- Reform: Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee met shortly and announced that an agreement is “close” on all of the controversial issues and that the compromise will result in a major overhaul of S. 515. Gene Quinn has instant-comments. Potential changes include: (1) codifying the existing law of damages rather than changing it – except that a judicial check on jury-awarded damages would be added; (2) eliminate “best mode” as a ground for invalidating a patent; (3) lowering the standard for post grant review to an “interesting question” rather than a “substantial new question of patentability.” We should see some language this week.
- Reform: A reader sent me the following points on the potential agreed-to compromise Bill in the Senate:
- Damages. The amendment will strike the contentious calculation of reasonable royalty damages provision and will replace it with the gatekeeper language developed by Senators Feinstein and Specter, which will provide more of a role for the judge to identify the appropriate legal standards and relevant factual contentions for the jury.
- Inter partes reexamination. The amendment will strike the controversial “in public use or on sale” additions on inter partes reexamination.
- Best mode. The amendment will retain the requirement that a specification contain the best mode of carrying out the invention as part of the patent application, but not allow best mode to be used as means to invalidate a patent.
- Interlocutory appeals. The amendment will tighten the interlocutory appeals provision. The bill as introduced would have given the district court complete discretion whether to approve an application for interlocutory appeal of a claims construction hearing. This amendment will provide district court with specific standards that it must certify have been met.
- Willfulness. The amendment tightens the willfulness provision to ensure is in line with the Federal Circuit’s decision in Seagate.
- Venue. The amendment will strike the current subsection on venue, and replace it with a codification of the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in TS Tech.
- Lobby Lobby: The IPO reports that “by early afternoon yesterday, 16 paid ‘line sitters’ were already in line in the corridor outside the [committee] room, holding places for lobbyists to be admitted to the room this morning.”
- Patent Jobs: The Patently-O Job board has picked-up some steam over the past week. Here are some recent job postings.
- Patent Attorney – Law Firm – Chicago, Ill. (Amin Hallihan looking for someone in Chem/Pharma)
- Patent Attorney/Agent – Small Corporation – Gaithersburg, Md. (Wellstat Management looking for in house patent counsel)
- Patent Attorneys – Law Firm – Detroit, Mich. (Warner Norcross looking for new patent attorneys in their Michigan offices)
- Patent Attorney/Agent – Small Corporation – Yoqneam, Israel (Given Imaging needs in-house patent counsel now)
- Patent Attorney – Law Firm – Rockville, Md. (Edell Shapiro needs EE/Physics patent prosecutor)
- Patent Agent – Law Firm – Alexandria, Va. (Buchanan Ingersoll is looking for a Materials Science / ChemE patent agent)
This week, I am taking part in a “blog symposium” hosted by Prof. Josh Wright (U. Texas Law) on his blog (Truth on the Market). The symposium focuses on a new book by Prof. Michael Carrier titled Innovation in the 21st Century: Harnessing the Power of Intellectual Property and Antitrust Law (Oxford 2009). In the book, Carrier identifies a number of problems with the antitrust and IP laws – and then proposes solutions. Carrier’s book moves in the same vein as other recent law professor books critiquing IP Policy such as the Meurer and Bessen book Patent Failure. Here, however, Carrier spends less time proving that a problem exists and somewhat more time identifying solutions.
Early posts include:
· Reverse Payment Settlements: Carrier suggests that reverse payments patent settlements should be made presumptively illegal or even per se illegal. These payments have become somewhat common where a patent holder will pay a generic to stay off the market and not further challenge the patent rights. Prof. Dan Crane (Cardozo) argues that rule does not make sense because there is no direct link between the direction of the settlement payment and the potential anticompetitive social harm of the settlement. [LINK]
· Patents Blocking Antitrust Action: Carrier suggests that the existence of IP rights should not grant a company a free-pass to take otherwise anticompetitive actions. In his post, Prof. Phil Weiser (Colorado) agrees “IPRs should not displace antitrust oversight.” Weiser argues that this is especially true in the area of software patents: “Given that software patents are controversial to begin with, awarding the recipient of a patent on an application programming interface or communications protocol a get-out-jail free card is hard to justify.” [LINK]
· Mergers in the Innovation Market: Carrier suggests stronger antitrust regulation of mergers in the “innovation market” – as opposed to more traditional merger analysis that focuses only on product lines. In his post, Geoff Manne (LECG) points to the biggest hole in Carrier’s book – that he chooses sides without enough evidence either way. In this case, Manne notes that “we don’t know about the relationship between market structure and effect, and error costs are high.” From Manne’s perspective, innovation markets are so dynamic that Government antitrust intervention will necessarily arrive at the wrong answer too late and do harm. [LINK]
· Standard Setting and Patent Holdups: Carrier identifies the “patent holdup” situation as having a particularly troublesome antitrust concern because it looks like attempted monopolization – especially where the patent holder pushes an SSO to adopt a standard that would infringe. Wright argues that such antitrust liability would be quite problematic. [LINK]
Fairchild Semiconductor v. Third Dimension (3D) Semiconductor (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential order)
Fairchild originally licensed 3D's US and Chinese patents – agreeing to a royalty for all Fairchild products "covered by" a 3D patent. However, after analyzing the patents, Fairchild decided that it need not pay any royalties and then sued for a declaratory judgment that it owed no royalties and that none of its products are covered by 3D's patents.
Restraining License Termination: In a preliminary ruling, the district court granted Fairchild's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting 3D from terminating the license agreement. The ongoing license serves as a defense to charges of patent infringement by 3D. As the district court held, "termination of the agreement does create irreparable harm in depriving Fairchild of its primary defense to 3D patent infringement litigation.
The threat of such litigation is not speculative: 3D has already filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and has promised to file an infringement case in China based on the Chinese patents otherwise licensed by the Agreement. Without the Agreement as an affirmative defense to those suits, Fairchild could be forced to endure years of litigation in those other forums despite this Court eventually ruling that Fairchild did not breach the Agreement.
The preliminary injunction is now on appeal to the Federal Circuit. In a recent order, the appellate panel rejected 3D's motion to stay the district court proceedings pending outcome of the appeal. 3D argued that the appeal divested the district court with jurisdiction over the matter. That argument was regarded "without merit."
A preliminary injunction, i.e., an injunction pendente lite, is an injunction issued pending the ongoing litigation. Although a district court may not proceed with matters involved with the injunction itself, e.g., it may not amend the injunction, or make findings to support its injunction while the injunction is on appeal, the district court may proceed with the litigation and permit discovery, enter rulings on summary judgment, or hold a trial on the merits. (internal citations omitted)
Briefing in the appeal will begin in April.
Notes & Docs:
- Federal Circuit Order
- Dennis Crouch, Enforcing Foreign Patents in the US: Distinguishing Voda, Patently-O (Dec. 12, 2008) at https://patentlyo.com/patent/2008/12/enforcing-forei.html.
12:01 am on Tuesday morning is a special time for patent attorneys. That is when the USPTO releases the newest batch of issued patents. Usually, over 3,000 issue each week.
Patent Attorney Aaron Feigelson (Leydig Voit firm) has started a great new blog: 1201tuesday.com covering PTO events. Aaron writes with an eye toward patent prosecution and does a good job of finding examples from recently issued patents that raise important practice issues. He has also been closely following the aftermath of Bilski. Aaron describes his project as follows:
I started regular weekly monitoring of issued patents a few years ago for some particular client-related matters, but my intrigue grew after stumbling upon certain patents, unrelated to client matters, with stories that were too interesting to keep to myself. Like U.S. Patent No. 6,097,812 and its 67-year prosecution history (thanks to a very long lasting secrecy order). Or U.S. Patent No. 7,472,070 for a seemingly innocuous grain aeration system — but granted to Microsoft, that well-known player in agricultural technology. Or trends, like the trickling-off of issuances to applications filed the first week of June 1995 (when there was a pre-GATT filing surge). Or Jerome Lemelson being granted U.S. Patent No. 7,343,660 more than a decade after his death, with priority going back over fifty years to 1954.
Lately, my attention has turned to the fallout from the Federal Circuit’s recent decision of In re Bilski and its effect on patentable subject matter under Section 101. In particular, I was curious (to aid my own practice) to see what sorts of claims had been allowed pre- and post-Bilski, and what techniques applicants had used to address or circumvent the machine-or-transformation test. I began sending my weekly findings internally to a few attorneys in my firm. Then to a few more. Then to a few more..
After a few months of these “Bilski Watch” emails, this blog was created.
I enjoyed Aaron’s recent post regarding patents issuing from applications filed in early June 1995 – just before the patent term reference was switched from the issue date to the filing date.
- For those of you who don’t know, the IP blogging community is rather inter-connected. For instance, Aaron Feigelson was a 2L at UChicago Law when I started there as a 1L. He was also a summer clerk at the MBHB firm. I started at MBHB soon after Aaron left and actually took over his desk and sat next door to his classmate Aaron Barkoff of the Orange Book Blog. Also at the MBHB firm are the PhD’s who blog at Patent Docs (both Aarons hold PhD’s as well). I interviewed at Matt Buchanan’s (Promote The Progress) former Chicago firm, which is just across the Chicago River from Feigelson’s office. Matt has participated in several business ventures with Steve Nipper (Invent Blog) and Doug Sorocco (PHOSITA). Matt and I are also working on a project for this fall. My old firm also paid for my patent bar review course with PLI partially taught by Gene Quinn (IPWatchdog). I could continue…
I recently attended a conference of senior corporate patent counsel. Much of the discussion focused on cost savings in a tight economy. In patent prosecution, this process has been going on for years by limiting prosecution fees and filing abroad only on important cases. Part of the discussion focused on short-term mechanisms to push off cost – such as using provisional and timing PCT applications.
New Focus on Trade Secrets: One alternative suggested is increased reliance on trade secret. Trade secrets are relatively much cheaper than patents. Trade secret protection is automatic so long as sufficient steps are taken to keep the secret and the secret is economically valuable. Patent filings are dropping and many companies are taking a harder look at trade secret law as a mechanism to at least temporarily protect rights.
The public benefit of public disclosure is often touted when comparing patents with trade secrets. Patents require public disclosure with the aim of promoting the flow of ideas and information. Trade secret laws prohibit disclosure.
The private benefit of private disclosure: Anyone who has practiced trade secret law intuitively knows that patents naturally create additional information benefits that I call “private disclosure.” I note two of these benefits below: The benefit of defining rights
Value of Defining Rights: Despite serious problems with claim scope unpredictability, patents do a good job of explicitly stating the rights being claimed. Defined rights can be sold, traded, and accounted-for both externally and within the company. And, patent law facilitates a process for looking at by-product innovations to consider whether they should be pursued. These benefits flow from Coase’s work on property rights. Although trade secrets can also be well defined, trade secret law does not require explicit pre-identification nor does it provide such a mechanism. Rather, in most cases, a company’s knowledge about its own trade secret information is left nebulous and largely undefined.
Employee Relations: The patent system also creates a nice mechanism for managing employee relations. Inventors typically have a duty to assign all their work-related inventions to their employer. However, that duty is crystalized when the inventor files an oath and an assignment of rights. Often, the inventor gets a cash bonus at that point as well. Although the inventor already had a duty to assign, the actual assignment is important psychologically – to ensure that all the parties agree who owns what. Typical trade secret practice does not involve any explicit acknowledgment of the trade secret nature of particular innovations and information. Some companies attempt an end-of-employment statement that This is important because most trade-secret practice involves former employees using inside knowledge to benefit a competitor.
Best Practices for Trade Secret Law: Most companies have invention disclosure programs, but few of them link those disclosures to trade secret practice. Notably, when a company decides not to pursue patent protection, a process of assignment (and possible small bonus) should still be followed to ensure that the creator understands that the innovation belongs to the company and is not being given to the public. Likewise, companies may consider implementing broader innovation identification programs that encompass both patentable inventions and trade secret information.
- One query: In the US, trade secret law is state specific – although most jurisdictions follow the Uniform Trade Secret Act. Do any jurisdictions have a “working” requirement for trade secret? Take the situation where a company employee creates a new product, but the company decides not to pursue the product and it just sits in the file cabinet?
- China: In the US, the commercialization of trade secrets will block the user from later obtaining a patent on the otherwise secret information. A Foley & Lardner report by Sharon Barner and Hal Wegner indicates that under Chinese law, there commercialized trade secrets may still be patented. Is this true in other FTF countries?
Patent Attorney Mark Bergner provided the following five points that may help independent inventors control the cost of their patent application.
Many small inventors contact me for preparing a patent application and asking that costs be kept to an absolute minimum. Recognizing that most such inventors do not have a great deal of money, I usually offer the following advice:
1) Provide me with the best write-up that you can up front with some illustrative (even hand-sketched) diagrams, along with any design documents you may have.
Often, inventors will provide a one-page summary or a sales brochure of their invention that leaves out a significant amount of detail. It is going to drive up costs if I have to drag each and every relevant aspect of the invention out. Additionally, there may be ample design documents that are provided to me after a significant amount of work has already been done. It will take much more effort for me to integrate this newly added information with a nearly complete draft specification than it would have taken if all information had been provided up front.
2) Try to do as much of the work as you can yourself.
I tell clients that I am knowledgeable in patent prosecution, but generally not knowledgeable about the subject matter of the invention. It will cost considerably more if I am required to do extensive research in the field of the invention in order to fill in a sparse invention disclosure. I will often point inventors to a patent in their general field and suggest that the detailed description and figures shown in the patent provide roughly the level of detail needed for their patent application. While I am not expecting draftsman-quality drawings and use of the words “wherein” and “said” in their description, I am expecting something more than a 3-block single figure illustrating a complex client-server architecture.
Also, there are many inventors who are wonderful technical people, but simply cannot communicate well in writing (that’s why they majored in physics and not journalism). It might be a good idea for such an inventor to work with someone (under a confidentiality agreement) who can write well to prepare an initial description. I had an inventor who enlisted the support of a graduate student at a significantly lower hourly rate than I charge. Although I can get all of the relevant information by talking with the inventor in person and over the telephone, if that is the sole means that I have of obtaining descriptive information, it is going to cost more. If the inventor has difficulty in communicating ideas and concepts both in writing and orally, it is going to be a very expensive patent application–no two ways about it.
3) Provide me with a nearly completed concept of the invention.
Nothing drives up costs more than to have the inventor continue to invent as the application is being drafted. One common issue: if a patent attorney does a good job with the subject matter, the draft of the patent application may be the first time the inventor has ever seen his idea expressed in such a clear and organized manner. This may spawn the inventor to come up with alternate embodiments or to provide other features that might prevent a design-around. While I generally expect some minor refinement of an inventive concept during the course of preparing the application, the addition of completely new or different embodiments will substantially increase costs.
4) Answer any questions provided in a draft clearly and completely.
Often I will prepare a draft application with a number of questions or comments, requesting clarification or additional detail. Some questions are intended to solicit lengthy responses, but only a bare minimum is provided or, worse, the information provided is completely non-responsive. Example: “You indicated that a series of messages flow between the client and server in order to implement the invention, but you have not provided any description as to what these messages are or what they contain. Can you please provide me with a detailed description of these, possibly with a table or diagram?” The entire reply received back: “The messages contain information that allows the server to act on client requests.” Very often I have an inventor who promises to do most of the work themselves, only to put forth a minimal effort when asked to provide additional information.
5) The costs of obtaining a patent, even a relatively complex one, pale in comparison to the costs you will encounter in trying to commercialize your product.
I know I’m in trouble with an inventor if I throw out a fair cost estimate for preparing an application and the inventor breaks out in a cold sweat and starts suggesting a cost that is 50% of the estimate. It’s one thing for an experienced business professional to haggle for lower costs, but in most situations involving the individual inventor, there is a significant lack of appreciation for what it will cost to do prototyping or pilot production runs, legal costs associated with non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, production and supply agreements, Underwriters Laboratories certification, FDA approval, etc. In the vast majority of cases, it is very expensive to bring an inventive idea to the marketplace, and the patent costs are typically a minimal part of those costs. If the inventor is not prepared for the entire undertaking, he is probably not going to willingly and cheerfully pay the bills, regardless of the quality and efficiency of the work done.
Dear Mr. Crouch:
I am a solo physician and inventor. I am wondering if you can point me in the generally right direction to resolve this issue.
I went to a large, well-respected, nationally-known firm to file a patent application for an invention. The invention is not that complicated. It’s mechanical rather than electrical or chemical; in fact, I can make prototypes in my kitchen fairly quickly. The invention mostly relies on a new combination of existing devices/technology.
My attorney knew from the start that I am a solo inventor and under a tight budget. The final fees were astronomical. I paid them at the time because the lawyer had obviously worked hard and I had agreed to pay the hourly rate she had quoted. However, I recently discovered that the application is much, much longer than patents of similar complexity, and the fees I paid are much higher than for similar patents.
To give you a comparison, based on a word count, my patent application was literally twice as long as Dean Kamen’s patent for an early Segway device in 1994. My fees were three times as high as another firm (Cooley Godward) says to expect for fees for most routine patents (other than for complex patents such as biologics, pharmaceuticals, etc.).
My current plan is to go back to this attorney and have a frank discussion with her, and to ask for a partial refund. If she refuses, I plan to go to the state bar and file a complaint.
Is this the right way to go about this? Are there any precedents for recovering fees in this sort of situation in a way that won’t tie me up in further legal fees?
____ ____ M.D. (anonymized at the author’s request)
Patent interferences are intellectually stimulating and often a lot of fun–at least for the attorneys involved. However, I've seldom thought of them as "capable of producing a hell of a good story," which is the author's assessment of the story he tells in Taylor, LASER: The Inventor, The Nobel Laureate, and The Thirty-Year Patent War. Of course, the laser was unquestionably one of the great inventions of the Twentieth Century, and the fact that the issue of who invented it (Prof. Charles Townes or his grad student, Gordon Gould) provided gainful employment for patent attorneys for thirty years certainly commends this book to the readership of this publication.
Actually, "gainful employment for patent attorneys" better describes the situation of those who supported Prof. Townes's claims than the situation of those who supported Mr. Gould's claims. (Tellingly, Gordon Gould never did get his doctorate.) However, the fact that those who worked for Mr. Gould "on the cuff" for many years were ultimately amply rewarded makes it a heart-warming story for most of us.
Moreover, the professor/grad student controversy is a familiar one–and one that is usually difficult for even the best intentioned objective observers (including members of the interference bar) to sort out. Just as "mistakes were made" during the Reagan administration, an "invention was made" while Gordon Gould was working for Prof. Townes. But who made it? According to this book (and according to the final judicial determination), Gordon Gould made at least part of the overall invention of the laser—a part which was essential to the commercialization of lasers. However, I've been involved in enough of these disputes to suspect both that the final judicial determination could have gone the other way and that, if that had happened, an equally plausible (and interesting) book could have been written about Prof. Townes.
What made this book particularly entertaining for me was the fact that many of the principal players in the drama (judges, Patent Office officials, and lawyers) are still alive or have been within recent memory. It's always fun to read about folks you know and to realize that they were involved in a truly historic controversy.
In addition, the parts of the story concerning Gordon Gould as a prickly, overly suspicious "basement inventor" rang true for me. Most of us have dealt with some of those in our time at the bar, and it's never easy.
On the negative side, however, I should warn prospective readers that the manuscript was apparently not read by a patent lawyer—let alone by an interference specialist. It is replete with legal howlers! However, if one reads it with the proper attitude, noting those howlers is part of the fun.
E-Pass v. 3Com, Palm, Visa, et al. (Fed. Cir. 2009)
This litigation began in 2000 when E-Pass sued for infringement of its electronic credit card patent. Patent No. 5,276,311. The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement, which was affirmed on appeal. The district court then found the case exceptional under 35 U.S.C. § 285 and awarded attorneys’ fees to the defendants. E-Pass appealed that judgment. In a counter-motion, PalmSource also asked for attorneys fees for the appeal – arguing that the appeal was frivolous as well. The Federal Circuit affirmed the trial court without opinion, but wrote an extensive opinion finding a frivolous appeal.
Frivolous Appeal: An appeal is frivolous if the appellant fails “to present cogent or clear arguments for reversal.” In addition, the court may award sanctions based on misconduct or misrepresentations to the appellate court.
Here, the court found that E-Pass did not present any specific argument relating to the attorney fees for one of the defendants – PalmSource. Instead, the plaintiff-appellant focused on its case against the other defendants. E-Pass did not “challenge any finding of the district court relating to litigation misconduct in the case against PalmSource.” Furthermore, E-Pass did not change its strategy even after being notified of PalmSource’s frivolous appeal argument. Adding to E-Pass’s problems are “multiple misrepresentations” to the Federal Circuit – primarily in referring to the defendants collectively when each stood in different situations. Perhaps the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was E-Pass’s use of the quote that “a trial court may only sanction the patentee if both the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith and the litigation is objectively baseless.” With the help of PalmSource and the CAFC clerks, the court easily found that a critical exception to the sanctions rule had been left off. Notably, the full quote reads: “Absent misconduct in the litigation or in securing the patent, a trial court may only sanction the patentee if both the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith and the litigation is objectively baseless.”
Sanctions and attorney fees granted against E-Past and its counsel, jointly and severally.
In dissent, Judge Bryson saw serious misconduct, but would not have imposed sanctions.
Accepting that in those regards E-Pass’s briefs on appeal fell short of the standards we expect of counsel in this court, I nonetheless conclude that the shortfall is not so egregious as to call for the imposition of sanctions.
Larson Mfg. Co. v. Aluminart Products Ltd. (Fed. Cir. 2009)
In an earlier post, I discussed the concurring opinion in this case where Judge Linn argued for a restatement of the law of inequitable conduct that makes it more difficult to allege inequitable conduct absent evidence of fraud. This post covers the majority opinion.
Larson sued Aluminart for infringement of two claims of its patent covering a storm door with a moving glass panel. Without reaching the merits of the infringement argument, the district court found the patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during prosecution. The district court found that the patentee had improperly withheld documents from the examiners during reexamination of the patent. (The reexamination had been requested by Aluminart). The Federal Circuit provided the following description of the lower court holding:
The [district] court found that Larson failed to disclose to the Reexamination Panel three items of prior art and two office actions issued in the prosecution of a continuation application that grew out of the application that resulted in the ’998 patent [the patent being reexamined]. The court rejected Larson’s argument that the three items of prior art were cumulative of prior art which already was before the Reexamination Panel and therefore were not material, as well as its argument that the office actions were not material because all of the critical references noted in them already had been disclosed to the Reexamination Panel. After finding that Larson intended to deceive the Reexamination Panel, the court balanced its findings of materiality and intent and found inequitable conduct.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the holding and remanded for a potential new trial on inequitable conduct.
The inequitable conduct charges stem from the PTO's parallel examination of both the reexam of the patent in suit and a continuation application. During the reexam, Larson's patent attorney submitted hundreds of references, district court proceedings, and disclosed the co-pending continuation. However, the patent attorney did not cross-cite two office action rejections from the continuation or one of the prior art references from the continuation (although every other reference from the continuation was cited). In addition, the attorney did not cite two marketing configuration sheets that were later uncovered during discovery.
Law of Inequitable Conduct: Inequitable Conduct requires clear and convincing evidence of at least a threshold level of evidence that the applicant both (1) "made an affirmative misrepresentation of material fact, failed to disclose material information, or submitted false material information" and (2) by that act "intended to deceive the PTO." The materiality of the action is determined based on a reasonable examiner standard – what would a reasonable examiner "consider important in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent?" If an unsubmitted reference is cumulative to information already on hand, then it will not be seen as material. Proof of intent to withhold a reference is not sufficient. Rather, the evidence must show intent to deceive the PTO. That said, intent may be proven by circumstantial evidence. After finding both threshold materiality and intent, the court must determine if the proof is sufficient to find inequitable conduct and consequently hold the patent unenforceable.
What is Cumulative?: After reviewing the submitted and unsubmitted prior art references in detail, the Federal Circuit found that the lower court had clearly erred in finding the art non-cumulative. Notably, the only features found in the non-submitted art that were not in the submitted art were "irrelevant to the claim limitations at issue and therefore could not support a finding of materiality and non-cumulativeness." Although the unsubmitted prior art included a different embodiment than the submitted reference, that difference was not important because the claims were broadly drafted in a way that cover both embodiments.
Disclosure of Office Actions in Related Cases: The examiner of the co-pending continuation filed four office action rejections. The first was used as the basis for the reexamination request. The second was used as a basis for an initial rejection in the reexamination. However, the patentee did not submit the third or fourth office action for consideration. The Federal Circuit agreed with the lower court that the office actions should have been submitted because the rejections contained "adverse decisions about substantially similar claims" that were "not cumulative" to materials already submitted to the examiner.
Because the Third and Fourth Office Actions contained another examiner’s adverse decisions about substantially similar claims, and because the Third and Fourth Office Actions are not cumulative to the First and Second Office Actions, the district court correctly found the withheld Office Actions material.
In its analysis, the Federal Circuit reviewed Dayco Products where it found the patentee had wrongly withheld rejections from co-pending applications.
In Dayco Products, the patentee failed to disclose rejections in a copending application of claims “that were substantially similar in content and scope to claims pending in the applications that issued as the patents-in-suit.” 329 F.3d at 1367. We held “that a contrary decision of another examiner reviewing a substantially similar claim” was material. Id. at 1368. We further explained that, because a “rejection of a substantially similar claim refutes, or is inconsistent with the position that those claims are patentable, [the] adverse decision by another examiner . . . meets the materiality standard.” Id.
Thus, on remand, the district court must determine whether the patentee failure to submit the two office actions was done with sufficient intent to deceive the PTO. Although seemingly dicta, the Federal Circuit provided four points of explicit guidance to the lower court. First, the district court need not accept any additional evidence; Second, the court should remember that "material does not presume intent, and nondisclosure, by itself, cannot satisfy the deceptive intent element." Rather, if intent is inferred, it must be "the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence." Further, intent cannot be inferred based on a decision to withhold if the patentee has plausible legitimate reasons for withholding. Third, good faith on behalf of the applicant must be considered as it "militates against a finding of deceptive intent." One element of good faith here, may be that the patentee notified the examiners of the co-pending application. Finally, although the Federal Circuit agreed that the office actions were material, the court did not opine on how material. Thus, if the lower court does find clear and convincing evidence of a threshold intent to deceive, the court must again determine whether the combined intent and materiality are sufficient to warrant a holding of inequitable conduct.
- This case is rather silly because the defendant Aluminart was closely following the reexamination. I can almost guarantee that Aluminart realized that the documents had not been submitted even before the reexamination certificate was issued. Certainly, the company could have brought the omission Larson's attention if it truly was material.
Guest Post by Charles ("Chico") Gholz. Gholz is the head of the Interference Section at Oblon Spivak, a former chair of the Interference Committee of the AIPLA, and a frequent author on interference law and practice. I asked him to provide some thoughts on the proposed post-grant review proposals in the Patent Reform Act of 2009, telling him that I was especially interested in whether we should try to use the interference procedural structure for the new post-grant challenges.
It is my understanding that "the PTO" (actually, the PTO officials directly involved in administering interference matters—by which I mean Chief Administrative Patent Judge Fleming, Vice-Chief Administrative Patent Judge Moore, and Senior Administrative Patent Judge McKelvey) have expected the cancellation proceedings to be a species of the genus contested case and that, accordingly, they would be governed by Part 41, "Practice Before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences," Subpart D, "Contested Cases," of 37 CFR. To those of us in the interference bar, that makes perfect sense, since the cancellation proceedings will be very, very similar to the first phase (formerly known as the "preliminary motions phase") of patent interferences—except that only one party will be filing substantive motions.
However, proposed 35 USC 326 in both bills provides that "The Director shall prescribe regulations…" governing the post-grant review proceedings (what I'm referring to herein as "cancellation proceedings"). Apparently the drafters of the bills (who I suspect are not members of the patent bar, let alone members of the interference bar!) either were unaware of 37 CFR 41 Subpart D or felt that either additional or different rules would be required for the cancellation proceedings.
Whether the cancellation proceedings are to be governed by Subpart D or by a different set of rules is not an insignificant point. Proposed 35 USC 326(a)(3) in both bills would require the Director to prescribe regulations "setting forth procedures for discovery of relevant evidence, including that such discovery shall be limited to evidence directly related to factual assertions advanced by either party in the proceedings, and [that] the procedures for obtaining such evidence shall be consistent with the purpose and nature of the proceeding." However, while that language could be read as mandating real discovery (i.e., discovery similar to the discovery available in district courts), the bills then go on to mandate that, "In carrying out paragraph (3) [i.e., in providing the rules for discovery], the Director shall bear in mind that discovery must be in the interests of justice," which might be read a giving the PTO room to provide for only the extremely limited kind of discovery that is currently available in interferences. See Gholz, Patent Interferences – Big Ticket Litigation With No Effective Discovery, 4 Intellectual Property Today No. 9 at page 10 (1997).
Similarly, proposed 35 USC 326(b) in both bills would provide that "Regulations under subsection (a)(1) [including the regulations governing discovery]…shall provide for discovery upon order of the Director [actually, it would presumably be upon order of the APJ handling the proceedings]," indicating that, in contrast to district court procedure, the burden of showing entitlement to discovery would be on the party seeking discovery, rather than imposing on that party's adversary the burden of showing why discovery should not be obtained.
Proposed 35 USC 326(b) in both bills would also require the Director to issue regulations providing "for filing under seal exempt from publication requirements" and providing for "protective orders governing the exchange and submission of confidential information"—both of which would be sharp departures from current interference practice. See Gholz, Compelled Testimony, Testimony Abroad, and Protective Orders in Interference Proceedings Under the New Rules, 67 JPTOS 239 (1985). However, 35 USC 326(b) then goes on to say that the Director's regulations "shall ensure that any information submitted by the patent owner in support of any amendment entered under section 329 is made available to the public as part of the prosecution history of the patent." Since the "confidential information" is more likely to be submitted by the patent owner than by its adversary, I wonder how often a protective order will actually issue. Or is the point that the protective order will automatically expire upon conclusion of the cancellation proceeding?
Both the House version and the Senate version of proposed 35 USC 334 govern the effect on cancellation proceedings of decisions in other proceedings (only an infringement action in the Senate version, but either an infringement action or an ITC action in the House version). Surprisingly, both versions seem to assume that the decisions of the courts (or the courts and the ITC), on the one hand, and the decisions of the Board, on the other hand, are of identical issues—despite that fact that the party attacking a patent has a lower burden of proof before the Board and therefore might win before the Board even though it would lose before a court or the ITC on identical evidence.
In sum, I'd like to express my hope that the drafters of the two bills will consult with experts on interference law and practice, both in the PTO and in the private bar, before passing either version of the bill.
- Patent Reform: Senator Kyl Introduces the alternative Patent Reform Act of 2009; This bill is more patent-holder friendly than the Leahy bill. The Leahy bill may see some action in Committee on March 26, 2009.
- Patent Reform: Inequitable Conduct: Although a co-sponsor of the Leahy Act, Senator Hatch has suggested that the reforms should include reforms of inequitable conduct proceedings.
- ITC: The res judicata effect of ITC Section 337 Decisions: Nil.
- ITC Theory: John Marshall’s IP Law Journal has a nice set of articles focused on ITC patent Litigation
- Personnel: Gov. Gary Locke is President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce. Barring some unknown tax snafu or AIG relationship, is expected to be confirmed quickly. In his Senate testimony he mentioned the politically correct goal of reducing the PTO backlog along with creating a foundation for long-term economic growth; improving weather forecasting, and managing our fishing industry.
- Personnel: The PTO needs three new members of its Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC). Current members include Kevin Rivette (Rembrandts in the Attic), Louis Foreman (CEO / Inventor), Scott Kieff (Conservative Law Professor), Damon Matteo (PARC innovation & licensing chief), Doug Patton (inventor & industrial designer at PattonDesign); David Westergard (IP guy at Micron – Looking to water-down patent rights), Marc Adler (former Chief of IP at Rohm & Haas), Steve Pinkos (former Deputy to Jon Dudas), and Maureen Toohey (Solo practitioner; former GC of a Dean Kamen’s DEKA company). I believe that Rivette, Patton, and Westergard will have reached the end of their terms this year and will be replaced.
- The Economic Downturn: Diane Bartz has taken over writing all about patent law for Reuters. In a recent interview with John Doll, she uncovers that the PTO is projecting a 2% drop in applications in 2009. Others expect a 10% decline. The problem for the PTO is that their funding is entirely fee driven, and the agency had budgeted for a 5% increase. Along with most law firms, according to Doll, the PTO has “stopped hiring at this time.”
- Upcoming Event: ACI’s 3rd Annual Paragraph IV Disputes on April 27-28, 2009 in New York City (Downtown Marriott). http://www.americanconference.com/ParagraphIV.htm . This is a good event because it is well attended by both the innovators (brands) and the generics. On the wednesday following the class, several speakers will walk through a brand-generic settlement agreement and work on mechanisms to avoid FTC & antitrust problems.
- PCT Search Offices: The PTO is warning PCT applicants to make sure that the selected International Search Authority (ISA) is certified for your particular type of claims. One problem, the EPO is not ready to handle business method claims. [Notice]
- Court Report: 2,875 patent lawsuits were terminated in the year ending Sept 30, 2008. Of those, only 3.8% (109) reached trial. Although 3.8% appears low, patent cases reach trial more often than many other claims brought in Federal Court. The same statistic for Copyright and Trademark cases shows 1.3% and 1.7% reaching trial respectively. During the past year, only six patent cases were filed in the Court of Federal Claims alleging infringement by the US Government. Read the Report.
In Larson Mfg, Judge Linn revived the call to rebuild the ramparts protecting patent applicants against charges of inequitable conduct. For some sense of history, I used Westlaw to pull-up the past twenty-five years of Federal Circuit decisions and counted the number of decisions that at least mention “inequitable conduct.” The result is a clear increase in the number of decisions discussing inequitable conduct. Although the absolute number of Federal Circuit patent decisions has also risen somewhat, the growth rate of IC decisions greater.
The graph below shows the number of Federal Circuit decisions that at least mention “inequitable conduct” for each year 1984-2008.
2009 may buck the trend. As of March 19, 2009, only two decisions mentioned inequitable conduct (Larson Mfg., and Rothman). At that rate, we might project only nine or ten decisions for the entire year.
I use the ‘mention’ of inequitable conduct here because the stated ‘plague’ primarily focuses on the allegations of inequitable conduct. The mere allegations of inequitable conduct are certainly harmful to the patentee. However – more than that – they are harmful to the profession and to the patent system as a whole by continually suggesting that patent attorneys and patent agents are facilitating fraudulent activities.
Larson Mfg. Co. v. Aluminart Products Ltd. (Fed. Cir. 2008)
Larson's patent covers a specially designed outside. The appeal focuses on inequitable conduct and the Federal Circuit vacated a district court judgment that the asserted patent was unenforceable. I will return to the decision in a later post, but wanted to focus attention on the concurring opinion by Judge Linn and his call for an en banc review of inequitable conduct jurisprudence. Linn's concerns could be addressed by the Supreme Court in Aventis Pharma v. Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, which is pending certiorari.
I write separately … to express my view that this precedent has significantly diverged from the Supreme Court's treatment of inequitable conduct and perpetuates what was once referred to as a "plague" that our en banc court sought to cure in Kingsdown Medical Consultants, Ltd. v. Hollister Inc., 863 F.2d 867 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (en banc). …
Symptoms of this plague are apparent from the facts of this case. The patent-in-suit has undergone examination twice in the PTO, and the patentee has been accused of inequitable conduct on each occasion for allegedly withholding material information. During original prosecution, the PTO considered 143 references, 135 of which the submitted two more IDSs in the reexamination, each within approximately one month of the application's Office Actions. The IDSs contained all references relied on in those rejections but did not include the Office Actions themselves. With full knowledge of the co-pending application, the PTO confirmed the patent, which survived reexamination without substantive change to the litigated claims. When the litigation resumed, the accused infringer again charged the patentee with inequitable conduct, this time based on conduct in the reexamination. This second inequitable conduct allegation was the sole issue at trial. Following remand today, the litigation will continue to focus on inequitable conduct, to the exclusion of the patentee's infringement contentions.
The ease with which inequitable conduct can be pled, but not dismissed, is a problem of our own making. The Supreme Court's three inequitable conduct cases involved overt fraud, not equivocal acts of omission. Precision Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Auto. Maint. Mach. Co., 324 U.S. 806, 809, 819 (1945) ("patent claims infected with fraud and perjury" where assignee knew that its employee "gave false dates as to the conception, disclosure, drawing, description and reduction to practice" during interference proceeding and then "secured the perjured . . . application and exacted promises from the other parties never to question the validity of any patent that might be issued on that application"); Keystone Driller Co. v. Gen. Excavator Co., 290 U.S. 240, 243 (1933) (false affidavits and deposition testimonies obtained "for valuable considerations" averring that the prior art use "was an abandoned experiment" and "to keep secret the details of the prior use"); Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Hartford-Empire Co., 322 U.S. 238, 240, 243 (1944) (false trade article procured from "an ostensibly disinterested expert" in exchange for $8,000 to gain patent issuance in spite of previously "insurmountable Patent Office opposition"), overruled on other grounds by Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 429 U.S. 17 (1976).
We clarified en banc that the "two elements, materiality and intent, must be proven by clear and convincing evidence," and that "'gross negligence' does not of itself justify an inference of intent to deceive." Kingsdown. But in seeming contradiction with Kingsdown, a standard even lower than "gross negligence" has propagated through our case law. This standard permits an inference of deceptive intent when "(1) highly material information is withheld; (2) 'the applicant knew of the information [and] . . . knew or should have known of the materiality of the information; and (3) the applicant has not provided a credible explanation for the withholding.'" Praxair, Inc. v. ATMI, Inc., 543 F.3d 1306, 1313-14 (Fed. Cir. 2008).
This test is problematic. First, the "high materiality" prong of the intent element simply repeats the materiality element. Conflating materiality and intent in this manner is inconsistent with the principle that "materiality does not presume intent, which is a separate and essential component of inequitable conduct." Manville Sales Corp. The second, "should have known" prong sets forth a simple negligence standard, lower even than the "gross negligence" standard that was expressly rejected in Kingsdown. I also question whether a fact-finder who has deemed information to be "highly material" would not also be compelled to conclude that a reasonable patentee "should have known of the materiality," at least when the patentee "knew of the information," as prong two requires. Third, the "credible explanation" prong effectively shifts the burden to the patentee to prove a negative: that it did not intend to deceive the PTO. But it is the "accused infringer"—not the patentee—who "must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the material information was withheld with the specific intent to deceive the PTO." Star Scientific, Inc. As to this third prong, we have also explained that "[t]he patentee need not offer any good faith explanation unless the accused infringer first carried his burden to prove a threshold level of intent to deceive by clear and convincing evidence." Id. As explained above, however, the first two prongs are not evidence of deceptive intent. The first is evidence of materiality; the second is evidence of negligence. These two prongs are therefore insufficient as a matter of law to establish a clear and convincing "threshold level" of deceptive intent before the third prong can ever properly come into play.
As it now stands, the test generally permits an inference of deceptive intent to be drawn whenever the three prongs are satisfied. This is in tension with the rule in Star Scientific that "the inference must not only be based on sufficient evidence and be reasonable in light of that evidence, but it must also be the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence." Id. It cannot be said that deceptive intent is the "single most reasonable inference" when all that prong two shows is that the patentee "should have known" that the information was material. An equally reasonable inference under this test is that the patentee incorrectly believed that the information was not material, or that the patentee was negligent, or even grossly negligent. None of these gives rise to deceptive intent under Kingsdown, nor is deceptive intent the "single most reasonable inference" under Star Scientific.
For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully submit that the test for inferring deceptive intent, as it currently exists, falls short of the standard "need[ed] to strictly enforce the burden of proof and elevated standard of proof in the inequitable conduct context." Star Scientific. The facts of this case suggest that the time has come for the court to review the issue en banc.
Crown Packaging v. Rexam Beverage Can (Fed. Cir. 2009)
On summary judgment, the district court held that Rexam did not infringe Crown’s patent beverage can-top patent. The lower court also found that that Crown did not infringe Rexam’s beverage can “necking” patent. On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed both rulings.
The Doctrine of Equivalents: Over the past two decades, the doctrine of equivalents been pushed out of the usual infringement discussion. Part of the doctrine’s downgrade is due to restricted application due to prosecution history estoppel (Festo) and tighter doctrine (Warner-Jenkinson). Perhaps equally important in the decline of the DOE has been the rise of claim construction as the primary variable of patent litigation. Rather than arguing for infringement as an equivalent, applicants are instead arguing for broad construction of the claim terms. Finally, patent drafters are – on average – better today than they were twenty years ago and spend more energy on considering how to draft claims that capture literal infringement. In a 2007 paper, Professors Lemley and Allison found something similar – that since the late 1990’s (even before Festo), that “equivalents claims usually failed, most often on summary judgment.” Their paper title – “Demise of the Doctrine of Equivalents” – overstates its case. The DOE is sometimes valuable.
Function-Way-Result Test: There are at least two alternate tests for infringement under the doctrine of equivalents. The function-way-result test considers “on a limitation by limitation basis” whether “the accused product performs substantially the same function in substantially the same way with substantially the same result as each claim limitation of the patented product.”
Summary Judgment on DOE: Here, the issue was not so much the law of the DOE, but rather the requirement for summary judgment that there be no remaining material issue of fact. Crown’s patent claims an “annular reinforcing bead,” while Rexam’s product uses a reinforcing fold. The lower court found those different enough to avoid infringement under the DOE. On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit reversed – finding at least one unresolved material issue of fact that precluded summary judgment. DOE requires expert testimony to step through the function-way-result test. And, here, the patentee’s expert stepped through each element and his testimony had not been completely indicted or even refuted.
Because Crown provided evidence in support of its position that the annular reinforcing bead of claim 14 of the ‘826 patent had only one function, and because we must resolve any reasonable factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, we conclude that there is a material issue of fact regarding the function of the claimed bead. Accordingly, we reverse and remand the district court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement.
This decision by Judge Moore is in line with the court’s 2008 Voda case which was affirmed after parsing expert testimony to ensure that the elements had been properly proven. (In Voda, the court used the alternative “insubstantial difference” test.)
Unmarked Sales by Licensee: In a scenario reminiscent of the recent Quanta v. LG case, Rexam licensed its patents to Belvac to make “neckers” used to stretch out the top of the can bodies. Under the license, Belvac was required “to notify its customers that they would require a separate license from Rexam to perform the smooth die necking method” that is claimed in Rexam’s patents. The license did not require Belvac to mark the machines that it sold. And, in fact, Belvac did not mark them with the Rexam patent number. Crown then used the machine to make over one hundred billion cans.
Marking under 35 U.S.C. § 287(a): The district court found that this past infringement was not actionable because Crown was not on notice of the patent. That decision seemingly follows from 35 U.S.C. § 287(a). Under that provision, a patentee who does not properly mark a patented article “is not entitled to damages for infringement prior to actual notice.” (quoting CAFC decision).
Marking of Method Claims: Rexam’s trick here was to assert only method claims. On its face, Section 287 applies to “any patented article,” and Federal Circuit precedent has clearly stated that the marking requirement does not apply when only method claims are asserted. With palpable regret, Judge Moore writes:
“The law is clear that the notice provisions of § 287 do not apply where the patent is directed to a process or method. Bandag, Inc. v. Gerrard Tire Co., 704 F.2d 1578, 1581 (Fed. Cir. 1983). In Hanson, 718 F.2d 1075 (Fed. Cir. 1983)—we held that 35 U.S.C. § 287(a) did not apply where the patentee only asserted the method claims of a patent which included both method and apparatus claims. Hanson is factually identical to this case, and we are therefore bound by the rule of Hanson.”
Thus the patentee is free to claim damages back six years under Section 286 even without marking or providing actual notice. This decision thus provides an additional reason to include method claims in a patent application. Now, it would be improper to conclude that there is no reason to mark products that perform method claims. In the 1993 American Medical Systems case, the Federal Circuit ruled that marking would be required if “both apparatus and method claims” were asserted and there is a “tangible item to mark.” In this case, the patent claimed both a method and apparatus, but Rexam sued only on the method claims.
In discussing the recent ICU Medical case, I noted that Judge Moore’s decision did not rely on the “essential element” test or even cite Gentry Gallery. In Gentry Gallery, the patent covered a sectional recliner. During prosecution, the patentee had amended its claims to drop any reference to the location of the recliner controls. The Federal Circuit held those later-drafted claims invalid because the location of the controls was an “essential element” of the invention that must be included in the claims – otherwise, the claim scope would be unduly broad. Following Gentry Gallery, however, the Federal Circuit stepped-back from the essential element language– instead narrowing the case holding to the well trod notion that claims should be limited to the supporting disclosure. In both Johnson Worldwide, and Cooper Cameron, for instance, the Federal Circuit explicitly denied that Gentry Gallery created any new requirement.
“[W]e did not announce a new ‘essential element’ test mandating an inquiry into what an inventor considers to be essential to his invention and requiring that the claims incorporate those elements.” Cooper Cameron, 291 F.3d 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2002)
In parallel fashion to Gentry Gallery, ICU had included a “spike” in every embodiment and each original claim. During prosecution, and apparently after seeing competing products, ICU amended its claims to drop the “spike” limitation. This was important because the market had moved to a spikeless version of IV valves. This district court in ICU discussed Gentry Gallery and the essential element test, but found no need to base its ruling on that “disfavored” theory. Rather, the court based its analysis on the traditional notion that claims must be described in the specification.
“[T]he Court’s analysis employs the accepted rule that the claims may be no broader than the supporting disclosure, or, conversely, that claims are invalid when the entirety of the specification clearly indicates that the invention is of a much narrower scope. By focusing on the language of the Common Specification in a manner that highlights the function of the “spike” element, and the frequency and ubiquity with which it is referenced, the Court is only attempting to discern the breadth and substance of the invention ICU actually disclosed in the original 1992 Application.”
Although the district court denied its application of any “essential element” test, it went on to hold that any valid claims must include a spike:
“The pervasiveness of the “spike” element in the invention description clearly informs the Court, and would inform any reasonable juror, that what was disclosed and claimed as the invention in the 1992 Application was a needleless medical valve with at a minimum, a “body,” a “seal” and a “spike.””
Likewise, the Federal Circuit’s version denies an omitted element test, but held that any valid claim must include a spike limitation because “a person of skill in the art would not understand the inventor … to have invented a spikeless medical valve.”
ICU Medical v. Alaris Medical System (Fed. Cir. 2009)
This is the second post on the ICU case. Part I discusses the $4.6 million award of attorney fees to the accused infringer based on the patentee’s litigation misconduct.
The district court found several of ICU’s claims invalid for lack of written description under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 1. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed. (Judges Michel (CJ), Prost, and Moore; Opinion by Moore). Although similar to enablement, the written description requirement pushes an applicant to “convey with reasonable clarity to those skilled in the art that, as of the filing date sought, he or she was in possession of the invention.” Most often, written description arises in cases where new matter is added to the claims during prosecution. That is also the case here – during prosecution ICU amended its claims to include “spikeless” claims — directed to a valve mechanism for adding drugs to an IV without using needles.
To be clear – the original claims included the “spike.” That element was removed during prosecution – seemingly broadening the claims. As the court stated “we refer to these claims as spikeless not because they exclude the preferred embodiment of a valve with a spike but rather because these claims do not include a spike limitation—i.e., they do not require a spike.” It is that failure to include any discussion of a spike in the claim that lead to the claim being held invalid for lack of written description.
The Federal Circuit does not cite Gentry Gallery or the infamous “omitted element” or “essential element” theories. However, the court does rely heavily on LizardTech. In that case, the court did not point to any claim limitation that was not sufficiently described. Rather, the court found the claim invalid because an embodiment arguably covered by the claim was not sufficiently disclosed.
We addressed a similar issue in LizardTech . . . We explained that “the specification provides only one method for creating a seamless DWT, which is to ‘maintain updated sums’ of DWT coefficients. That is the procedure recited by claim 1. Yet claim 21 is broader than claim 1 because it lacks the ‘maintain updated sums’ limitation.” We determined, however, that “[a]fter reading the patent, a person of skill in the art would not understand how to make a seamless DWT generically and would not understand LizardTech to have invented a method for making a seamless DWT, except by ‘maintaining updat[ed] sums of DWT coefficients.'” We therefore concluded that claim 21 was invalid under the written description requirement of § 112, ¶ 1.
In LizardTech, the court explicitly rejected the argument that the written description requirement “requires only that each individual step in a claimed process be described adequately.”
In this case, ICU’s original disclosure focused on spiked embodiments, but the more generic claims are not so limited.
ICU’s asserted spikeless claims are broader than its asserted spike claims because they do not include a spike limitation; these spikeless claims thus refer to medical valves generically—covering those valves that operate with a spike and those that operate without a spike. But the specification describes only medical valves with spikes.
Since all the embodiments included the “spike,” the court concluded that “Based on this disclosure, a person of skill in the art would not understand the inventor … to have invented a spikeless medical valve.”
- This case also includes an important discussion of claim differentiation that will be dissected in a later post.
- Of course, this case suggests the best patent drafting practice of providing multiple embodiments of each claim element, and considering whether each and every limitation in the broadest original claims are necessary.
- ICU broadened its claim by dropping a limitation — did ICU introduce new matter?
- In a powerful rhetorical approach, Judge Moore chose to refer to the broad claims as “spikeless claims.” As mentioned, those claims do not include a “spikeless” limitation. Rather, they simply omit a “spike” element. As it turns out more than 99.9% all patent claims issued in 2008 are silent about “spikes,” and under the traditional interpretation of the “comprising” transition – all those claims would literally cover embodiments without spikes. The holding here cannot be that all those claims are invalid. I believe that the holding here is largely a result of the fact that the accused device was in-fact spikeless. Unfortunately, this decision does not provide helpful guidance as to when it will apply. Rather, it appears to simply be an additional vague tool available to defense attorneys.
- The court did not mention enablement – since it was easy to remove the needle from a syringe and the disclosure includes a preslit seal that could arguably work with a spikeless syringe. That modification would have been enabled based on the original disclosure.
A Patently-O commenter recently made a distinction between claim elements, claim steps, and claim limitations.
“[B]asically, the distinction can be discerned grammatically. Elements are nouns. Steps are verbs or gerunds. Limitations are almost always adjectives, adverbs or modifying phrases, usually beginning with “wherein”.”
Is this distinction correct? Is there any legal basis for these distinctions?
ICU Medical v. Alaris Medical System (Fed. Cir. 2009)
ICU’s patents covers technology for using syringes to add drugs to an IV. The district court granted summary judgment of invalidity and also awarded attorney fees and found a violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alaris was awarded $4.6 million in attorney fees and sanctions. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.
Section 285 of the Patent Act provides for the award of attorney fees to the winning party in “exceptional cases.” In Brooks Furniture, the Federal Circuit discussed a two-part test for whether attorneys fees may be awarded due to litigation conduct. The test requires that “both (1) the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith, and (2) the litigation is objectively baseless.” A district court fee award will be affirmed absent clear error.
The problem – ICU argued that the claim term “spike” could be a non-pointed structure such as a tube even though the specification “repeatedly and uniformly describes the spike as a pointed instrument.” The claim construction was not ICU’s only problem:
For example, the district court found that ICU made “multiple, repeated misrepresentations . . . to the Court regarding its own patents in an effort to conceal what are now characterized as errors in order to rescue the TRO/PI from denial.” These misrepresentations related to (1) ICU’s assertion of claims in the ’509 patent that were identical to claims in the ’592 patent (i.e., assertion of double-patented claims); (2) ICU’s assertion of more double-patented claims from the ’509 patent even after Alaris and the district court warned ICU of the double-patenting issue; (3) ICU’s misrepresentation of Federal Circuit authority; (4) ICU’s representation that figures 13 and 20–22 of the common specification “clearly” disclosed a spikeless embodiment, only to later acknowledge that these figures do not disclose such an embodiment and state that its representation was an “honest mistake.”
Although the Brooks Furniture rule discusses objectively baseless “litigation,” that rule is not construed to focus on the litigation as a whole. Rather, attorney fees may be assessed if any portion of the litigation is brought in bad faith and in an objectively baseless manner. Here, the Federal Circuit found that the lower court had “appropriately exercised its discretion in awarding attorney fees only for [a] portion of the litigation.”
- Federal Circuit Decision 08-1077.pdf
- District Court award of Fees: 232495.pdf. Bottom line: “The Court finds that Alaris is due $4,587,622.44 in attorney fees and $164,721.19 in costs for the reasons set forth below. . . . This represents a reasonable lodestar calculation for Alaris’ work . . . , and it constitutes a reasonable pro rata amount of Alaris’ total expenditure of $11,000,000 in attorney fees and $2,000,000 in costs overall in this case.”
- District Court decision to find a Section 285 exceptional case and Rule 11 sanctions. 232494.pdf. Money Quote: “[The submitted declarations] do not substantively justify or excuse ICU’s litigation tactics or show its good faith. These declarations were prepared by ICU’s litigation counsel for the purpose ofopposing the Rule 11 and Fees Motions, and comprise mostly self-serving assertions of good faith by interested witnesses, such as ICU’s CEO (Dr. George Lopez), trial counsel (Fulwider, Patton, Lee & Utecht; Paul Hastings; or Pooley & Oliver), patent counsel (Knobbe Martens) and its paid experts (Dr. Maureen Reitman and Bob Rogers). These materials lack the indicia of credibility provided by declarations or opinions from outside, independent counsel or experts, particularly outside patent, as opposed to litigation, counsel. Most of the materials appear to have been “memorialized” in retrospect, providing marginal support compared to, for example, an ex ante documented and vetted analysis that preceded the litigation or that, al minimum, preceded the TRO/PI request and the inclusion of the “spike” claims in the amended complaint.”
- Although the district court decision appears to identify the Fulwider firm as “trial counsel,” that appears to have been a mistake made by the court. A Fulwider attorney has indicated that their firm “was never one of ICU’s trial counsel in that matter, and thus made no representations to the court on ICU’s behalf.” In fact, ICU appears to be somewhat of a toxic client. According to the court documents, Fulwider represented ICU in the 1990’s. At some point ICU dropped the firm as a client and sued for malpractice based on Fulwider’s representation of alleged ICU competitors. Fulwider did not admit wrongdoing, but a 2007 press release by ICU claims that ICU “will be paid $8 million in settlement of its claims against Fulwider.”