Unenforceability, Preclusion, and Interlocutory Appeals

by Dennis Crouch

I wrote an essay last month discussing the rarity of certified questions on appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). See, Dennis Crouch, Certified Questions on Appeal under § 1292(b), Patently-O (January 31, 2020).

In Feit Electric Co. v. CFL Tech. (Fed. Cir. February 3, 2020)[20-110 CAFC denial], the Federal Circuit has denied Feit’s petition for discretionary review of a certified question.

The case involves CFL Tech’s U.S. Patent No. 6,172,464 that was previously held unenforceable (back when owned by Ole Nilssen).  However, the unenforceability decision came before the law of unenforceability changed in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 649 F.3d 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (en banc).  Therasense made it harder to find patent unenforceable.  Thus, if re-judged under the revised law, the ‘464 patent might actually be enforceable.

Change of Law: Unenforceability of the patent has been fully litigated and decided and issue preclusion would normally apply.  The certified question on appeal is whether the change-of-law exception to issue preclusion applies in this case – citing primarily Dow Chemical Co. v. Nova Chemicals Corp., 803 F.3d 620 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (finding that the Supreme Court’s decision in Nautilus was an “intervening change in law”).

The CFL Tech district court applied the change-of-law doctrine under Dow and thus found no issue preclusion. However, the district court also noted the case of Morgan v. Dep’t of Energy, 424 F.3d 1271 (Fed. Cir. 2005). In Morgan, the Federal Circuit limited the change-of-law doctrine in cases involving “clarifying” interpretations. Uncertain in its opinion, the district court then certified the question for discretionary interlocutory appeal.

Discretion: Here, the appellate court used its discretion to not hear the appeal, but then went ahead to decide that the district court got it right — no preclusion.

Feit and the amici read too much into Morgan. All that Morgan rejected was a version of the change-in-law exception “so broad” that it would deny preclusion based on judicial decisions that merely “clarify earlier interpretations of a statute.” It did not reject the higher standard for a result-altering intervening change in law required by Dow Chemical, which was applied in this case based on the significant change of law made by this court in Therasense.

Thus, although the Federal Circuit refused to hear the appeal, it went ahead and decided the issue.

Advisory Dicta: I would call the appellate decision advisory dicta — and thus would not become “law of the case” since the court did not actually hear the appeal.  However, from a practical standpoint the district court will (and should) follow the guidance laid down here.  The Federal Circuit took the same approach in Heat Techs., Inc. v. Papierfabrik August Koehler Se, 2019 WL 3430477 (Fed. Cir. July 18, 2019) (denying petition for interlocutory appeal, but explaining its interpretation of the law in the denial order).


Cost of Accessing PACER

National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) v. US (Fed. Cir. 2020)

Today, the Federal Circuit heard oral argument in this case involving the $0.10 per page fee for downloading documents from PACER. The basic argument here is that “PACER fees must be limited to PACER costs.”

This case challenges the legality of user fees charged by the federal judiciary for access to records via its Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER. It is undisputed that these fees far exceed the costs of providing such records—costs that have decreased exponentially even as fees have risen. The district court held that PACER fees have been unlawfully set above the amount authorized by Congress and found the government liable for the excess. This appeal concerns whether the unlawful excess identified by the district court was too little (the plaintiffs’ view), too much (the government’s view), or just right.

Opening brief. [PACER Case Opening Brief]. In 2002, modified the law with regard to the cost of providing electronic docketing information by indicating that the Judicial Conference my “prescribe reasonable fees” to access information, but may do so “only to the extent necessary.”

The appeal here is interlocutory based upon the certified question of whether the statute authorizes the US Courts “to charge more in PACER fees than is necessary to recoup the total marginal cost of providing access to records through PACER?”  In its briefing, the U.S. Government also argues that the case as a whole lacks jurisdiction under the Little Tucker Act.  A large number of amicus briefs were also filed supporting the petition and arguing that this is a very important issue involving transparency and access to the court system.

  • Retired Judges (including Judge Posner): Fees reduce judicial transparency and legitimaxy
  • ACLU: Access protected by 1st Amendment
  • Casetext, etc.: Fees curtail legal research
  • Sen. Lieberman: (Sponsor of 2002 law discussed above) Fees may not be above costs of providing access.


Certified Questions on Appeal under 1292(b)

by Dennis Crouch

In civil procedure, I just finished teaching appeals of interlocutory orders under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

The normal rule in patent cases (and in federal litigation generally) is that the parties have to wait until the case is complete — final judgment — before having a right to appeal. Under this “final judgment rule,” interlocutory orders — orders that do not end the case — are generally not immediately appealable. Rather, parties have to wait for final judgment. There are, however, a number of exceptions to the final judgment rule.

Appealing Injunction Orders: Because injunctions are often requested in patent cases, § 1292(a) is regularly invoked. That section creates a right to appeal district court decisions “granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions, or refusing to dissolve or modify injunctions.”  Thus, even if an injunction order is interlocutory (such as denying preliminary injunctive relief), that order can be automatically appealed.

Certified Questions: Section 1292(b) provides the Courts of Appeals with discretionary authority to review of interlocutory issues of law that are “certified” for appeal by a district court:

When a district judge … shall be of the opinion that [an otherwise non-appealable] order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation, he shall so state in writing in such order. The Court of Appeals … may thereupon, in its discretion, permit an appeal to be taken from such order.

28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

This week in MLC Intellectual Property v. Micron Tech (Fed. Cir. 2019), the Federal Circuit decided a 1292(b) issue — allowing MLC (the patentee) to appeal a set of interlocutory orders excluding MLC’s expert testimony.  The Federal Circuit opinion is short on detail and analysis — explaining (1) that the Federal Circuit has discretion to exercise interlocutory review in this situation; and (2) review here appears appropriate to “avoid an expensive trial solely on liability” since the patentee was left with a very weak damages case and no injunction case (since the patents are expired). [1292(b) Decision].  The case is now placed on the regular docket with full briefing of the issues.

In its certification order, the district court explained the situation as follows:

In the Damages Orders, the Court excluded [MLC’s expert] Mr. Milani’s damages opinion under Daubert because the Court concluded that his comparative license analysis did not comport with Federal Circuit jurisprudence. These deficiencies included, inter alia, Mr. Milani’s failure to apportion the revenue base to include only the revenue attributable to the patented technology and Mr. Milani’s calculation of a royalty rate that was not supported by the evidence. In addition, the Court held that MLC had failed to disclose the factual underpinnings of its reasonable royalty claim in discovery, and excluded much of Mr. Milani’s opinion on that ground. MLC asserts that it was not required to disclose those facts because the determination of a reasonable royalty is the province of expert opinion. All of these questions are controlling questions of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion. … Absent interlocutory review, the parties and the Court will be required to proceed with an expensive trial focused solely on liability, as MLC concedes that it has no damages case to present at trial.

Interlocutory review of the Damages Orders will result in either the ultimate conclusion of this case (if the Federal Circuit affirms) or a single trial on liability and damages (in the event of reversal); either way, interlocutory review is in the interest of judicial economy and will save the parties a considerable amount of time and expense.

Dct Opinion.

The parties have jointly requested and have now been granted a stay in the district court litigation pending the outcome of the appeal (as well as the outcome of an appeal in a parallel reexamination).  1292(b) indicates that the appeal does not automatically stay proceedings, but suggests that a stay is available if ordered by “the district judge or Court of Appeals.” Id.

MLC’s claimed invention is a method of calibrating a camera-laser-unit using the Tsai algorithm.

Other Recent 1292(b) Cases: The Federal Circuit decided one other 1292(b) cases over the past year. In Heat Techs., Inc. v. Papierfabrik August Koehler Se, 2019 WL 3430477 (Fed. Cir. July 18, 2019), the court denied the petition to hear an interlocutory appeal on the question of whether a “§ 256 claim for correction of inventorship can proceed not-withstanding other potential challenges to the patent’s validity.”  In Heat Techs, the appellate panel found several faults with the district court certification order — most notably was the reality that there was not “substantial ground for difference of opinion.” Rather, the answer was a simple “yes” – inventorship and ownership are separate from validity and there are important implications that can flow from owning a patent – even if invalid.

The Court of Appeals also decided a 28 U.S.C. § 1292(d)(2) case. Laturner v. U.S., 933 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2019). 1292(d)(2) is substantially parallel to 1292(b) — difference being that (d)(2) allows for interlocutory appeals from the Court of Federal Claims whereas (b) is focused on district court orders.

Federal Circuit affirms Obviousness based upon General Knowledge of PHOSITA

by Dennis Crouch

Philips v. Google & Microsoft (Fed. Cir. 2020)

Google & Microsoft teamed-up to challenge Phillips’ U.S. Patent 7,529,806 in an inter partes review (IPR).  The Board complied and cancelled claims 1-11 — finding the claimed quasi-streaming method unpatentably obvious.  On appeal here, the Federal Circuit has affirmed — adding important context to obviousness determinations based upon general knowledge.

In KSR, the Supreme Court indicated that the obviousness analysis should consider the “background knowledge possessed by a person having ordinary skill in the art.” KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007).   Under KSR, information deemed within PHOSITA’s general knowledge is more powerful than that found buried in a prior art reference because we assume that PHOSITA would consider using their general knowledge in combination with the prior art — even absent any express motivation to do so. Because of its potential power, the Federal Circuit has been somewhat concerned that the approach could serve as an end-run around traditional obviousness analysis.  Here though, the court found that Google had presented enough evidence to assume that the pipelining (see next paragraph) was part of the general knowledge of PHOSITA.

The invention: The claims call for downloading the “next file” in the background while playing the prior file. This setup is effectively a form of buffering (also known as pipelining or stream emulation).  The approach uses a client-side “control information file” that facilitates sequential file retrieval.  The claims have an additional feature of having a variety of media file formats, and the client device is able to “choose the format compatible with the client’s play-out capabilities.”

In its petition, Google alleged (1) anticipation based upon SMIL 1.0 (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language 1.0 Specification); and (2) obviousness based upon SMIL 1.0 when combined with the general knowledge of PHOSITA.  In describing the general knowledge that “pipelining is well known”, Google cited a prior art reference (Hua) and also an expert declaration.

Extra Ground on Institution: Before getting to the obviousness issue, I’ll note an appeal/SAS issue decided by the Court.  The Board instituted the IPR on both grounds raised by Google, but also added a third ground: SMIL in view of Hua.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit found the third-ground improper — quoting the Supreme Court’s decision in SAS to the effect that the AIA does not “contemplate a petition that asks the Director to initiate whatever kind of inter partes review he might choose.” SAS Inst. Inc. v. Iancu, 138 S. Ct. 1348, 1355 (2018).  Under the statute as interpreted in SAS, the petitioner decides how to structure the IPR, and the initiation stage is a yes/no determination.  The Federal Circuit did not address the no-appealability-of-institution-decisions provision of Section 314(d).

Role of General Knowledge in IPR Obviousness: The first Obviousness-focused question that the court considered was an interesting albeit fruitless contention — that “obviousness” in IPR proceedings should be treated differently than in other areas of patent practice. In particular, the patentee noted that Section 311(b) of the AIA limits IPR considerations to only “prior art consisting of patents or printed publications.” As such, Philips argued that “general knowledge” could not be considered in the analysis.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument — holding that the 311(b) limits the types of prior art available in an IPR, but does not otherwise alter the obviousness analysis of Section 103.

Although the prior art that can be considered in inter partes reviews is limited to patents and printed publications, it does not follow that we ignore the skilled artisan’s knowledge when determining whether it would have been obvious to modify the prior art. Indeed, under 35 U.S.C. § 103, the obviousness inquiry turns not only on the prior art, but whether “the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious . . . to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains.” 35 U.S.C. § 103. Regardless of the tribunal, the inquiry into whether any “differences” between the invention and the prior art would have rendered the invention obvious to a skilled artisan necessarily depends on such artisan’s knowledge.

Slip Op.  The implication here is that “general knowledge” is not “prior art” but instead part of the definition of PHOSITA under Graham.

General Knowledge: A primary case in tension with broad use of general knowledge is Arendi S.A.R.L. v. Apple Inc., 832 F.3d 1355, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 2016).  In that case, the court warned against invoking “common sense . . . to supply a limitation that was admittedly missing from the prior art” and that was not “supported by evidence and reasoned explanation.”  On appeal here, the Federal Circuit distinguished Arendi — holding that Google’s argument for general knowledge was supported by evidence and reason

In Arendi, the Board [improperly] relied on nothing more than “conclusory statements and unspecific expert testimony” in finding that it would have been “common sense . . . to supply a limitation that was admittedly missing from the prior art.” Conversely, here the Board relied on expert evidence, which was corroborated by Hua, in concluding that pipelining was not only in the prior art, but also within the general knowledge of a skilled artisan. Moreover, Philips offered no evidence to rebut the conclusion that a skilled artisan would have known about pipelining.

Id. “Pipelining” was the only claim feature not found in the asserted prior art reference.  However, since pipelining was part of the “general knowledge,” then its use was proper to invalidate the claims.

Billion Dollar Jury Verdict for CalTech

I posted WiLan’s $85 million verdict against Apple earlier this week out of the Southern District of California.  A new verdict on Jan 29, 2020 looks to set-back Apply by another $837 million (in favor of the patent owner California Institute of Technology). Apple’s setback dwarf’s the parallel Broadcom verdict in the case of $270 million.  The verdict form is not yet publicly available — the courtroom was sealed for much of the damages trial on the request of Broadcom and Apple.  Craig Clough at Law360 reports that the verdict included $1.40 per device for Apple’s 600 million infringing devices and $0.26 per chip for Broadcom’s billion+ Wi-Fi chips.

U.S. Patent Nos. 7,116,710, 7,421,032 and 7,916,781.

Federal Circuit Disqualifies Litigation Counsel Who Prosecutes Patents for Subsidiary Company

by Dennis Crouch

Trimble Inc. v. PerDiemCo LLC (Fed. Cir. 2020) [TrimbleDisqualify]

In an unusual decision, the Federal Circuit has disqualified PerDiem’s appellate counsel – the firm of Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey, LLP – based upon a current client conflict.

The particular problem here stems from Davidson’s simultaneous performance of patent prosecution work for Trimble Transportation Enterprise Solutions, Inc.. Trimble Transport is a wholly owned subsidiary of appellant Trimble Inc (TRMB).

Although Davidson has now withdrawn its representation of Trimble, the court judges current-client conflicts as of the filing of the motion to disqualify. At that time Davidson was representing both Trimble Transportation and PerDiem. Also, because the district court case was litigated in California, California professional responsibility rules control conflict situations.

California’s rules provide:

A lawyer shall not, without informed written consent from each client and compliance with paragraph (d), represent a client if the representation is directly adverse to another client in the same or a separate matter.

Cal. R. of Prof’l Conduct 1.7(a) (2018). The comment to the rule further explains:

Loyalty and independent judgment are essential elements in the lawyer’s relationship to a client. The duty of undivided loyalty to a current client prohibits undertaking representation directly adverse to that client without that client’s informed written consent.

Cal Rules Comment 1.

Here, Trimble has intentionally created a complex corporate structure with Trimble Inc. owning Trimble Transport and other subsidiaries, including Innovative
Software Engineering, LLC (who is also a party to the lawsuit).  Trimble (TRMB) has a valuation of $10 billion, 8,000+ employees, and more than a dozen major subsidiary companies.  The formal corporate structure was specifically and particularly designed to take advantage of various laws — creating protections against a variety of potential liabilities and allowing differentiation between the various companies.  Now, however, when it is advantageous to the company, it argues that the corporate walls are illusory.

The basic rule with parent-subsidiary companies is that a law firm will be seen as representing both if the “corporate affiliates are sufficiently intertwined that the representation adverse to one would threaten harm to the other, diminishing the formal corporate client’s (here, Trimble Transportation’s) confidence and trust in counsel.” Slip Op. Here, the Federal Circuit found sufficient intertwining with shared VOIP system, employee recognition program, computer network, human resources information system, payroll, and office space.  In addition – and with rather low level reasoning – the court found that if Trimble lost the patent case it “would have a direct adverse impact on Trimble Transportation” since “financial statements from each of Trimble [Inc.]’s businesses, including Trimble Transportation, are also combined . . . to report to investors in Trimble [Inc.]’s overall corporate financial statements.” (Wouldn’t this would be true for all wholly owned subsidiaries).

For me, the biggest factor in this case is Aaron Brodsky — in-house patent counsel at Trimble Inc.  Although Brodsky works for the parent, he advises on patent prosecution work for a number of the subsidiaries that do not have their own patent counsel — including Trimble Transport. In particular, Broadsky advised the Davidson firm on its prosecution work and, at the same time, manages the present litigation. That intermingling of relevant legal matters starts to make the concurrent representation look bad.

Despite my misgivings noted above, this appears to be the right outcome. Representing a client is a pledge of loyalty that is not easily set aside.

$85.23 million for WiLAN against Apple.

Big verdict for WiLAN against Apple $85.23 million in damages – the full amount that the company requested. McKool Smith represented the patentee here. Apple will likely appeal on several grounds.

The jury awarded a royalty of $.45 per iPhone 6 & 7. This is less than 0.1% royalty rate ($650 per iPhone 7) but things add up when you sell 200 million units.

This is the second time around on damages.  The first jury awarded $145,100,000.  However Judge Sabraw gave WiLAN the option of either (1) remitting the damages down to $10 million or (2) holding a new trial on damages.  According to the court the problem stemmed from expert opinions regarding apportionment that were not supported by the evidence.  Even though it was a single-issue jury trial, the judge still provided the jury with 31 pages of jury instructions: Jury Instructions.  Here are a few of the key instructions:

In this case, Wi-LAN seeks a reasonable royalty. A reasonable royalty is defined as the money amount Wi-LAN and Apple would have agreed upon as a fee for use of the invention at the time prior to when infringement began. You must be careful to ensure that award is no more or no less than the value of the patented invention.

The amount you find as damages must be based on the value attributable to the patented technology, as distinct from other, unpatented features of the accused product, or other factors such as marketing or advertising, or Apple’s size or market position. In determining the appropriate royalty base and the appropriate royalty rate, the ultimate combination of both the royalty rate and the royalty base must reflect the value attributable to the patented technology. In other words, the royalty base must be closely tied to the invention. It is not sufficient to use a royalty base that is too high and then adjust the damages downward by applying a lower royalty rate.

Similarly, it is not appropriate to select a royalty base that is too low and then adjust upward by applying a higher royalty rate. Rather, you must determine an appropriate royalty rate and an appropriate royalty base that reflect the value attributable to the patented invention alone. . . .

You may also consider the impact of any available noninfringing alternatives to the asserted claims on the royalty negotiated in the hypothetical negotiation. In doing so, you may consider the value of any differences in benefits and costs between the noninfringing alternatives and the asserted claims.

The two patents at issue in the case are WiLAN’s 8,457,145 and 8,537,757. The patents cover a mechanism for grouping data within queues ranked by required quality-of-service needed with timers associated with each queue. Claim 9 of the ‘145 was infringed (among other claims)

9. A subscriber unit for a wireless communication system, wherein the wireless communication system includes a plurality of subscriber units in communication with an associated base unit, comprising:

a plurality of queues, each queue for grouping data based on the QoS; and

a media access (MAC) module configured to set an initial value for a timer associated with a queue, and periodically, on expiration of the value of the timer, transmit a bandwidth request indicating an amount of bandwidth required for transmitting the data from the queue.


Cert Denied


The Supreme Court has denied certiorari in these three eligibility cases largely clearing the docket of pending petitions in patent cases.  There are a few remaining:

Awaiting decision:

  • Thryv v. Click-to-Call (appealability of time-bar denial; 314(d) and 315(b));

Pending Cert

  • Thryv follow on: Arris v. Chanbond; Superior v. Voltstar
  • Eligibility: Maxel v. Fandango; Cisco v. SRI; Reese v. Sprint
  • Apportionment and Preclusion: Apple v. VirnetX
  • IPR Arguments Beyond the Petitions: Chrimar v. Juniper
  • IPR Unconstitutional Taking / Due Process Violation: Collabo v. Sony




Supporting Amendment to 35 U.S.C. Section 102(a) Clarifying Public Disclosure

Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) Board has proposed a “clarifying” amendment to Section 101(a)(1) of the Patent Act:

(a) Novelty; Prior Art.—A person shall be entitled to a patent unless— (1) the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public publicly disclosed before the effective filing date of the claimed invention, provided that no act of patenting, publication, use, sale, commercialization, or any other act, shall constitute prior art with respect to this section, except to the extent the act results in a public disclosure of the claimed invention; or

The proposal here would legislatively overrule Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 628 (2019) and remove undisclosed sales activity & commercialization from the scope of prior art. Europe uses this approach found in Article 54 of the European Patent Convention:

  1. An invention shall be considered to be new if it does not form part of the state of the art.
  2. The state of the art shall be held to comprise everything made available to the public by means of a written or oral description, by use, or in any other way, before the date of filing of the European patent application.
  3. Additionally, the content of European patent applications as filed, the dates of filing of which are prior to the date referred to in paragraph 2 and which were published on or after that date, shall be considered as comprised in the state of the art.

EPC Art. 54. Note that 54(1) and 54(2) are parallel to 35 U.S.C. 102(a) while 54(3) is parallel to 102(a)(2) which the IPO does not propose to change.  Regarding these secret prior patent application filings identified in 54(3) and 102(a)(2); the European approach is broader than the US in some ways because it creates prior art even when the prior filing is the same inventor / owner; at the same time, the European approach is narrower than the US because 54(3) prior art does not apply to the inventive step (obviousness) analysis.

An invention shall be considered as involving an inventive step if, having regard to the state of the art, it is not obvious to a person skilled in the art. If the state of the art also includes documents within the meaning of Article 54, paragraph 3, these documents shall not be considered in deciding whether there has been an inventive step.

EPC Art. 54(3).


Does an appeal deserve an opinion?

Fote v. Iancu (Supreme Court 2020)

In this case, the PTO refused to grant Charles Fote’s patent covering a Broker-Mediated Payment System after concluding that the claims lacked eligibility.  On appeal, Fote argued otherwise — especially considering the PTO’s new (limited) approach to eligibility examination.  The Federal Circuit though refused to bite and simply affirmed the PTO determination without issuing any opinion under its internal R. 36.

In a recent request for extension of time, Fote has indicated his plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the propriety of the Federal Circuit’s no-opinion judgments:

The petition for certiorari will contend that in cases like this one, where the administrative agency arguably erred in its analysis of the proposed patent claims and failed to properly apply the law, the use of one-word summary affirmances under Federal Circuit Rule 36, which effectively prevents review of the merits of the panel decision en banc or by this Court, is impermissible.

[Fote petition to Supreme Court for extension of time]  Although the patent application appears to be unpublished, the file-history was included in the Federal Circuit briefing. [JointAppx].

Representative claim 8 is directed to a “telecommunication system” that includes a brokerage server, a funding server, and also an electronic communications devices that are designed to provide certain authentication signalling to facilitate a payment. The claim itself is 1,200+ words 5x longer than a typical independent claim. In briefing, Fote explained that:

By dividing responsibilities for the payment and the information among multiple third parties, the payment system invented by Fote avoids the privacy and security vulnerabilities that would otherwise arise if a conventional third-party intermediary were employed in an electronic environment. . . .

[Although the] system involves conventional computer components[;]… [t]he system’s
novelty and inventiveness, which have been acknowledged by the Patent Office, lie
in the specific payment techniques it implements.

In its briefing, the PTO responded that the claims can be seen as parallel to the settlement risk mitigation system in Alice Corp. and that the Board’s decision was correct:

The Board properly concluded that the claimed invention is directed to patent ineligible subject matter. Claim 8 recites a system for transferring electronic payment from a payer to a payee that utilizes a third-party intermediary to prevent disclosure of the payer’s confidential information (i.e., the identity of the payer’s
funding source and real account) to the payee.

Under step one of the Supreme Court’s two-step framework, the Board rightly determined that the claim is directed to a fundamental economic practice, which is an abstract idea. As the Board found, the use of a third-party intermediary to securely transfer funds between two parties is akin to the use of a third party to mitigate settlement risk, which was held to be abstract in Alice. . . .

At step two of the eligibility analysis, the Court rightly determined that the additional claim limitations do not transform the abstract idea into an inventive concept. Each of those limitations merely recite conventional computer components that perform generic computer functions. Although the Board did not cite to this Court’s decision in Berkheimer v. HP Inc., 881 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2018), the Board did provide factual support in the specification to support its findings that the claim elements were well-known, routine, and conventional.

Gov’t Brief before the Federal Circuit.  The actual merits are rough here for the petitioner, but these are the cases that often make good procedural law.


When does a Logo Undermine a Design Patent Case?

by Dennis Crouch

I have written a few posts about the design patent infringement case  Columbia Sportswear North America, Inc. v. Seirus Innovative Accessories, Inc.  In November, the Federal Circuit vacated the lower court’s summary judgment of infringement — holding that logo placement in this case might allow the defendant to avoid an infringement judgment.  This holding is in tension with the court’s 1993 decision in L.A. Gear, Inc. v. Thom McAn Shoe Co., 988 F.2d 1117 (1993).

In the last post, I included an image of my Seirus glove liner.  My first update is that the glove liner has completely fallen apart — apparently it is a liner and not intended simply as a biking glove.

Second update is that Columbia (the patentee) has petitioned the court for en banc rehearing to address issues of design patent infringement.  Questions presented:

  1. When conducting a design-patent infringement analysis under Gorham v. White, may a fact-finder consider the addition of brand names or other labeling on an otherwise infringing design?
  2. When conducting a design-patent infringement analysis under Gorham v. White, should the fact-finder compare the overall appearance of the claimed design (i) to the overall appearance of the accused design, or (ii) to the overall appearance of the entire accused product, which may include aspects extraneous to the claimed design (e.g., logos, tradenames, color, size, etc.)?

[Columbia-petition].  The new petition added design patent expert Christopher Carani representing Columbia. The Court has requested a responsive brief from Seirus due January 30, 2020.  Several amici are also planning to submit briefs, although there is some fight over whether the court will allow them an extension of time.  Amici include a “Group of Interested Practitioners” including Tracy-Gene Durkin, Robert Katz, and Perry Saidman. The Industrial Designers Society of America, Inc. (represented by Damon Neagle) and Bison Designs / Golight (represented by Ian Walsworth) are also expected to support the petition. In opposing the extension, Seirus explained that “there is no reason a group comprised of at least seven design patent attorneys from at least six law firms cannot draft a 2,600 word brief in the time allotted.”  In my contrary experience, a group of seven patent attorneys rarely accomplish anything within the time allotted.

Logo Placement Relevant for Infringement in Design Patent Cases


This week in Property: Efficient Infringement

by Dennis Crouch

This semester at Mizzou, I am teaching two first year (1L) law school classes — Property and Civil Procedure. These classes are intended as fundamental foundation courses applicable in some way to all areas of law — even patent law.  I’m planning a series of posts titled “this week in property” and “this week in civil procedure” that will tie-in what we’re learning in class and relate it to patent law.

The first case that my students read in Property is Jacque v. Steenberg Homes,  209 Wis. 2d 605 (1997).  The defendant in the case – Steenberg Homes – was delivering a mobile home to a third-party pursuant to a contract.  The problem was that the road was under 7 feet of snow.  Steenburg asked Harvey Jacque for permission to cross his field, which Jacque denied.  Steenburg then went ahead and buldozed a path across the frozen field and satisfied its contract.   The manager had instructed the movers as follows: “I don’t give [a F___] what he said, just get that home in there any way you can.” At trial, Jacque was thus easily able to prove willful trespass.  The problem came with damages.

At trial, Jacque proved about $200 in damages to the land (extra plowing time in the spring), but those damages were suffered by his tenant (Jacque’s son) and thus not awarded to Jacque.  Steenburg Homes argued that this is a case of efficient infringement. Although it was trespass, the company should only have to pay for the harm it caused.  Recognize here that the company’s only other choices at the time were to (1) breach its delivery contract; or (2) deliver in a more unsafe (and costly) manner over the alternative route.  Apart from the $200 in damage, everyone was better off (or at least not worse off) after the infringement.

Although it awarded only $1 in nominal damages, the jury also awarded $100,000 in punitive damages (no actual damages).  On appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the verdict – overturning a prior rule that punitive damages are only available if actual damages are awarded.

The court explained its reasoning:

[The old rule] sends the wrong message to Steenberg Homes and any others who contemplate trespassing on the land of another. It implicitly tells them that they are free to go where they please, regardless of the landowner’s wishes. As long as they cause no compensable harm, the only deterrent intentional trespassers face is the nominal damage award of $1, the modern equivalent of Merest’s halfpenny, and the possibility of a Class B forfeiture under Wis. Stat. § 943.13. We conclude that both the private landowner and society have much more than a nominal interest in excluding others from private land. Intentional trespass to land causes actual harm to the individual, regardless of whether that harm can be measured in mere dollars.

Id. The court’s reference to Merest’s halfpenny comes from an 1814 English decision Merest v. Harvey, where a jury awarded 500£ in exemplary damages (~$50,000 today) against a banker (and Member of Parliament) who joined a hunting party on the plaintiff’s land after being told no.

GIBBS CJ: I wish to know in a case where a man disregards every principle which actuates the conduct of gentlemen what is to restrain him except large damages. … Suppose a gentleman has a paved walk in his paddock before his window, and that a man intrudes and walks up and down before the window of his house, and looks in while the owner is at dinner, is the trespasser to be permitted to say “here is a halfpenny for you which is the full extent of all the mischief I have done?” Would that be a compensation? I cannot say that it would be.

Heath J: I remember a case where a jury gave 500 damages for merely knocking a man’s hat off and the Court refused a new trial. . . . It goes to prevent the practice of duelling if juries are permitted to punish insult by exemplary damages.

Merest v. Harvey, 128 Eng.Rep. 761 (C.P. 1814).  The approach in Steenburg and Merest follows the “property rule” for protecting entitlements.  The alternative approach – a liability rule – is seen in negligence and contract law. The patent system used to fit fairly squarely within the property rule schema as Blair & Cotter explained in a pre-ebay paper:

U.S. law protects patent entitlements by means of a property rule, which entitles the owner to enjoin infringing behavior, rather than by means of a liability rule, which would allow one to infringe and pay damages indefinitely.

Roger D. Blair & Thomas F. Cotter, Rethinking Patent Damages, 10 Tex. Intell. Prop. L.J. 1, 48 (2001).  20 years later, patent law has transformed into a liability rule that largely allows for an “efficient infringement” setup.  Prof. Mossof explained this in his recent article:

The result of the weakening of the ability to obtain an injunction–the backstop for all market-based negotiations of conveyances of property rights– and the further limiting of damages awarded to patent owners below market-set rates has led to an increasingly common commercial practice referred to as “efficient infringement.” This occurs when a company decides that it “economically gains from deliberately infringing [on a] patent[]” because it knows the patent owner will not receive an injunction and thus it will pay less in legal fees and in court-ordered damages than it would have paid in a license obtained from the patent owner.

Adam Mossoff, Institutional Design in Patent Law: Private Property Rights or Regulatory Entitlements, 92 S. Cal. L. Rev. 921, 939 (2019) (quoting his own prior essay). But, efficiency is good — others have written that a liability rule is the best approach even if it reduces innovation incentives — because it raises incentives to commercialize and can avoid transaction costs in the marketplace. See Ian Ayres & Paul Klemperer, Limiting Patentees’ Market Power Without Reducing Innovation Incentives: The Perverse Benefits of Uncertainty and Non-Injunctive Remedies, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 985, 987 n.2 (1999); Julie Turner, Note, The Nonmanufacturing Patent Owner: Toward a Theory of Efficient Infringement, 86 Cal. L. Rev. 179 (1998).

In this debate, the courts have largely made their statements: Real property is protected with a property rule; Patent rights are protected with a liability rule.  Any change this generation will come from the legislature.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes by Juvan Bonni

Recent Headlines in the IP World:

Commentary and Journal Articles:

New Job Postings on Patently-O:

Shooting from the Hip and Curing a Premature Appeal

by Dennis Crouch

When I first wrote about Amgen v. Amneal, I focused on the patent law issue regarding Markush groups in the patent claims.  Here, I want to circle back to the question appellate jurisdiction. I’ll be teaching the 2nd semester of Civil Procedure at Mizzou this spring and appellate jurisdiction is the the first topic up for grabs.

Most patent infringement litigation reaches the Federal Circuit under the “final judgment rule” which creates appellate jurisdiction over cases “appealed from a final decision of a district court.” 28 U.S.C. 1295(a)(1).  Final decisions “are decisions that end litigation on the merits and leave nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment.” Slip op.; Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 467 (1978).  Thus, in a patent case involving infringement claims and invalidity defenses, both must be resolved before appeal.  (Note here, that there are some, albeit limited, options for interlocutory appeals prior to final judgment).

In Amgen, the district court issued an infringement decision (against Zydus) but did not resolve questions of whether the asserted patent is valid and enforceable — explaining that:

The Court has not yet held trial on Zydus’ bifurcated invalidity counterclaims and defenses. . . . An invalidity trial will be scheduled by this Court if necessary following disposition of appeal proceedings.

Amgen Inc. v. Amneal Pharm. LLC., No. 1:16-cv-00853-MSG (Oct. 9, 2018), ECF No. 405.  Because the invalidity issues were still unresolved, the decision was not final.  Still, Zydus appealed and included only a conclusory jurisdictional statement that jurisdiction is proper under  28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) since the district court issued its final judgment:

The district court then issued a final judgment on October 9, 2018, in favor of Amgen against Zydus. . . . This Court has jurisdiction over the cross-appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1).

Zydus brief.   Amgen also did not challenge jurisdiction in its briefing.  However, the appellate court is obligated to ensure itself of jurisdiction before moving forward.

At oral arguments, the appellate panel recognized the problem and questioned Zydus’s attorney during oral arguments who – after consulting with his client in the courtroom – agreed to “give up” its invalidity defense. [Oral arguments beginning at min 18].   In its decision, the Federal Circuit found that concession sufficient to cure jurisdiction. “Zydus’s representation effectively cures the jurisdictional defect in its notice of appeal because the contingency identified by the district court—Zydus’s potential invalidity defense and claim—is nullified.”

Too Short Analysis: The Federal Circuit did not cite any precedent or statute to support its conclusion that the oral-argument waiver can cure the lack of final judgment.  The procedure principles here fall within the umbrella of “cumulative finality.”  Most courts have accepted the notion that a premature appeal can be cured by a subsequent entry of final judgment by the district court.  However, some courts have taken an alternative approach. Here is how Prof. Lammon explained the situation in his recent article:

[The cumulative finality] rule of appellate jurisdiction allows certain subsequent events to save a premature notice of appeal filed after certain district court decisions.

The general rule cannot be stated any more precisely, however, because the cumulative finality doctrine is currently a mess.

Bryan Lammon, Cumulative Finality, 52 Ga. L. Rev. 767 (2018).   In his article, Lammon explains that the Eighth Circuit along with the Federal Circuit have traditionally held the narrowest views of cumulative jurisdiction and has previously required appellants to re-file their case after a proper final judgment rather than curing appellate jurisdiction on the fly.  Lammon does not address whether the Federal Circuit should be following its own law on this issue or instead be applying the law of the regional circuit court of appeals.  In a separate paper on finality, Lammon also explains that the meaning of “final decision” is not quite the simple definition that I used above.

The federal courts have given the term “final decision” a variety of meanings. Those meanings often deviate from–and are occasionally inconsistent with–the standard definition…

Bryan Lammon, Finality, Appealability, and the Scope of Interlocutory Review, 93 Wash. L. Rev. 1809 (2018).

= = = = =

Let me note one failure of lawyering in the case: Although district court’s purported final judgment was not actually a final judgment as to Zydus, it did include a permanent injunction against Zydus as shown in the image below. The injunction is relevant because it fits within one of the exceptions to the final judgment rule. In particular, a district court’s decisions involving injunctive relief are directly appealable even if not part of a final judgment. “[T]he courts of appeals shall have jurisdiction of appeals from: (1) interloctutory orders of the district courts . . . granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions, or refusing to dissolve or modify injunctions…” 28 U.S.C. 1293(a).

Thus, it looks to me like Zydus’ attorney had a proper grounds for jurisdiction without giving-up its invalidity defense.

= = = = =

Opening a Closed Markush Group

If you want it, Claim it

= = = = =
Prof. Lammon has also briefly written about the case on his blog “FinalDecisions.org“.


Cancelling a Covenant-Not-To-Sue

by Dennis Crouch

Molon Motor and Coil Corp. v. Nidec Motor Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2020)

In a divided opinion, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment against the patentee Molon — holding that a 2006 covenant-not-to-sue remained in force despite a subsequent 2007 settlement agreement stating that prior covenants “concerning the subject matter hereof” are “of no further force or effect.”

The Subject Matter of a Contract: The majority opinion penned by Judge Lourie and joined by Judge Hughes concludes “that the two agreements concern different subject matter” and and thus finds the merger and cancellation clause inapplicable.  Writing in dissent, Judge Reyna came to the opposite conclusion since both the 2006 covenant and the 2007 settlement agreement focused on a license to practice the ‘915 patent.

In the 2006 Covenant, Molon granted Merkle-Korff [Nidec’s predecessor] a bare license to practice the ’915 patent in any market. In the 2007 Settlement, Molon granted Merkle-Korff an exclusive license to practice the ’915 patent in the Kinetek Exclusive Market only. Both licenses relate to the same subject matter—the right to practice the ’915 patent. Thus, the 2007 Settlement’s merger clause, which wiped away all prior covenants with the same subject matter, wiped away the 2006 Covenant.

Judge Reyna in dissent. Judge Reyna appears to have the better argument — although not good enough to convince Judges Lourie and Hughes.  Further, Nidec’s counsel Rudy Telscher did an excellent job marshaling Illinois cases that supported his client’s position.

The difference in interpretation between these judges is a matter of contract interpretation under Illinois law. Unfortunately, the majority’s statement of Illinois law is not too helpful: “Illinois courts have cautioned against defining ‘subject matter’ too broadly or too narrowly.”

Some Background on the First Lawsuit: Molon sued Markle-Korff on family-member patent (US6054785), and the defendant responded with a declaratory judgment couinterclaim against Molon’s Patent (US6465915).  At that time, Molon was not interested in litigating the ‘915 patent and issued the 2006 covenant-not-to-sue.

Molon hereby forever covenants not to sue Merkle-Korff for patent infringement … under …
the ’915 patent … with respect to any and all products previously or presently made,
used or sold by Merkle-Korff in the United States. …

2007 Covenant. The district court dismissed the ‘915 patent claims but that first lawsuit continued with Molon’s originally filed infringement claims regarding the ‘785 patent.  In 2007 the parties settled the ‘785 lawsuit with an exclusive license agreement that extended beyond the original lawsuit itself to include more than a dozen Molon patents (including foreign patents and the ‘915 patent).  A difference between the 2006 covenant and the 2007 settlement was the scope of license.

  • 2006 covenant – non-exclusive license to “any and all products previously or presently made, used or sold by Merkle-Korff.”
  • 2007 settlement – exclusive license restricted to the “Kinetek Exclusive Market.”  (The briefing explains that the “Kinetek Exclusive Market” is a specific confidential customer list that the licensee is allowed to sell to.)

As mentioned above, the 2007 agreement also states that prior agreements “concerning the subject matter hereof” are “merged” and “of no further force or effect.”  However, the 2007 agreement does not particularly and explicitly revoke the 2006 agreement.

Fast forward to 2016 — Molon filed a new lawsuit against Nidec — successor in interest to Merkle-Korff.  The new suit alleges that Nidec is selling beyond the Kinetek market and the big question here is whether the original broad covenant is still in effect.

For the majority, the big difference between the two promises is exclusivity:

There are fundamental differences between an exclusive license and a nonexclusive license, particularly in the context of standing to assert a claim for patent infringement. In essence, an exclusive licensee has an interest in the patent sufficient to establish an injury when a third party infringes, akin to an ownership interest, while a nonexclusive licensee has no such interest in the patent and merely enjoys freedom from suit. Under this framework, it cannot be said that an exclusive license and a nonexclusive license necessarily concern the same subject matter, even though both licenses include the same patent.

Id.  The holding here then is that the original covenant was not cancelled — and so the patentee has no case.

= = = = =

One interesting additional issue not addressed here is the extent that a unilateral covenant-not-to-sue can be revoked, even by agreement. If we think of the covenant as a conveyance (of property rights), a revocation would ordinarily be insufficient to transfer rights back to the patentee. Rather, we would need an express conveyance or release.  A covenant-not-to-sue could also be seen as an abandonment of rights — something like a ‘release.’  Historically courts have distinguished between a release and a covenant-not-to-sue, although that distinction appears to have lifted based as covenants now operate as a complete bar to a subsequent underlying action rather than their historical role of only creating a breach of contract action. See Skilstaf, Inc. v. CVS Caremark Corp., 669 F.3d 1005, 1017 (9th Cir. 2012).

Google v. Oracle: Amici Weigh in on Why the Supreme Court Should Reverse the Federal Circuit’s Rulings

Guest post by Professor Pamela Samuelson, Berkeley Law School

In the past week 28 amicus curiae briefs were filed in the Google v. Oracle case, including one written by me and Catherine Crump (of which more below). All but two support reversal of one or both of the Federal Circuit’s copyrightability and fair use rulings.[1]

Especially significant are IBM’s brief with Red Hat arguing against the copyrightability of computer interfaces and Microsoft’s brief criticizing the Federal Circuit’s unduly rigid fair use analysis and indifference to the need for flexible rules that promote interoperability in today’s highly connected world. The briefs are substantively excellent, and significant because these firms are such prominent developers of software.

For those interested in the case who are not computing professionals, I recommend the amicus briefs submitted by 83 computer scientists and by the Developers Alliance which explain the Java API technology and why reuse of Java declarations and interfaces generally is so important to enabling compatibility. Several other briefs, including one for the Center for Democracy and Technology et al., and another for R Street and Public Knowledge, offer numerous examples of compatible software systems that benefit consumers as well as software developers

By my count, more than half of the 28 amicus briefs focus only on the copyrightability issue and another 9 address both the copyrightability and fair use issues. Only 4—the Microsoft, Tushnet, Snow, and Rauschenberg Foundation briefs–address only fair use. This was a something of a surprise given that the fair use decision seems quite vulnerable to challenge. After all, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of Google’s fair use defense, and appellate courts are supposed to defer to jury verdicts. Several amicus briefs take the Federal Circuit to task for substituting its judgment on the merits for the jury’s as to issues about which there was conflicting evidence in the record. Also much criticized are the Federal Circuit’s analysis of the four fair use factors and the manner in which it weighed the factors together.

One very pragmatic reason why some amici would prefer that the Court rule on the copyrightability issue over the fair use issue is that fair use is a fact-intensive, complex, and much debated limitation on copyright. Google may be able to litigate software interface copyright cases for a decade or more, as it has done in this case, but startups and other small and medium-size companies as well as open source developers would prefer the certainty of a no-copyright-in-interfaces rule, as several amicus briefs pointed out. If the Court rules that interfaces are not protectable by copyright law, litigation over reuses of interfaces is much less likely. And if some developer does bring suit, chances are good that the case can be won on a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment

Software developer and industry association amici point to a longstanding consensus on the distinction between interfaces and implementations: interfaces should be free for reuse as long as developers reimplement the interfaces in independently created code. The Federal Circuit’s Oracle decisions have upset settled expectations in the industry, and if the Court upholds them, it would have, as Microsoft asserts, “potentially disastrous consequences for innovation.”

The American Antitrust Institute was among the amici that emphasized the potential for copyright in program interfaces to have anti-competitive effects by entrenching dominant firms and creating barriers for new entrants in the software business. This is particularly of concern in view of network effects which, even without interface copyright monopolies, make it difficult for users and developers to switch to new systems.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Internet Association amicus brief provides a historical review of the evolution of software copyright caselaw. Although a few early decisions construed copyright as providing broad protection to program structures such as interfaces, landmark decisions by the Second and Ninth Circuits recognized that interfaces which constitute the functional requirements for achieving compatibility among programs should not be protectable by copyright law. Other courts followed these rulings. The Oracle decision deviates from this body of caselaw. Some amici regard interfaces as patent, not copyright, subject matter.

The amicus brief Catherine Crump and I co-authored and submitted on behalf of 72 intellectual property scholars positioned the pro-compatibility decisions within the framework of the Supreme Court’s 19th-century rulings in Perris v. Hexamer and Baker v. Selden, which originated the exclusion of methods and systems and their constituent elements from the scope of copyright; dozens of decisions applying these exclusions; their codification in 17 U.S.C. § 102(b); and caselaw applying these exclusions to software interfaces that enable compatibility. Our brief also explains why the District Court’s alternative ruling in favor of Google’s merger defense was consistent with Baker and its progeny and that merger provides a sound basis for finding that program interfaces that enable compatibility, such as the Java SE declarations, are unprotectable by copyright law.

Oracle will obviously have a different take on these issues when it files its brief due February 12. Amici in support of its position must submit their briefs within the following week.

Google will have an opportunity to file a reply brief in mid-March. Oral argument before the Court may be scheduled in late March.

= = = = =

[1] Although the American Intellectual Property Law Association is one of the briefs in support of neither party, the substance of its arguments on both the copyrightability and fair use arguments are quite close to the positions of Google and pro-interoperability amici.  The other “neutral” amici were the Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol Foundations which expressed concern about a possible interpretation of fair use that would undermine artistic freedom to engage in creative reuses by artists.

“Nonappealable” means Not Keeping the PTAB in Check

Biodelivery Sciences Int’l. v. Aquestive Therapuetics, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2020)

The Federal Circuit has denied en banc rehearing in this case that focuses primarily on the ability of the appellate court to keep the PTAB in-line. In this particular case, the PTAB did not follow a prior remand order from the Federal Circuit. In particular, in a prior SAS appeal, the Federal Circuit indicated that the PTAB should hold trial on “each claim challenged.” Instead, the PTAB decided to dismiss the whole case — finding it it be “inefficient and expensive” to include the additional grounds. Judge Newman argues that such disobedience should be treated swiftly. She writes:

I write because of the significance of the balance of agency and judicial authority, and the rules of procedural law in the administrative state.

Instead of complying with the Remand Order, the PTAB withdrew all of its past actions as to these proceedings, although past actions were not the subject of the remand. . . . Nonetheless, my colleagues hold that the PTAB is not required to comply with the court’s Remand Order, and further hold that this non-compliance is not reviewable. This action raises critical issues of agency authority, judicial responsibility, and the constitutional plan.

Judge Newman dissenting from En Banc Denial.

Final and Nonappealable: construed as “may be reconsidered” and not reviewable in “at least some circumstances.”


Parallel District Court and ITC Litigation

Eko Brands v. Adrian Rivera Maynez Enterprises (Fed. Cir. 2020)

ARM’s US Patent 8,720,320 covers a Keurig coffee-machine adapter.  Typical cartridges are single-use — rendered ineffective after being pierced by the brewer during operation. ARM’s device isn’t pierced and so retains its effectiveness over multiple uses.

ARM filed an ITC complaint against Eko and others. Although the ITC ruled that several claims were invalid for lacking written description (e.g., claim 5), Eko defaulted with respect to claims 8 and 19 and the ITC issued an exclusion order with respect to those claims.

Subsequently, Eko filed a district court declaratory judgment action to collaterally attack the ITC ruling as to claims 8 and 19. The district court complied and found the claims not-infringed (summary judgment) and invalid as obvious (jury verdict).  The district court also awarded attorney fees to Eko as the prevailing party in what it found to be an exceptional case.

5. A beverage brewer, comprising:

a brewing chamber;

a container, disposed within the brewing chamber and adapted to hold brewing material while brewed by a beverage brewer, the container comprising:

  • a receptacle configured to receive the brewing material; and
  • a cover;
  • wherein the receptacle includes a base, having an interior surface and an exterior surface, wherein at least a portion of the base is disposed a predetermined distance above a bottom surface of the brewing chamber, and at least one sidewall extending upwardly from the interior surface of the base,
  • wherein the receptacle has at least one passageway that provides fluid flow from an interior of the receptacle to an exterior of the receptacle;
  • wherein the cover is adapted to sealingly engage with a top edge of the at least one sidewall, the cover including an opening, and
  • wherein the container is adapted to accept input fluid through the opening and to provide a corresponding outflow of fluid through the passageway;

an inlet port, adapted to provide the input fluid to the container; and

a needle-like structure, disposed below the base;

wherein the predetermined distance is selected such that a tip of the needle-like structure does not penetrate the exterior surface of the base.

8. The beverage brewer of claim 5, wherein the container is reusable.

Note here that claim 8 adds a quite minor limitation that is probably already implied within the scope of claim 5.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirming the claim construction and thus the resulting non-infringement and obviousness decisions.  In the process, the appellate panel reiterated the lower court’s statement that “ARM’s insistence on trying [the case] was largely a charade used for the purpose of extending the life of the earlier ITC . . . order.”

Normal preclusion rules do not apply to interactions between the ITC and District Court. See, Tandon Corp. v. U.S. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 831 F.2d 1017, 1018 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (even appellate treatment of an ITC decision “does not estop fresh consideration by other tribunals”); S.Rep. No. 1298, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. 196 (“it seems clear that any disposition of a Commission action by a Federal Court should not have a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect in [infringement] cases before such [district] courts.”).

An invalidity decision in district court does not automatically cancel an ITC exclusion order. Rather, the ITC can rescind its decision based upon evidence that “the conditions which led to such exclusion from entry or order no longer exist.” Section 337(k)(1).  Following the district court decision, the ITC issued a temporary rescission order that will likely be made permanent now — allowing Eko to keep importing.

= = = =

Note here that Judge Reyna dissented from Judge Dyk’s majority decision on claim construction of claimed “passageway that provides fluid flow from an interior of the receptacle to an exterior of the receptacle.”

The district court erred in its construction of “passageway” by rewriting the claims, including adding a negative limitation that is unsupported by the specification. . . .

The district court construed the term “passageway” as “a narrow space of some depth or length connecting one place to another.” This construction is not supported by the specification. The district court also interpreted “passageway” to exclude a receptacle “that utilized a broad, thin mesh.” This exclusion was raised sua sponte by the court and not argued by either party.

The majority suggested that the district court might have erred a bit in its construction but that Eko didn’t infringe either way.

= = = =

In a turn of events, Eko also sued ARM for infringement and the jury sided with Eko. U.S. Patent No. 8,707,855.  Although Eko won on infringement, the jury found no willful infringement. On appeal, Eko asked for a retrial of willfulness based upon improper jury instructions.

The jury instructions:

Eko argues that ARM willfully infringed the Eko
855 patent. . . . Willfulness requires you to determine whether Eko proved that it is more likely than not that the infringement was especially worthy of punishment. You may not determine that the infringement was willful just
because ARM knew of the Eko 855 patent and infringed it. Instead, willful infringement is reserved for egregious behavior, such as where the infringement is malicious, deliberate, consciously wrongful, or done in bad faith.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found some fault with the jury instructions here — concluding that the instructions improperly intermix enhanced damages issues that are left for the judge. Rather, the jury’s role here is to address willfulness.

[T]he inclusion of the phrases “especially worthy of punishment” and “reserved for egregious behavior” in Jury Instruction 40 was erroneous.

However, on appeal, the Federal Circuit refused to order a new trial — holding that jury instructions must be considered as a whole – “we think that the instruction taken as a whole provides reasonable clarity as to the correct test for willful infringement.”  In particular, the instructions allow for a finding of infringement that is simply “deliberate.” Later, the instructions also focus jury attention on intentional copying and belief of non-infringement. Those elements of the instructions were sufficient to cure the problematic language since “[t]he jury was reasonably informed that it could make a finding of willful infringement if it found that ARM deliberately or
intentionally infringed the ’855 patent.”


A Decade of Federal Circuit Decisions

By Jason Rantanen

While most commentators are focusing on year-in-reviews, I thought it would be fun to do a decade-in-review using data from the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions, the publicly-accessible dataset that we’ve developed at Iowa Law containing information about all decisions by the Federal Circuit since 2008.  You can access the Compendium via empirical.law.uiowa.edu/.

1. Decisions by origin

Recently, we updated the Compendium to include all decisions arising from origins other than the District Courts and USPTO.  This lets us compare decisions across all origins along a variety of dimensions.

Figure 1 shows the distribution of Federal Circuit decisions by major source.  A “decision” in the Compendium is defined as an opinion or Rule 36 affirmance.  I’ve grouped origins with small numbers of appeals, including the Board of Contract Appeals, Department of Justice, and Department of Veterans’ Affairs, into the “other” category. (The figures link to larger versions.)

Figure 1

Or if strata are more your thing:

Figure 2

These graphs show the well-known increase in decisions arising from the USPTO (mostly from inter partes review proceedings), but also a decline in decisions arising from the MSPB. (These outputs match the inputs: the Federal Circuit’s statistics page indicates a decline in the number of docketed appeals arising from the MSPB.)  While decisions arising from the district courts and the USPTO have crossed paths over the past few years, the number of decisions originating from the district courts is about where it began the decade. Overall, the court’s total output has risen by about 100 decisions/year during this time.

2. Precedential opinions by origin

Another way to assess a court’s output is in terms of its precedential opinions, as these constitute law on which future courts and parties rely.  Below is a chart showing the Federal Circuit’s annual number of precedential opinions by major source of origin.  The “other” group here includes the “other” category from the above graphs plus the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, Court of International Trade, and International Trade Commission.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows precedential opinions in appeals arising from the district courts peaking at about 100 in 2014 and 2015, before falling to about 75 for the last few years. At the same time, the number of precedential opinions in appeals arising from the USPTO has risen substantially, from under 20 in 2013 to about 50-60 for the last few years.

3. Types of Decision by Origin

The below pie charts show the distribution of precedential opinions, nonprecedential opinions and summary affirmances under Rule 36.  by source of origin for the entire period 2010-2019.  About 30% of the Federal Circuit’s decisions consist of Rule 36 affirmances.

Figure 4

The lion’s share of precedential opinions and Rule 36 affirmances come from appeals from the District Courts and USPTO, nearly all of which involve patent issues.  For nonprecedential opinions, it’s the opposite: about half of these of these are written in appeals from the MSPB and CAVC.

One other way of looking at the data on decision types by court of origin for the entire decade:

Figure 5

  1. District court and PATO opinions: precedential, Rule 36 and nonprecedential

The final set of graphs for today are annual decisions from the USPTO and District Court by decision type.

Figure 6

Figure 7

If there are particular graphs of Federal Circuit decisions from the last decade that you’d like to see, send me an email and if we have the data I’ll try to generate them.

You’re welcome to play around with the data on your own.  If you do use it for something that you publish, please include a citation to the Compendium.  There’s a convenient cite form on the landing page for the database.  You’re also welcome to use the above graphs in presentations, provided that you give credit to PatentlyO and the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions (https://empirical.law.uiowa.edu/compendium-federal-circuit-decisions).

More reading on the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions and methodology & cautions for case count data generally:

Thanks to my research assistants for their work on the Compendium, especially Will O’Brien, Lindsay Kriz, Madison Murhammer-Colon, John Miscevich and Joseph Bauer.

Certiorari Denied in Eligibility Cases

The Supreme Court has denied certiorari in the three leading patent eligibility petitions:

  • HP Inc. v. Berkheimer (18-415)
  • Hikma Pharmas v. Vanda Pharmas (18-817)
  • Athena Diagnostics, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative (19-430)

Although there are several other pending eligibility petitions, I gave these three the highest potential for certiorari.  The result here is that the Supreme Court is now highly unlikely to take up eligibility anew this term.  The one exception is the copyright case of Google v. Oracle where the court will likely discuss a dividing line between patentable and copyrightable subject matter.

Additional cases denied certiorari on Jan 13, 2020:

  • Power Analytics Corporation v. Operation Technology, Inc., et al., No. 19-43 (eligibility)
  • Regents of the University of Minnesota v. LSI Corporation, et al., No. 19-337 (sovereign immunity)
  • Garmin USA, Inc., et al. v. Cellspin Soft, Inc., No. 19-400 (eligibility)
  • Medtronic, Inc. v. Barry, No. 19-414 (meaning “ready for patenting” for on sale bar)
  • Chestnut Hill Sound Inc. v. Apple Inc., et al., No. 19-591 (due process and R.36 affirmances)
  • Nuvo Pharmaceuticals, et al. v. Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, et al., No. 19-584 (written description need for experimental data proving claimed effectiveness)
  • Mushkin, Inc. v. Anza Technology, Inc., No. 19-610 (relation back to the original complaint)

There are several petitions that remain viable for this term:

  • ChargePoint, Inc. v. SemaConnect, Inc., No. 19-521 (eligibility)
  • Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, et al., No. 19-522; Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, et al., No. 19-353  (eligibility)
  • Apple Inc. v. VirnetX Inc., et al., No. 19-832 (apportionment and preclusion)
  • Maxell, Ltd. v. Fandango Media, LLC, No. 19-852 (eligibility)
  • Collabo Innovations, Inc. v. Sony Corporation, No. 19-601 (due process and takings for IPR proceedings against Pre-AIA patents)
  • Cisco Systems, Inc. v. SRI International, Inc., No. 19-619 (eligibility)
  • Chrimar Systems, Inc. v. Juniper Networks, Inc., et al., No. 19-829 (role of evidence beyond that raised in the IPR petition)
  • Morris Reese v. Sprint Nextel Corporation, et al., No. 19-597 (eligibility)

Although several of these petitions raise important points, none of them have received the attention or support of the ones denied today.