All posts by Jason Rantanen

About Jason Rantanen

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

What do you call it? For almost two-thirds of you, it’s the “specification”

By Jason Rantanen

First of all, I’m overwhelmed by the survey responses on § 112(a) – thanks to everyone who responded to this short survey.  You’re terrific.

As of this afternoon, over 800 readers had responded to the question about how you refer to the part of the patent application that is required by 35 U.S.C. § 112(a).  The graph below shows the distribution of responses. (n=720)

When asked “What term do you use most often to refer to the part of the patent or patent application that is required by 35 U.S.C. § 112(a)?,” sixty-three percent of respondents answered “specification,” while another twenty-four percent answered “written description.”  A notable minority (9%) said “detailed description.”  There were also some write-ins, although most of them were either “Spec” or “Disclosure”

Results were consistent for patent attorneys and agents, but none of the litigators who responded used anything other than “specification” or “written description,” while 50% of the examiners who responded used “specification.” (with the caveat that examiners and litigators are a smaller n).

In addition, after results started coming in I had some concern that the initial question was ambiguous, so modified the survey to give a random set of respondents the following question instead.  Responses were similar to the first question, with a bit lower rate for “specification” (58%) and a bit higher rate for “technical description” (11%) for this version of the question.

(n=115)  (I probably should have asked this question at the outset; hindsight looms large.)

Here’s the overall distribution of respondents:

  • Patent attorney: 68%
  • Patent agent: 11%
  • Litigator: 10%
  • Examiner: 5%
  • Other categories: 6%

Finally, here’s the “patent law” definition of  “specification” from Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, Second Edition, published in 1957:

Specification

5. Patent Law. A written description of the invention or discovery and of the manner and process of making, constructing, compounding, and using the same, concluding with a specific and distinct claim or claims of the part, improvement, or combination which the applicant regards as his discovery or invention, this latter part being often called the claim.  When the term specification is used alone it includes the claim.

Thanks to the University of Iowa College of Law law library for pulling the definition from the 1957 edition of Webster’s for me. Also, note that response choices other than “Other” were presented in a random order to avoid any order bias.

What do you call it?

By Jason Rantanen

What do you call the part of the patent or application that is required by 35 U.S.C. § 112(a)?   The world would love to hear your responses.  Here’s a two-question survey that will take  about 10 seconds to complete.  If there’s a reasonably large number of responses, I’ll post the results later this week.

Link to survey.

 

 

 

Guest Post: The Open Source Hardware Association’s Perspective on GSK v. Teva

Guest Post by Michael Weinberg, Executive Director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law and the Board President of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) and David Wechsler, a 3L at NYU Law.

To the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) community, the Federal Circuit’s October opinion in the ongoing appeal of GlaxoSmithKline LLC v. Teva (“GSK”), No. 2018-1976 (Fed. Cir.) was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Some language in the panel majority’s opinion suggested an expansion of induced infringement liability to transform mere statements of equivalence made on promotional materials into triggers for liability. This language came dangerously close to swallowing an industry extolled for democratizing science and helping the United States overcome its PPE shortage in the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Federal Circuit’s subsequent choice to vacate its initial opinion and re-hear the case signals that crisis may have been averted, but the close call was a reminder of the uphill battle open design faces despite the significant public benefits it creates. We cannot predict exactly what the Federal Circuit’s new opinion will look like, but as advocates for the OSHW community, we hope the panel treads carefully.

I. The Importance of Open-Source Hardware to Innovation

Open source hardware is a physical item whose source files have been shared with the world and can be freely copied or modified. By enabling anyone to study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware, open source hardware allows the sharing of knowledge and encourages innovation through the open exchange of designs. In contrast to proprietary hardware, any relevant documentation related to open source hardware is licensed for individuals to openly participate in the design and development of the hardware, or to replicate and manufacture the hardware devices. By making it easier to begin engineering from a prior design, open source design quickens invention and commercialization of new technologies.

The benefits of open source hardware were on vivid display last year, as the demand for PPE skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 outbreak and caused a “chronic shortage” of supply. Relying on open-source hardware and design, thousands of individuals met this moment of need with ingenuity. To name a few inspiring examples

Open source hardware facilitated this process by disseminating the designs for novel reusable PPE publicly, which not only enabled DIY enthusiasts to collaboratively iterate and manufacture designs for safe equipment at a low cost, but also solved local shortages in equipment. The response to COVID has exposed manufacturing and distribution as primary logistical challenges to disaster response, yet the use of open design to create PPE highlights how distributed manufacturing and supply chains—enabled by openness—can overcome logistical hurdles. Harnessing the power of open design to respond to global crises didn’t begin with the pandemic. Glia Project, for example, has responded to a need for stethoscopes and tourniquets among doctors in the Gaza Strip by sharing 3-D printable open source designs for these devices since 2018.

Beyond providing society with useful tools in responding to crises, open source hardware also has the higher order capacity to democratize science. Research equipment made with open source design is cheaper for scientists to acquire or build on their own, as well as modify to match local conditions, thus lowering the cost barrier to scientific research across the globe. The OSHW community believes that technological capacity should not depend on where one is born; open source hardware therefore offers a promising vision of the future by allowing scientific education in the poorest parts of the world to move past theoretical discussions and into practical applications.

II. GSK v. Teva: The Original Decision

Contrary to popular belief, legal education does not begin with learning the concepts of offer and acceptance in contracts, negligence in torts, or even well-pleaded complaints in Civil Procedure. No, legal education begins during recess period, when one friend (Charlie) encourages another friend (Skyler) to throw the only kickball over the school fence. When caught in the act, Skyler points the finger at Charlie’s encouragement, and the teacher must engage in a fact-finding mission to determine Charlie’s culpability. Depending on how actively Charlie encouraged Skyler, Charlie too may be spending Saturday morning in detention.

The doctrine of inducement infringement in intellectual property law is no different. 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) states “whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer.” Traditionally, § 271(b) has been interpreted as requiring more than mere knowledge: plaintiffs must show active steps taken by the defendant that encouraged direct infringement. See, e.g., Takeda Pharm. U.S.A., Inc. v. West-Ward Pharm. Corp., 785 F.3d 625, 631 (Fed Cir. 2015) (“Merely describing an infringing mode is not the same as recommending, encouraging, or promoting an infringing use, or suggesting that an infringing use ‘should’ be performed.”) (cleaned up). To further the recess analogy, Charlie might be in trouble for imploring Skyler to throw the ball over the fence, but probably avoids culpability by merely explaining how to throw a ball so high as to clear the fence.

The ongoing pharma case GSK v. Teva—chronicled by PatentlyO here and here—has the potential to expand inducement liability to encompass far more than just “active encouragement.” But doing so would threaten the OSHW community, which would have deleterious downstream effects on innovation, crisis response, and the democratization of science.

The panel majority’s original opinion found Teva liable for inducing infringement of GSK’s patent on Coreg to treat congestive heart failure (“CHF”). Relevant to the OSHW community, GSK’s patents on Coreg and its non-CHF-related uses had already expired. Nevertheless, relying heavily (as Judge Prost points out in dissent) on evidence that Teva’s promotional materials referred to its generic tablets as “AB rated” equivalents of the Coreg tablets, Teva was found liable for inducing infringement despite only instructing patients and doctors to use its product for off-patent (i.e., non-CHF) uses.

The panel majority seemed to assume that doctors and pateints would combine the “AB rating” with instructions GSK (not Teva!) provided on how to use Coreg to treat CHF in finding Teva liable for inducement infringement. The panel majority’s reasoning indicates that a distributor of an unpatented product used for unpatented uses A and B could still be held liable if the product was also capable of being used for patented use C.  This would be true even if the distributor of the product made no mention of use C in advertising or educational materials. This broad language lessens patent holders’ burden of proving inducement and could create liability for wholly innocent OSHW developers whose statements of equivalence relate to off-patented uses entirely sepearate from and uninterested in the patented uses.

Statements of equivalence are a far cry from the traditional active encouragement test, spelling bad news for Charlie, our fearless recess ringleader, and potentially worse for designers of open source hardware. Would an open source hardware developer be subject to liability by simply promoting their product as structurally equivalent to a brand-name product, despite not encouraging, mentioning, or even being aware of a specific infringing use? The original panel majority’s focus on Teva’s AB rating suggests that it might be. But then how would the public benefit from the innovation and utility that flow from these cheaper and more accessible alternatives?

Further, the OSHW community would be burdened with administrative costs associated with monitoring which unpatented designs have patented uses. The OSHW community might also fall victim to an avalanche of new patent infringement claims from patent trolls.

The original GSK opinion was not only unduly broad, but also worryingly vague. What type of knowledge and marketing, for example, is sufficient to trigger liability under the panel majority’s rubric (“the provider of an identical product knows of and markets the same product for intended direct infringing activity”)? Without a clear statement on what type of promotional activity triggers inducement liability, open source developers, many of which are too small to afford sophisticated legal departments, will either have their activities chilled or expose themselves to liability. The confused expansion of inducement doctrine contained in the Federal Circuit’s October opinion could have been the death knell of a highly useful emerging industry.

Part III: GSK v. Teva: The Future

 Thankfully, the panel rehearing (which took place on February 23rd) may signal that the panel will decide the GSK case on clearer and—we hope—narrower grounds that do not inhibit the progress of the OSHW community. One way a new opinion could do so is by clarifying that mere statements of structural, chemical, or therapeutic equivalence are insufficient to create inducement liability. The panel can and should reaffirm that inducement can only be established through evidence of active steps taken by the defendant that encouraged direct infringement. Doing so would properly protect incentives to innovate without prohibiting the public from off-patent uses of the same: a win-win for innovators everywhere.

As we hope to have made clear, the open source hardware community spurs innovation and supports the public interest by reducing the cost of scientific research and increasing manufacturing capabilities. Any good intellectual property regime means to serve these interests.

 

Disclosure Statement: Michael Weinberg is the Executive Director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law and the Board President of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA). David Wechsler is a 3L at NYU Law and a participant in NYU’s Technology Law & Policy Clinic, which represents OSHWA.

 

Patent Claims as Elements rather than Boundaries

By Jason Rantanen

I teach Introduction to Intellectual Property Law every spring semester, an experience that often causes me to reflect on some of the fundamental premises of intellectual property law in a way that advanced courses don’t necessarily always invite.  When you’re deep in the nuances of the effective date provision for post-AIA § 102, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the big questions.  This post is one of a few half-baked ideas from that return-to-basics reflection.

***

I grew up steeped in the world of property law.  My father’s law office was in rural New York, and his core practice involved representing farmers, villages, and small businesses on land transactions, estate planning, and probate matters.  Some of my first memories are of photocopying property abstracts: voluminous documents that contained the transaction history for a property, often going back a hundred years or more.  We’d copy these abstracts and then affix the new deed or mortgage associated with the transaction.  Later, I learned to type up property descriptions for deeds, writing out the metes and bounds of the land being transferred.  These descriptions  used points and lines to articulate the land for which the property rights applied.

For me, the language of patent claims as boundaries resonated early and easily.  After all, patent cases routinely refer to claims in boundary-like terms.  One example is the likening of claims to “metes and bounds,” as Judge Rich did in footnote 5 of In re Vamco Machine and Tool, Inc., 752 F.2d 1564, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

The function of claims is (a) to point out what the invention is in such a way as to distinguish it from what was previously known, i.e., from the prior art; and (b) to define the scope of protection afforded by the patent. In both of those aspects, claims are not technical descriptions of the disclosed inventions but are legal documents like the descriptions of lands by metes and bounds in a deed which define the area conveyed but do not describe the land.

Another example is this passage from Judge Michel’s opinion  in Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. M-I LLC, 514 F.3d 1244, 1249 (Fed. Cir. 2008):

Because claims delineate the patentee’s right to exclude, the patent statute requires that the scope of the claims be sufficiently definite to inform the public of the bounds of the protected invention, i.e., what subject matter is covered by the exclusive rights of the patent. Otherwise, competitors cannot avoid infringement, defeating the public notice function of patent claims.

Patent law scholarship, too, treats patent claims as if they are boundary-setting.  Books and articles refer to modern claiming practice as “peripheral claiming”– language that implies an area that is within and that which is without.  Even those scholars who have critiqued the idea of peripheral claiming nonetheless visualize patent claims as defining an area: signposts instead of fenceposts.  The idea is still that there is a zone set by the patent claim.

And yet, the more I’ve litigated, studied, and taught about patents, the more I’ve realized that conceptualizing patent claims as defining an area is fundamentally wrong.  Patent claims are not boundaries, and it’s confusing to those who are trying to grasp patent law when we talk about them that way.  There is no area that is “encompassed” within patent claims.  Patent claims don’t define a “boundary.”  And they are quite unlike the metes and bounds of a deed description.  Even if one could plot the components of a patent claim in some n-dimensional space, it would still not define a closed form.  Conceptualizing patent claims as if they define some “area” of technology isn’t how they actually work. One cannot draw a line from one claim element to another, except in the sense that claim elements can interrelate with one another–but that, too, is really just another element, albeit one that is implicit from the semantic structure of the claim rather than explicit in its words.

So how should patent claims be conceptualized, if not as establishing a boundary?  My first answer goes back to how litigants and courts often actually approach them: as discrete legal elements akin to the elements of any other legal claim.  The limitations in patent claims aren’t like the boundaries defined in a deed; instead, they are like the elements of a tort.  Each of these elements must be met in order for the claim to be infringed, invalidated, or adequately supported by the disclosure.

Consider, for example, patent law’s novelty requirement.  In order for a prior art reference to anticipate a patent claim, each and every element of the claim must be present in the prior art reference.  Or the analysis for infringement: for there to be infringement, each and every element of the claim must be present in the accused product or process, either literally or as an equivalent.  In both cases, patent claims are treated as if they are a series of elements–not as boundary lines that are crossed or not.  They are, in the words of Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary, “the component parts of a legal claim.”

In the end, despite my initial attraction to the language of real property to describe patent claims, I’ve come to realize that this rhetorical device–enshrined in patent law judicial opinions and used in briefs and legal scholarship–is both misleading and wrong.  Patent claims are not boundaries, and we should stop referring to them that way.  Instead, they are elements in their legal sense: sets of individual legal requirements that must each be proven to achieve a particular legal status.

Perhaps this is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said.  And yet, for those who are learning patent law for the first time, it is hardly obvious – particularly when the opinions that we read talk about patent claims in boundary-like terms.

***

Thoughtful, non-repetitive comments welcome.  Comments that I think are crud or junk, in my subjective opinion, will be deleted without further notice or comment.

 

Duke Law Conference – Constitutional Principals: Administrative Adjudication and Arthrex

Jason Rantanen

In United States v. Arthrex, Inc., the Supreme Court will consider the application of the Appointments Clause to Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges–specifically, whether PTAB judges are principal officers who must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and whether the proper remedy is to sever their statutory removal protections.

To address these issues, The Center for Innovation Policy at Duke Law and the Duke Law Program in Public Law will host a Zoom discussion on Friday, February 12, noon to 1:30 p.m. Commentators will include the Honorable Timothy B. Dyk and renowned academics whose scholarship has focused on the key patent, administrative, and constitutional issues.  Below are the details.

February 12, 2021
12:00 noon – 1:30 p.m.
Virtual [
Register here]

12:00 noon–12:45 p.m. | Panel I: IP and Innovation Policy
The Honorable Timothy Dyk
Professor John Duffy
Professor Melissa Wasserman
Moderator: Professor Arti Rai

12:45 p.m.–1:30 p.m. | Panel II: Administrative and Constitutional Law
Professor Michael Asimow
Professor Jennifer Mascott
Professor Nina Mendelson
Professor Christopher Walker
Moderator: Professor Stuart Benjamin

Contact Balfour Smith (bsmith@law.duke.edu) or Kelli Raker (kelli.raker@law.duke.edu) for more information.

 

 

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay: Is Global FRAND Litigation Spinning Out of Control?

New PatentlyO Patent Law Journal article by Thomas F. Cotter, Taft Stettinius & Hollister Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School, and Innovators Network Foundation Intellectual Property Fellow.  Professor Cotter is also the author of the Comparative Patent Remedies blog

Abstract:  It has often been observed that, while patent rights are territorial in scope, commerce is global and, increasingly, interconnected.  Indeed, with the advent of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), technical standards soon will enable not only devices such as smartphones and tablets, but also automobiles, medical devices, and even home appliances to receive and transmit data within and across national borders.  To achieve these ends, firms participate in standard-setting organizations (SSOs) to hammer out the technical standards that enable communication and interoperability among devices.  Moreover, because the implementation of these standards requires the use of many different, typically proprietary, technologies, SSOs generally encourage or require their members both to declare their ownership of patents that may be essential to the practice of the relevant standard, and to commit to licensing these standard-essential patents (SEPs) on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms.  The FRAND commitments themselves, in turn, often are interpreted as binding contracts for the benefit of third parties (that is, for the benefit of implementers).  In principle, these requirements work to ensure both that implementers are able to access essential technologies, and that owners are fairly compensated for their inventive contributions. 

Two problems nevertheless can impede the smooth working of such a system.  The first is that SSO rules typically do not define the term “FRAND,” for a variety of reasons.  Disputes over the meaning of FRAND therefore are inevitable.  The second is that, because patents are territorial, courts often have been reluctant to adjudicate foreign patent rights.  This understanding of patent rights, however, might appear, to some observers at least, to collide with commercial realities, when parties are unable to reach agreement and opt for adjudication by national courts.  Current responses to these problems are likely to prove unsatisfactory for both owners and implementers; a comprehensive solution nonetheless remains, for now, elusive.

Read: Thomas F. Cotter, Is Global FRAND Litigation Spinning Out of Control, 2021 PatentlyO Law Journal 1 (2021) (Cotter.2021.GlobalFRANDLitigation)

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

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

Federal Circuit Statistics – 2020 edition

By Jason Rantanen

This post uses data from the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions to provide a quick statistical overview of the Federal Circuit’s decisions this year, particularly in appeals arising from the district courts and USPTO.

Decisions by origin

Figure 1 shows the total number of Federal Circuit opinions and Rule 36 summary affirmances by origin.  The increase in decisions in appeals from the USPTO (orange) over the past decade is clearly visible, although last year there was a slight decline.  Decisions in appeals arising from the USPTO dropped about 17% (254 in 2019 versus 2010 in 2020), while decisions in appeals arising from the district courts increased slightly (182 in 2019 versus 199 in 2020).  Overall, the Federal Circuit’s docket is a lot more patent-heavy today than it was in 2010.  The court is issuing more decisions as well.

Figure 1

Decline in Rule 36 Summary Affirmances

Figures 2 and 3 show the number of written opinions and Rule 36 summary affirmances in appeals arising from the district courts and USPTO.  Both figures show a decrease in the number of Rule 36 summary affirmances and increase in written opinions in 2020.  This change is especially dramatic in decisions arising from the USPTO.

Figure 2

Figure 3

In addition, as figures 4 and 5 show, the increase in written opinions has primarily come in the form of more nonprecedential opinions.  The number of nonprecedential written opinions in appeals from both the district courts and USPTO have increased while the number of precedential decisions has remained about the same or declined.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Despite the decrease in Rule 36 summary affirmances, the court’s overall affirmance rate measured by decision (i.: the outcome of a given opinion or Rule 36 affirmance) remained about the same in 2020.  As Figure 6 shows, over the last ten years the Federal Circuit fully affirmed about 70% of its decisions arising from the district courts and affirmed at least in part about 80% of the time.  Similarly, as Figure 7 shows, the court has full affirmed the USPTO around 80% of the time and affirmed at least in part about 90%.  This data is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the Federal Circuit is issuing fewer Rule 36 summary affirmances because it is reversing less often.

Figure 6

Figure 7

My takeaway is that the Federal Circuit judges are writing more nonprecedential opinions instead of issuing Rule 36 summary affirmances.  Hopefully this will provide some additional information for parties on the court’s reasoning when it affirms.

As always, the data for this post (and much more data) is available via the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions website.  In calculating the affirmance rate I did not include decisions coded as “dismissed” or “other.”  Thanks to my research assistants for their work coding Federal Circuit decisions, particularly Lindsay Kriz who did the lions share of the coding for 2020 decisions.

The USPTO Patent Litigation Dataset: Open Source, Extensive Docket and Patent Number Data

Guest Post by Prof. Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

Many online services provide district court patent litigation dockets, documents, and associated patent numbers. However, none of these services offer comprehensive, hand-coded patent numbers and case types, plus full dockets and key documents (complaints, summary judgments, verdicts), downloadable in bulk at no charge and with no license restrictions.

After more than three years of extensive automated and manual review of patent dockets, the USPTO’s Office of the Chief Economist —in conjunction with researchers from the University of San Diego’s Center for IP Law & Markets (myself) and Northwestern Law School (David L. Schwartz)—have completed that very goal, expanding upon the patent litigation dataset the USPTO had released in 2015.

Currently, the dataset (available here) includes:

  • Dockets: The complete docket for every lawsuit filed in district courts tagged as a patent action in PACER (and many other patent cases tagged under non-patent PACER codes) from the first patent case logged in PACER through the end of 2016 (over 80,000 case dockets).
  • Attorneys & Parties: Full lists of parties by type (e.g., plaintiff, defendant, intervener, etc.) and their attorneys, with full contact information for the attorneys gathered from public records.
  • Patent Numbers: Comprehensive, hand-coded patent numbers by a team over 30 law students from all electronically available complaints in PACER in cases filed from 2003 through the end of 2016.
    • Based on testing against several of the leading commercial services, plus publicly available data from the Stanford NPE Litigation Database, the dataset’s patent number information is substantially more complete and accurate than any of these services (which often use automated methods for determining patents-in-suit).
  • Case Types: Every case in PACER filed from 2003 through the end of 2016 is identified with one of 15 fine-grained case types, including patent infringement (non-declaratory judgement [DJ]), DJ on non-infringement and invalidity, DJ on non-infringement only, DJ on invalidity only, false marking, inventorship, malpractice, regulatory challenge, and others.

In the next few months, the USPTO will make available:

  • Documents: Initial complaints, summary judgment orders, and verdicts (bench and jury) that are electronically available for all patent cases in PACER filed from 2003 through the end of 2016.

The data is downloadable only in bulk and is not searchable at the USPTO website. However, it is relatively straightforward to download and search the patent number, case type, and attorney data, in Microsoft Excel or other database and statistical packages.

Importantly, there are no licensing restrictions whatsoever on the use of the data, and the research team and USPTO expect that commercial and non-commercial services will add the information to their search interfaces in the coming year. Additionally, the research team is hoping to update all of the data for patent cases filed through the end of 2020 sometime next year. Further down the road, we hope to code cases for outcomes and add appeals by supplementing Jason Rantanen’s comprehensive Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions with full dockets and key documents.

In examining litigation trends, many researchers across the academic, public, and private sectors have used proprietary datasets, which generally could not be disclosed to other researchers for study replication and testing. Hopefully, academics and others will now use the USPTO’s fully open dataset for studies on the U.S. patent litigation system to allow for meaningful review of empirical studies.

Documentation on the database is available here and at the USPTO webpage. Anyone interested in using the data is also welcome to contact me (tsichelman@sandiego.edu) with technical and other questions.

Guest post: Advancing Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship through the Patent System

By Colleen V. Chien, Professor of Law; and  Jonathan CollinsZachary J. Daly , and Rodney Swartz, PhD, all third-year JD students; all at Santa Clara University School of Law. This post is fourth in a series about insights developed based on data released by the USPTO.

“To truly advance innovation and human progress, we must all work to broaden the innovation community and make sure everyone knows that they, too, can change the world through the power of a single idea.”

– June 17, 2020 USPTO Director Andre Iancu

As we wait for a life-saving COVID vaccine, each new day reminds us of the inequalities that the pandemic has laid bare. 30% of public school children lack internet or a computer at home, making school reopenings an urgent priority. Black and brown people, are dying at a much higher rate from Covid due to a complex set of factors, and are at higher risk of lacking access to prescription drugs because of cost.

Though only one part of the larger innovation ecosystem, the patent system has an important role to play in advancing inclusive innovation. Below we build on the USPTO’s recent leadership and the AIA’s recent inclusionary policies (regional offices, pro se/bono supports, fee discounts) to provide a few ideas: being a beacon for the innovation needs of underrepresented populations, addressing the patent grant gap experienced by small inventors, diversifying inventorship by diversifying the patent bar, and developing and reporting innovation equity metrics. These ideas draw upon the paper by one of us, Inequalities, Innovation, and Patents and earlier work, and the ongoing efforts at the USPTO to “broaden the innovation community.”

Be a Beacon for the Unique Innovation Needs of Underrepresented People and for Tech Transfer 

Historically, innovation for underrepresented and underresourced groups has been underfunded. For example, Senator and VP candidate Kamala Harris recently introduced a bill to fund research on uterine fibroids, which, though receiving scant research attention, disproportionately impacts African-American women at a rate of 80% over their lifetimes. Closing the broadband access gap will require innovative technology solutions to deal with the “last mile” problems that face rural and underserved populations. The USPTO can use its powers to accelerate innovation to meet the unique needs of underrepresented and underresourced groups, including, as was done in the context of the Cancer Moonshot initiative, identifying relevant patents and applications and combining patent data with external data sources for example from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration. These efforts bring connect patented inventions to “upstream funding and R&D as well as downstream commercialization efforts.” To speed COVID innovation, the agency has taken a number of other steps including deferring or waiving fees, prioritizing examination, and launching a platform to facilitate connections between patent holders and licensees. These capacities could be directed to priority equity areas, which are positioned to benefit especially when private and public funding is at stake.

Expand Equality of Opportunity by Addressing the “Patenting Grant Gap”

When startups and innovation entrants patent, good outcomes often follow: first-time patenting is associated with investment, hiring, and economic mobility. But in many cases, the applications submitted by small entity inventors don’t actually turn into patents. Using open government data helpfully made available by the USPTO Open Data Portal (beta) we find, as documented in Fig. 1 below from the paper, that small entities are less likely to succeed when they apply for patents: by our estimate, applications filed 10 years ago have turned into patents 73% of the time vs. 51% for small/micro entities, a 40%+ difference.

Others including work by former USPTO Chief Economist Alan Marco, have reached similar conclusions. Empirical studies have also found that inventors with female sounding names, or who are represented by law firms that are less familiar to patent examiners are less likely to get patents on their applications than their counterparts. (source: Colleen Chien,  Inequalities, Innovation, and Patents)

The difference in allowance rates may be due to any of a variety of factors, for example, a higher abandonment rate or differences in the types of patents sought. The possibility of implicit bias – based on inventor, or firm name – is also worth investigating further; the USPTO isn’t the only federal agency where the possibility of bias has been documented. But no matter the reason, ungranted applications to underrepresented groups present not only potential equity problems for society but also economic problems for the agency: applications that never mature into patents don’t generate issuance and maintenance fees.

One solution may be to try to improve the quality of underlying applications. As previously documented using PTO office action data, the applications of discounted entities are much more likely to have 112 rejections, and in particular 112(b) rejections. (Fig. 5A) A lack of “applicant readiness,” as described by examiners, may be one culprit. (source: Colleen Chien,  Rigorous Policy Pilots the USPTO Could Try (2019))

A promising approach as discussed previously by one of us would be to democratize access to drafting tools and aids, which are often used by sophisticated applicants to, for example, check the correspondence between claim terms and the specification. Using error correction technology to level the playing field in government filings, through public and private action, is precedented. Improved application quality advances the shared goal of compact prosecution, and to that end it is encouraging to see that the Office of Patent Quality Assurance, in their ongoing work to improve applicant readiness, is reportedly working to “identify opportunities for IT to assist with quality enhancements early in the process.” Such efforts could go a long way to address both the equity and economic challenges described above. We encourage continued investigation and prioritization of public and private efforts to address the “patent grant gap” in support of broader inventorship and participation in innovation.

Diversifying Inventorship by Diversifying the Patent Bar 

As argued in the paper, patenting is a social activity that depends on social connections -“who you know and who you can call upon.” But access to patent talent is uneven – Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, has reported that she could not find a single female patent attorney in the state of Georgia to file the patent upon which she built her billion-dollar undergarments empire. To sit for the patent bar generally requires a science, technology, or engineering degree. But because of their underrepresentation among STEM, engineering, and computer science graduates, women, Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately excluded from participation.  The technical degree requirement particularly disadvantages those with design experience but not engineering degrees, who are often women, and who might otherwise want to prosecute design patents over fashion or industrial design, Christopher Buccafusco and Jeanne Curtis have noted. Relaxing the technical degree requirement would enable diversification of the patent bar, in support of diversifying inventorship and entrepreneurship.

Develop and Prioritizing Innovation Equity Metrics and What Works

While each year the number of new patent grants is announced, perhaps the patent statistic that has catalyzed the most action recently is the USPTO’s groundbreaking Progress and Potential series of reports which, for the first time, officially documented that only 12-13% of American inventors are women, and Director Iancu’s leadership and his staff on the issue. This report has prompted conferences and toolkits, and spurred companies to revisit their patent programs and pipelines. As additional resources are invested into making innovation more inclusive, “innovation equity metrics” that take advantage of the granularity, quality, and regularity of patent data, and that track, for example “inventor entry” and “concentration” and the geographic distribution of patents, as demonstrated in the paper, are worth investing in. Improved data collection, for example, of race and veteran status data, and federation and coordination with other datasets, for example held by the Small Business Administration, or in connection with the Small Business Innovation Research program, and Census could go a long way. Doing so would allow for more regular reporting and analysis of the overall health of the innovation ecosystem, which, by a few measures appears to be waning: as described in the paper, patenting by new entrants is down while the concentration of patent holdings is up. Surveys of underrepresented inventors, and what have been enablers and blockers, can also lend inform the development of policies of inclusion.

Conclusion

Though only one part of the larger innovation ecosystem, the patent system’s long-standing commitment to a diversity of inventors and equal opportunity position it well to answer the call of the current moment, for greater inclusion in innovation. We encourage readers with concrete ideas about how to advance inclusion in innovation, through the patent or other governmental levers, to submit them to the DayOneProject, which is collecting ideas for action for the next administration. For more, also check out the recent Brookings Report on Broadening Innovation by Michigan State Prof. Lisa Cook, a leading economist (see, e.g. the NPR Planet Money podcast, Patent Racism, about her work).

The authors represent that they are not being paid to take a position in this post nor do they have any conflicts of interest in the subject matter discussed in this post.  Comments have been disabled at the authors’ request. 

Guest Post: Patent Prosecution Trends Following the Patent Eligibility (101) and 112 Guidelines

By: Colleen V. Chien, Professor of Law; Nicholas Halkowski, first-year associate at Wilson Sonsini and 2020 JD grad; Maria He, Masters Graduate of the Masters in Business Analytics Program at Leavey Business School, and Rodney Swartz, PhD, patent agent, Intellectual Property Associate at SRI International, and third-year JD student; all at Santa Clara University and writing in their personal capacity. This post is the third in a series about insights developed based on data released by the USPTO.

Almost two years have passed since the USPTO issued its January 2019 Patent Eligibility Guidance (PEG). As the prospect of near-term Supreme Court or Congressional action on Section 101 remains murky, it is worth taking stock of patent prosecution and application trends following the PEG, and also, the Office’s accompanying Guidance on Section 112. In this post, we report on quarterly trends in office actions and filings before and after the PEG. We build on earlier analyses reported in PatentlyO and the USPTO Office of Chief Economist’s own report from earlier this year, Adjusting to Alice, which found that the PEG was followed by decreases in both the likelihood of receiving a rejection and the uncertainty in patent examination.

It is thanks to the exciting continued releases of patent data from the Patent Office, collectively as part of the Open Data Portal (in beta), that we can follow these trends in an attempt to understand the impact of policy. We encourage the USPTO to continue providing data and improving its coverage and quality, providing the only source of data that the courts and policymakers can turn to on the prosecution impacts of their work, as well as research and patent data startups. As to the office action and appeals data, discontinuities and quality issues in currently available datasets presented challenges to our analysis, which we overcame by developing a number of computational approaches. The accompanying PatentlyO Bar Journal Article, Parsing the Impact of Alice and the PEG, (hereinafter referred to as “Article”), has the details and code we used, as well as a summary of the supporting analyses described below.

We find, following the PEG:

1. Decline in 101 Subject Matter Rejections and Stabilization of Appeals: The prevalence of 101 subject matter rejections declined by 37% after the PEG with absolute declines most dramatic among “software” applications as previously defined. (Fig. 1) Ex parte appeal decisions addressing 101 subject matter appeared to stem their rise. (Article 1A)

2. No Discernable Increase in 112 Rejections: The 112 Guidance issued by the Patent Office in January 2019 described the use of 112(a), (b), and (f) to address functional claims in computer-implemented inventions. Following the 112 Guidance, we did not discern an increase in the examiner’s application of 112 rejections, in general (Fig. 2) or at the subsection level, except in the case of 112(f) rejections as applied to “software” applications which have increased steadily since the USPTO’s February 2014 Executive Action on Claim Clarity and Federal Circuit’s June 2015 Williamson decision, both directed to functional claiming, from 2.7% in 1Q14 to 7.6% in 4Q19. (See Article 2A)

3. Leaving Small Entities Behind Through Forum Shopping?: Some applicants have responded to elevated 101 rejection rates by using analytic tools to draft their claims in order to “forum shop” out of Alice-impacted art units. Though the use of these tools is not observable, it is plausible that their cost puts them out of reach of small and micro entities, and might, as a result, lead to a greater concentration of discounted applications in these art units. However, when we looked at the data, we found that the share of applications by discounted entities over time had not increased but rather, has stayed relatively steady among applications filed from 2010 to 2018. (See Article Fig. 3)

4. No Noticeable Decline in “Medical Diagnostic” or “Software” Applications following Alice or Mayo: One limitation of focusing solely on rejection rates is that they do not capture applications “never filed” due to the changes in law or policy. To gauge whether or not there was an “Alice” or “Mayo” “effect” on the number of applications, we looked for declines, in absolute and relative terms, among medical diagnostic and software technology applications, as previously defined, but found no such declines. (See Article Fig.4) Although the PEG came out more than 18 months ago, we do not yet have a complete picture of application trends following the PEG, so cannot rule out that it was followed by increases in filings.

5. More Unique Words in Issued Patent Claims post Alice: Another limitation of focusing on examiner behavior is that it does not take into account changes in applicant behavior and the dynamic there between. With the help of Rocky Berndsen, Peter Glaser, and William Gvoth of Harrity and Harrity, we looked at the number of words included in patents filed after Alice. Applying a “differences in differences” approach, we found that the number of unique words in “software” patents relative to a baseline doubled from 10 additional to 20 additional words, consistent with the hypothesis that the Alice decision led to the addition of claim details. (See Article Fig. 5) As patents filed after the PEG are granted, it will be worth seeing whether or not outcomes along this metric have changed.

Conclusion

The data indicate that, following the PEG, the prevalence of 101 subject matter rejections, and likely frustration associated with same, declined. At the same time, we did not find that 112 rejections increased noticeably to take their place, or that caselaw or the PEG resulted in sustained diminished filings. While we are not able to report on the impact of the PEG on filings and application “quality” (words and details), due to time effects, fortunately, the USPTO’s data releases should seed continued study and analysis of the impact of it and future guidance and court decisions.

The authors represent that they are not being paid to take a position in this post nor do they have any conflicts of interest in the subject matter discussed in this post.

 

New Patently-O Law Journal Essay: Parsing the Impact of Alice and the PEG

New Patently-O Law Journal Essay by Colleen V. Chien, Nicholas Halkowski, Maria He, and Rodney Swartz.

Abstract:

Almost two years have passed since the USPTO issued its January 2019 Patent Eligibility Guidance (PEG), itself a response to the Supreme Court’s Alice decision, and what many perceived as its destabilizing impact on the certainty of patent prosecutions. Leveraging new  data releases, we report on trends in prosecution following the USPTO’s PEG and the Guidance on 112, finding 1) a decline in subject matter rejections and stabilization of subject matter appeals, 2) no discernable increase in 112 rejections, 3) no evidence that small entities were being left behind in Alice-impacted art units by forum shopping by large entities, 4) no noticeable decline in “medical diagnostic” or “software” applications following Alice or Mayo, and 5) more unique words in issued patent claims post Alice. The scripts and techniques we developed to navigate data discontinuities and a lack of labels and complete our analysis are included in this essay.

Read the Essay at: Colleen V. Chien, Nicholas Halkowski, Maria He, and Rodney Swartz, Parsing the Impact of Alice and the PEG, 2020 Patently-O Law Journal 20.

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

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

 

Guest Post by Profs. Contreras and Yu: Will China’s New Anti-Suit Injunctions Shift the Balance of Global FRAND Litigation?

Guest post by Associate Professor Yang Yu of Shanghai University of International Business and Economics and Professor Jorge L. Contreras.

As one of us has recently observed (here and here), courts in the U.S. and UK adjudicating cases involving standards-essential patents and FRAND licensing commitments[1] have increasingly issued injunctions preventing one party from pursuing parallel litigation in another jurisdiction (anti-suit injunctions or ASIs).  In response, courts in other countries – namely Germany and France – have begun to issue anti-anti-suit injunctions (AASIs) to prevent parties from seeking ASIs that would hinder their own proceedings.  And even anti-anti-anti suit injunctions (AAASIs) have emerged as more than theoretical possibilities.  Amidst this international jockeying for jurisdiction, commentators have wondered where it will end, and whether every country involved in complex, multi-jurisdictional disputes will get into the ASI game.  In two recent cases, China has now stepped forward as another major jurisdiction in which ASIs are available to litigants.

Conversant v. Huawei Link to translation

The first case involves Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei and Texas-based patent assertion entity Conversant Wireless Licensing (formerly Core Wireless). Conversant holds a globe-spanning portfolio of patents that it acquired from Nokia and which it claims are essential to the 2G, 3G and 4G wireless telecommunications standards developed under the auspices of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).  Conversant sought to license these patents to Huawei, but negotiations broke down and in 2017 and 2018 Conversant asserted the patents against Huawei in multiple jurisdictions.  The UK suit was recently decided by the UK Supreme Court, [2020] UKSC 37, which held that a UK court has the authority to set a global FRAND royalty rate between the parties, notwithstanding its lack of jurisdiction over patents outside the UK (see discussion here).  (This case also involved an unsuccessful 2018 bid by Conversant to obtain an ASI from the UK Court of Chancery, [2018] EWHC (Ch) 2549, against the prosecution of a related suit by ZTE, Huawei’s co-defendant, in the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court in China – discussed here).

In response to Conversant’s initial patent assertions, in January 2018 Huawei sought declarations from the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court of Jiangsu Province, China, that it did not infringe three of Conversant’s Chinese patents and, if it did, that it was entitled to a license on FRAND terms. On September 16, 2019, the Nanjing court declined to issue a declaration regarding infringement, but established a “top down” FRAND royalty for the three Conversant patents (discussed at length in IAM, 23 Sept. 2019 and IAM, 5 Aug. 2020). The decision is currently on appeal at the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of China.

Meanwhile, in April 2018, Conversant sued Huawei in the District Court in Düsseldorf, Germany, alleging infringement of several European patents. On August 27, 2020, the Düsseldorf court granted Conversant an injunction against Huawei’s sale, use or importation in Germany of devices infringing patent EP1797659 (the German Patent).

On the same day, Huawei applied to the SPC seeking an “act preservation” ruling (a judicial action roughly equivalent to an ASI) to prevent Conversant from enforcing the Düsseldorf injunction until the conclusion of the Chinese proceedings.  The SPC granted the ASI after an ex parte hearing in which Conversant did not participate.  In its decision, the SPC cited a number of factors weighing in favor of granting the ASI, many of which resemble the factors considered by U.S. courts when considering ASIs (see Contreras, The New Extraterritoriality, pp. 265-67):

  • the parties to the Chinese and German actions are the same;
  • there is partial overlap between the subject matter of the cases;
  • Conversant’s enforcement of the German injunction would interfere with the Chinese action;
  • in order to avoid the effects of the German injunction, Huawei must either withdraw from the German market or accept the license offered by Conversant in Germany, which sets a global FRAND royalty rate that is 18.3 times higher than the rate set by the Nanjing court;
  • imposition of the ASI will not materially prejudice Conversant’s rights in Germany with respect to the merits decisions (as opposed to the injunction decisions) of the German courts;
  • imposition of the ASI will not harm the public interest;
  • imposition of the ASI will not affect international comity, as the Chinese actions were brought before the German action and the ASI will not affect the subsequent trial in the German case or detract from the legal validity of the German judgment.

Also relevant to the SPC’s decision, though not specifically included in its consideration of the ASI, was the fact that in August, 2018, the Chinese State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) ruled that the Chinese counterpart to the German Patent was invalid.  Conversant brought an administrative lawsuit challenging that ruling in the Beijing Intellectual Property Court.  That matter is still pending.

Upon entry of the ASI, the SPC established a penalty of RMB 1 million per day (approximately US$150,000) if Conversant violates the ASI.  Because the ASI was issued ex parte, Conversant was entitled to apply for reconsideration within five days.  It did so, and its request was denied on September 11, leaving the ASI in force.

Interdigital v. Xiaomi Link to translation

The dispute between InterDigital, a U.S.-based patent assertion entity, and Xiaomi, a Beijing-based electronics firm, relates to five InterDigital patents covering the 3G and 4G standards.   When negotiations for a license failed, on June 9, 2020 Xiaomi sought a declaration by the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court of the appropriate FRAND royalty rate for the patents.  On July 29, InterDigital sued Xiaomi for infringement in the Delhi High Court in India, seeking monetary damages and an injunction. In response, on August 4, Xiaomi asked the Wuhan court for an “act preservation” ruling (ASI) preventing InterDigital from enforcing the injunction while the Wuhan proceeding was in progress.

The Wuhan court granted Xiaomi’s request, reasoning that:

  • InterDigital’s filing of parallel litigation in India during the pendency of the Wuhan case showed a lack of respect for the Wuhan court and the case before it;
  • The Indian action was intended to interfere with and obstruct the Wuhan case;
  • The Indian action is likely to lead to a ruling in conflict with that of the Wuhan court;
  • The entry of an injunction in India will likely cause significant harm to Xiaomi;
  • Because InterDigital is a non-practicing entity that does not make products, but relies solely on licensing income, it would not be harmed substantially by the inability to seek an injunction against Xiaomi

Accordingly, on September 23, the Wuhan court (a) ordered InterDigital to withdraw its requests for injunctive relief in India, (b) prohibited InterDigital from seeking injunctive relief in China or any other country with respect to the 3G/4G patents currently at issue in the Wuhan case, and (c) prohibited InterDigital from asking another court in China or any other country to determine a FRAND royalty rate or resolve a FRAND dispute relating to the 3G/4G patents at issue.

As in Conversant v. Huawei, the Wuhan court established a penalty of RMB 1 million per day (approximately US$150,000) if InterDigital violates the ASI.  Because the ASI was issued ex parte, InterDigital was entitled to apply for reconsideration within five days.  It did so, and its request appears to have been denied, leaving the ASI in force.

In response to the entry of the ASI by the Wuhan court, InterDigital disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (first reported by IAM) that on September 29, it filed for an anti-anti-suit injunction (AASI) in the Delhi High Court to prevent Xiaomi from enforcing its Chinese ASI.   This is the first instance of which we are aware of an AASI being sought in a FRAND case in India (prior examples being observed in Germany, France and the UK, as discussed in Contreras, Anti-Suit Injunctions All the Way Down).

Discussion

The ASIs issued by Chinese courts in Conversant v. Huawei and InterDigital v. Xiaomi signal a new willingness of Chinese courts to vie for jurisdictional authority in global battles over standard-essential patents.  To some degree, this development was entirely predictable.  Courts in the U.S. and UK have, for several years, sought to resolve global FRAND disputes being litigated on the international stage.  But there is no reason that U.S. and UK courts should be the exclusive venues for such proceedings.  The courts of every country in which the parties have sufficient assets to care about adverse rulings can exert similar authority.  As one of us has previously observed, this inter-jurisdictional competition is rapidly leading to a “race to the bottom” and a “race to the courthouse” in international FRAND disputes.

Yet even more seems to be at play in these two cases than China’s adoption of jurisdictional measures already deployed in the U.S. and UK. The ruling of the Wuhan court is far broader than the Supreme People’s Court’s ruling in Conversant v. Huawei in two major respects that are worth considering.  First, its geographic scope is not limited to the country in which InterDigital sought injunctive relief (India), but extends to all jurisdictions in the world.  As an anti-suit measure, this is more sweeping than any ASI issued in U.S. or other courts in FRAND cases.  Under U.S. and UK law, a court considering a request for an ASI must compare the action in the domestic court with the parallel action in the foreign court and determine whether they address the same matter and whether the resolution of the domestic action would dispose of the foreign action.  This type of analysis is not possible with an ASI that is not directed to a particular foreign action, but prospectively prohibits any attempt to seek an injunction anywhere in the world.

The second major addition by the Wuhan court is the prohibition on InterDigital’s ability to ask any other court in the world to determine a global FRAND rate for its 3G/4G patents.  As such, China has clearly joined the international race to be the jurisdiction of choice for determining FRAND royalty rates in global disputes involving standard-essential patents.

[1] A FRAND commitment is an obligation undertaken by a participant in a standards development organization (SDO) to grant licenses of its patents that are essential to implementation of one of the SDO’s standards on terms that are fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory.  For a primer on standards development and FRAND commitments, see this chapter.

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay: eBay, the Right to Exclude, and the Two Classes of Patent Owners

New PatentlyO Law Journal article by retired Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Paul R. Michel and John T. Battaglia, Esq. 

Introduction:

The entire point of a healthy patent system is on spurring invention and investment, by rewarding inventor and investor alike, big or small, with exclusive rights of limited duration, for their inventive risks and contributions. Otherwise, without such patent rights—or with fewer such rights—the incentives to invent diminish, or such inventive resources will re-locate.

Two Different Patent Laws: One for Manufacturers, Another for NPEs

With that backdrop, we address the disparate-treatment problem that currently defines the U.S. patent system. Those entities that manufacture a product claimed by a patent, and successfully enforce that patent in court, often still obtain an injunction, consistent with the “right to exclude others” that Congress granted to “[e]very patent. But for nearly 15 years, those entitles that invest in invention rights and buy and license patents—be they university research arms or non-practicing licensing entities (NPEs or so-called “trolls”)—often haven’t bothered even seeking injunctive relief in litigation. Why?

The answer is that the federal courts over time have misunderstood and misapplied the Supreme Court’s landmark 2006 decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C.

Read more at Paul R. Michel and John T. Battaglia, eBay, the Right to Exclude, and the Two Classes of Patent Owners, 2020 Patently-O Law Journal 11 (2020).

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

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

Federal Circuit Statistics Update – September 2020

By Jason Rantanen

Last week we released version 1.16 of the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions, which is a publicly-available dataset containing information about all documents published by the Federal Circuit on its website since 2004 (which includes all opinions and, since 2007, all Rule 36 summary affirmances).  The Compendium was designed from the ground-up to be used for empirical research rather than as a conventional legal research tool.

Generally, there haven’t been any striking changes in the statistics for the court’s opinions and Rule 36 summary affirmances so far in 2020.  The below two graphs are the basic ones that I usually show: opinions and Rule 36 affirmances by the Federal Circuit in appeals arising from the PTO and district courts.

The Federal Circuit’s decision output for appeals arising from the USPTO and District Courts for the first eight months of 2020 looks similar to the last few years.  Currently, the court is on track to write few more opinions in cases arising from the district courts and a few less in cases arising from the PTO, but both numbers are similar to last year (so far).  It’s worth noting that COVID-19 hasn’t really affected the court’s decision output.

One noteworthy shift is the relative drop in Rule 36’s.  So far in 2020, the court has decided more appeals via the mechanism of nonprecedential opinion and fewer through summary affirmance–especially in appeals arising from the PTO.

Affirmance rates continue to be in line with the past: the vast majority of decisions result in the affirmance of the lower tribunal.*  Over the last few years, the court has consistently affirmed the PTO outright about 80% of the time, and affirmed-in-part another 7% of the time.  The district courts have been affirmed a bit less often: about 70% of the time the court is affirmed entirely, and another 13% of the time it has been affirmed-in-part.  The court’s decisions in 2020 have been consistent with these metrics.

Who’s written the most majority opinions in patent case so far this year?  For appeals arising from the PTAB, it’s been Chief Judge Prost at 14, followed by “Per Curiam” at 12.  This isn’t a new development: panels have been issuing opinions Per Curiam at a rate of about 8-16 per year for the past five years.  For appeals arising from the district courts, Judge Lourie has written the most at 16 opinions so far this year; Judge Moore has written the second-most at 11 (also joined by the panel writing Per Curiam.)

You’re welcome to play around with the data on your own here: https://empirical.law.uiowa.edu/compendium-federal-circuit-decisions.  Keep in mind that with any empirical data project, it’s important to be mindful of what the data means, as well as its limitations (many of which I discuss here and here).

*For those wondering how this data relates to the statistics on the Federal Circuit’s webpage, the Federal Circuit reports reversal rates based on Financial Year (10/1 – 9/30) rather than Calendar Year, only considers complete reversals as reversals (i.e.: an affirmance-in-part is not a reversal), and calculates its reversal rate as a function of appeal docket numbers rather than decisions (for example, a single decision can, in rare instances, involve 10 or more appeal docket numbers).  See id. at 260, 263, 278.

Thanks to Meddie Demmings IV, Dan Kieffer, Lindsay Kriz, Ryan Meger, and Madison Murhammer Colon for assistance in collecting this data.

Guest Post: How the West Became the East: The Patent Litigation Explosion in the Western District of Texas

Guest post by Paul R. Gugliuzza & J. Jonas Anderson.  Paul Gugliuzza is Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law. Jonas Anderson is Associate Dean for Scholarship and Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law.

Move over Marshall. The new capital of American patent litigation is Waco, Texas. Waco’s sole federal judge, Alan Albright—who took the bench less than two years ago—now hears more patent cases than any other judge in the country.

It’s all happened quickly. As recently as 2018, the Western District of Texas, which spans from Waco, Austin, and San Antonio in the central part of the state to El Paso in its far western reaches, received only 90 patent cases, a mere 2.5% of patent cases filed nationwide. Two years later, the Western District is on pace to receive 850 patent cases by year’s end, roughly 22% of patent cases filed nationwide and more than any other district in the country.

Practically all of those cases are on Judge Albright’s docket. As the figure below shows, the Waco Division received a mere 28 patent cases in 2018, the year he took the bench. If current trends hold, Judge Albright alone will receive 779 patent cases in 2020, an increase of 2682%!

The explosion of patent cases in Waco—the vast majority of which are filed by non-practicing entities—is fueled by Judge Albright’s concerted efforts to attract patent plaintiffs. He has been explicitly advertising his district—through presentations to patent lawyers, comments to the media, procedures in his courtroom, and decisions in patent cases—as the place to file your patent infringement lawsuit.

In a draft article, now available on SSRN, we identify five reasons why the Western District is attractive to patentees and explain why they are problematic:

1. The Western District’s case assignment practice enables plaintiffs to predict—with absolute certainty—that Judge Albright, not any of the 16 other judges sitting in the district, will hear their case. All they have to do is select “Waco” from the drop-down menu on the court’s electronic filing system and the case is automatically assigned to Judge Albright.

2. Judge Albright has adopted a fast-track scheduling order that sets deadlines useful to patentees seeking to elicit quick settlements and avoid PTAB review.

3. Venue transfer decisions: Judge Albright rarely transfers cases out of the Western District of Texas (only 3 of 14 inter-district transfer motions have succeeded to date), a practice also used by judges in the Eastern District of Texas during its heyday as the go-to district for patent litigation. More remarkably, Judge Albright regularly transfers cases filed in the Western District’s Waco Division to its Austin Division while retaining the case on his own docket (50 cases and counting so far).

It’s worth pausing to emphasize what this means: patentees are filing in Waco to guarantee Judge Albright is assigned to the case. But they do not actually have to litigate in Waco to keep the case in front of Judge Albright. Rather, they can ask him to transfer the case to the more desirable locale of Austin and he will do it as a matter of course—even though, if the case had been filed in Austin originally, there is zero chance Judge Albright would have been assigned to it.

4. Judge Albright seems reluctant to stay litigation pending related disputes in other forums, such as the PTAB, not just because of the aggressive schedule he sets but also because of a normative belief that patentees have a constitutional right to have a jury decide patent validity.

5. Judge Albright has never invalidated a patent on eligibility grounds (10 motions, 10 denials), even though many of the patents being asserted are the “do it on a computer” patents at which the Supreme Court’s Alice decision was most directly targeted.

Though many reforms could help solve these problems, we focus on two.

First, there’s surprisingly no law that requires cases to be randomly assigned among judges of a particular district. Mandating random assignment would curb the judge shopping that incentivizes judges to distort procedures and the law for the specific purpose of attracting litigation.

Second, venue in patent cases should be tied to geographic divisions within a judicial district, not just the district as a whole. As applied to the Western District of Texas, that reform would thwart the tactic of using a defendant’s activities in Austin to establish venue in Waco for the sole purpose of shopping for the Waco division’s only judge.

Read the full article at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3668514.

 Edit: updated with a more recent graph.

New PatentlyO Law Journal Essay: Two Errors in the Ninth Circuit’s Qualcomm Opinion

New PatentlyO Law Journal article by Thomas F. Cotter, Taft Stettinius & Hollister Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School, and Innovators Network Foundation Intellectual Property Fellow.  Professor Cotter is also the author of the Comparative Patent Remedies blog

Abstract: On August 11, 2020, the Ninth Circuit handed down its opinion in Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc., reversing the district court’s judgment in favor of the FTC. This essay argues that the Court of Appeals made two significant errors in its analysis. The first relates to the court’s failure to understand how Qualcomm’s conduct in the market for patent licenses affects competition in the complementary market for smartphone chips. The second concerns the court’s statement, at odds with the D.C. Circuit’s landmark decision in Microsoft, that if conduct “is not anticompetitive under § 1, the court need not separately analyze conduct under § 2.”

From the Introduction: 

On August 11, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down its opinion in one of the most closely-watched, and potentially consequential, antitrust decisions in recent years, Federal Trade Commission v. Qualcomm Inc.[1] The opinion, authored by Judge Consuelo Callahan and joined by Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and Stephen Murphy III, reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[2]  Whether the FTC will pursue any further relief, by way of a petition for rehearing en banc or for certiorari, remains (as of this writing) uncertain.  Regardless of whether it does or not, however, it is important to note two fundamental errors in the court’s analysis which, if not corrected or limited by subsequent case law, could lead to serious problems in future litigation.

Read Thomas F. Cotter, Two Errors in the Ninth Circuit’s Qualcomm Opinion, 2020 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (2020).

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

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

 

“No License, No Problem” – Is Qualcomm’s Ninth Circuit Antitrust Victory a Patent Exhaustion Defeat?

Guest post by University of Utah College of Law Professor Jorge L. Contreras

The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in FTC v. Qualcomm (9th Cir., Aug. 11, 2020) is generally viewed as a resounding victory for Qualcomm.  In a strongly worded opinion, the Ninth Circuit reversed the entirety of the district court’s holding, which found that Qualcomm violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.  The Ninth Circuit exonerated Qualcomm with respect to each of its allegedly anticompetitive practices, concluding that these practices merely reflected the flexing of Qualcomm’s “economic muscle” with admirable “vigor, imagination, devotion, and ingenuity” (slip op. at 55).

Among Qualcomm’s challenged practices was its refusal to license rival chip makers under patents that are essential to one or more wireless telecommunications standards (standards-essential patents or SEPs).  While the District Court found that this refusal violated Qualcomm’s antitrust duty to deal under Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 472 U.S. 585 (1985), the Ninth Circuit disagreed.  It reasoned that Qualcomm did not violate any duty to deal because it uniformly refused to grant patent licenses to chip makers and did not “single[] out any specific chip supplier for anticompetitive treatment” (slip op. at 35).

In praising Qualcomm’s egalitarian approach toward rival chip makers, the Ninth Circuit points out that instead of granting licenses to these rivals, Qualcomm merely “declines to enforce its patents” against them “even though they practice Qualcomm’s patents” (id). As such, the Ninth Circuit quips that Qualcomm’s “policy toward rival chipmakers could be characterized as ‘no license, no problem’” (id., emphasis added).  Yet, as I discuss below, this approach could actually be a very big problem, not only for Qualcomm, but for all patent licensors seeking to extract revenue from the most lucrative point in the supply chain.

The Patent Exhaustion Doctrine and Chip Sales

As the Supreme Court explained in Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Elecs., Inc., 553 U.S. 617, 625 (2008), “The longstanding  doctrine of patent exhaustion provides that the initial authorized sale of a patented item terminates all patent rights to that item.”  That is, once the patent holder or its authorized licensee sells a product covered by a patent, that patent can no longer be asserted against a downstream buyer or user of the product. The patent is “exhausted” with respect to that particular product.

In Quanta, LG licensed three patents to Intel.  Intel manufactured chips allegedly covered by the patents, then sold the chips to Quanta for incorporation into Quanta’s PCs. LG then attempted to assert the patents against Quanta.  The court held that so long as the Intel chips “substantially embodied the patent[s]”, they were exhausted upon Intel’s sale of the chips to Quanta (553 U.S. at 633).  LG had no right to assert the patents against Intel’s customer Quanta.

Level Discrimination and SEPs

To grossly oversimplify, the supply chain for standardized wireless telecommunications functionality can be divided into three relevant tiers: (1) standards developers, (2) chip manufacturers, and (3) end user device (e.g., smartphone) manufacturers.  Standards developers like Qualcomm cooperate within standards-development bodies to create telecommunications standards like 4G LTE. Chip manufacturers then implement these standards in chipsets, which they sell to device manufacturers for incorporation into smartphones and other consumer devices.

What happens, however, when a standards developer like Qualcomm holds patents (SEPs) that cover a standard like LTE?  In theory, both the chips embodying the standard and the smartphones incorporating those chips infringe its SEPs.  Thus the SEP holder could choose to license those SEPs at either Tier 2 (chip manufacturers) or Tier 3 (device manufacturers). How to choose?

If a SEP holder licenses a chip manufacturer, then its SEPs covering a particular chip will be exhausted as soon as the manufacturer sell that chip to a device manufacturer, just as LG’s patents were exhausted in Quanta.  This means that if the SEP holder licenses a Tier 2 chip manufacturer, it cannot separately license, or collect royalties from, Tier 3 smartphone manufacturers for the same SEPs.  Qualcomm was keenly aware of the risk of patent exhaustion, which is why it refused to grant “exhaustive” licenses to chip makers like Intel. 411 F.Supp.3d at 748, 761.

If SEP royalties were standardized on a per-unit basis (e.g. $0.50 per product embodying the standard), then it would not matter whether the SEP holder licensed its SEPs at Tier 2 or Tier 3.  In either case it would receive the same payment.  However, due to longstanding industry practice, that is not how SEP royalties are calculated. Instead, they are usually based on some percentage (say 2.5%) of the price of the product embodying the standard.  So for a 4G LTE wireless radio chipset priced at $30, the royalty would be $0.75.  But for a $600 iPhone incorporating that chipset, the royalty would be $15.  For this reason, SEP holders strongly prefer to license their SEPs to end device makers (Tier 3).  As explained by one Ericsson licensing executive, “we choose to license the patents as late in value chain as possible …. One big advantage with this strategy is also that it is likely that the royalty income will be higher since we calculate the royalty on a more expensive product.” Or, as more succinctly expressed by a Qualcomm attorney at trial, licensing SEPs to device makers is “humongously” more lucrative than licensing  them to chip makers. 411 F.Supp.3d at 754, 758, 796.  The practice by which a SEP holder licenses its SEPs at only one tier of the supply chain is sometimes called “level discrimination.” (Courts and commentators disagree whether level discrimination is permitted under the nondiscrimination prong of a FRAND commitment – see this article for a discussion).

Pseudo-Licensing Deals with Chip Makers

If a SEP holder licenses its SEPs at Tier 3, what happens to the Tier 2 chip manufacturer? Does the chip that embodies the standard infringe the SEPs?  Yes, probably. Patent exhaustion only works downstream, not upstream.  That is, a smartphone manufacturer can’t infringe a SEP if it purchases a chipset from a licensed chip maker.  But a chip manufacturer can infringe a SEP even if its customer (the smartphone maker) has a license to use it.  Without a license, the Tier 2 chip maker is exposed to infringement claims by the SEP holder.

So what’s a chip maker to do?  Should it manufacture and sell chipsets that embody a standard even though it knows that it is infringing a host of SEPs?  Wouldn’t this infringement be willful, subjecting the chip maker to a risk of treble damages (see Sec. 5.2.1(1) of this chapter for a discussion of willful infringement of SEPs)?  It seems like an untenable situation for a chip maker.

To address this situation, Qualcomm appears to have developed various strategies.  In the 1990s, it granted chip makers purportedly “non-exhaustive licenses” that permitted them to manufacture chipsets covered by Qualcomm’s SEPs (in exchange for a royalty), but which explicitly excluded any license rights for the purchasers of those chipsets (9th Cir., slip op. at 14 n.7).  In Quanta, the Supreme Court rejected such a “non-exhaustive” arrangement between LG and Intel, holding that LG’s patent rights were exhausted upon Intel’s sale of covered chips to Quanta.  After this, Qualcomm amended its practices and began to enter into “CDMA ASIC Agreements” with chip makers. Under these agreements, “Qualcomm promises not to assert its patents in exchange for the company promising not to sell its chips to unlicensed [smartphone manufacturers]” (9th Cir., slip op. at 14, emphasis added).  According to the Ninth Circuit, these agreements “allow Qualcomm’s competitors to practice Qualcomm’s SEPs royalty-free” (id.).  Or, as the court pithily observed, Qualcomm’s “policy toward rival chipmakers could be characterized as ‘no license, no problem’” (id. at 35).

The Ninth Circuit found that because Qualcomm applied its “no license, no problem” policy uniformly toward all rival chip makers, it did not violate the antitrust laws.  But did Qualcomm, instead, open the door to a finding that its patents are exhausted at the chip maker level?

Do SEP Makers Inadvertently Grant Exhaustive Licenses to Chip Makers?

As observed by the Ninth Circuit, Qualcomm “promises not to assert” its SEPs against chip makers.  Its CDMA ASIC Agreements allow chip makers “to practice Qualcomm’s SEPs royalty-free”.  Ericsson, which employs a similar form of level discrimination, has referred to the result as “indirect licensing” of chip manufacturers (see Ericsson v. D-Link, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110585, *80 (E.D. Tx. 2013)).

In assessing whether a patent has been licensed, courts have generally looked beyond the language used by the parties.  As the Supreme Court reasoned in De Forest Radio Telephone Co. v. United States, 273 U.S. 236, 241 (1927), “No formal granting of a license is necessary in order to give it effect. Any language used by the owner of the patent, or any conduct on his part exhibited to another from which that other may properly infer that the owner consents to his use of the patent in making or using it, or selling it, upon which the other acts, constitutes a license”.

A number of lower court cases have equated a license to a ‘covenant not to sue’.  As the Federal Circuit held in Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. v. Genetics Institute, Inc., 52 F.3d 1026, 1031 (Fed. Cir. 1995), “A license may amount to no more than a covenant by the patentee not to sue the licensee for making, using or selling the patented invention.”

Given this precedent, SEP holders’ practice of tacitly permitting chip manufacturers to operate under their patents, whether by promising not to assert or “indirectly” licensing, looks suspiciously like licensing.  And, if SEP holders are granting chip manufacturers licenses to make and sell chips under their SEPs, then those SEPs should, by rights, be exhausted upon the sale of those chips to smartphone and other device manufacturers.  And this exhaustion should thereby prevent SEP holders from seeking to license and collect royalties from Tier 3 device manufacturers who incorporate those chips into their smartphones and other products.

This result should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all Qualcomm.  According to the District Court, a Qualcomm executive admitted to the IRS in 2012 that “if Qualcomm licensed a rival [chip manufacturer] … ‘[W]hen [the rival] sell[s] that chip to somebody who’s going to put the chip in a cell phone, okay, the licensee’s sale of that chip will exhaust our rights and then we won’t be able to collect a royalty on a cell phone that’s based on the price of the cellphone’” (411 F.Supp.3d at 796).  When Huawei apparently asserted that Qualcomm’s SEPs were exhausted after selling chips to Huawei, Qualcomm allegedly “threatened to cut off [Huawei’s] chip supply” (id. at 712).

These statements and actions indicate that Qualcomm was well-aware of the threat of patent exhaustion, and actually took measures to avoid the appearance of exhaustion (e.g., by converting its chip maker license agreements into CDMA ASIC Agreements).  Yet in trying to rebut the antitrust allegations made against it, and to overturn the District Court’s antitrust holdings, Qualcomm seems to have persuaded the Ninth Circuit that it effectively grants licenses to rival chip manufacturers. And, in doing so, Qualcomm may have armed its next smartphone licensee with a potent exhaustion defense to any claim of infringement.  Ultimately, “no license, no problem” may cause big problems for Qualcomm and other SEP holders that seek to license only at the most lucrative level of the supply chain.

The UK Supreme Court’s Re-interpretation of FRAND in Unwired Planet v. Huawei

Guest post by University of Utah College of Law Professor Jorge L. Contreras

In its Judgment of 26 August 2020, [2020] UKSC 37, the UK Supreme Court affirms the lower court decisions ([2017] EWHC 711 (Pat) and [2019] EWCA Civ 38) in the related cases Unwired Planet v. Huawei and ZTE v. Conversant [I discuss the High Court’s 2017 decision here].  The judgment largely favors the patent holders, and holds that a UK court may enjoin the sale of infringing products that incorporate an industry standard if the parties do not enter into a global license for patents covering that standard. The court covers a lot of important ground, including the parties’ compliance with EU competition law under Huawei v. ZTE (CJEU, C-170/13, 2015) (¶¶ 128-158) and the appropriateness of injunctive remedies under UK law (¶¶ 159-169). But in this post, I will focus on what I consider to be the most significant aspect of the court’s judgment – its interpretation of the patent policy of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an interpretation that largely determines the outcome of the case and could have far-reaching ramifications for the technology sector.

Background

The case began in 2014 when Unwired Planet, a U.S.-based patent assertion entity (PAE), sued Huawei and other smartphone manufacturers for infringing UK patents that it acquired from Ericsson (other suits were brought elsewhere). The patents were declared essential to the 2G, 3G and 4G wireless telecommunications standards developed under the auspices of ETSI, an international standards-setting organization (SSO).  A companion case was brought by another PAE, Conversant, with respect to similar patents that it acquired from Nokia.

Because Ericsson and Nokia participated in standards-development through ETSI, they were bound by ETSI’s various policies, including its patent policy.  Accordingly, when the patents were acquired by Unwired Planet and Conversant, these policies continued to apply.  The ETSI patent policy requires that ETSI participants that hold patents that are essential to the implementation of ETSI standards (standards-essential patents or SEPs) must license them to implementers of the standards (e.g., smartphone manufacturers) on terms that are “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND).

Huawei and ZTE are China-based smartphone manufacturers with operations in the UK.  Unwired Planet and Conversant offered to license the patents to them on a worldwide basis, but the manufacturers objected to their proposed royalty rates, claiming that they were not FRAND. Among other things, Huawei argued that any license entered to settle the UK litigation should cover only UK patents.  After numerous preliminary proceedings, in 2017 the UK High Court (Patents) held that a FRAND license between large multinational companies is necessarily a worldwide license. Moreover, if Huawei did not agree to such a worldwide license incorporating FRAND royalty rates determined by the court, the court would enter an injunction against Huawei’s sale of infringing products in the UK. The Court of Appeal largely affirmed the High Court’s ruling.

The UK Supreme Court Embraces SSO Policy Interpretation

In its judgment, the UK Supreme Court gives significant weight to the language and intent of the ETSI patent policy – far more than either the High Court of the Court of Appeal.  This approach contrasts starkly with that of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which decided another FRAND case, FTC v. Qualcomm (9th Cir., Aug. 11, 2020), just a fortnight earlier.  The Ninth Circuit explicitly dodged any interpretation of the SSO policies at issue in that case (those of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS)), focusing solely on the antitrust issues raised by the parties.  The UK Supreme Court, in contrast, appears to have embraced the exercise of SSO policy interpretation, focusing intently on the language and drafting history of the ETSI policy, as well as its own conclusions about the intent of that language.  This judicial interpretive exercise leads to three key holdings in the case:

ETSI’s Policy Compels a Worldwide License

In determining that a FRAND license between Unwired Planet and Huawei should be global in scope, rather than limited to the UK, Mr Justice Birss of the UK High Court looked to industry practice and custom. He first noted that “the vast majority” of SEP licenses in the industry, including all of the comparable licenses introduced at trial, were granted on a worldwide basis, and both Unwired Planet and Huawei are global companies.  He then reasoned that “a licensor and licensee acting reasonably and on a willing basis would agree on a worldwide licence” (¶543).  In contrast, he regarded the prospect of two large multinational companies licensing SEPs on a country-by-country basis to be “madness” (¶543). Accordingly, the High Court held that  a FRAND license, under these circumstances, must be a worldwide license.

The UK Supreme Court acknowledges the industry practices referenced by the High Court, but bases its reasoning much more heavily on ETSI’s patent policy. First the Supreme Court recognizes the inherent territorial limitations on the jurisdiction of national courts (¶58). However, it is the ETSI patent policy, adopted by the SSO and accepted by its participants, that opens the door both to the consideration of industry practices (¶61) and the extension of national court jurisdiction to the determination of global royalty rates. The Court concludes, “[i]t is the contractual arrangement which ETSI has created in its patent policy which gives the [English] court jurisdiction to determine a FRAND licence” for a multi-national patent portfolio (¶58).  Thus, the Supreme Court affirms the decisions of the lower courts, but grounds its decision more firmly in the ETSI patent policy.

ETSI’s Policy Contemplates Injunctions

The Supreme Court also relies on the ETSI patent policy to support its conclusion that SEP holders may seek injunctions against standards implementers who do not enter into FRAND license agreements. The availability of injunctions in FRAND cases has been the subject of considerable debate in jurisdictions around the world. The UK court comes down in favor of allowing such injunctions, not on the ground that patent holders can do whatever they like, but because “[t]he possibility of the grant of an injunction by a national court is a necessary component of the balance which the [patent] policy seeks to strike, in that it is this which ensures that an implementer has a strong incentive to negotiate and accept FRAND terms for use of the owner’s SEP portfolio” (¶61).

This conclusion is striking in two regards.  First, it largely omits the analysis of EU competition law that typically accompanies the consideration of injunctive relief in EU FRAND cases.  While the Court later discusses Huawei v. ZTE at length (¶¶ 128-158), it does so while analyzing whether the parties violated applicable competition law, not whether competition law itself establishes a basis for seeking injunctive relief.

Second, and more surprisingly, the Court imputes to the ETSI patent policy an affirmative authorization to seek injunctive relief that is found nowhere in the policy itself.  From the fact that the patent policy includes provisions that are favorable to both implementers and SEP holders, the Court finds that the policy intended to establish a “balance” between these two groups, and that a “necessary component” of that balance is the ability of the SEP holder to seek an injunction against the implementer.

This is a surprising result that was not forecast in either of the decisions below. It is particularly significant because it may influence other courts’ interpretations of the ETSI patent policy.  It may also encourage other SSOs, if not ETSI itself, to adopt policy language expressly prohibiting participants from seeking injunctive relief against adopters of their standards (as IEEE has already done).

 Non-Discrimination is Not a Stand-Alone Commitment

The third significant aspect of the judgment relates to the non-discrimination (-ND) prong of the ETSI FRAND commitment.  At the High Court, Mr Justice Birss held that the -ND part of a FRAND commitment does not have a “hard edge”, which would mandate that every FRAND license must be priced at exactly the same rate. Instead, based on EU competition law, he found that differences in pricing should not be objectionable unless they distort competition.  As such, he did not fault Unwired Planet for pricing some FRAND licenses below the rates that it offered to Huawei.

I disagreed with Justice Birss’s reasoning on this point in 2017, arguing that it “conflate[s] two issues: the competition law effects of violating a FRAND commitment, and the private “contractual” meaning of the FRAND commitment itself.” I was thus pleased to see that the UK Supreme Court looks not to competition law, but to the content of the ETSI patent policy, to define the scope of the SEP holders’ non-discrimination obligation.

This being said, the Court’s interpretation of “non-discrimination” is novel and somewhat radical.  Rather than considering the -ND prong of FRAND to be an independent commitment of the SEP holder – that the licenses it grants not discriminate (however that is defined) — the Court blends the -ND prong  together with the “fair and reasonable” (FRA-) prong to form a “general” obligation.  It explains,

Licence terms should be made available which are ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory’, reading that phrase as a composite whole. There are not two distinct obligations, that the licence terms should be fair and reasonable and also, separately, that they should be non-discriminatory. Still less are there three distinct obligations, that the licence terms should be fair and, separately, reasonable and, separately, non-discriminatory” (¶113 (emphasis added)).

As evidence for its interpretation, the Court points to ETSI’s rejection, in 1993, of a ‘most-favored license’ clause in its patent policy.  Interpreting the policy’s non-discrimination commitment as a ‘hard edged’ commitment would, in the Court’s view, re-introduce most-favored treatment “by the back door” (¶116).  As a result, the Court concludes that the non-discrimination prong of ETSI’s FRAND commitment merely “gives colour to the whole and provides significant guidance as to its meaning. It provides focus and narrows down the scope for argument about what might count as ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable’ for these purposes in a given context” (¶114).

As far as I am aware, the elimination of non-discrimination as a separate pillar of the FRAND obligation is at odds with both U.S. case law and the academic literature that address this issue (an overview can be found here).  The Court’s reasoning also contradicts the explicit concerns of the European Commission, which emphasized the importance of non-discrimination during debates over the ETSI patent policy in 1992:

Terms and conditions applied to participants and non-participants should not significantly discriminate against the latter. A fortiori where the standard-making body acts in an official or quasi-official standard-making capacity and where its standards are recognized and even made compulsory by virtue of legislation, access to the standard must be available to all without a precondition of membership of any organization (Communication from the Comm’n, Intellectual Property Rights and Standardization at p. 19, 27 Oct. 1992).

Clearly, the Commission did not view non-discrimination simply as giving color to the meaning of ‘fair and reasonable’.  On the contrary, non-discrimination, standing alone, is among the most important features of the FRAND commitment.  The UK Supreme Court’s interpretation to the contrary is thus highly problematic.

Conclusions

While I applaud the UK Supreme Court’s shift from a focus on competition law to the language and intent of the ETSI patent policy, I am concerned about its conclusions regarding the authority of one country’s courts to determine global FRAND rates, the availability of injunctive relief against standards implementers and the demotion of non-discrimination as an independent prong of the FRAND analysis.

One silver lining in this cloud, perhaps, is that the Court’s judgment, which relies so heavily on the particulars of the ETSI policy, is thus limited to the ETSI policy.  It is unclear how much weight its findings would have for a court, whether in the UK or elsewhere, assessing participants’ obligations under FRAND policies adopted by different SSOs such as TIA and ATIS (as in FTC v. Qualcomm), not to mention SSOs such as IEEE that have adopted language expressly contravening some of the interpretations that the Court makes with respect to ETSI.

In fact, the Court seems to invite SSOs to re-evaluate their patent policies.  Huawei objected to the UK court’s determination of global FRAND rates because, among other things, permitting a national court to resolve a global dispute could promote “forum shopping, conflicting judgments and applications for anti-suit injunctions” (¶90).  The Court tacitly agrees, but then pushes back, seeming to blame SSOs for allowing this to happen:

“In so far as that is so, it is the result of the policies of the SSOs which various industries have established, which limit the national rights of a SEP owner if an implementer agrees to take a FRAND licence. Those policies … do not provide for any international tribunal or forum to determine the terms of such licences. Absent such a tribunal it falls to national courts, before which the infringement of a national patent is asserted, to determine the terms of a FRAND licence. The participants in the relevant industry … can devise methods by which the terms of a FRAND licence may be settled, either by amending the terms of the policies of the relevant SSOs to provide for an international tribunal or by identifying respected national IP courts or tribunals to which they agree to refer such a determination” (¶90).

In this regard, I wholeheartedly agree with the Court. I have long advocated the creation of an international rate-setting tribunal for the determination of FRAND royalty rates.  I continue to believe that such a tribunal, if supported by leading SSOs, would eliminate much of the inter-jurisdictional competition and duplicative litigation that currently burdens the market.  If the UK Supreme Court’s judgment in Unwired Planet encourages ETSI and other SSOs to endorse such an approach, then this could be the most significant outcome of the case.

Our Summer Speaker Series: COVID-19 and Innovation Policy

By Jason Rantanen

The Iowa Innovation, Business & Law Center is hosting a summer speaker series featuring 30-minute talks by some of the leading legal scholars writing on innovation and COVID-19.  All talks will be via Zoom webinar on Thursdays at 3:30 ET/2:30 CT/ 1:30 MT/12:30 PT. (starting this Thursday).
Our speakers are:
The link for these talks is https://uiowa.zoom.us/j/98761682648
I hope you’ll mark your calendars and are able to join us!

 

Odyssey Logistics v. Iancu: Two of the three bears in an APA challenge

By Jason Rantanen

Odyssey Logistics and Technology Corporation v. Iancu (Fed. Cir. 2020) Download opinion

Panel: Lourie, Reyna and Hughes (author)

Some of my biggest head-scratchers when I studied administrative law in law school were the timing rules for bringing challenges under the Administrative Procedures Act.  It wasn’t because of a lack of comprehension, but instead due to the way these rules can block off judicial review of agency action.  Individually the timing rules make sense, but collectively they produce a Three Bears-type situation: the timing of challenges has to be just right, or the challenge will get tossed for being either too early or too late.

This case involves two challenges to actions taken by the PTO and one challenge to a set of rules published by the PTO in 2011.  The first two challenges were dismissed as two early and the third was too late.

Count I involved a request for rehearing by the relevant Technology Center Director following the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) reversal of the examiner’s objections to Odyssey’s application.  The request for rehearing was filed about five months after the PTAB decision.  Odyssey challenged the propriety of the request on procedural grounds at the PTO, which were rebuffed, and then filed a challenge in the Eastern District of Virginia before the PTAB issued its decision on the substantive merits raised by the rehearing.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that there was not yet a “final agency action” under the APA.  Nor did the Federal Circuit see this as a situation involving an abusive use of agency rules to delay proceedings that justified compelled action by the court.

In Count II, Odyssey challenged what it argued were new grounds for rejection by the examiner.  However, the PTAB had not yet issued a decision at the time Odyssey brought the challenge.  The result: dismissal for non-finality.  Odyssey argued that the district court should have instead dismissed on mootness grounds, but the Federal Circuit said that wasn’t necessary: “[A] federal court has leeway to choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case on the merits….The district court did not err by “tak[ing] the less burden-some course.”  Slip Op. at 11.

The final count was a challenge to certain amendments that the PTO made to its rules on practice for ex parte appeals in 2011.  Odyssey argued that these amendments were facially invalid–that the regulations were unlawful generally.  However,  28 U.S.C. § 2401 bars claims that are not brought within 6 years of the date the action accrues.  Odyssey argued that the relevant triggering date was the effective date of the regulation (January 23, 2012) rather than the date it was published in the Federal Register (November 22, 2011), but the Federal Circuit disagreed: under both Fourth and Federal Circuit law, the relevant date for substantive facial challenges is the date of publication.  Substantive facial challenges are different from “as applied” challenges, which accrue as of “the time of an adverse application of the decision against the plaintiff.”  Id. at 13, quoting Hyatt v. U.S. Pat. & Trademark Off., 904 F.3d 1361, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2018).  The result was that Odyssey’s challenge, which was filed in district court on January 23, 2018, was time-barred by § 2401.

Edit: Shortly after I posted this, counsel for appellant contacted me to inform me that the statement “Odyssey challenged the propriety of the request on procedural grounds at the PTO, but then filed a challenge in the Eastern District of Virginia before the PTAB ruled on the request for rehearing” was incorrect: in fact, the lawsuit was filed after the petition for rehearing was granted but before the PTAB had issued a decision on the merits on the substantive issues raised by the rehearing.  I’ve changed the above post to specifically refer to the “decision on the substantive merits raised by the rehearing.”   I also made a few other edits to clarify the issue raised in Count I.