patent titles from each era.  To make the chart, I used a 14 year rolling average.  Thus, for example, the top-10 list shown for 2000 is actually the top-10 based upon the period 1987-2000.  The bulk of the data also comes via OCR of images and so there are some artifacts (although I did read-through the first 1,000  design patents).  One example that shows up in the data are the “island” patents — that word was somewhat randomly picked-up.  Enjoy.

I am cleaning-up the data a bit more and then will make it publicly available.

Design Patent Term: 3½, 7, 14, and now 15 years?

New design patents have a term of 15 years from patent issuance — that is a 1 year bump from the 14 year term familiar to many patent attorneys.  The straight 14-year term took hold in 1982.  In the years leading up to 1982, most design patents also had a 14 year term, but applicants had the option of instead obtaining a term of 7 years or 3½ years at a lower fee.  In 1980, all design patents had an application fee of $20, and the issuance fee was $10, $20, or $30, depending upon whether the applicant wanted 3½, 7, or 14 years of patent term.  In 1930, the prices were $10, $15, and $20.

The chart below is a bit hard to read, but it basically shows the percentage of design patents associated with each of the three potential patent terms. The basic result is that in the 1910s, folks were obtaining all three sizes at roughly equivalent rates; By 1940, the short 3½ year term had become most popular; Then, by the 1970s the overwhelming majority of applicants were paying the extra $10 for 14 years.

This is part of a larger project that I’m working through on design patents, and I’ll be able to fill-in the gaps of the chart at a later date.  I’m downloading the TIFF images for these patents; running through OCR  software and then parsing that text output.  It is a bit of a process, and I probably need a multithreaded approach. 

The original design patent Act of 1840 included a 7 year term. I believe it was the the 1861 Act that added the spread term, and included a respective cost of  $10, $15, and $30 with an optional seven additional years.

AIA 10 year Survey Results

by Dennis Crouch

The patent system has seen tremendous change over the past decade.  A large part of the transformation stemmed from the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 that was enacted ten years ago in September 2011.  Earlier this week, I conducted a quick survey of Patently-O readers asking for their thoughts on the impact of the AIA, which has repeatedly been heralded as the largest change to the U.S. patent system since the Patent Act of 1952.  We have about 600 responses.

Most of the survey question used a modified Likert Scale and asked about the importance of various statutory changes found within the AIA.  In order to run some statistics, I transformed the qualitative scale into a linear quantitative scale ranging from 1 (not important) to 5 (very important).

It is not surprising that creation of the Inter Partes Review (IPR) system is seen as the largest change to the system. IPRs have been used to cancel the claims of thousands of patents as obvious — only a small percentage of those would have been found obvious by a jury.   Although almost everyone agreed that IPRs were most important, Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents differed somewhat on other issues, with agents seeing changes to Section 102 as relatively more important to other issues. This included eliminating the date of invention as relevant to patentability and narrowing the pre-filing grace period.  On the other hand, Patent Attorneys gave more weight to PGR proceedings. Patent Office employees were the only ones to say that the addition of satellite offices was important.

The survey included an open-ended response block asking “What else do you have to say about the impact of the AIA?” About 1/3 of responses included these additional thoughts.  My survey tool (Qualtrics) used semantic analysis on these responses and reports that the sentiment expressed was most often generally either “negative” or “very negative.”   (65% Negative or Very Negative; 25% Mixed; 10% Positive or Very Positive).

Some comments focused on the AIA coupled with Eligibility Decisions have “decimated the patent system”; “Devalued IP”; and “greatly reduced the value of U.S. patents” all “to the benefit of large enterprises.” ” A real mess.”

Folks also mentioned the prior user defense; false marking; reducing your own secret prior art; classification system; The new declaration/oath filings was quite costly for applicants.  I’ll publish a more thorough report in the coming days.

Op Ed: Reflections on the American Invents Act on its Tenth Year Anniversary

by Hon. Michelle Lee. Lee was the Undersecretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (2015-2017).

The America Invents Act (AIA), which passed on September 16, 2011, brought about some of the most significant changes to our patent system in over 50 years. The Act included an assortment of reforms from a transition to first inventor to file in the United States, the establishment of processes for third party challenges to granted patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the creation of the first regional offices of the USPTO, providing inventors the option for accelerated patent examination, and more.

Many of the AIA reforms strengthened our patent system. For example, as a former Director of the USPTO, I cannot overstate the importance of the Agency’s ability to set its own fees and create an operating reserve. This enabled the USPTO to get through periods of government shutdown and to invest in longer-term initiatives such as much-needed information technology upgrades, hire more examiners to reduce the patent application backlog and provide additional training for examiners. The transition to a first inventor to file system was needed to harmonize the U.S. with the rest of the world. The establishment of the first regional offices of the USPTO made our intellectual property system more accessible to all, and of course, prioritized examination, allowing inventors to accelerate the examination of certain patents, makes business sense.

After passage by Congress, the attention turned to the USPTO, and its massive effort to implement the AIA. Then-USPTO Director David Kappos and his dedicated team at the Agency worked hard to implement the AIA in view of numerous proposed rules, soliciting input from stakeholders along the way. By 2013, the USPTO had completed substantially most of the initial AIA rulemaking, including for the post-patent grant review proceedings.

In 2015, I became Director of the USPTO, and the AIA changes had been in place for barely a few years. Leading the USPTO is a great honor that comes with a tremendous responsibility. As a result, I undertook as a priority to assess how these fledgling and complex reforms were going, and to make improvements where needed. Under my leadership, the USPTO continued to solicit feedback on the AIA reforms via numerous requests for comments to proposed rules and stakeholder engagements. This resulted in the implementation of multiple changes, including to the claim construction standard of soon-to-expire patents to be consistent with the (Phillips) standard used in district court litigation, submission of new testimonial evidence with a patent owner’s preliminary response, the addition of a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11-type certifications requiring a duty of candor in papers filed in AIA trials to prevent misuse of the proceedings, and more.

As anyone familiar with rulemaking knows, this process takes time, and that is the way it should be, as agency rules (like legislation) have significant and broad impact on all parts of our society. New rules (and laws) should be promulgated deliberately and with all due consideration of input from all stakeholders, driven by data, in compliance with the law, and with compromise to accommodate the often-times disparate and competing needs.

After the patent community had a reasonable period of time to adjust to and experience the many AIA reforms, we began hearing feedback about additional improvements needed to the AIA trials including, for example, in the areas of motions to amend, the claim construction standard and multiple petitions filed at or around the same time on a single patent. As expected for such complex policy and procedural matters, there was often little consensus on whether and what changes were needed. Given this, my team and I at the USPTO believed it important to gather data and broad stakeholder input on these and other issues raised. As a result of these efforts, we came up with a number of proposed changes and drafted proposed rules for comment. For instance, on the claim construction standard, we recognized the awkwardness and inconsistency of having the validity of patent claims construed under one standard in AIA trials, yet a different standard for patent infringement analysis in federal district court, especially when the petitioner in the USPTO proceeding was often the accused infringer in district court. To provide greater fairness and consistency, I thought it important to change the claim construction standard for all patents in AIA trials to the Phillips standard used in federal district courts.

Signing of the DTSA

Signing of the DTSA

By this time, it was the fall of 2016 with an election pending. As was customary, the then-current administration asked the USPTO to stop all significant rulemaking to allow the next administration the courtesy of defining and implementing its priorities. So, we had to pull the package of proposed reforms in the midst of being prepared for publication. While not published during my tenure, these proposals, studies and data put the Agency and my successor, former USPTO Director Andrei Iancu, in a better position to implement needed reforms more quickly. I was pleased to see one of the first reforms implemented in the next administration was changing the claim construction standard in AIA trials to that used in district court for all patents.

As I reflect on my tenure on this 10th anniversary of the AIA, the talented USPTO team and I accomplished much, including the establishment of regional offices to better support innovators (especially individual inventors and small businesses), achieving the passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, making initial improvements to the post-patent grant review proceedings while laying the foundation for more, numerous quality initiatives to ensure the issuance of stronger, more reliable patent rights, launching an open data initiative to provide access to the USPTO’s rich data, bringing artificial intelligence to the Agency to improve its operations, and spearheading the All-In-STEM initiative and other efforts to ensure our intellectual property system is more widely accessible to all.

Few people have had the privilege and responsibility of being the steward of this important Agency so critical to American innovation. As we await the nomination of a new USPTO Director, it is important to keep in mind the job of a USPTO Director is to keep a steady hand on the tiller and to make improvements thoughtfully and deliberately, with careful consideration of the law, stakeholder input and the data, recognizing that with complex policies and procedures and competing stakeholder interests, consensus is often difficult to achieve.

Former USPTO Directors Dickinson, Kappos, and Iancu, each of whom contributed to the enactment and/or implementation of the AIA, have all been dedicated leaders who did what they thought best when faced with the many challenges of their tenure. Just as I benefited from the foundations laid and works-in-progress achieved by my predecessors, the next Director will benefit from the cumulative efforts and learnings of all prior Directors. Our intellectual property system, like our innovations, is constantly evolving. Therefore, all stakeholders must constantly work together to achieve a balanced intellectual property system for the benefit of our inventors, economy and society. That is why I chose the dynamic and impactful practice of intellectual property law, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not represent the views of any organization with which Ms. Lee may be affiliated.”  Lee is vice president at Amazon Web Services and spent a decade at Google leading their patent team prior to her term as USPTO Director.

AIA – 10 Year Anniversary

Sept 16, 2021 is the 10 year anniversary of enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011.  I’ve got a quick anonymous survey below (5 minutes) on the impact.

* My general policy on anonymous comments and anonymous survey responses is that I endeavor to avoid any disclosure of personally identifiable information to third parties absent court order (which has never happened).

Link to Survey: https://missouri.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0qSs6aKqNZSZj2S

Or complete the survey below:

A Million Inventions Lost: Abandoned Provisional Applications

by Dennis Crouch

US provisional patent applications continue to be popular, with about 170,000 filed each year since 2013.  After filing a provisional, the applicant then has one-year to move the case to a non-provisional or PCT application, and eventually toward patent issuance.

If the applicant does not follow-up with these next steps, the provisional application is abandoned, and the file kept secret. About 40% are abandoned — and that adds up to 1.4 million application files lost to the public.  As you might expect, the abandonment rate depends upon the type of applicant:

  • Micro Entity: 78% Abandonment Rate
  • Small Entity: 44% Abandonment Rate
  • Large Entity: 25% Abandonment Rate

There is a good amount of talk about patent grant rate — what percentage of patent applications eventually end up as issued patents. In general though, I have never seen any grant rate calculation take these abandonment numbers into account.

I was considering calling for a new publication regime; Something along the lines of amending Section 122 with a statement to the effect that Any application that has not already been made publicly available 5-years after its effective filing date will be published by the USPTO.  My problem with an immediate call for publication here is that we cannot really tell whether these abandoned applications include any of the shoulders-of-giants that future innovation might stand upon.  Does a public interest in this unknown information outweigh the private benefit that the patent applicants receive by secrets kept.  Although these applications are all secret, the USPTO does have the power to conduct a study on the files to begin to help us understand their value. We’ll see if I can push the agency in that direction.

Federal Circuit Approves of Order to Drop Patents from the Lawsuit to Facilitate Case Management

by Dennis Crouch

In re Midwest Athletics and Sports Alliance LLC (Fed. Cir. 2021)

MASA sued Xerox for infringing 20 different patents that all relate to printer related technology.   The district court felt that 20 patents was too many to handle and so ordered MASA to reduce the number of asserted patents to 8 patents by the summary judgment pre-trial stage; and then further drop down to only 4 asserted patents by trial.  The defendant agreed that the eliminated patents would be dismissed without prejudice and that any applicable statute of limitations would be tolled — allowing later refiling of those claims.

Courts regularly limit the number of claims that may be asserted, but here the district court “acknowledges that it knows of no other court that has similarly found that it has the authority to limit the number of patents that a plaintiff may assert (as opposed to the number of claims) in the context of case management.” MASA petition. Court’s regularly use case-management powers to limit issues brought to trial — and typically push parties to work together to resolve their issues through a sort of negotiation: Plaintiff drops claims / defendant drops defenses or counterclaims.  Here, MASA proposed such an approach “MASA proposed a balanced approach consistent with case narrowing precedent, in which MASA would narrow its infringement case by reducing the number of asserted claims at certain points in the case, and Xerox would narrow its invalidity case by reducing the number of its invalidity theories.”  Id. However, the the court instead ordered MASA to eliminate patents from the case entirely.

MASA argued that the order to eliminate entire patents is different than eliminating particular claims, since each patent offers a discrete cause of action. However, the Federal Circuit has denied MASA’s petition for writ of mandamus.  In particular the court found that the dismissal without prejudice and tolling provide sufficient safeguards and “negate any concern that MASA would be deprived of any substantive or procedural right here.”

= = = =

Patents at issue: U.S. Patent Nos. 7,502,582 (“‘582 Patent”), 7,720,425 (“‘425 Patent”), 8,005,415 (“‘415 Patent”), 6,203,005 (“‘3005 Patent”), 6,305,684 (‘‘684 Patent”), 8,019,255 (“‘255 Patent”), 8,634,113 (“‘113 Patent”), 6,718,285 (“‘285 Patent”), 6,909,856 (“‘856 Patent”), 6,799,005 (“‘9005 Patent”), 6,462,756 (“’756 Patent”), 6,509,974 (“‘974 Patent”), 6,411,314 (“‘314 Patent”), 6,724,998 (“’998 Patent”), 6,993,278 (“’278 Patent”), 7,658,375 (“’375 Patent”), 8,220,795 (“’795 Patent”), 8,554,089 (“’089 Patent”), 8,591,022 (“’022 Patent”) 8,805,239 (“’239 Patent”).  According to MASA, “the Asserted Patents can be grouped into four general categories: (1) Roller/Feeder Patents (‘3005, ‘255, and ‘113 Patents); Pentachrome Patents (‘415, ‘425, ‘582 Patents); (3) Printer  performance and Maintenance Patents (‘285 and ‘856 Patents); and Work Flow Patents (‘9005, ‘314, ‘974 and ‘756 Patents). MASA accuses different models of Xerox’s office equipment of infringement, including printers, scanners, and
multifunction systems.”

 

Post-IPR Estoppel: Printed Publication vs. Actual Product Shown in the Publication

In re DMF, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2021)

The court has denied DMF’s mandamus petition on an interesting post-IPR estoppel question.

DMF sued ELCO Lighting in 2018 for infringing DMF’s U.S. Patent No. 9,964,266.  As is usual these days, ELCO turned-around and filed an inter partes review petition — challenging the patent’s validity based upon a 2011 product catalog (printed publication) that had featured the Hatteras lighting product.  Although the PTAB instituted the IPR, it eventually sided with the patentee in holding that the prior printed publication wasn’t enough render the invention obvious.

Back in the district court, ELCO is seeking again to invalidate the claims based upon the Hattaras lighting product.  The difference now is that they are not simply raising the defense based upon the printed publication but rather are presenting the actual product as prior art based upon it being “in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public.”  35 U.S.C. 102.

Section 315(e)(2) estops an IPR petitioner from later asserting in litigation that a “claim is invalid on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.”  IPRs are limited only to arguments based upon patent documents and printed publications — and so the actual prior product could not have been used as the basis for the IPR.  The district court went a bit further and found that there must be “a substantive difference” between the publication and the physical product that is “germane to the invalidity dispute.”

Here, the district court found substantive, germane differences.  In particular, the failing of the prior art reference was that the elements of the invention required cobbling together images from different products in the catalog.  The PTAB found that mix-and-match approach improper.  In the district court litigation, ELCO is seeking to use the single product to show each element.

On Mandamus, the Federal Circuit did not delve into whether the substantive-germane legal standard was correct or whether the facts had been properly decided — but did find them not “clearly and indisputably erroneous.”  Further, the court found that mandamus was not necessary — the patentee should wait until final judgment and appeal. “DMF has not shown that a post-judgment appeal is an inadequate remedy for asserting a statutory estoppel argument.”

Data on Transition Phrases in Patent Cases

by Dennis Crouch

You may have heard that most US utility patent claims use the open transition phrase COMPRISING.  Here’s the data to support that hearsay. The chart below shows data from independent claims gleaned from issued US patens grouped by patent issue year.

To make the chart, I calculated the percentage of independent claims that include the phrase comprising or comprises or comprise as the first traditional (or only) transitional phrase within the claim text.

Patent courses traditionally talk about the three primary transition phrases:

  1. Comprising/Comprises/Comprised of (Open Transition)
  2. Consisting of (Closed Transition)
  3. Consisting Essentially Of (Hybrid Transition)

In recent patents, fewer than 1% of claims use “consisting of” or consisting essentially of.”  Rather, the biggest non-comprising segment is the category of claims that lack any traditional phrase as shown in the chart below.  These non-traditional claims might use the word “having” or “including” as a transitional phrase, or they might not use any word at all.

Here are a few examples of these non-traditional transitions from 2021 patents:

  • One or more non-transitory, computer-readable media having instructions that, when executed by one or more processors, cause a device to: …
  • A non-transitory computer-readable medium configured to store instructions that, when executed by one or more processors, cause the one or more processors to perform operations that include:
  • A handheld, self contained, air cooled induction heater including …
  • A compound or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof, wherein said compound is: …
  • A compound, or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof, having the structure of
  • A method, by one or more processors, for managing text in rendered images: [No transition at all except for a colon]
  • Intermediate of formula B-20 [showing structural diagram of compound and going on to include several markush groups]

In many cases it appears that attorneys may be using the alternative transitions as part of their claim stratification strategy.  Thus, many of the claims relying upon a non-traditional transition sit alongside other claims in the same patent that use “comprising.”

Arbitration Agreement Does Not Control Inter Partes Review Proceedings

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court has strongly supported arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.  The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) codifies this “liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.”  Quoting Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983).  Although the right to arbitrate patent cases is seemingly clear from the FAA, Congress went further in its 1982 PTO appropriations bill to expressly codify the enforcement of arbitration agreements for “any dispute relating to patent validity or infringement.”  35 U.S.C. 294.  Sometimes a party subject to arbitration will still file their dispute in court. At that point, the opposing side will move to stay or dismiss the case and compel arbitration.

The core question in MaxPower Semiconductor (Fed. Cir. Sept 8, 2021), is whether the arbitration agreement can be used to cut-short an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding.  Here, the Federal Circuit effectively sided with the PTO and the patent challenger and refused to compel arbitration. The majority opinion is by Judge Reyna and joined by Judge Chen. Judge O’Malley dissented — arguing that the court failed to live up to the statute:

The majority’s denial of a writ of mandamus in this case allows the Patent Trial and Appeal Board to add a new caveat to Congress’s clear instruction that agreements to arbitrate patent validity shall be “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable”—i.e., except during inter partes review.

O’Malley in Dissent.

Background: MaxPower worked for several years with Rohm Semiconductor to develop RFP power transistor technology. MaxPower obtained the patents and licensed those to ROHM with an ongoing running royalty.  The license included an arbitration agreement.   Money flowed for several years.  Rohm eventually developed a new silicon carbide transistor and privately suggested new product was not covered by the agreement.   At that point, MaxPower provided notice that it was planning to initiate arbitration in 30 days.  ROHM acted first — filing the IPR petition at issue here as well as a lawsuit in N.D. Cal. seeking a declaration of non-infringement of the same patents.  The N.D. Cal. Judge granted MaxPower’s petition to compel arbitration, and the appeal of that determination is separately pending before the Federal Circuit.

The PTAB instituted the IPR — holding that it was not bound by the Federal Arbitration Act or Section 294 of the Patent Act. According to the PTAB, those provisions are tied to civil litigation, not USPTO proceedings.  PTAB explained:

After careful consideration of this issue, we conclude that the arbitration clause is not a reason to decline institution. Even if Patent Owner’s recitation of the facts is true, and even if the question of whether patentability falls within the scope of the agreement to arbitrate is committed to the arbiter, we nevertheless do not find a statute, rule, or policy that would preclude the Office from acting on the Petition.

Institution Decision. MaxPower immediately appealed.

NonAppealable: The first problem with MaxPower’s appeal is the statutory rule that institution decisions are nonappealable.  35 U.S.C. § 314(d). The court also ruled that mandamus  was not appropriate here because it was being used as a “means of avoiding the statutory prohibition on appellate review of agency institution decisions.” In re Power Integrations, Inc., 899 F.3d 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2018). Another way to get to appeal is via the collateral order doctrine, but, according to the court, that doctrine also requires an issue of rights that “will be irretrievably lost in the absence of an immediate appeal.” Apple Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., 727 F.3d 1214 (Fed. Cir. 2013).

The FAA itself also creates a right of appeal for refusing to stay any action subject to arbitration.  However, the right to stay under the FAA is limited to stays of proceedings in Federal Court. As such, that provision also does not apply.

In the end, the Federal Circuit found no authority to hear the appeal, and thus dismissed the appeal and denied the mandamus petition.  The court suggested that it might be able to do something once the IPR concludes and a right to appeal attaches. However, the court also noted that the questions here might all be wrapped-up in non-appealable initiation questions. “If MaxPower is truly not raising matters that are absolutely barred from appellate review under section 314(d) (an issue we need not decide here), then MaxPower can meaningfully raise its arbitration-related challenges after the Board’s final written decisions.”

In dissent, Judge O’Malley would have heard the case on mandamus.  The court’s failure to hear the case “cast[s] a shadow over all agreements to arbitrate patent validity, which, after today, apply only in district courts and not in inter partes review proceedings.”

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I have not seen the arbitration agreement in this case. But there is usually a big question about whether patent validity and/or infringement are covered by the agreement that is particularly focused on licensing.   The district court’s parallel decision staying its case to await the arbitration outcome is set for Oral arguments in October.  The Judge did not actually determine the question of arbitrability, but rather found that issue was for the arbitrator to resolve.

 

Marking & Back Damages

by Dennis Crouch

Lubby Holdings v. Chung (Fed. Cir. 2021)

Lubby’s US9750284 covers a vape-pen (“personal vaporizer”). Lubby sued Henry Chung for patent infringement and won at trial with a jury verdict of almost $1 million. On appeal though the Federal Circuit has reversed-in-part — holding that the pre-suit damages were not available under 35 U.S.C. § 287.

In general, the patent laws bar a remedy for any infringement that occurred more than six years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.  “[N]o recovery shall be had for any infringement committed more than six years prior to the filing of the complaint or counterclaim for infringement in the action.” 35 U.S.C. § 286.  Back damages are further limited in by the patent marking statute of Section 287.  That provision calls for a patentee to to mark any “patented article” that it sells or licenses-for-sale with the patent number.  If the patentee sells/licenses-to-sell a product covered by the patent without so marking, then back damages can only be recovered for infringement after the infringer is “notified of the infringement and continues to infringe thereafter.” Id.; See also 35 U.S.C. § 287(a) (“Filing of an action for infringement shall constitute . . . notice.”).

Here, the patent covers an article (a personal vaporizor) and Lubby sells articles that appear to be covered by the patent (the J-Pen).  In this case, Lubby did not disclose its damages computations until the day before trial, and those computations included request for back damages.  The court’s approach is actually to assume marking unless the defense objects with at least some minimal evidence of the lack of marking.  Here, Chung objected on that same day and pointed to the J-Pen’s lack of marking of the patent number.  At that point, Lubby should have presented its evidence of marking. However, Lubby did not present any such evidence at trial.  As such, Lubby “can only recover damages for the period that it provided actual notice,” which is the date that it notified Chung of the infringement.

Chung did have notice that the patent existed, but that is also different than notice of infringement under the statute.  “[T]he actual notice requirement of § 287(a) is satisfied when the recipient is informed of the identity of the patent and the activity that is believed to be an infringement, accompanied by a proposal to abate the infringement, whether by license or otherwise.” SRI Int’l, Inc. v. Advanced Tech. Labs., Inc., 127 F.3d 1462 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

The appellate court ordered a new trial on remand to calculate the post-filing sales numbers that will serve as the appropriate damages award.

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Chung also appealed on the merits of the infringement case.  However, Chung did not file a R.50(a) JMOL motion on the issue and therefore lost his primary right to appeal.  Chung did request a new trial under R.59, and the court does have power to hear an appeal of a denial of new trial. However, that standard is much higher — requiring an “absolute absence of evidence to support the jury’s verdict.”  Here, the court found some evidence supporting infringement and thus upheld the verdict.

Inequitable Conduct in the FDA/PTO Interplay

Belcher Pharma v. Hospira, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2021)

The Federal Circuit has confirmed that Belcher’s U.S. Patent No. 9,283,197 is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct based upon materials withheld during prosecution.  The patent covers l-epinephrine formulations at pH between 2.8 and 3.3 and with certain impurity level limitations. During prosecution, the examiner found a prior art reference with a wider encompasing pH range of 2.2 to 5.0, but the patentee successfully argued that its narrower range was a critical element of the invention and necessary to prevent racemization of the l-epinephrine.

Prior to the application’s issuance, Belcher’s Chief Science Officer (Rubin) obtained possession and tested samples from two competing products (JHP & Sintetica) and found that they were both within the claimed pH range and within the claimed impurity levels.  In addition, Rubin was in possession of a reference (Stepensky) that disclosed an overlapping pH range (3.25 to 3.7).  In fact, while the application was pending, Rubin communicated with the FDA regarding these samples.  However, none of them were disclosed to the USPTO.

Patent applicants and their attorneys are bound by a duty of candor and good faith in dealing with the USPTO.  As part of this, 37 C.F.R. § 1.56 establishes a duty to disclose information material to patentability.  This duty exists as long as the patent application is pending and applies to all “individuals associated with the filing or prosecution of [the] patent application.” The Office has generally tied the duty only to human-persons, and so the duty has not been applied directly to corporate applicants.  As here, the focus is typically whether there is an individual person who has a duty and who failed their duty.

Patent examiners rarely exert their investigatory authority and so patents associated with a duty-of-candor violation are rarely uncovered until litigation.  At that point, the patent is not automatically invalid. Rather, the patent may be deemed unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during prosecution, but only if the violation is both material and intentional.

To prevail on an inequitable conduct defense, a defendant must establish both the materiality of the withheld reference and the applicant’s intent to deceive the PTO.

Aventis Pharma S.A. v. Hospira, Inc., 675 F.3d 1324, 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (citing Therasense).

Duty: Rubin testified that he was helped draft the patent application, including the claims and also helped formulate responses to office actions. That was enough to bind Rubin with the duty of candor.

Materiality: Here, the claims were found obvious by the district court based upon the withheld prior art, a finding that was not appealed. That was enough for the Federal Circuit to conclude that the documents were material to patentability.

Intent: On deceptive intent, the case lacked direct evidence that Rubin intended to deceive the USPTO, but the district court found sufficient circumstantial evidence within the repeated discussion of the references with the FDA. In particular, Rubin modified the proposed pH range from a wider range to the narrower range in order to take advantage of the data from Sintetica reference product and thus expedite FDA approval.

Unenforceability affirmed.

I’ll note here that some of you might be thinking — but the claims are obvious anyway.  I’ll be curious to see whether the inequitable conduct finding results in an unfair competition claim against Belcher.

Second note – Belcher was a quite inexperienced patent applicant at the time that likely was part of the failures here.

 

Copyrightability of a Programming Language

by Dennis Crouch

This is a follow-up post on the pending SAS v. WPL appeal before the Federal Circuit.  The focus of the case is copyrightability of the SAS statistical software and  its outputs.  SAS argues that it made a “plethora of creative choices” in developing its material, and that creativity is more than sufficient to satisfy the originality requirements of copyright law.  Thus far, the courts have disagreed with SAS and rejected its copyright assertions.  However, the company has now positioned its case before the intellectual property friendly Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Copyrightability of Software: The Next Big Case

The software at issue here is most aptly described as a programming language that consists of a set of functions & options that the plaintiff calls “input formats” used to produce formatted reports. In addition, SAS argues that the formatting of the reports is also copyrighted.  There apparently is no claim of copying of any lines of software, but instead it is copying of the functionality and use of the particular  coding language.  My understanding is that WPL designed its software so that its software would execute the same input-procedure used on SAS and produce an equivalent output.  Although these are functional aspects, they also involve creative choices.

In a prior post, I wrote about the SAS appeal including a number of amicus briefs supporting their strong copyright claim.  Now the other-side has had its chance to respond, including substantial amicus support.  The Federal Circuit’s Google v. Oracle decisions are sitting in the background.  Although the Supreme Court eventually sided with Google on fair use grounds, it did not disturb the Federal Circuit’s copyrightability decision that strongly supported copyright protection even for functional software.  WPL’s amicus supporters are concerned that the Federal Circuit will reinvigorate its approach to copyrightability in SAS.

New briefs in support of the accused infringer WPL:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): The law treats copyrightability of software differently than other literary works (as it should).  Patents should be the go-to in this area.  I’ll note that EFF has also repeatedly argued against patentability of software.
  • 44 Intellectual Property Law Scholars: Focusing substantially on application and procedure for the abstraction-filtration-comparison (AFC) test — arguing that the AFC approach should not be rejected for a general “creative choices” test.
  • Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA): “A Copyright’s presumption of validity does not create a presumption that the entire work is protected expression.”
  • 54 Computer Scientists: This brief is helpful in understanding the details of how SAS and WPL operate in the context and history of computer programming languages.
  • GitHub, Inc.: “Vague allegations of nonliteral copyright infringement” lead to FUD — fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Briefs filed so far:

Law Journal Reading List from the Briefs:

  • Paul Goldstein, Infringement of Copyright in Computer Programs, 47 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 1119 (1986) .
  • Richard H. Stern, Copyright in Computer Programming Languages, 17 Rutgers Computer & Tech. L.J. 321 (1991);
  • Ronald L. Johnston & Allen R. Grogan, Copyright Protection for Command Driven Interfaces, 12 COMPUTER L. INST. 1 (1991)
  • William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law (2003)
  • Pamela Samuelson, A Fresh Look at Tests for Nonliteral Copyright Infringement, 107 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1821 (2013)
  • Pamela Samuelson, Three Fundamental Flaws in CAFC’s Oracle v. Google Decision, 37 Eur. Intell. Prop. Rev. 702 (2015)
  • Lydia Pallas Loren & R. Anthony Reese, Proving Infringement: Burdens of Proof in Copyright Infringement Litigation, 23 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 621 (2019).
  • Christopher Jon Sprigman & Samantha Fink Hedrick, The Filtration Problem in Copyright’s “Substantial Similarity” Infringement Test, 23 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 571 (2019)