All posts by Jason Rantanen

About Jason Rantanen

Jason is a Law Professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay: Implementing Apportionment

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay by Professor Bernard Chao of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. 

On August 15, 2019, Time Warner filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court seeking to vacate a $139.8 million damages verdict.  That amount represents approximately 5% of Time Warner’s monthly subscriber revenue ($1.37 per subscriber per month). Time Warner argues that this award is too much given the contribution the patented feature made to its infringing service.  At its core, the damages portion of the petition is asking the Supreme Court to provide guidance that will ensure that damages verdicts rely on apportionment principles and provide clarity in how they achieve this.

For years, the Federal Circuit has required apportionment in calculating royalties for complex products because modern technology products (e.g. smart phones and semiconductors) have countless features, most of them unrelated to any given patent at issue. The patentee is entitled to capture value added by the infringing feature, but cannot recover value attributable to everything else.

As with many issues in patent law, this is easier said than done.  How do courts ensure that a patentee’s expert opinion on the ultimate damages figure is based on apportionment principles?  How do we know if the jury verdict reflects those same principles?

These issues are at the heart of Time Warner’s petition.

Read Bernard Chao, Implementing Apportionment, 2019 PatentlyO L.J. 20 (Chao.2019.ImplementingApportionment)

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:
  • 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)

Guest Post by Prof. Ghosh: A Fitter Statute for the Common Law of Patents

Guest Post by Shubha Ghosh, Crandall Melvin Professor of Law and Director, IP & Tech Commercialization Law Program and Syracuse Intellectual Property Law Institute, Syracuse University College of Law.  I asked Professor Ghosh to offer his views on the ACLU and Law Professors’ letter.  Below is is response. -Jason

As a law professor, I am in the camp of those who are critical of the proposed bipartisan, bicameral legislation (“the Coons-Tillis bill”) to amend provisions of the Patent Act dealing with patentable subject. I am also in the camp of those who find the “two-step test” introduced by the Supreme Court in its Mayo v, Prometheus, 566 U.S. 66 (2012), and Alice v CLS Bank, 573 U.S. 208 (2014), decisions unworkable and inconsistent with its own precedent. I am also in the perhaps much smaller camp that is skeptical of the approach adopted by the Court in its Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad, 569 U.S. 576 (2013) decision (even if I agree with the result that identified genetic sequences are not patent eligible). Here are my thoughts about the Coons-Tillis bill and the comments in the letter from the ACLU and the law professors and practitioners organized by Professor Ted Sichelman of University of San Diego Law School.

A proposed provision of the Coons-Tillis legislation states: “No implicit or other judicially created exceptions to subject matter eligibility, including ‘abstract ideas,’ ‘laws of nature,’ or ‘natural phenomena,’ shall be used to determine patent eligibility under section 101, and all cases establishing or interpreting those exceptions to eligibility are hereby abrogated.”

The language expresses frustrations with judge-made exceptions to patentable subject matter based on implications drawn from the language of the Act or from judge made common law reasoning. If enacted, the amendment would not only remove established exceptions to patentable subject matter, but also would limit the power of the federal judiciary to create exceptions based on its own reasoning and interpretation of the Patent Act. Such legislation is in conflict with the long-established relationship between federal courts and Congress. If enacted, it would invite constitutional challenges claiming violation of the separation of powers, under Article III, of the Constitution. The proposed amendment would very likely be found unconstitutional.

Federal courts have as their role the interpretation of statutes. By abrogating the federal court’s power to develop any implications from the statutory language and to engage in common law reasoning in interpreting the statute, Congress invades long-standing judicial power.  Although a full analysis of the separation of powers is beyond the scope of this post, Congressional limitations on judicial power in other realms have failed under judicial scrutiny. At the extreme, Congress is limited in its power to legislate that federal courts cannot hear certain cases or controversies. See Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2009) (suspension of writ of habeas corpus unconstitutional); United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128 (1871) (Congress’ limitations on claims relating to confiscated and abandoned property unconstitutional). But see Patchak v. Zinke, 138 S.Ct. 897 (2018) (Congress’ stripping federal court jurisdiction over claims arising from Department of Interior’s taking of land into trust was not unconstitutional).

I am not suggesting that the proposed abrogation goes as far as the suspect legislation in Boumediene and Klein. Federal courts can still adjudicate patent law questions under the Coons-Tillis bill. But the bill does put limitations on how courts can decide cases. This attempt to bind the way federal judges approach a federal question is as problematic as taking away their power to adjudicate in the first place. The Coons-Tillis bill if enacted as drafted will invite substantive litigation which may well lead to the legislation being struck down, in part, as an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power.

The drafters of the ACLU letter express the concern that the abrogation of the established exceptions will essentially reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling in Myriad that isolated gene sequences are not patentable subject matter. I am not as sure of the specter of genes coming back under patent should Coons-Tillis be enacted. My hesitation stems from what I find to be the opacity in the Supreme Court’s analysis in Myriad. If the Court’s reasoning rested on a constitutional holding that natural occurring substances like genetic sequences are not the “discovery of an inventor” contributing to “progress” in the “useful arts,” as required by Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, then perhaps the Myriad holding survives a possible enactment of the Coons-Tillis bill.

That is the promise of the Law Professor Letter promoted by Ted Sichelman (and his co-authors Kevin Noonan and Adam Mossoff).  Their principal point is that courts can base patent subject matter exceptions in the constitutional language rather than in a murky common law. This point they contend is true for the established exceptions of abstract ideas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena.  But this optimistic assertion is far from clear; it is certainly possible, but not guaranteed. The Coons-Tillis bill, however, offers no guidance on how the courts should assess patentable subject matter. The proposed legislation requires courts to consider eligibility based on “the claimed invention as a whole” and to disregard the manner in which the invention was made, the state of the art at the time of invention, whether limitations are well-known, conventional or routine, or to the standards of novelty, nonobviousness, or enablement. I would assert that there is some general acceptance for excluding laws of nature, abstract ideas, and natural phenomena from patent eligibility (even if there is disagreement on the scope of these exceptions). I find little comfort in abrogating am established body of law on the hope that a Constitutional analysis will either not change the status quo or provide more light.

In summary, the Constitution may not come to the rescue of the proposed abrogation and more likely the Constitution will be its downfall.

Instead of shackling judicial decision making, a bill more carefully tailored to address the problems with the two-step test of Alice/Mayo and the unclear holding of Myriad would be more desirable.

The two-step test requires the PTO or a court to first determine whether patent claims are directed to an abstract idea, natural phenomenon, or law of nature.  If they are not, then the claims are patentable subject matter. If the patent claims are directed to ineligible subject matter, the second step requires the agency or court to identify an inventive concept for which the ineligible subject matter is embodied, used, or applied. What “directed to” and “inventive concept” mean has been the source of controversy with courts often failing to find an inventive concept beyond the ineligible subject matter. The problem is that there is no meaningful definition of an inventive concept beyond the notions of novelty, nonobviousness, usefulness, and enablement. The Coons-Tillis bill attempts to finesse this problem by basing a determination of patent eligibility on a consideration of the “claimed invention as a whole,” but this only begs the issue.

More targeted reform would abrogate the two-step test with its confusing language of “directed to” and “inventive concept.”  Instead, Congress might attempt to more clearly define the established exceptions, drawing on precedent. The Supreme Court tried to do something like this in its Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593 (2010), decision. Justice Stevens’ concurrence would have established an exception for “business methods” but for the switch in Justice Kennedy’s vote. Although the Court, Congress, and the patent bar disfavor exceptions for broad classes of inventions, like software or business methods, Justice Stevens’ approach would have set forth a more principled approach to defining the exception that rested on a careful interpretation of the word “process” in the Patent Act.  Instead of this potentially fruitful approach, we were given an open-ended opinion by Justice Kennedy that quite correctly avoided any specific test while endorsing open ended standards.  Justice Stevens’ policy-based interpretation of the word “process” would have taken us further. The irony is that despite Justice Kennedy’s refusal to adopt a specific test, the Court adopts a rigid, unworkable test in Mayo/Alice.

Congress can follow the trail blazed in Justice Stevens’ Bilski concurrence by spending time offering more helpful definitions of the established exceptions.  The Court’s Myriad decision illustrates the need for more clear definitions.  In determining whether Myriad’s isolated gene sequences were natural phenomena, Justice Thomas’s opinion took us through an exploration of biotechnology that read like outtakes from an episode of Nova. The purpose of his scientific exegesis was to explain why the isolated gene sequences were in fact identical at the level of code to the natural phenomena of the naturally-occurring gene sequences. Justice Scalia would have none of this exegesis and simply concluded, in his concurrence, that the two were in fact the same based on his reading of the record. Notably, the Federal Circuit came to the opposite conclusion, ruling that the isolated sequences differed in chemical composition from the naturally occurring sequences.  This conflict as to determining how the subject matter of an invention compares to ineligible subject matter shows to me that guidance from Congress would be desirable.

One source of uproar over the state of the patent subject matter doctrine is the Federal Circuit’s decision in Ariosa v. Sequenom, 788 F.3d 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2015), finding ineligible an arguably valuable pre-natal diagnostic test because it involved cell-free fetal DNA. The court’s analysis is a collision of two errors, combining the two-factor test in Mayo/Alice with the question of when isolated DNA is naturally occurring in Myriad.  Finding the claims directed to natural phenomena and laws of nature, the court failed to find an inventive concept. Its analysis reduced the test to its nonpatentable elements and not finding more. The case illustrates the mechanical application of the two-step test combined with the uncertainties of determining when an invention is identical to ineligible subject matter.

Can Congress set forth clearer definitions of the recognized categories of ineligible subject matter? Can it clarify the definition of process as Justice Stevens set forth in Bilski? The politics of patent reform may inevitable corrupt the process.  But better than stripping courts of common law decision making in patent law, Congress should nudge the process along through clearer statutory guidance.

Recent developments in bipartisan patent legislation

By Jason Rantanen

This past spring, Senators Tillis (R-NC) and Coons (D-DE), ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, together with Representative Collins, Johnson and Stivers, released draft bill text for bipartisan patent legislation focusing especially on Section 101 (read here).  The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property conducted hearings on patent eligibility and disclosure requirements in June, and there was a sense that a proposed bill would drop before the August recess.  With the Senate recess beginning on Saturday, that is looking unlikely.  More likely we will see something in a few weeks, once Congress reconvenes.

There’s still a day and a half to go, however, and two recent letters to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property have presented opposing viewpoints on the central issue being addressed by the proposed legislation: patent-eligible subject matter.

Letter from medical, health and civil rights organizations:

The first, signed by over 200 organizations, including the ACLU, Mayo Clinic Laboratories and Women’s March, begins:

We, the undersigned civil rights, medical, scientific, patient advocacy, and women’s health organizations, write to express our opposition to the recent proposal to amend Section 101 of the Patent Act. The draft legislation if enacted would authorize patenting products and laws of nature, abstract ideas, and other general fields of knowledge. Most troublingly, the legislation would permit patenting of human genes and naturally-occurring associations between genes and diseases. Allowing these patents will prevent the discovery of novel treatments for diseases including cancer, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other rare and common diseases. It would also create barriers to patients’ access to potentially lifesaving genomic tests, eliminate access to confirmatory testing and dramatically increase the cost of tests that have benefited from innovation that led to reduced costs of DNA sequencing technology. Further, it will stymie competition for developing and improving diagnostic and medical tests, and increase the cost and hinder advancement of targeted therapeutics involving genomic markers. That means higher costs for patients, payers, and the healthcare system overall.

It further asserts that:

The draft legislation released by your offices not only rewrites Section 101 of the Patent Act, it states explicitly that any judicially created exception to patent-eligibility will be abrogated, thereby overturning the Mayo, Myriad, and Alice decisions. If enacted, this threatens to take us back to a time of greater uncertainty regarding patent eligibility. The draft goes further than that, as well. Beyond explicitly abrogating judicial precedent holding that genes, isolated from the genome, are not patentable, the legislation also would define the concept of what is useful to mean “any invention or discovery that provides specific and practical utility in any field of technology through human intervention.” This language essentially adopts the argument for patenting isolated genes that the Supreme Court rejected in Myriad. Myriad argued for, and the PTO granted,15 the patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes because the DNA was “isolated” from the cell through an act of human intervention. Isolation is required for scientific work with DNA, and permitting patents on isolated DNA resulted in the issuance of patents covering an estimated 20% of the human genome.16 Defining “useful” to include essentially any invention or discovery that was developed through human intervention reinvigorates the argument that human genes are patent-eligible.

Read the whole letter here: ACLU Letter

Law Professor Response Letter

A letter in response, signed by a group of 24 law professors, former government officials, and scholars (some of whom testified at the June hearings) opens with:

As law professors, former government officials, and scholars, we write to express our support for the congressional effort at reforming patent eligibility doctrine. As Congress considers legislation to bring balance back to the patent system in promoting the high-tech and biopharmaceutical inventions that drive the U.S. innovation economy, it is imperative that its deliberations are based on accurate statements of the law and of the real-world performance of the U.S. patent system.

The letter takes direct aim at the health and civil rights’ organizations’ letter:

We are deeply concerned about misapprehensions of law and misleading rhetoric in a recent letter to Congress submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other medical and policy organizations that oppose this legislative reform effort. Their claim, for instance, that the “draft legislation if enacted would authorize patenting products and laws of nature, abstract ideas, and other general fields of knowledge” is a profoundly mistaken and inaccurate statement. Rather, the proposed amendments preclude “implicit or judicially created exceptions to subject matter eligibility,” and do not eliminate constitutional and statutory bars to patenting laws of nature, abstract ideas, and general fields of knowledge.

Read the full letter here: Law professor response letter

Stay tuned for a third perspective, offered by Syracuse University  College of Law professor Shubha Ghosh.

Celgene v. Peter: application of IPRs to pre-AIA patents is not a taking

By Jason Rantanen

Celgene Corp. v. Peter (Fed. Cir 2019)18-1167.Opinion.7-30-2019

Panel: Prost (author), Bryson, Reyna

While Oil States v. Greene’s Energy, 138 S.Ct. 1365 (2018), answered the question of whether inter partes review proceedings were unconstitutional generally, it left unanswered the question of whether application of inter partes review proceedings to patents granted prior to the America Invents Act constituted a taking under the 5th Amendment.  Here, the Federal Circuit directly addresses that question, concluding that it is not.

Constitutional challenges like this one can be challenging to raise effectively on appeal.  While usually, the issues are brought up in a footnote or single sentence, this was not one of those instances: Celgene devoted 8 pages of its principal brief to its takings argument, making a serious go at it.  Still, Celgene had not raised the argument before the Board and requests to address an argument for the first time on appeal are granted only in exceptional circumstances.  However, given the circumstances–Celgene’s raising of an issue not directly resolved by Oil States, the growing number of retroactivity challenges following Oil States, and the thoroughness of the briefing on the issue, among other considerations–the court concluded that “this is one of those exceptional circumstances in which our discretion is appropriately exercised to hear Celgene’s constitutional challenge even though it was not raised below.”  Slip Op. at 25.

Celgene’s argument on the merits rested on a regulatory takings theory.  It contended that “subjecting its pre-AIA patents to IPR, a procedure that did not exist at the time its patents issued, unfairly interferes with its reasonable investment-backed expectations without just compensations.”  Id. at 26.  In response, the PTO argued that (1) the patent owner never had a valid property right because the patent was erroneously issued in the first instance,” and (2) “patents have been subject to reconsideration and cancellation by the USPTO in administrative proceedings for nearly four decades, and Celgene’s own patent[s were] issued subject to this administrative revocation authority,” and that “the AIA did not alter patent holders’ substantive rights.”  Id. at 26, 27 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court’s analysis focused on the degree of the change: “specifically whether IPRs differ from the pre-AIA review mechanisms significantly enough, substantively or procedurally, to effectuate a taking.”  Id. at 27.  The court concluded that they were not, a conclusion that was also in line with its precedent rejecting “constitutional challenges to retroactive application of the pre-AIA ex parte reexamination mechanism.”  Id.  The money quote:

The validity of patents has always been subject to challenge in district court. And for the last forty years, patents have also been subject to reconsideration and possible cancellation by the PTO. As explained below, IPRs do not differ significantly enough from preexisting PTO mechanisms for reevaluating the validity of issued patents to constitute a Fifth Amendment taking.

The bulk of the court’s remaining discussion walks through the various administrative revocation procedures in place over the past few decades, comparing and contrasting them with IPRs.  While the court recognized differences between ex parte and inter partes reexaminations, on the one hand, and inter partes review proceedings on the other, it viewed the similarities as “far more significant.”  Id. at 30.  The substantive grounds for review are the same (anticipation and obviousness, based on the same categories of prior art, the same evidentiary standard applies (preponderance of the evidence), the same claim construction standard applies (broadest reasonable interpretation applied in this set of IPRs), in both cases the Director has discretion to initiate the proceeding, and serve essentially the same purpose.

In the end, “Although differences exist between IPRs and their reexamination predecessors, those differences do not outweigh the similarities of purpose and substance and, at least for that reason, do not effectuate a taking of Celgene’s patents.”  Slip. Op. at 36.

The court also affirmed the PTAB’s decisions finding the appealed claims obvious.

 

Solutran v. Evalon: Processing Paper Checks and Patent-Eligible Subject Matter

By Jason Rantanen

Solutran, Inc. v. Evalon, Inc., U.S. Bancorp (Fed. Cir. 2019) 19-1345.Opinion.7-30-2019

Panel: Chen (author), Hughes and Stoll

This opinion involves review of a district court opinion denying summary judgment that claims 1-5 of U.S. Patent NO. 8,311,945 are invalid for failure to recite patent-eligible subject matter.  (The district court also granted summary judgment that the claims were infringed.)

Claim 1 is below.  Without knowing more, can you predict how the court resolved the appeal?

1. A method for processing paper checks, comprising:

a) electronically receiving a data file containing data captured at a merchant’s point of purchase, said data including an amount of a transaction as-sociated with MICR information for each paper check, and said data file not including images of said checks;
b) after step a), crediting an account for the mer-chant;
c) after step b), receiving said paper checks and scanning said checks with a digital image scanner thereby creating digital images of said checks and, for each said check, associating said digital image with said check’s MICR information; and
d) comparing by a computer said digital images, with said data in the data file to find matches.

The answer is after the jump.

(more…)

Amgen v. Coherus: Argument-based prosecution history estoppel

By Jason Rantanen

Amgen Inc v. Coherus Biosciences Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2019)  18-1993.Opinion.7-29-2019

Judges Reyna, Hughes, Stoll (author)

The doctrine of equivalents (“DOE”) may be every patent law student’s favorite doctrine to hate.  (Edit: to clarify, I mean that it can be complicated not that it’s conceptually a “bad” doctrine.) I sometimes introduce it as “the rule against perpetuities – except more complicated and economically significant.”  Under the DOE, a patent can be infringed even when the accused product or process doesn’t literally meet all the limitations of the claim.

Central to the DOE is prosecution history estoppel: a doctrine that prevents “a patentee from using the doctrine of equivalents to recapture subject matter surrendered from the literal scope of a claim during prosecution.”  Slip Op. at 8, quoting Trading Techs. Int’l, Inc. v. Open E Cry, LLC, 728 F.3d 1309, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2013).  Because prosecution history estoppel is a question of law, it often functions as threshold question that is resolved before moving to the fact-specific equivalents analysis.  Indeed, David Schwartz, Lee Petherbridge and others have argued that PHE is one of the key mechanisms that the Federal Circuit has used to limit the application of the doctrine of equivalents following Warner-Jenkinson.

Often when we think about prosecution-history estoppel, we think about amendment-based estoppel, which can arise when an applicant makes a narrowing amendment to a pending claim.  This case involves one of the trickier aspects of PHE: argument-based estoppel.

Background

Amgen sued Coherus for infringement of Patent No. 8,273,707, which relates to methods of purifying proteins using hydrophobic interaction chromatography (“HIC”).”  Slip Op. at 2.  This process uses a combination of a buffered salt solution containing the protein that is poured into a HIC column.  The proteins bind to column matrix and impurities are poured off.  The ‘707 patent claims a process that increases the maximum amount of protein in solution that can be loaded into the HIC column by using certain combinations of salts “chosen form one of three pairs: citrate and sulfate, citrate and acetate, or sulfate and acetate.”  Slip Op. at 4.

During prosecution (this gives rise to the PHE ruling), the examiner rejected the claims as obvious in view of a prior art patent that “disclosed several salts for improving hydrophobic interactions between a protein and the column matrix.” Slip Op. at 4.   Amgen responded by pointing out that “the pending claims recite a particular combination of salts.  No combinations of salts [are] taught nor suggested int eh Holtz et al. patent, nor [are] the particular combinations of salts recited in teh pending claims taught nor suggested in this reference.”  Id. at 4-5.  A supporting inventor declaration pointed out the three pairs above “reduced purification costs on a commercial scale as compared to using only a single salt.”  Id. at 5.  After another rejection, Amgen further pointed out that “choosing a working salt combinationw as a ‘lengthy development path’ and that ‘merely adding a second salt’ would not result in the invention” and the examiner allowed the claims.  Id. at 6.

In 2016, Coherus filed an abbreviated Biological License Application for an Amgen product.  Because Coherus’s protein purification method uses a chromatography buffer containing a salt combination, but not one of the specific combinations recited in Amgen’s claim, when Amgen sued for infringement in 2017, Amgen’s infringement theory rested on the doctrine of equivalents rather than literal infringement.  The district court subsequently granted Coherus’s motion to dismiss on the pleadings for failure to state a claim.

Federal Circuit: Argument-based prosecution history estoppel applies here

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the application of argument-based estoppel. “To invoke argument-based estoppel, ‘the prosecution history must evince a clear and unmistakable surrender of subject matter.'” Slip Op. at 9, quoting Conoco, Inc. v. Energy & Envtl. Int’l, L.C., 460 F.3d 1349, 1363 (Fed. Cir. 2006).  Here, the court held, argument-based estoppel applies “because Amgen clearly and unmistakably surrendered unclaimed salt combinations during prosecution.”  Id. at 9.  Amgen repeatedly pointed to the particular combinations of salts as important in distinguishing the prior art references.  As a result, “a competitor would reasonably believe that Amgen surrendered unclaimed salt combinations.”  Id. at 10 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Amgen’s primary argument, that it asserted other reasons for distinguishing the prior art reference, was not persuasive as “our precedent instructs that estoppel can attach to each argument.”  Id. at 11.  Nor was the court persuaded by Amgen’s argument that it’s last response before the claims were allowed did not contain the particular-salt-combination argument.  But “[t]here is no requirement that argument-based estoppel apply only to arguments made in the most recent submission before allowance.”  Id. at 11.  For those seeking to avoid this outcome, note the court’s final words on the subject: “We see nothing in Amgen’s final submission that disavows the clear and unmistakable surrender of unclaimed salt combinations made in Amgen’s January 6, 2011 response.”  (I’m curious: has any applicant ever disavowed an argument made earlier in prosecution?  This seems like a risky strategy for getting claims allowed.)

 

Update from the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions

By Jason Rantanen

We recently launched an updated version of the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions that contains information on decisions posted to the Federal Circuit’s website for all origins, not just appeals arising from the USPTO and District Courts (although the richest data is still for appeals from those sources).  Data is current through June 28, 2019.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Compendium, it’s a database designed specifically to support quantitative empirical research about the Federal Circuit’s decisions.  We’ve coded an array of basic information about Federal Circuit decisions to make it as easy as possible for anyone to do their own empirical studies.  There’s data on document type to panel judges to authorship information and more.  We’re constantly working on adding new types of data, so if there’s something specific that you’d like empirical data on, just let me know.

Below are a few basic highlights through the first six months of 2019.  As always, the usual disclaimers when working with quantitative data about court decisions apply.  Large-scale quantitative overviews only provide one perspective into judicial decisions and are subject to various selective forces that are described in various sources including this one.

Decisions by Origin

As the below chart shows, the gap between decisions (which we define as opinions and Rule 36 summary affirmances) in appeals arising from the USPTO and the District Courts continues to widen.  Both are a little lower so far in 2019 than 2018.   Through the first six months of 2019, the number of decisions arising from the district courts is about 20 fewer than in 2018 (106 through June 30 in 2018 vs. 87 in 2019) and the number of decisions arising from the USPTO is about 10 fewer (132 in 2018 vs. 121 in 2019).

Keep in mind that the Federal Circuit’s output of decisions is dependent on appeals, and appeals form both sources have shown a slight decline from peaks in 2015 (docketed appeals from district courts) and 2016 (docketed appeals from the USPTO).   The next chart shows data from the Federal Circuit’s monthly reports (not the Compendium) about appeals docketed.  While the number of appeals arising from the USPTO will likely go up this year, the number of appeals arising from the district courts is likely to continue declining (consistent with a decline in the number of patent cases filed over the last few years).

I have a chart that shows how many appeals arise from the PTAB versus the TTAB, but it’s not very interesting because the vast majority of appeals every year come from the PTAB (these days, by an order of magnitude).  A bit more interesting is the below chart, which shows Federal Circuit decisions by dispute type in appeals arising from the USPTO.  Consistent with conventional wisdom, most of these involve appeals from inter partes review proceedings, although there was a bump in appeals from rejections of patent applications last year.

Not shown are a handful of miscellaneous types, such as two appeals from post-grant review proceedings in 2018.

Decision Type

Generally, the Federal Circuit tends to use Rule 36 affirmances more frequently in appeals arising from the PTAB than in appeals arising from the district courts.    Through the first six months of 2019, about half of the court’s decisions in appeals arising from the PTAB have been affirmed via Rule 36 summary affirmances.

The Federal Circuit’s opinions arising from the district courts tend to be designated precedential more often than decisions from the USPTO, although the raw numbers of precedential opinions are getting closer.

Outcomes of appeals from inter partes review proceedings

The below chart shows the outcomes of appeals from inter partes review proceedings.  Since 2016, the court’s affirmance rate of these decisions  has remained around 70% (affirmance-in-full) and 80% (including affirmances-in-part).  While selection effects are still important to consider here, keep in mind that these decisions represent a substantial portion of all completed inter partes review proceedings, so there’s less selection taking place between the USPTO’s determination and the Federal Circuit’s decision than in other forms of appeal. Edit: District court decisions likely have a similar high frequency of appeal characteristic; this is more of an observation relative to appeals generally.

We haven’t yet completed outcome-coding of all the decisions arising from the district courts, so comparative data isn’t available yet. (Soon, hopefully!)

Want the data analyzed in a different way?

You’re welcome to play around with the data on your own.  If you do use it for something that you publish, please include a citation to the Compendium.  There’s a convenient cite form on the landing page for the database.

Thanks to my research assistants for their work on the Compendium, especially John Miscevich, Joseph Bauer and Lucas Perlman.

Guest Post by Prof. Farley: SCOTUS’s Second Take on Trademark Registration as Speech

By Professor Christine Haight Farley, American University Washington College of Law.  Here, Professor Farley offers her take on Iancu v. Brunetti.  You can read Dennis’s write-up here.

The Supreme Court has now struck down as unconstitutional a second trademark registration bar. The court ruled yesterday in Iancu v. Brunetti that the government may no longer deny trademark registration to marks that are “scandalous” or “immoral.” In 2017, the court struck down a provision that denied trademark registration to marks that are “disparaging” in Matal v. Tam. Both registration bars appear in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.

Many commentators had seen the cases as so similar that they wondered why the court had even granted certiorari. Perhaps as a result, the case provoked less interest from amicus brief authors. The conventional wisdom was that the court’s opinion in Tam left no room to uphold this provision.

In Tam, the court ruled that denying trademark registration to marks that disparage constitutes viewpoint discrimination because the government was sorting out “ideas that offend.” The court reconfirmed that viewpoint discrimination is presumptively unconstitutional. In his concurrence, Justice Kennedy described viewpoint discrimination as “a form of speech suppression so potent that it must be subject to rigorous constitutional scrutiny.”

For the Brunetti majority, this was a simple case. Indeed, Justice Kagan, who wrote the majority opinion joined by Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, dispensed with the case in ten and a half tight pages even as she devoted a full page to examples of marks that were refused registration (comparing them to similar marks that were approved for registration). The opinion is short and sweet: this is the same case as Tam.

According to the majority, the provision at issue “disfavors ideas” and as such is substantively indistinguishable from the provision in Tam. Here, “the Lanham Act allows registration of marks when their messages accord with, but not when their messages defy, society’s sense of decency or propriety.”

The final page or so of the majority opinion is devoted to explaining why the statute cannot be saved by the “limiting principle” offered by the government. This is the part of the opinion about which there is dissent.

The majority rejects the government’s proposal to limit application of this provision to “vulgar” marks–“lewd,” “sexually explicit or profane” marks. Although such a construction would avoid any viewpoint discrimination, the majority holds that the “immoral or scandalous” bar “stretches far beyond the Government’s proposed construction.” The majority concludes that such a construction would amount to the court rewriting the statute because the plain meaning of the statutory language is broader and ensnares marks that offend because of the ideas they express, not just by their mode of expressing ideas.

Here, in the majority opinion’s only footnote, the majority rebuffs the dissenters characterizing their approach as “statutory surgery.” The majority disagrees that the statute is in any way ambiguous and therefore subject to reinterpretation.

Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor each filed separate opinions. Although each concurred that the registration bar on mark that are “immoral” amounts to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, each would have limited the court’s constitutional sword to strike down only this provision. Each accepted the government’s limiting principle as an appropriate means to avoid a finding that an act of Congress is unconstitutional.

Justice Breyer began his opinion by citing the court’s precedent that, where fairly possible, the court should endeavor to find a statute constitutional. Interestingly, in Tam the court did not, as the majority put it, “pause to consider whether the disparagement clause might admit some permissible applications (say, to certain libelous speech) before striking it down.”

It is in this space, that I believe the Brunetti decision offers a new and interesting perspective on the court’s approach to the First Amendment. In Brunetti, four Justices expressed a view that scandalous modes of expression should be barred trademark registration. In addition to the three dissenters, Justice Alito, the author of the majority opinion in Tam, stated in his concurring opinion that the court’s opinion would not “prevent Congress from adopting a [] statute that precludes the registration of marks containing vulgar terms that play no real part in the expression of ideas.” He went on to note that the mark in question in this case—FUCT–“is not needed to express any idea and, in fact, as commonly used today, generally signifies nothing except emotion and a severely limited vocabulary.”

Justice Alito’s lack of solicitude toward a portion of the marks targeted by the scandalous provision was echoed by Justices Roberts, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Chief Justice Roberts flatly states that “refusing registration to obscene, vulgar, or profane marks does not offend the First Amendment.” Justice Breyer goes so far as to suggest that “an applicant who seeks to register a mark should not expect complete freedom to say what she wishes, but should instead expect linguistic regulation.”

These sympathetic sentiments toward the government’s interest in regulating vulgarity is in sharp contrast to Tam, in which no Justice expressed any support for the government’s regulation of racial epithets. In Tam, the majority stated that “trademarks often have an expressive content” and Kennedy stated that “marks make up part of the expression of everyday life.” In Brunetti, in the context of vulgar marks, no Justice made mention of “expressive marks” beyond the majority’s conclusion that the provision targets ideas that offend.

In Brunetti, it would also appear that some Justices have retreated from the idea that a registration refusal is a burden on speech. I’ve already mentioned Justice Breyer’s suggestion that applicants ought to expect linguistic regulation. Perhaps the most striking rebuttal of registration as speech comes in this passage in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion:

“Whether such marks can be registered does not affect the extent to which their owners may use them in commerce to identify goods. No speech is being restricted; no one is being punished. The owners of such marks are merely denied certain additional benefits associated with federal trademark registration. The Government, meanwhile, has an interest in not associating itself with trademarks whose content is obscene, vulgar, or profane. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech; it does not require the Government to give aid and comfort to those using obscene, vulgar, and profane modes of expression.”

Such statements will likely surprise anyone who has read the Tam decision—unless that person attended the oral arguments in Brunetti. Although, as I have suggested, commentators expected the Brunetti case to closely follow Tam, the dialogue in oral arguments were a good clue that at least some members of the court were seeing something different in the Brunetti case. Whereas in Tam, the court appeared to be overwhelming concerned with the free speech rights of Simon Tam who was presented a civil rights activist, in Brunetti, it seems suddenly to have dawned on the court that at issue was the obligation of the government to register a white supremist’s application for the N-word.

This new unease comes through most clearly in the opening lines of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion:

“The Court’s decision today will beget unfortunate results. With the Lanham Act’s scandalous-marks provision, 15 U. S. C. §1052(a), struck down as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, the Government will have no statutory basis to refuse (and thus no choice but to begin) registering marks containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable.”

In his opinion, Justice Breyer remarks, “Just think about how you might react if you saw someone wearing a t-shirt or using a product emblazoned with an odious racial epithet.” Yes, Justice Breyer, many of us were thinking about exactly that in the Tam case as it caused the Redskins to recover their mark. Undoubtedly, Justice Breyer has seen a few of these t-shirts around DC.

Just three cases have caused a recent interest in these trademark registration provisions: first the Redskins case (Blackhorse v. PFI), then Tam, and finally Brunetti. Previously, the constitutionality of these provisions was settled by the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, the predecessor to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in In re McGinley. On the constitutional issue alone, these three cases have produced seventeen opinions. Even still, many important questions have been explicitly sidestepped such as to what extent, if any, the commercial speech doctrine plays, whether viewpoint neutral content discriminatory registration bars pass muster, or whether trademark registration may be considered as a government program or subsidy. In light of what has transpired, perhaps the McGinley court’s approach has some virtues. In McGinley, the court circumvented the constitutional issue by finding that the government’s refusal to register a mark does not affect the right to use it: “No conduct is proscribed, and no tangible form of expression is suppressed. Consequently, appellant’s First Amendment rights would not be abridged by the refusal to register his mark.” Moreover, as Justice Sotomayor noted in a footnote, the McGinley court bifurcated “scandalous” from “immoral” in precisely the manner that the dissenters suggest would save that bar from being struck down as unconstitutional.

In the end, the implications of this case are narrow. As to First Amendment jurisprudence, we perhaps glean a few more clues as to how to determine what constitutes a viewpoint. Beyond that, we learn that at least four members of the court would support regulating vulgar expression. As to trademark law, it would appear that no further statutory or doctrinal vulnerabilities emerge from this decision that had not been portended by Tam. This decision, however, does pave a path forward for amending the Lanham Act to add a bar to the registration of marks that are “scandalous in their mode of expression,” or are “vulgar, lewd, sexually explicit, or profane.”

TTI v. IBG: Federal Circuit clarifies meaning of “technical solution to a technical problem”

Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, Interactive Brokers, LLC (Fed. Cir. April 19, 2019).  Panel: Moore (author), Mayer, and Linn  Download TTI v IBG (April 18, 2019)

Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, Interactive Brokers, LLC (Fed. Cir. April 30, 2019), Panel: Moore (author), Clevenger and Wallach.  Download TTI v. IBG (April 30, 2019)

This is a long post since it covers two opinions addressing Covered Business Method (CBM) review for business method claims, plus discussion of two related opinions for good measure.  tl;dr: The Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB that the claims are subject to CBM review and are directed to ineligible subject matter.  Along the way it clarified some its jurisprudence interpreting the threshold CBM review regulation.

A potential conflict disclosure at the outset: MBHB, which represented Trading Technologies on these appeals, is the primary financial sponsor of PatentlyO.

On to the writeup…

***

Background

Both April opinions in TTI v. IBG involve the same procedural posture, the same general subject matter (displaying market information to traders), and the same issues on appeal: whether the claimed inventions are subject to the “technological inventions” exception to CBM review and whether they claim patent eligible subject matter.  In both cases, the PTAB concluded that the patents were subject to CBM review and held the patents directed to patent ineligible subject matter.  Of the two opinions, the court’s April 18, 2019 opinion is meatier on both issues, so I’ll mainly focus that one.

The two April opinions also provide a counterpoint to the court’s February nonprecedential opinion involving the same parties, the same area of technology, the same procedural posture (appeal from Covered Business Method review decisions by the PTAB), and for some of the patents, the same outcome at the PTAB: lack of subject matter eligibility.   See TTI v. IBG (Fed. Cir. Feb 13, 2019) (nonprecedential).  Writing per curiam, the panel in the February opinion (Judges Lourie, Moore and Reyna) held the patents were for “technological inventions,” and thus were not properly subject to CBM review.  In the two April opinions, overlapping panels (Judges Moore, Mayer and Linn in one and Judges Moore, Clevenger and Wallach in the other) reached the opposite conclusion on different sets of GUI patents.

“Patents for Technological Inventions”

A threshold question for CBM review is whether the patents-in-suit are “patents for technological inventions.   Generally, CBM review is available “a patent that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service…”  America Invents Act, § 18(a)(1)(E).  However, this mechanism comes with an important caveat: “…except that this term does not include patents for technological inventions.”  Id.

The USPTO regulation implementing the “technological invention” exception states that:

In determining whether a patent is for a technological invention solely for purposes of the Transitional Program for Covered Business Methods (section 42.301(a)), the following will be considered on a case-by-case basis: whether the claimed subject matter as a whole recites a technological feature that is novel and unobvious over the prior art; and solves a technical problem using a technical solution.

37 C.F.R. § 42.301(b). In Versata v. SAP, 793 F.3d 1306 (Fed. Cir. 2015), the Federal Circuit criticized the regulation while offering a sliver of guidance.  “In short, neither the statute’s punt to the USPTO nor the agency’s lateral of the ball offer anything very useful in understanding the meaning of the term ‘technological invention,'” the court wrote, concluding that “we agree with the PTAB that this is not a technical solution but more akin to creating organizational management charts.”  Id. at 1326, 1327.  

In a subsequent opinion, the court clarified the regulation as involving a “prong”-type analysis: that is, if a patent fails to meet either the “technological feature” or the “solves a technical problem using a technical solution,” it is not a “technological invention.”  See Apple v. Ameranth, 842 F.3d 1229, 1240 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“We need not address this argument regarding whether the first prong of 37 C.F.R. § 42.301(b) was met, as we affirm the Board’s determination on the second prong of the regulation—that the claimed subject matter as a whole does not solve a technical problem using a technical solution.”)  The court did not elaborate on the meaning of the “solves a technical problem using a technical solution” language.

Meaning of “solves a technical problem using a technical solution”

The two April TTI v. IBG decisions shed additional light on the meaning of the “technical problem” and “technical solution” prong, drawing a distinction between the practice of a financial product as opposed to a technological invention:

“TT argues the inventions addressed technical problems in the way prior art GUI tools were constructed and operated. It claims the ’999 patent addressed problems related to speed, efficiency, and usability, and the ’056 patent. It claims the ’999 patent addressed problems related to speed, efficiency, and usability, and the ’056 patent addressed problems related to intuitiveness, visualization, and efficiency.”

April 18, 2019 Slip Op. at 8-9.  The Federal Circuit held that this is not a technical solution to a technical problem:

“We agree with the Board that the patents relate to the practice of a financial product, not a technological invention.  The specification states that a successful trader anticipates the market to gain an advantage, ’999 patent at 1:20–26, but doing so is difficult because it requires assembling data from various sources and processing that data effectively, id. at 1:51–54. The invention solves this problem by displaying trading information “in an easy to see and interpret graphical format.” Id. at 2:3–6. The specification makes clear that the invention simply displays information that allows a trader to process information more quickly.”

Ultimately, “This invention makes the trader faster and more efficient, not the computer.  This is not a technical solution to a technical problem.”  April 18, 2019 Slip Op. at 9 (emphasis in original).

Additional language in the opinion reinforces this line between business problems and solutions and technological problems and solutions.  In rejecting a challenge to the PTAB’s decision not to consider the testimony of TTI’s expert, the court wrote “Nothing in his declaration asserts that the claimed interface did anything other than present information in a new and more efficient way to traders. Even if the Board had considered this testimony, it could not have reached a different conclusion.”  April 18, 2019 Slip Op. at 10.  Analyzing another GUI patent, the court stated that providing the trader with information in the claimed manner “is focused on improving the trader, not the functioning of the computer.”

“Indeed, the specification acknowledges that the invention ‘can be implemented on any existing or future terminal with the processing capability to perform the functions described,’ id. at 4:4–6, and ‘is not limited by the method used to map the data to the screen display,’ which ‘can be done by any technique known to those skilled in the art,’ id. at 4:64–67.”

The court’s April 30 opinion, reached the same conclusion on a different patent using similar reasoning.  “Merely providing a trader with new or different information in an existing trading screen is not a technical solution to a technical problem,” the court wrote, before repeating the language about the method focusing on “improving the trader, not the functioning of the computer.”   Apr. 30, 2019 Slip Op. at 7.

One final notable aspect of this set of the opinions: By affirming the PTAB on the second prong of the “technological inventions” regulation, the Federal Circuit avoided needing to address TTI’s argument that “Versata set aside the novelty and nonobviousness language of the first prong of the regulation….”  Apr. 18, 2019 Slip Op. at 8.  That issue remains unsettled.

Patent Eligible Subject Matter

The Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB on the issue of lack of patent eligible subject matter for all the patents-in-suit in a fairly routine review.  The court conducted the Alice two-stage analysis, concluding that the claims were directed to abstract ideas and did not include an inventive concept.  The most interesting aspect of this component of the court’s analysis is the relationship with the 2017 TTI v. CQG nonprecedential opinion discussed below.

Constitutional Challenges: Not preserved by four sentences

The court declined to address TTI’s constitutional challenges, which consisted of “a total of four sentences in each of its opening briefs” based on “a right to a jury under the Seventh Amendment, separation of powers under Article III, the Due Process Clause, and the Taking Clause.”  “Such a conclusory assertion with no analysis to the underlying challenge is insufficient to preserve the issue for appeal.”  Id.

***

Relationship with Prior Decisions

As I noted at the outset, these opinions represent a counterpoint to the court’s February nonprecedential opinion, although since the April decisions are precedential and the February one was not, there isn’t direct legal tension.

The February opinion involved a review of a set of CBM review PTAB decisions finding that the both the two patents involved an even earlier opinion, Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. CQG, Inc., 675 F. Appx 1001 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential), and two other patents were not “technological inventions” and therefore were subject to CBM; in the subsequent CBM review, the PTAB held that the two patents from TTI v. CQG were directed to patent eligible subject matter but the other two patents were not.  As with the April decisions, all the patents involved GUI claims.

The Federal Circuit reversed as to the institution decision on all four patents.  For the two patents involved in TTI v. CQG, the Federal Circuit reasoned that because the two patents were directed to patent eligible subject matter, they must be “technological inventions.”  For the other two patents, the Federal Circuit reasoned that “because we see no meaningful difference between the claimed subject matter [of the two sets of patents] for purposes of the technological invention question, the same conclusion applies in those cases as well.  (This is puzzling to me, since the PTAB held that the first set of patents were directed to patent eligible subject matter but the second set were not.)

There’s also the tension between the subject matter eligibility determination in TTI v. CQG and the lack of subject matter eligibility determinations in the two April 2019 TTI v. IBG decisions, but I’ll leave that for others to opine on.  The Federal Circuit itself declined TTI’s invitation to get into the specifics of how its April 2019 decisions relate to the earlier decisions:

“TT argues that because nonprecedential decisions of this court held that other TT patents were for technological inventions or claimed eligible subject matter, we should too. We are not bound by non-precedential decisions at all, much less ones to different patents, different specifications, or different claims. Each panel must evaluate the claims presented to it. Eligibility depends on what is claimed, not all that is disclosed in the specification.”

April 18, 2019 Slip Op. at 19.

A Response to “Is there Any Need to Resort to a § 101 Exception for Prior Art Ideas?” by Prof. Joshua Sarnoff

Guest post by Professor Joshua D. Sarnoff of DePaul College of Law.  Below, he responds to 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)

In Is There Any Need to Resort to a § 101 Exception for Prior Art Ideas, Mr. Doerre states that “[n]otably, however, there is no similar need to resort to use of an implicit exception to prevent undue preemption of known prior art abstract ideas, as 35 U.S.C. § 102 and 35 U.S.C. § 103 already ensure that claims do not disproportionately ‘“t[ie] up the use of [] underlying” [prior art] ideas.’ This can be seen in that, under 35 U.S.C. § 103, a claim must be inventive over all known prior art ideas, and cannot simply be an obvious application of a prior art abstract idea, or an obvious combination of several prior art abstract ideas.”  Of course, since Section 103 often requires detailed factual evaluations not readily resolved early in litigation, the pressure to use Section 101 remains even for ineligible subject matter that is in fact prior art against the applicant.  And unlike for Section 103, the nature of the creative advance over that discovery may be readily apparent on the face of the patent’s disclosure (particularly where it lies in the discovery itself and thus there is no meaningful additional creativity to render the practical application non-obvious).  But courts are unlikely to grant motions to dismiss under Section 103, and for some bizarre reason we keep giving this ultimate question of law to juries.  Further, Section 103’s obviousness standard in fact is not much clearer than Section 101 standards.

But the important point is that Section 101 is needed for precisely the case Mr. Doerre avoids, when the ineligible discovery is not prior art against the applicant. Mr. Doerre would be absolutely correct that we do not need to use Section 101 if Section 103 could do the job (of excluding uncreative applications of ineligible discoveries in the three categories of excluded subject matter – which are judicial interpretations of the meaning of “invention or discovery” and are not “judicial exceptions” to Section 101 subject matter).  But Section 103 cannot do that job as current written, even though both provisions derived from the same statutory section under the pre-1952 Act.  And that is because such ineligible discoveries are not normally among the categories of Section 102 prior art as applied to an applicant who is also the discoverer of that ineligible subject matter.

As I have written before (see https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1757272 and the briefs for amici law professors that I filed in Bilski, Mayo, and Myriad), the ineligible subject matter is often discovered by the applicant himself or herself, and thus does not qualify as Section 102 prior art for Section 103 obviousness analysis.  If it did, then 103 in fact would be able to do the job, although given the tremendous uncertainty over what qualifies as a non-obvious advance under Section 103 we would still have roughly the same amount of uncertainty in the law.  Further, no person who objects to using Section 101 to exclude categorically ineligible discoveries claimed as practical applications thereof would be the happier if we were to amend Section 102 to permit Section 103 to do the job now being performed (and only capable of being performed) by Section 101.  This is because then we would just use obviousness law to have to make the difficult decisions as to whether the claim as a whole represents a non-obvious advance over the ineligible discovery while treating the discovery as prior art against the applicant.  And as just noted, we don’t have a clear theory of how much creativity constitutes a non-obvious advance.  Although the amicus brief I filed for law and economics professors in KSR sought to have the Court explicitly adopt a time and money threshold of ordinary creativity so as to create that clear theory, predictably the Supreme Court declined the invitation to make the law clearer (while still correcting the errors of analysis of the Federal Circuit in assessing what constitutes an “obvious” advance over the prior art of record).

Further, as Professor Katherine Strandburg has persuasively explained (see https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2196844) and as the recent and less recent history clearly reflects, the current concern (since Benson) with preemption is not in fact either the source of the current eligibility doctrine nor the grounds for finding any practical applications to be ineligible.  As I explained in both the cited paper and briefs noted above, non-preemption is a consequence of having an inventive application of ineligible subject matter; lack of preemption says nothing about whether the application is in fact inventive in light of the discovery of such ineligible subject matter.  Consequently, were preemption of the entire set of applications of ineligible discoveries actually the concern driving application of the doctrine, none of the claims held invalid by the Supreme Court or the Federal Circuit should have been held invalid, as all those claimed specific applications did not preempt many other things that might have been claimed when employing the ineligible discoveries. (Of course, some of those held-to-be invalid claims may have covered all of the valuable, then-known applications.  But the Supreme Court had held in the Telephone Cases that claiming all valuable applications was perfectly fine, so long as the claims reflected the actual “invention” – meaning, at the time, a creative advance over ineligible subject matter).  Parker v. Flook’s terminology made this quite clear, requiring “some other inventive concept in its application” than mere (i.e., uncreative) application of the categorically ineligible discovery.  Flook’s language (and approach) was explicitly reaffirmed by Mayo’s recitation of a requirement for an “inventive concept” (notwithstanding the failure of the Supreme Court to explicitly acknowledged that Diamond v. Diehr had impliedly overruled Flook on this point, and that Mayo has now impliedly overruled Diehr on this point by reinstating Flook.  That Mayo also improvidently reiterated Benson’s preemption rationale without applying it in any way in the analysis is simply another example of uncareful opinions of the Supreme Court that engender further confusion rather than clarifying the law.  As Professor Strandburg has suggested, we would do well to simply ignore the “preemption” language and focus on the real question, which Professor Jeffrey Lefstin has correctly described (see https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2398696) of whether we want a standard of inventive application or only of practical application.  (Although I disagree with Professor Lefstin in regard to whether Funk Brothers was in fact the first instance of inventive application, we agree that the 1952 Act did not clearly overrule Funk Brothers.  This is important so that people will not continue to argue that Giles Rich was correct in his later revisionist history (see https://books.google.com/books/about/Laying_the_Ghost_of_the_invention_Requir.html?id=xH1etwAACAAJ) that  all questions of inventive creativity were placed in Section 103 by the 1952 Act, notwithstanding that P.J. Federico, who was the other principal co-author of the 1952 Act, argued the opposite – successfully – in the Application of Ducci case, 225 F.2d 683 (C.C.P.A. 1955) that Section 101’s “process” category (incorporating Section 100(b)’s definition of “process”) continued the “analogous use” test of inventive creativity requirement for claimed processes that the Supreme Court had articulated in Ansonia Brass & Copper Co. v. Electrical Supply Co., 144 U.S. 11 (1892)).

In summary, Mr. Doerre is simply wrong that Section 103 can do the job as currently written.  But if it could, he would be no happier with the state of the law, so long as inventive application remained the law for what constitutes an eligible (or a patentable) “invention,” and all without regard to “preemption.”  Should legislation move forward to eliminate the requirement for inventive application, we will have to learn if it in fact is a requirement of constitutional stature in granting authority to “inventors for their discoveries” (or is simply like the dicta in Graham v. John Deere, 386 U.S. 1, 6 (1966), that Congress may not remove inventions that have entered the public domain by granting patents on them – which the Supreme Court subsequently rejected in the copyright context as a constitutional limitation on legislative power in Golan v. Holder, 565 U.S. 302, 323-24 (2012) (quoting Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 202 n.7 (2003)).  But first, Congress would have to enact such legislation, and there are good reasons not to eliminate the inventive application requirement wholly without regard to the politics of which industries’ oxen will be gored thereby.  And let’s hope that if Congress does go there, that Congress is careful not to thereby permit aesthetic creativity to provide the “practical application” that thereby authorizes the grant of a utility patent as novel and nonobvious subject matter (whenever the aesthetic contribution to the claimed invention functionally interacts with the substrate that forms the remainder of the “claim as a whole,” so that the printed matter doctrine will not apply and thus the aesthetic creativity will thereby prevent a finding of non-obviousness, so we will end up with a design patent on steroids issued as a utility patent).

Disclosure statement: I have no current financial interest in the issues addressed.

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay: Is There Any Need to Resort to a § 101 Exception for Prior Art Ideas?

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay by Jeremy C. Doerre.  Mr. Doerre is a patent attorney with the law firm of Tillman Wright, PLLC.

In the wake of Alice, many observers have suggested that the implicit judicial exception to 35 U.S.C. § 101 for abstract ideas is now sometimes being used as a judicial or administrative shortcut to invalidate or reject claims that should properly be addressed under 35 U.S.C. § 103. This article notes that “the concern that drives this exclusionary principle [is] one of pre-emption,” and queries whether, given the Supreme Court’s “standard approach of construing a statutory exception narrowly to preserve the primary operation of the general rule,” the implicit statutory exception to 35 U.S.C. § 101 for abstract ideas should be narrowly construed to not apply for prior art ideas because 35 U.S.C. § 103 already ensures that claims do not “’disproportionately t[ie] up the use of [] underlying’ [prior art] ideas.”

Read 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)

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:
  • 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)

USPTO Update at Iowa Law – May 14

If you’re in the Iowa region, we invite you to attend Patent Law’s New Directions: An Update from Director Porcari at the University of Iowa College of Law on Tuesday, May 14, from 2:45 PM to 5:00 PM.  Damien Porcari, Director of the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional United States Patent and Trademark Office, will talk about the new 101 guidelines, design patents and USPTO policies.

Two hours of CLE credit are pending. There is no cost for the seminar, but we ask that attendees register in advance.  More information and a registration link can be found the Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center website.

 

Guest Post on Patent Eligibility and Investment: A Survey

Guest Post by David O. Taylor, Associate Professor of Law at SMU Dedman School of Law. Professor Taylor recently drafted an article summarizing the results of a survey of venture capitalists and private equity investors. The survey explores how the Supreme Court’s recent patent eligibility cases have influenced firm decisions to invest in companies developing technology. -Jason

Numerous inventors, lawyers, companies, industry groups, professors, and judges have decried the Supreme Court’s recent patent eligibility cases—particularly its 2012 decision in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. and its 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. These cases replaced the longstanding patent eligibility standard with a new one requiring, in particular, a so-called “inventive concept.”

Building upon judges’ views that they are bound by the Supreme Court’s new standard and their concerns that that standard is having devastating consequences, the American Intellectual Property Law Association and the Intellectual Property Owners Association believe the situation is so untenable that they have proposed that Congress overturn that standard.

Others, however, disagree. They effectively ask: To what extent have the Court’s cases shifting eligibility law actually impacted decisions to invest in the development of technology? Moreover, exactly how have these cases actually impacted investment decisions? And to the extent these cases have had a significant impact on investment decisions, has that impact proven to be positive or negative in the sense of increased or decreased investment?

Existing literature provides surprisingly little data even to begin to answer these questions. And, make no mistake, these questions are fundamental, and the accuracy of their answers is important. Answers to these questions will either support congressional intervention in the law of patent eligibility or counsel against it. Thus, the questions ought to be asked and—more importantly—answered by reference to hard data rather than gut feeling or prognostication. Quite literally, future innovation—perhaps even lifesaving innovation—hangs in the balance.

And so that is exactly what I have done: gathered data to help begin identifying accurate answers to these questions. In particular, I have conducted a survey of 475 venture capital and private equity investors to study the impact of the Court’s eligibility cases on their firms’ decisions to invest in companies developing technology. This survey is the first of its kind, and the data it has provided is sorely needed.

In an article summarizing my findings, I present detailed results of the survey and identify and consider four principal findings.

First, the investors who responded to the survey overwhelmingly believe patent eligibility is an important consideration when their firms decide whether to invest in companies developing technology. Indeed, overall 74% of the investors agreed that patent eligibility is an important consideration in firm decisions whether to invest in companies developing technology; only 14% disagreed. Likewise, investors reported that reduced patent eligibility for a technology makes it less likely that their firm will invest in companies developing that technology. For example, overall 62% of the investors agreed that their firms were less likely to invest in a company developing technology if patent eligibility makes patents unavailable, while only 20% disagreed. These results, while perhaps not surprising, nonetheless confirm one of the central premises upon which the patent system rests: that patents help to spur investment in development of technology.

Second, reduced patent eligibility correlates with particular investment behaviors in particular industries. Investors overwhelmingly indicated, for example, that the elimination of patents would either not impact their firm’s decisions whether to invest in companies or only slightly decrease investments in companies developing technology in the construction (89%), software and Internet (80%), transportation (84%), energy (79%), and computer and electronic hardware (72%) industries. But investors, by contrast, overwhelmingly indicated that the elimination of patents would either somewhat decrease or strongly decrease their firm’s investments in the biotechnology (77%), medical device (79%), and pharmaceutical industries (73%). Thus, according to these investors, on average each industry would see reduced investment, but the impact on particular industries would be different. And the life sciences industries would be the ones most negatively affected.

Third, the Supreme Court’s eligibility cases have impacted many firms’ investments and, more significantly going forward, their firm’s investment behaviors. Almost 40% of the investors who knew about at least one of the Court’s eligibility cases indicated that the Court’s decisions had somewhat negative or very negative effects on their firm’s existing investments, while only about 15% of these investors reported somewhat positive or very positive effects. On a going forward basis, moreover, almost 33% of the investors who knew about at least one of the Court’s eligibility cases indicated that these cases affected their firms’ decisions whether to invest in companies developing technology. These investors reported primarily decreased investments, but also shifting of investments between industries. In particular they identified shifting of investments out of the biotechnology, medical device, pharmaceutical, and software and Internet industries. Again, the life sciences industries represent the most negatively affected of all industries.

Fourth, investors familiar with the Supreme Court’s eligibility cases indicated different changes in firm investment behavior as compared to investors without this familiarity. As discussed above, about 33% of investors with this familiarity reported that these cases impacted their firms’ investment behavior, with these investors reporting shifting of investments away from the software and Internet industry along with the biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries. Investors without familiarity with these cases, by contrast, overwhelmingly reported that decreased availability of patents since 2009 (prior to the Supreme Court’s eligibility cases) has not impacted their firms’ changes in investment behavior. Indeed, a full 95% indicated no impact on any change in their firm’s investments. Moreover, investors without familiarity with these cases indicated more often, as compared to investors with familiarity, that their firms have shifted investments into the software and Internet industries as compared to all other industries. In short, eligibility knowledgeable investors report the Supreme Court’s cases have resulted in reduced investment in software and the Internet, while unknowledgeable investors report increased investment in software and the Internet over the same time period. As investor’s transition from non-knowledgeable to knowledgeable (once they learn about the Court’s cases and their impact on patent eligibility), investment in software and the Internet will seemingly decrease. Thus, the life sciences industries are by no means the only industries impacted by the Court’s cases.

The results of the survey provide critical data for an evidence-based evaluation of competing arguments in the ongoing debate about the need for congressional intervention in the law of patent eligibility. Proponents of reform will no doubt tout the results of the survey as representing a clarion call for reform. The best that can be said by those that prefer the status quo is that most investors do not report changing their investment decisionmaking based upon the Supreme Court’s eligibility decisions. A significant part of this group of investors, however, represents those uninformed about the Court’s cases.

The reality is that the results of the survey highlight the importance of patent eligibility and the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s eligibility cases generally on investment, but particularly in the most important areas of technological development in terms of its impact on public health: the biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries—the life sciences industries. That said, it is important to highlight that the results show the Court’s decisions have negatively impacted each and every area of technological development studied.

As a consequence, the results do support the idea that the time has come for Congress to at least consider overturning the Supreme Court’s new eligibility standard to prevent additional lost investment in technological development in the United States. Indeed, given the results of the survey, it seems likely that the Supreme Court’s eligibility decisions have resulted in lost investment in the life sciences that has delayed or altogether prevented the development of medicines and medical procedures.

Research funding disclosure: I prepared this Article supported by grants from Microsoft Corporation, the Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation, and the Clark J. Matthews, II Faculty Research Endowment Fund.

New PatentlyO Law Journal article: Colleen Chien, Deferring Patentable Subject Matter

This past fall at the Administering Patent Law symposium at Iowa Law, Professor Colleen Chien presented an argument in favor of more intentional experimentation by administrative  agencies such, as the USPTO to test policy concepts and proposed several possibilities.  Below, Professor Chien describes one such project, based on the Merges/Crouch proposal for deferring patentable subject matter analyses in prosecution.  Read the accompanying PatentlyO Law Journal article here:

Colleen V. Chien, Piloting Applicant-Initiated 101 Deferral Through A Randomized Controlled Trial, 2019 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (2019.Chien.DeferringPSM)

Guest post by Colleen V. Chien, Justin D’Atri Visiting Professor of Business Law, Columbia University School of Law; Professor, Santa Clara University Law School

This post is the second in a series about insights developed based on USPTO data. An accompanying PatentlyO Patent Law Journal article includes additional data and experimental design details; both are drawn from Policy Pilots: Experimentation in the Administration of the Law,  written for the 2018 Iowa Law Review Symposium on the Administrative State.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Responding to frustration with the Supreme Court’s patentable subject matter (PSM) decisions, the Federal Circuit has issued clarifying decisions, the USPTO has released new guidance regarding applying Section 101 (and 112), and Senators Coons and Tillis have been holding roundtables. 101 appeals and rejections, including pre-abandonment rejections, have risen following Alice and Mayo, particularly within impacted technology areas. (Figs 1A and 1B, details here and here). To support tracking the impact of its own guidance and related developments, the USPTO should release updated versions of office action data (the last release was in 2017).

In this post, I propose a complementary approach that aims to conserve agency and applicant resources even while policymakers work to clarify the law. It builds on the idea of deferring 101 subject matter until other issues are exhausted first proposed by Robert Merges and Dennis Crouch, but with some important modifications. Deferral would be at applicant’s option, not mandatory, and the USPTO should roll out this intervention through a controlled trial with randomization, as the agency has done previously, to determine the practice’s effectiveness.

Experimenting with Ordering

The case for deferring subject matter builds on the insight that 101 is rarely the single dispositive issue – among office actions prior to abandonment, less than 15% of TC36BM and medical diagnostic applications and 2% applications overall are “only 101.”  Yet 101 is controversial – the rate of ex parte decisions addressing 101 has also shot up, from less than 10% to over 80% in 2018 in medical diagnostic and software technology areas, and to 26% overall. (Fig 1B)[1]

Deferring 101 would borrow from the Supreme Court doctrine of avoidance, which allows the Court to “resolve[] cases on non-constitutional  grounds whenever possible,” in order to conserve court resources and legitimacy. Other federal agencies have also used deferral, for example, in the mid to late 2000s, when the application of immigration law to same-sex couples in some cases required family separation. To avoid this harsh consequence, Department of Homeland Security prosecutors administratively closed some cases, immigration judges granted continuances for unusually long periods in hopes that the law would change, and US Customs and Immigration enforcement officials granted requests for deferred action. That is to say, they avoided the law by deferring its application.

Avoiding PSM issues would allow cases to resolve, through allowance or abandonment, on less controversial, non-101 grounds.[2]  (The USPTO’s new guidelines implement this logic to a degree, shifting focus towards 112 and away from 101). But making 101 deferral optional, at applicant’s discretion, would preserve the benefits of compact prosecution and the freedom applicants enjoy to select a fast or slow track for each application.

The Advantages of Experimentation

Trying out applicant-initiated 101 deferral through a rigorous pilot has several advantages. First, unlike changing the law or its application which requires all to adjust, only applicants dissatisfied with the status quo would see a change. 85% of office actions don’t even include a PSM rejection I’ve found previously.

Second, implementing 101 deferral as a pilot with randomization, like the USPTO did when it conducted the post-trademark registration proof-of-use pilot, will support effective policy-making through evaluation, iteration, and refinement.[3] Design (intent-to-treat), ethical (through consent) and methodological (power, randomization, etc.) concerns and details are discussed in the accompanying piece.Rigorously tracking the impact of PSM on patent prosecution over the course of a pilot can also provide much-needed empirical support to 101 policy-making in general.

Finally, my proposal preserves the benefits of the status quo, including the little-discussed incentive prosecutors now have to add details to their patent applications and claims, a good thing. In work with students that I presented at the Federal Trade Commission’s recent hearings building on an earlier analysis in IP Watchdog by Will Gvoth, Rocky Bernsden, and Peter Glaser from Harrity & Harrity LLP, I observed that there has been a “flight to quality” among patent complaints and applications. Carrying out a differences-in-differences analysis, we found that specification length and counts of words and unique words in the first claim have grown among software applications relative to others following the Alice decision. Deferring 101 would preserve this previously unexplored impact of the “Mayo-Alice effect” on software patent drafting. If 101 were eviscerated by Congress, so too could the incentive to be more concrete in describing and claiming inventions.

Conclusion

If successful, the treatment would result in the diminished presence of 101 subject matter issues within ex parte appeals and pre abandonment rejections and, potentially, resolution time, e.g. closer to pre-Mayo or Alice levels. Applicant and prosecutor satisfaction with the process, changes made to what gets filed, timelines, and such factors would also be worth tracking.

Read it here:  Colleen V. Chien, Piloting Applicant-Initiated 101 Deferral Through A Randomized Controlled Trial, 2019 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (2019.Chien.DeferringPSM)

With thanks to Santa Clara Law University students Jiu-Ying Wu, Nicholas Halkowski, Marvin Mercado, and Saumya Sinha and to William Gvoth, Peter Glaser, and Rocky Bernsden of Harrity LLP for assistance with data, and Hans Sauer and Jonathan Probell for their comments on earlier drafts.

[1] Even though 101 patentable subject matter issues appear in a quarter of 2018 appeals decisions, this share is still small compared to the share of decisions that mention, for example, “102” (, “103”, or “112” issues though note that these numbers are inflated because they do not include case specific limitations that can weed out false positives based on incidental mentions (such as “ 10/282102”)

[2]  For example, if an invention is incurably anticipated, obvious or unsupported, the case will have been resolved without considering subject matter. Likewise, if the claims have been re-formulated responsive to non-101 rejections and mooted any subject matter defects in the process, PSM will not factor into the application’s outcome.

[3] In that pilot, the USPTO randomly selected 500 registrations to participate in the initial program to assess the accuracy and integrity of the trademark register. Though companies selected to participate in the pilot had to comply with additional regulatory requirements, randomization ensured that the pilot’s findings were representative and its burdens, fairly distributed. See,  77 FR 30197, 30198 (explaining that randomness in the pilot was necessary to “ensure that the resulting assessment is not skewed by consideration of registrations with particular criteria, and that implementation of the rules does not create an unfair burden on specific types of trademark owners”). The results of the test and related USPTO reports, outreach and deliberations were used to expand and make the program permanent.

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:
  • 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)

Guest Post by Profs. Frakes and Wasserman: Irrational Ignorance at the Patent Office

By: Michael D. Frakes, Duke University School of Law and Melissa F. Wasserman, The University of Texas School of Law

The Patent Office, which processes over half-a-million patent applications a year, routinely faces budgetary shortfalls, high patent examiner turnover, and a crushing backlog of patent applications.  Given this challenging environment, it is not surprising that the patent examination process generates some degree of error, including errors that culminate in the issuance of a significant number of invalid patents.  Given that invalid patents impose substantial harms on society, the question is what should we do about them?

At first glance, the solution seems straightforward:   the Patent Office needs to do more to ensure it awards patents only to those inventions that deserve them.  A seemingly promising start is to give patent examiners more time to evaluate applications.  On average, a U.S. patent examiner spends only nineteen hours reviewing an application, including reading the application, searching for prior art, comparing the prior art with the application, writing a rejection, responding to the patent applicant’s arguments, and often conducting an interview with the applicant’s attorney.  If examiners are not given enough time to evaluate applications, they may not be able to reject applications by identifying and articulating justifications with appropriate underlying legal validity.  Offering validation for these concerns, our prior empirical work tested the extent to which patent examiner time allocations are causing examiners to grant invalid patents and found that examiners were indeed allowing patents of dubious quality because they are not given sufficient time.

Even in the face of this compelling evidence, however, it is not immediately clear that the solution to the patent quality crisis is to give patent examiners more time.  While increasing examiner time allocations will decrease the number of invalid patents issued by the Patent Office, it is possible that the Patent Office is, as Mark Lemley famously wrote, “rationally ignorant.”  That is, it may be rational for the Patent Office not to screen patent applications too rigorously because there is another institutional player that could weed out bad patents:  the courts.  More specifically, Lemley argued that because so few patents are litigated or licensed, it is better to rely upon litigation to make detailed validity determinations in those rare instances rather than increasing the resources to the Patent Office to provide more thorough review of all patent applications.  Lemley supports his thesis with a cost-benefit analysis wherein he concludes that the costs associated with doubling the Patent Office’s hours to review patent applications outweighs the benefits gained by the resulting decrease in the number of invalid patents the Patent Office would issue.  Although some of the numbers in his analysis reflect hard data, the dearth of empirical evidence available to the time forced him to make several critical assumptions, including assuming (rather than estimating) how many fewer patents the Patent Office would issue if examiner time allocations were doubled.

Although it has been over fifteen years since Professor Lemley wrote his influential and widely-cited article, the debate on how to best rid ourselves of bad patents continues to rage on.   In 2011, Congress enacted the most comprehensive reform bill to the patent system in decades, and arguably favored the ex-post approach by creating a new adjudicatory tribunal at the Patent Office wherein third parties can challenge the validity of issued patents.  In 2016, for the first time in forty years, the Patent Office began a comprehensive reevaluation of examiner time allocations, arguably favoring an ex-ante approach.

The time is ripe to revisit whether the Patent Office is, in fact, “rationally ignorant.”   Should we increase the resources at the Patent Office in an effort to increase the quality of issued patents or should we forego those marginal investments and reserve a larger residual role for the courts?  Our Article, begins to answer this question by employing new and rich sources of data along with sophisticated empirical techniques to form novel empirically driven estimates of the relationships that Lemley was forced to guess in his own analysis.

Armed with these new estimates, our Article demonstrates that the savings in future litigation costs and prosecution expenses associated with giving examiners additional time per application outweighs the costs of increasing examiner time allocations.  More specifically, we estimate that doubling examiner time allocations would cost the Patent Office approximately $660 million dollars in additional personnel expenses.  We also estimate that doubling the amount of hours allocated to review applications would result in $301 million in savings in prosecution expenses to the patent applicant driven by decreased rounds of review at the Patent Office.  Finally, we estimate federal litigation-related savings of $491 million and PTAB litigation savings of $112 million.   Though the $660 million increase in costs is significant, this amount is still exceeded by the $904 million that may be saved annually in (i) expenses covering litigation in federal court, (ii) PTAB-related legal expenses and (iii) potential savings in prosecution costs.  The efficiency gains from marginal investments at the Patent Office are even greater when considering a range of additional harms that may ensue from the issuance of invalid patents by the Agency, such as diminishing cumulative innovation, dead-weight loss, etc.  Thus, we conclude the opposite of Lemley:  society would be better off investing more resources in the Agency to improve patent quality than relying upon ex-post litigation to weed out invalid patents.  Given its current level of resources, the Patent Office is not being “rationally ignorant” but, instead, irrationally ignorant.

The current draft of our article is available on SSRN here. It’s forthcoming in the Vanderbilt Law Review in 2019, so there’s plenty of time for us to incorporate any comments you may have.

Guest Post by Prof. Yelderman: Which Kinds of Printed Publications Invalidate Patents in Court?

Stephen Yelderman is a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

Continuing our study of prior art in the district court, in this post we’ll take a closer look at printed publications. As I discussed in my original post, around 13% of anticipation invalidations and 34% of obviousness invalidations rely on art in this category. (The numbers may be a touch higher than that, as a result of invalidations for which we could not determine the prior art supporting the court’s conclusion). For more background on this project, you can find the full paper here.

The potential sweep of this prior art category is breathtaking. By the terms of the statute—both before and after the America Invents Act—a printed publication found anywhere in the world can qualify as prior art. Moreover, under Federal Circuit precedent, this category includes a number of things that would seem to stretch the colloquial meaning of “publication.” For example, a single copy of a doctoral thesis stored in a university library, a drawing available only by travelling to another country’s patent office, and a posterboard displayed for several days at a conference have all been held to constitute “printed publications.” In dicta, the Federal Circuit has even suggested that a transient display of slides, or a billboard (!?) could, on certain facts, count as a printed publication.

When I teach patent law, our discussion of the printed publications category tends to dwell on these extreme possibilities. But how often do these non-traditional publications actually invalidate patents in practice?

To get a handle on this question, we further classified printed publication prior art into several sub-categories:

This chart illustrates the percentage of invalidations relying on printed publications in each sub-category, as a share of invalidations relying on printed publications at all. Encouragingly, the majority of invalidations based on printed publications relied on traditional reference publications. Just over half of anticipating publications were categorized as regularly published books and journals. Among obviousness invalidations citing a printed publication, 68% cited at least one regularly published book or journal. (The percentages of obviousness invalidations sum to more than 100% because of invalidations citing publications in multiple sub-categories.)  Though some of these regularly published books and journals may have come from obscure outlets, they are at least the kind of documents that a library might collect and an interested researcher might access.

The next sub-category—catalogs, manuals, and brochures—consists of documents distributed to teach the public about the features or availability of a product. This category is conceptually interesting for two reasons. First, though catalogs and manuals are typically mass-produced and widely disseminated, they are not usually collected in research libraries. By their nature, many publications in this category are intended to be transient. These characteristics suggest that publications in this sub-category would likely be much more difficult for a hypothetical prior art searcher to find than a regularly published book or journal.

The second reason that the catalog, manuals, and brochures category is conceptually interesting is that these documents are often evidence of a different kind of prior art entirely—that is, prior uses and sales. In fact, in a few cases we found it unclear whether a product manual was coming in as a distinct prior art reference, or as evidence about the features present in a prior sale. The fact that district courts sometimes rely on publications in this category suggests that activity prior art may be even more important than our top-level analysis suggested.

That said, catalog, manuals, and brochures were fairly insignificant in the larger scheme of things. About a quarter of anticipating printed publications fell into this sub-category. But since only 13% of anticipation events cited a printed publication, that means only about 3% of anticipation events overall relied on a catalog, manual, or brochure. Likewise, though 15% of obviousness events citing a printed publication relied on a catalog, manual, or brochure, that comes out to only about 5% of obviousness events overall. So whether one conceives of these cases as invalidity by prior sale or invalidity by printed publication, the high-level picture of prior art does not change very much.

The next sub-category—“other”—includes all identifiable printed publications not falling into the other two sub-categories. For example, we found patents that had been invalidated by poster board displays, industry whitepapers, proposals circulated at working group meetings of technical standards bodies, doctoral dissertations, and postings on Internet discussion forums. (We did not, for the record, find any cases of patents invalidated by billboards.) The good news was that reliance on potentially obscure or idiosyncratic documents like these appeared to be rare. About 19% of anticipating printed publications fell into this sub-category, amounting to just about 2% of anticipation events overall. A little more than a quarter of obviousness invalidations citing a printed publication included one in the “other” category. These constituted about 9% of obviousness invalidations overall.

There were, however, some publications that defied further classification—usually because sealed court records prevented us from finding more than a shorthand reference to the relevant document. For anticipation, this was rare enough that it could not change our results very much. But this happened frequently enough in cases of obviousness that we must acknowledge some potential uncertainty. If all of the unidentifiable publications turned out to be non-traditional publications, it’s possible that up to 16% of obviousness invalidations may have relied on a publication in the “other” category.

Finally, it’s important to remember that this data only tells us how district courts invalidate patents—not how many or why patents might be invalid in general. It is possible that cases involving non-traditional publications are more likely to settle than other cases, or, for that matter, that they’re less likely to settle. There is a significant possibility of selection effects here, which prevents us from making any inferences about patent quality overall. So, in the end, I’ll have to keep teaching those cases about slide presentations and unpublished college theses, even if “publications” like those only rarely invalidate patents in court.

Guest post from Prof. Yelderman: How Much Did the AIA Change Prior Art in the District Court?

Stephen Yelderman is a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

This week we’ll take a closer look at “activity” prior art—prior uses, sales, and “invention by another.” As I mentioned in my last post, a little more than half the time district courts find a claim anticipated, they rely on art in this category. Activity prior art is less common for obviousness invalidations, but still quite routine: just over a quarter of obviousness invalidations cite activity prior art. (For more background on this project, you can find the full paper here.)

The 2011 America Invents Act (“AIA”) changed the rules for determining when activity qualifies as prior art in several respects. At a minimum, the AIA constricted this category of prior art by removing the “prior invention by another” path previously found in § 102(g). Arguably, the AIA trimmed the category in another way too—by imposing a new “available to the public” requirement on prior uses and sales. (Whether it did or not is the question the Supreme Court will take up next week in Helsinn Healthcare v. Teva Pharmaceuticals.) In the opposite direction, the AIA eliminated the limitation that uses and sales qualify as prior art only if they occurred in United States. Given all this, one might wonder: just how significant are the AIA’s changes when it comes to the prior art district courts actually rely on?

All of the district court invalidations in our study (except for one) involved applications of pre-AIA law, so we can use our data to predict how many cases might come out differently if the stricter aspects of the new prior art rules had applied instead. The answer is not many. For prior invention by another, this exercise was straightforward: under pre-AIA law it was its own legally distinct category, and there is no question that it was eliminated by the AIA. Based on our coding, we found that prior invention by another constituted about 8% of anticipation events relying on activity, and was a basis for roughly 1% of obviousness invalidations citing any activity. From the perspective of anticipation and obviousness overall, just a little more than 2% of district court invalidations relied on this prior art path. (And we can’t rule out the possibility that some of that art might have qualified by a different path anyway.)

The effect of requiring prior uses and sales to be “available to the public” is slightly harder to predict, since we do not yet know what that language will mean (or, until Helsinn is decided, if it applies to prior uses and sales at all). To get a bit of purchase on this question, we coded prior uses and sales that were potentially kept secret from the public: offers / sales made to an identified counterparty (fact patterns like Pfaff v. Wells), internal commercial uses (fact patterns like Metallizing Engineering), and uses by a limited and identified group of outsiders (fact patterns like Egbert v. Lippmann). It’s important to note that this classification scheme is likely overbroad: from the documents before us, we could not always determine whether a use or sale was in fact secret at the time. Instead, we categorized activity based on whether the use or sale could have potentially been secret.

Despite our likely overbroad classification scheme, potentially secret uses or sales appeared to be cited only rarely. When a court found a claim anticipated based on activity, that activity was potentially secret about 14-15% of the time. (These figures are presented as ranges because of a few cases in which we could not determine whether the cited activity was potentially secret under our framework.) When activity was cited in support of obviousness, the cited activity was potentially secret somewhere between 2-7% of the time. To look at the same data from another angle, among all the uses and sales district courts relied upon to invalidate patents, 88-90% lacked any indications of potential secrecy. As a share of anticipation and obviousness invalidity overall, potentially secret uses and sales were cited in about 4-5% of claim invalidations.

So if the past is a guide, it appears that few of the cases litigated to a decision of invalidity under the old law would be flipped under the AIA’s (purported) constriction of the activity prior art category. We must hedge a bit here, however, since we cannot say what the post-Helsinn law will be, or how inventors and litigants might adapt their behavior in light of new rules. What we can say with certainty is that, among the set of all recent court decisions invalidating patents under pre-AIA law, we find only a small number (an average of 3-4 patent invalidations a year) that would be affected by the question in Helsinn.

Unfortunately, the nature of our study does not allow us to predict the effects of the AIA’s amendments in the opposite direction—that is, the changes that made it easier for some activities to qualify as prior art. As mentioned above, the AIA eliminated the longstanding rule that uses and sales may qualify as prior art only if they were conducted in the United States. Because we were observing cases litigated under pre-AIA law, all of the activities we coded had occurred within the United States. We therefore did not observe the non-U.S. activity prior art that may have been waiting in the wings but was excluded by the pre-AIA’s domestic limitation on this category. Likewise, we cannot predict what the effect of adding “otherwise available to the public” as a distinct prior art category might be (not to be confused with the Helsinn question of whether that language modifies other categories).

Finally, some might expect the importance of activity prior art in district courts to be increasing over time, for reasons that are related to the AIA but unrelated to the prior art rules themselves. Readers of this blog do not need to be told of the overwhelming popularity of inter partes review (“IPR”) as an alternative forum for adjudicating patent validity. (By my count, in 2016, roughly 380 patents were invalidated in IPR, dwarfing the number of patents invalidated on prior art grounds by district courts.)  But activity prior art is categorically excluded from consideration in IPR, leaving district courts as the primary venue for adjudicating validity when activity prior art is at issue. It would seem logical, therefore, for the share of district court cases involving activity prior art to grow over time, as defendants challenging patents based only on non-activity art select into IPR for its speed, cost, and lower burden of persuasion.

Surprisingly, however, this is not what we found:

This chart illustrates the percentage of district court patent invalidations relying on activity prior art to invalidate any claim. As this chart shows, this number has remained remarkably stable throughout the advent of IPR. Though defendants may be opting in to IPR in large numbers, it is not the case that only activity-based invalidations remain in district court.

To be clear, the availability of IPR could still be having an effect on the kinds of cases that remain for validity decisions in district court. For example, courts may now be deciding only validity challenges in which the defendant made a strategic decision not to petition for IPR, or did petition for IPR without success. Moreover, during the time period illustrated above, the patent system was undergoing a number of changes simultaneously, so it is difficult to isolate the effects of IPR.

All of this is to say that the relationship between IPR and the work of district courts defies a simple explanation. But we can say with confidence that prior art patents and printed publications continue to play an important role in district court invalidations, notwithstanding the availability of IPR.

 

Edited 11/30: Clarified that 2% reliance on “prior invention by another” and 4-5% reliance on potentially secret uses and sales are stated percentages of claim invalidations for anticipation or obviousness. As a share of invalidations on any grounds, these numbers would be even smaller.

Guest Post by Prof. Yelderman: How Do District Courts Cite Prior Art?

Stephen Yelderman is a Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

Not all prior art is created equal. The ease of finding what’s been done before can vary dramatically—from a prior U.S. patent cited by hundreds of applicants, to the dusty doctoral thesis sitting on the shelf of a foreign library. So one might wonder: when district courts invalidate patents on prior art grounds, do they typically rely on prior art that the inventor, or the USPTO, or even a reasonably diligent searcher could plausibly have found? Or do courts regularly invalidate patents on the basis of art that only the most determined litigant could have possibly uncovered?

For the last year or so, I have been working with a team of research assistants to attempt to answer these and other questions. Drawing directly from district court dockets, we collected every decision invalidating a patent claim over a six-and-half-year period. We then coded these on a claim-by-claim, reference-by-reference basis to learn how district courts rely on prior art. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the more interesting things we’ve uncovered. In this post, I’ll start by sharing some of our top-level findings and briefly explaining our collection methodology. (If you’d like to see our full results right away, a draft of the paper is available for download here.)

First, some may be surprised to learn that district court invalidation appears to be evenly split between anticipation and obviousness. This is true whether one measures by patents or claims:

Over our study period, the number of claims invalidated for anticipation (1,636) almost exactly equaled the number of claims invalidated for obviousness (1,620). As the chart above shows, while there was some up and down from year to year, the ratio held very close to 1 throughout our study period.

However, the similarities end there. In terms of the prior art relied upon to invalidate claims, anticipation and obviousness are two very different animals:

The black columns indicate the percentage of anticipation invalidations citing each category of prior art. As you can see, district court findings of anticipation rely predominantly on activity prior art (defined to include prior uses, sales, and invention by another—old § 102g).  After that, in descending order of frequency, come U.S. patents, printed publications, and foreign patents.

Obviousness invalidations are a bit harder to summarize concisely, since they can be based on multiple references. The hashed columns indicate the percentage of obviousness invalidations citing any art in that category; the gray columns indicate the percentage of obviousness invalidations citing art only in that category. The headline here is that U.S. patents are by far the most commonly cited category of prior art for obviousness: nearly two thirds of obviousness invalidations cite at least one U.S. patent. But less than one third of obviousness invalidations cite only U.S. patents. A similar theme bears out across the rest of the chart. When courts combine multiple references to find a claim obvious, they often do so by combining art across categories—a U.S. patent combined with a prior sale, for example, or a foreign patent combined with a printed publication.

Each of these top-level categories will be explored in more detail in subsequent posts. I’ll close this one with a bit of background about our collection methodology. For purposes of this study, our focus was limited to claim invalidity as found by district courts. Therefore, our data does not capture every distinct argument the defendant made for invalidity, or judicial findings that a claim was “not invalid.” It also does not reflect the ways these decisions may have been modified on appeal. We believe our data does capture every district court determination that a claim was invalid, whether in a published opinion, unpublished document, or jury verdict. In a few cases, these documents did not clearly specify on their face which references supported the conclusion of invalidity. When this occurred, we consulted other documents on the docket (such as post-trial briefing) to identify the prior art supporting the court’s conclusions. When we could not find a conclusive answer, we coded the prior art as “unknown” (the final category in the chart above). Additional details about how we collected and coded these documents can be found in Part II of the paper.

Finally, when interpreting all of this data, one should keep in mind that this is a study of how district courts cite prior art, not a study of patent quality overall. A tiny fraction of issued patents are ever litigated, and only a tiny fraction of those are litigated to a determination of validity. Moreover, the incentives to litigate or settle a patent dispute could very well turn on the nature of the prior art in a case, so the possibility of selection effects is real. Therefore, this data should only be used to answer questions about why patents are invalidated in district court, not why patents might be invalid in general.

Iowa Law Review Symposium guest post by Prof. Vishnubhakat: Managing the PTAB’s Legacy of Partial Institution

Guest post by Saurabh Vishnubhakat, Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and the Texas A&M College of Engineering.  Although Prof. Vishnubhakat was an advisor at the USPTO until June, 2015, his arguments here should not be imputed to the USPTO or to any other organization.  This post is based on a paper for the Iowa Law Review symposium Administering Patent Law and is forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review.  The full draft is available at at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3237841.

It has now been four months since the Supreme Court decided SAS Institute v. Iancu, and it seems clear that ending partial institution will, indeed, be a significant disruption to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s administration of its docket.  As I noted on this blog just after the decision came down, the power of partial institution was at the heart of PTAB case management from the beginning, and the requirement of binary institution from now on raises several important questions.

In this post, I will offer some more detailed analysis of one of those issues in particular.  That issue is how the Patent Office should understand the stakes of binary institution—which is to say, fully appreciate how much work partial institution was truly doing.

The Stakes of Binary Institution

Now that the PTAB must either fully grant or fully deny each petition that comes before it, the stakes of accepting versus rejecting a case largely point toward rejecting.  The cases that were already being instituted in full or denied in full will be unaffected.  The cases that were being partially instituted, however, will not be accepted lightly.

Fully instituting such a case will necessarily bring significant obligations of deciding why arguments that the PTAB has already found likely to fail do, indeed, fail.  On top of that, the PTAB must also explain fully enough, under the Chenery doctrine, why these arguments lack merit.

Under partial institution, these unmeritorious portions of a petition could easily be dispensed with at the institution stage.  No judicial review was available—not even after final judgment, under Cuozzo—so Chenery obligations did not even come into the picture.  This is not to say the obligations of reasoned decision-making should not apply to the Patent Office at the institution stage.  (Judge Reyna’s concurring opinion in Shaw Industries, for example, made a persuasive case that mere nonappealability does not legitimize black box decisions such as denying “redundant grounds” without explanation.  Still, the panel majority in that case did not reverse the agency.)

Now that partial institution is unavailable, granting review will open the door to judicial scrutiny of the PTAB’s handling of the entire case, some or much of which will consist of arguments that the PTAB already had reason to think were not worth its time.  This change generally counsels against full institution of close cases.

On the other side of the agency’s choice is what effect a PTAB denial would have on the petitioner, for a denial would exclude meritorious arguments as well.  In general, the harm would be minimal, as denying review creates no estoppel and so does not prejudice the petitioner’s ability to make the same arguments elsewhere.  Under § 315(e), estoppel requires a final written decision under § 318(a), which applies only to a petition that has been “instituted and not dismissed.”  As most petitioners (about 70%) are district-court defendants seeking PTAB review in response to an infringement lawsuit (what my coauthors and I have termed standard petitioners), invalidity arguments in the district court will remain available.

The remaining petitioners (about 30%) who seek PTAB review preemptively would be similarly unharmed.  It is true that they may or may not have Article III standing to seek declaratory relief in the courts, standing that they would not have to show in the PTAB.  But they still remain free to refile their petitions in the PTAB itself, using the PTAB’s earlier denial of institution as a roadmap for filing a more successful petition.  Because these nonstandard petitioners have, by definition, not been charged with infringement, the one-year time bar of § 315(b) does not apply to them.

Thus, under the PTAB’s existing resource constraints, the burden of fully granting borderline petitions is generally higher, and the cost and prejudice on litigants inflicted by fully denying such petitions is relatively low, tilting on balance toward fully denying borderline petitions.  The next question is whether this analysis in the abstract has real-world relevance to the PTAB’s likely incentives.

The Scope of Partial Institution

The data strongly suggests that it does.  Partial institution was doing much more work than previously appreciated to filter out unmeritorious arguments and focus the PTAB’s resources on challenges that were reasonably likely to succeed.  The following two figures show why this has largely been overlooked.  Through April 2018, when SAS Institute was decided, the respective shares of petitions that were fully instituted (39.2%), partially instituted (25.8%), and fully denied (35.0%) suggest that partial institutions accounted for only a minor part of the agency’s workload.  Indeed, the trends of these shares over time suggest that partial institution was diminishing even before the Supreme Court abolished the practice.

But looking at petitions or cases as a whole misses the mark.  The legal grounds asserted vary from petition to petition.  An anticipation challenge generally relies on a single prior art reference rather than a combination of multiple references and so is less workload-intensive than an obviousness challenge.  The patent claims that a petition actually challenges vary as well, and the workload burdens posed by different petitions vary accordingly.  Taking these facts into account, the more granular and accurate measure of partial institution is the share of claim-ground pairs being challenged in the PTAB that were being granted, and the share that were being denied.

As the next three figures reveal, this share has been both large and persistent.  Through April 2018, the PTAB denied review of nearly half of all the claim-ground pairs that came before it in petitions.  This finding is robust across technologies.  It is also strikingly stable over time, starting at a rate of about 30% but quickly rising into the 40–50% range, where it has stayed for the past five years.  This evaluation shows that partial institution was a substantial filter on the challenges that were admitted into administrative review.

Confronted with the choice of full institution or full denial, therefore, the PTAB should think carefully about how much of a petition should present meritorious arguments before a panel is willing to take on the additional burden of adjudicating additional arguments that it already knows are likely to fail.

The PTAB’s treatment of transitional cases—where the PTAB had already made partial institutions but now had to be reevaluated under SAS Institute—is telling in this regard.  The agency’s April 26 Guidance on the Impact of SAS on AIA Trial Proceedings had stated it may issue a supplemental order to institute on all remaining challenges.  Though it did not say so, the agency also had the power, of course, to vacate its partial institution, effectively “deinstituting” the petition in full.  In an order earlier this month, the PTAB revealed an agency-wide thumb on the scale toward instituting-all rather than deinstituting-all:

If now faced with the Petition in the first instance, and understanding that we have only a “binary choice,” it may well be appropriate to deny the Petition in its entirety.  But we have been instructed that the Office SAS Guidance is to be interpreted with the weight of Office policy as precluding termination of a partially instituted proceeding in response to SAS Institute.

ESET LLC v. Finjan, Inc., IPR2017-01738, Paper No. 28 at 10 (Aug. 10, 2018).

This exercise of agency discretion for transitional cases is entirely sensible as a policy matter.  For cases where the PTAB has not only concluded that a patent is at least partly problematic but also invested resources to adjudicate those problems, terminating the proceeding would give the mistaken, but still potentially harmful, impression that the PTAB were actively abdicating its error-correction duties.

In future cases, evaluating petitions in the first instance, the PTAB would be much better positioned to balance its obligations with its resource constraints within its broad discretion over institution.

Conclusion

As I discuss further in the full paper, although the structural choices that lie ahead for the Patent Office are difficult, they are appropriate for the agency to have to make.  The policy judgments that are most rational for the Patent Office to reach in light of SAS Institute are likely to promote reasoned decision-making by the agency as well as more efficient substitution of administrative adjudication for judicial review.  These policy judgments, in turn, will also bring important questions—including the one-year time bar and the issuance of stays pending PTAB review—back to the Federal Circuit.  These questions are a valuable chance for the Federal Circuit to reconsider panel decisions that have largely been overtaken both by its own recent en banc decisions and by the Supreme Court.

2018 Iowa Law Review Symposium: Administering Patent Law

On October 5, the Iowa College of Law will host the 2018 Iowa Law Review symposium, Administering Patent Law.  This event is co-sponsored by the Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center.  As an added bonus, I’ll be running guest posts by some of the speakers over the next few weeks.  We’ll also be live-streaming the symposium that day.  You can find the full agenda (and the livestream link, once it is live) on the symposium website.