Bits and Bytes No. 101: Patent Bill & the Patent Lobby

  • 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.

Nonpracticing Entity (CSIRO) Gets Injunction

ScreenShot061CSIRO v. Buffalo Technology (E.D.Tex. 2007)

CSIRO operates as a technology licensing arm of the Australian Government. CSIRO does not practice its inventions, but has asserted its wireless LAN patent against a number of accused infringers, including Intel, Microsoft, Marvell, and Buffalo. The patent is broad enough to cover all 802.11a/g wireless technology and has a 1992 priority date.

In the case against Buffalo, CSIRO won a slam-dunk summary judgment of validity and infringement. The court then considered whether to award a permanent injunction in favor of the non-practicing entity (NPE).

(more…)

Is the Advance Meaningful?

by Dennis Crouch

The text of the Patent Act suggests that obviousness is a straightforward inquiry: find how the claimed invention differs from the prior art and ask whether, based upon those differences, an objective artisan would deem the invention obvious. 35 U.S.C. § 103. In reality, the analysis is not easy or straightforward. At the end of the day, tribunals are often left guessing whether the invention went far enough—are the differences from the prior art meaningful in some way or are they merely points of distinction. There are myriad ways that patentees endeavor to show results that are important, surprising, or synergistic—all terms that connote non-obviousness. One way to show meaning is through the use of what the Supreme Court has termed “secondary considerations” and others term “objective indicia.”

Such secondary considerations as commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, failure of others, etc., might be utilized to give light to the circumstances surrounding the origin of the subject matter sought to be patented. As indicia of obviousness or nonobviousness, these inquiries may have relevancy. See Note, Subtests of “Nonobviousness”: A Nontechnical Approach to Patent Validity, 112 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1169 (1964).

Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1 (1966). When courts ask about the importance of the advance, they must take care to ensure a nexus between the advance and its import. Focusing on the importance of the advance incentivizes advances that are important. Nexus is always relevant when considering if an advance is meaningful, but in recent years the Federal Circuit has aggressively used nexus particularly to limit the use of objective indicia such as industry praise or commercial success. Rather than permitting a fact to weigh the evidence, the court requires a proven nexus before any consideration of the objective indicia and its impact. Often industry praise and commercial success are tied to a commercial product rather than “the invention.” In this situation—where a product has been successful and praised—courts have permitted the patentee to prove a nexus linking the praise to the invention by pointing to the product and showing the product is an embodiment of the patent claim and the claimed invention is not merely a small component of the invention. In various formulations, the court has seen this as requiring the product to be “commensurate in scope” or “coextensive” with the claimed features. See Polaris Industries, Inc. v. Arctic Cat, Inc., 882 F.3d 1056, 1072 (Fed. Cir. 2018); Asyst Techs., Inc. v. Emtrak, Inc., 544 F.3d 1310, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2008); In re Grasselli, 713 F.2d 731, 743 (Fed. Cir. 1983); Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Philip Morris Inc., 229 F.3d 1120, 1130 (Fed. Cir. 2000); Demaco Corp. v. F. Von Langsdorff Licensing Ltd., 851 F.2d 1387, 1392 (Fed. Cir. 1988). A difficulty with this formulary is that there are always unclaimed features found in any product, and so it is difficult to know when the two are “coextensive.” In its important 2019 Fox Factory decision, the Federal Circuit drew a hard line, requiring the product and claim be “essentially” identical:

Although we do not require the patentee to prove perfect correspondence to meet the coextensiveness requirement, what we do require is that the patentee demonstrate that the product is essentially the claimed invention. While coextensiveness is an issue of fact that should ordinarily be decided by the fact finder in the first instance, no reasonable fact finder could conclude, under the proper standard, that the X-Sync chainrings are coextensive with the patent claims.

Fox Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC, 944 F.3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2019) (citing to Demaco Corp. v. F. Von Langsdorff Licensing Ltd., 851 F.2d 1387, 1392 (Fed. Cir. 1988)). I wrote about Fox Factory back in 2019 and explained:

The court here again raised the “nexus” hurdle by holding that a presumption of nexus can only be achieved by proving that the product being sold by the patentee is “essentially the claimed invention.” This is a situation where SRAM owned two patents in the same patent family — both of which covered aspects of its X-Sync bicycle chainring (gear). Each patent included elements not claimed in the other — for the court that was enough evidence to disprove coexistence.

Dennis Crouch, Nexus: Product must be “Essentially the Claimed Invention”, Patently-O (December 18, 2019). Since the product in Fox Factory included multiple inventions—each covered by its own patent—the patentee was unable to show that any one of the inventions had nexus with the product. (Note here in Fox Factory, we are not talking about some complex invention – it was only a chain ring, i.e. a gear, that sold well).

An important en banc petition is pending before the Federal Circuit in Zaxcom, Inc. v. Lectrosonics, Inc., 20-1921 (Fed. Cir. 2022) involving that nexus and asking the Federal Circuit to reconsider its Fox Factory precedent. The setup in the case is fairly typical: Zaxcom sued Lectrosonics for patent infringement back in 2019 (D.New Mexico); Lectrosonics responded with two inter partes review petitions. The PTAB granted both IPR petitions and then cancelled the challenged claims as obvious. On appeal the Federal Circuit affirmed, and Zaxcom has now petitioned for en banc rehearing.

The Zaxcom inventions relate to a wireless method for multi-track video recording. The problem with wireless was always timing, and the inventions here solve that with very particular time-codes. The invention here was said to change the industry, and the inventors were awarded both an Emmy and an Oscar. Here is the deal, the invention is embodied in the product, and the praise was tied to the new functionality offered. But, the invention also includes features claimed in a different patent. Because of that, the Board found no nexus and refused to consider the Emmy/Oscar results based upon Fox Factory. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed. The petition now asks for reconsideration of Fox Factory and its progeny:

By deviating from established law, the Fox Factory panel precedent has triggered a need for en banc review. This Court has warned against unduly “strict requirements” in evaluating nexus. Rambus. Nowhere is the wisdom of this warning more apparent than in the present case. Here, it is undisputed that products embodying the claimed invention (Zaxcom’s wireless audio recording system) received industry praise, including a technical Oscar and an Emmy. Lectrosonics did not contend that the claimed invention is just a “small component” of this system. Under this pre-Fox Factory standard, this entitles Zaxcom to a presumption of nexus. Yet the Board and the panel not only rejected this presumption but quixotically failed to find that the claimed invention received any industry praise, because they found that another feature contributed to the praise but was not required by the claims. Put another way, the decisions below disregarded the fact that products embodying the claimed invention undisputedly received the equivalent of not just one Nobel Prize in its field, but two.

Zaxcom En Banc Petition. Retired Chief Judge Paul Michel added amicus support:

What started as a relatively straightforward evidentiary presumption to facilitate the obviousness analysis under 35 U.S.C. § 103 has now morphed into a complex analysis “requir[ing] the fact finder to consider the unclaimed features of the stated products to determine their level of significance and their impact on the correspondence between the claim and the products.” Teva Pharms. Int’l GmbH v. Eli Lilly & Co., 8 F.4th 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2021) (citing Fox Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC, 944 F.3d 1366, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2019)). In addition to the new “level of significance” factor, recent cases have imposed an “essentially claimed” factor in the presumption analysis. See, e.g., Quanergy Sys., Inc. v. Velodyne Lidar USA, Inc., 24 F.4th 1406, 1418 (Fed. Cir. 2022). These new “requirements” of the presumption-of-nexus analysis conflict with this Court’s precedent.

Judge Michel brief.  I expect responsive briefs from both the USPTO and the patent challenger Lectrosonics in late April 2022.

A Nose of Wax and Splitting Hairs

by Dennis Crouch

Synopsis of this decision

Appellee: The argument proposed is hair-splitting and irrelevant to the purpose of the invention.

Federal Circuit: Hair-splitting is what we do best, and also barring wax noses.

Read more below . . .

CommScope Techs. v. Dali Wireless (Fed. Cir. 2021)

CommScope and Dali are competing in the wireless communications infrastructure market.   Both of the parties are making distributed antenna systems that allow for  seamless wireless communications within a wide area.   CommScope has 30,000 employees and is a Goliath.  Although Dali’s CEO Albert Lee has no sling+pebble, he does have a potential secret weapon. Lee is a former patent attorney.  The two companies have been battling in court and before the PTAB for the past several years.

In 2019, CommScope sued Dali for patent infringement (asserting five different patents); Dali counterclaimed asserting two of its own patents.  A jury agreed, and found that both sides were infringing. N.D.Tex. Chief Judge Lynn denied the cross-JMOL motions and entered judgment.  Dali gets $9 million and CommScope gets $6 million and a permanent injunction against sales of particular distributed antenna systems.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has reversed in-part – finding no infringement of Dali’s ‘521 patent.

Here, the asserted method claim requires “switching a controller off” as part of a diagnostic training process.  The accused device was shown to switch off feedback from the controller, but not the controller itself.  Although the accused device achieves the same diagnostic results, it uses an approach that is not literally claimed.  Dali called the distinction “hair-splitting” and “irrelevant in light of the purpose of the invention.”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit concluded that hair splitting is what we do in the context of literal infringement.  If the patentee wanted more nuance then it should have presented its case under the doctrine-of-equivalents.

Before the district court, Dali presented only a literal infringement case, and not a doctrine-of-equivalents alternative. Thus, Dali’s argument that the FlexWave switch/controller is effectively “nonoperating” because it is not passing a feedback signal of the power amplifier of interest is irrelevant because Dali failed to produce evidence below to show that the accused controller is literally nonoperating, as the district court determined was required by the claim.

Slip Op.

= = = =

Patentees have to thread a narrow needle during infringement litigation.  The claims must be broad enough to capture the accused infringing activity, but narrow enough to avoid the prior art.  Although infringement and novelty are two separate considerations, they are tightly related.  “That which infringes, if later, would anticipate, if earlier.” Peters v. Active Mfg. Co., 129 U.S. 530, 537 (1889).  Often a defendant will attempt to show that its product is essentially the same as the prior art — and offer the conclusion that either (1) we don’t infringe or (2) the patent is invalid.

Here, the court bolstered its non-infringement conclusion by looking at the patentee’s arguments regarding anticipation. In particular, the patentee argued that the prior art reference (Wright) did not anticipate because it did not disclose turning-off the controller.  The failing of the prior art asserted by the patentee lines up neatly with the failing of the infringement evidence asserted by the accused infringer. “Dali cannot simultaneously argue” both infringement and non-anticipation. Slip Op.

“This case falls squarely within the principle that a ‘patent may not, like a nose of wax, be twisted one way to avoid anticipation and another to find infringement.'”

Quoting Amazon (Fed. Cir. 2021).  See also White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47, 51 (1886) (“Some persons seem to suppose that a claim in a patent is like a nose of wax, which may be turned and twisted in any direction, by merely referring to the specification, so as to make it include something more than, or something different from, what its words express.”)

Justice Joseph Bradley penned his “nose of wax” metaphor in the 1886 decision of White v. Dunbar. By that time, the phrase was already well known. As an American example, the Connecticut Puritan Gershom Berkeley included the following quip in his 1692 book titled Will and Doom: “I think no man should make arbitrary laws, which, like a nose of wax or leaden rule, may be twisted which way a man will.” An earlier use of the idiom may be in Robert Burton’s 1621 book The Anatomy of Melancholy.

To see so many lawyers, advocates, so many tribunals, so little justice; so many magistrates, so little care of common good; so many laws, yet never more disorders . . . to see a lamb executed, a wolf pronounce sentence . . . Laws altered, misconstrued, interpreted pro and con, as the Judge is made by friend; bribed, or otherwise affected as a nose of wax, good today, none tomorrow …

Burton. The earliest pushed form appears to be a 1532 work by William Tyndale — arguing about the improper use of biblical scripture.

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

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

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

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

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

The Patent Exhaustion Doctrine and Chip Sales

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

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

Level Discrimination and SEPs

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

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

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

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

Pseudo-Licensing Deals with Chip Makers

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

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

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

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

Do SEP Makers Inadvertently Grant Exhaustive Licenses to Chip Makers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samsung Proposes a Patent Pledge to Settle EC FRAND Investigation

Guest post by Jorge L. Contreras.  Prof. Contreras is an Associate Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law.

As part of the global smartphone litigation between Apple and Samsung, the European Commission has been investigating Samsung’s use of injunctive relief to address infringement of standards-essential patents (SEPs).  Last December, the Commission informed Samsung that its attempts to obtain injunctions against Apple based on SEPs covering the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute's (ETSI) 3G UMTS mobile wireless standard constituted an abuse of dominant position under EU competition law.  One of the key elements in the claim against Samsung was that it sought injunctions after having committed to license its SEPs to implementers of the UMTS standards on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms, a common requirement within the standards-development world. 

Last week the Commission announced  that it has received a preliminary settlement proposal from Samsung.  Under this proposal, Samsung would commit not to seek injunctions in Europe on the basis of SEPs covering a broad range of wireless telecommunications and networking standards (i.e., well beyond the UMTS standard at issue in the Apple case), so long as the alleged infringers agreed to comply with a specified process for determining appropriate FRAND royalty rates.  This process would include good faith negotiations for at least 12 months, followed by arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) or litigation in the English High Court.  Samsung’s commitment with respect to its SEPs would become the most recent in a growing number of public commitments being made voluntarily by patent holders to limit the enforcement of their patents covering standardized technologies.

For those following the smartphone wars, Samsung’s proposal should sound familiar, as it bears a striking resemblance to the terms on which Google settled an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission this summer.  The FTC’s investigation of Google’s subsidiary Motorola Mobility also focused on the use of SEPs to seek injunctive relief against implementers of industry standards, and was based on the potential anticompetitive impact of this behavior.  There are, however, several notable differences between the FTC’s Google settlement and what Samsung has proposed.  Some of these are summarized in Table 1 below:

Table 1

Comparison of Google and Samsung (Proposed) Injunction Settlement Terms

 

FTC-Google Order (Jul. 23, 2013)

Samsung Proposal to EC (Oct. 17, 2013)

 

 

 

Scope of Non-injunction commitment

Worldwide

European Economic Area (EEA)

Duration of Commitment

10 years

5 years

Standards covered

Any standard published by a standards-setting organization (SSO)

Mobile Device* standards published by SSOs

Mandatory negotiation period

6 months

12 months

Designated arbitral tribunals

AAA, JAMS, WIPO

ICC

Designated courts

Any tribunal worldwide

English High Court or EU Unified Patent Court

* Mobile devices include smartphones and tablet devices but exclude desktop, notebook, subnotebook and laptop computers.

As Table 1 indicates, Samsung’s proposal is (not surprisingly) a bit less burdensome than the terms that Google agreed with the FTC.  To wit, the proposed geographic coverage is narrower (the EEA rather than the whole world) and the duration is half as long (5 rather than 10 years).  Interestingly, however, Samsung has proposed a mandatory negotiation period, during with it would be required to negotiate FRAND terms with a potential licensee, that is twice as long as the period agreed by Google (12 versus 6 months).  As patent holders typically want to get to court as quickly as possible, it is not clear why Samsung has proposed a longer period, and this may simply be a function of private signaling made by the Commission.  Samsung’s choice of arbitral tribunals is also interesting, inasmuch as it designates the private International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the UN-chartered World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which has actively been seeking to get into the SEP arbitration business.

Just as the FTC did prior to finalization of the Google settlement, the EC has solicited public comments on the proposed Samsung settlement.  The FTC received 25 submissions in response to its solicitation, and made several adjustments to the final Google order as a result.  The EC has allowed 30 days for the submission of comments (through Nov. 16, 2013) and it is likely that many of the same issues that were raised in the comments to the FTC will surface again.

For those who are generally interested in voluntary patent pledges like the one proposed by Samsung, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) at American University’s Washington College of Law has established a new public web resource listing and describing non-SDO patent commitments.  The site, which was launched last week, already includes 63 different non-SDO patent commitments covering thousands of patents.  These pledges have been made by industry leaders such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Intel, as well as small entities and, should its proposal to the EC be accepted, Samsung.  We hope to continue to add information to this site, and invite the submission of additional non-SDO patent commitments by the public.

Technology Patents LLC. v. T-Mobile (UK) Ltd.

By Jason Rantanen

Technology Patents LLC. v. T-Mobile (UK) Ltd. (Fed. Cir. 2012) Download 11-1581
Panel: Bryson (author), Prost, Reyna

This case involves a suit brought by prolific inventor Aris Mardirossian's company Technology Patents LLC against more than 100 domestic and foreign defendants that TPL accused of infringing US Reissue Patent No. RE39870.  While the primary subjects addressed by the court are those of claim construction and infringement , there are several additional noteworthy issues discussed at the end of the post.

The '870 patent relates to a global paging system.  According to the patent, the prior art was deficient because "it did not fulfill the need for a cheap and efficient global paging system that allows users who expect to receive messages or pages abroad to 'remotely input country designations in which they are to be paged.'"  Slip Op. at 13, quoting '870 patent.  The '870 patent sought to cure the deficiencies of the prior art: "The ’870 Patent solved this problem by claiming a system which allows for paging of the receiving user (“RU”) in countries where the RU “may be located,” as per a list input by the RU." Id., quoting district court.  Claim 4, the primary claim addressed on appeal, recites  (claim terms at issue in the appeal are in bold):

4. A system for paging a receiving user in a country-selective paging system, comprising:

a paging system spanning a plurality of different countries of the world, the paging system including a plurality of servers, and wireless transmitters in different countries for transmitting paging messages to receiving users;

interconnecting servers so as to permit digital communication of signals between the plurality of servers via at least the packet-switched digital data network;

a first website or server located in a first country for allowing an originating user to page the receiving user who may be located in a second country different from the first country, the originating user not necessarily knowing what country the receiving user is located in;

wherein the paging system determines if the second country is currently designated by the receiving user as a designated country in which the paging system is to attempt to page the receiving user;

when the paging system determines that the second country has been designated by the receiving user, means for sending a paging communication via at least the packet-switched digital data network to a second website or server, the second website or server being in communication with a wireless transmitter located in the second country, and wherein the paging communication causes the second website or server to initiate paging the receiving user via the wireless transmitter in the second country; and

when the paging system determines that the second country has not been designated by the receiving user, the paging system initiates paging operations in another country in a predetermined order in an attempt to page the receiving user.

The over 100 companies companies that TPL sued roughly fell into three categories: (1) domestic carriers and handset companies, (2) software providers, and (3) foreign carriers.  Following claim construction, the district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement to the domestic carriers.  On appeal, TPL challenged the district court's claim construction and noninfringement rulings. 

Claim Construction: Much of the claim construction dispute revolved around the meaning of "receiving user."  The district court construed this term to mean a "person or party," while TPL contended that it means "the combination of the person and the handset."

Applying what has often been described as a holistic approach to claim construction, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's construction.  In other words, the court applied a flexible, relatively unstructured approach to construing the claim terms as opposed to a rigid rules-based approach.  In this particular case, that meant looking closely at the intrinsic evidence.  "The text of the patent makes clear that the term “receiving user” does not refer to a person-pager combination."  Slip Op. at 19. The court applied a similar approach to the two remaining claim terms.

Holistic Infringement Analysis: TPL also argued that, even if the CAFC affirmed the district court's claim constructions, it nevertheless erred in its grant of summary judgment of noninfringement.  On this point, too, the Federal Circuit affirmed.  While much of the CAFC's conclusion was based on the "receiving user" limitation, the court's overall approach bore many similarities to its holistic claim construction: the court made frequent reference back to the specification even as it assessed the question of infringement, rather than rigidly applying its claim construction. 

For example, in responding to TPL's argument that because the accused systems permitted users to select the carrier when traveling abroad, some of which contained country information (see below figure), the court pointed out that "The specification and the claims make clear that the invention is concerned with the country in which the receiving user is located, not with the receiving user’s carrier." Slip Op. at 29.  This carried through to the assessment of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, as the court concluded that "the distinction betwen selecting a carrier and selecting a country is not insignificant in the context of the patent….That is a fundamental difference between the accused systems and the claimed invention that goes to the heart of the claimed invention."  Slip Op. at 34.  Figure 1

 

Additional notes:

  • This lawsuit was filed in 2007 – well before the September 16, 2011 enactment of the America Invents Act, which substantially altered the rules for joining multiple unrelated defendants within a single infringement lawsuit. 
  • The district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement to the software providers as well, in part on the ground that it concluded that certain claims required mutiple actors and TPL failed to show that the defendants have discretion or control over the end users.  The Federal Circuit concluded that it was unnecessary to consider the recent en banc decision in Akamai Technologies v. Limelight addressing divided infringement because the claimed software system could be "used" by a single actor even if the user did not have physical control over all elements of a system. Slip Op. at 36 (citing Centillion Data Sys. v. Qwest Communications, 631 F.3d 1279, 1284 (Fed. Cir. 2011).
  • The district court found that it lacked jurisdiction over the foreign carriers.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit did not address the jurisdictional question, instead concluding that "Our ruling sustaining the district court’s decision in favor of the domestic carriers thus dooms TPL’s claim of infringement against the foreign carriers as well. For that reason, it is unnecessary for us to decide whether the district court was correct in dismissing the case against the foreign carriers for lack of personal jurisdiction."  Slip Op. at 39.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 32: Patent Law Jobs

Patent Agent – Small Corporation – Carlsbad, Calif.

Metawave is a technology company that seeks to revolutionize the future of autonomous vehicles and wireless communications. Our team is engineering disruptive technologies for next-generation 5G communications and autonomous vehicle sensing. We are looking for a highly motivated, dynamic and collaborative patent agent for our beautiful headquarters in Carlsbad. This is an opportunity to be a part of a small and growing team of world-class leaders in the next generation wireless and autonomous vehicle sensing industries, who are at the leading edge of the next wave of RF millimeter wave hardware, wireless applications, artificial intelligence, object detection, and machine learning. Metawave was founded in the iconic PARC campus in the heart of Silicon Valley. Our Carlsbad office is in close walking distance to the beach and has a fun and lively SoCal, start-up atmosphere.

Your Role:
Candidates must have excellent academic credentials, a willingness and ability to master complex technologies, and strong writing and communication skills. Candidate must be a confident self-starter, capable of working both on her/his own as well as part of teams. A broad background in many different aspects of IP is helpful, including prosecution, litigation, licensing, and/or transactions.

Responsibilities include:

  • Work closely with Engineering team to identify patentable inventions
  • Prepare and prosecute patent applications for Metawave core technologies
  • Actively develop and manage patent portfolios
  • Counsel technologists on protection of Intellectual Property
  • Work with foreign counsel to protect innovations worldwide
  • Collaborate with software and hardware teams to develop patent strategies for automotive radar and cellular communications
  • Perform other duties as necessary for completion of projects and achievement of goals

Qualifications:

  • M.S./Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, or Physics
  • Patent and Trademark Office registration required
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced environment with technologists
  • Outstanding writing and analytical skills, and top academic credentials are essential
  • At least 5 years drafting and prosecuting high-quality, complex patent applications for major technology companies
  • Ability to perform prior art searches and freedom to operate analyses’
  • Writing samples and references required

Preferred:

  • Experience in RF systems, including radar and cellular
  • Experience in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • At least 3 years of working experience in industry
  • For attorneys, at least one state bar registration
  • German and/or Japanese speakers a plus

Perks + Benefits:

  • Competitive salary package
  • Stock options
  • Full Healthcare Program (medical/dental/vision)
  • Full Insurance Program (Life, Short and Long-Term Disability)
  • 401(k) plan
  • Free lunch & great snacks
  • Fitness Reimbursement
  • Flexible time off & paid holidays
  • Social events + happy hours + team parties

Contact
To apply, please email us at: careers@metawave.co.

Additional Info
Employer Type: Small Corporation
Job Location: Carlsbad, California

Intellectual Property Associate / Patent Agent – Law Firm – Atlanta, Ga. or Austin, Texas

evershedsThe Intellectual Property group of Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP is seeking a patent agent or a second to fifth year associate with substantial experience in patent preparation and prosecution.  Excellent academics are required.  Candidate must be a member of the Patent Bar and have a degree in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Physics, Computer Science, or a closely related discipline.  Relevant technological experience with semiconductor processes and packaging, wireless (preferably with 802.11) communications, consumer products, software, cloud computing, network technologies, wireless technologies, wireless communications, and/or consumer electronics is preferred.

Contact
Please send a transcript with resume to LindsayYoung@eversheds-sutherland.com.

Additional Info
Employer Type: Law Firm
Job Location: Atlanta, Georgia or Austin, Texas

In-House Counsel (Intellectual Property) – T-Mobile – Bellevue, Wash.

T-Mobile T-Mobile USA has an exciting opportunity for an In-House Counsel – Intellectual Property to be located at its corporate headquarters in Bellevue, WA. This experienced patent attorney, working in the T-Mobile Legal Department and the Intellectual Property team, will provide legal advice and support relating to patent procurement and general intellectual property matters.

Responsibilities:

  • Procure and manage company IP, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, domains and trade secrets
  • Support the company's patent incentive program
  • Team with company attorneys concerning patent procurement, intellectual property claims, technology licensing and litigation
  • Create intellectual property policies and training materials
  • Communicate and coordinate with European affiliates' IP counsel on global intellectual property policies and licenses
  • Advise internal business clients and legal staff on company's intellectual property policies and general IP law and procedure

Requirements:

  • Prior experience in drafting and prosecuting patent matters, as well as a demonstrated facility in reviewing patents and understanding highly technical conceptions across a wide variety of subject matters
  • Law degree and 7+ years of legal experience, including patent prosecution and either patent litigation or technology licensing experience
  • A technical degree in a relevant technology-related discipline, as well as law firm and previous in-house experience strongly desired
  • Aptitude for, and a strong desire to obtain, a deep and broad knowledge of wireless products and services
  • A demonstrated ability to recognize and weigh business and legal risks and to advance practical solutions
  • Detail-oriented, with excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Customer-oriented interpersonal skills and a proven ability to excel working with multiple clients in a fast-paced environment

Benefits:
T-Mobile USA offers a full range of comprehensive benefits, including medical, dental, vision, as well as matching 401(k), generous paid time off programs, mobile phone and service discounts, tuition reimbursement, free parking – not to mention a fun and business casual work environment.

Additional Info:
Employer Type: Large Corporation
Job Location: Bellevue, WA

Contact:
For more information and to apply, please visit: http://www.t-mobile.com/jobs and reference Req #168832.

T-Mobile USA is a national provider of wireless voice, messaging and data services capable of reaching over 268 million Americans where they live, work and play.  In a world full of busy and fragmented lives, we at T-Mobile USA, Inc. have the idea that wireless communications can help.  The value of our plans, the breadth of our coverage, the reliability of our network and the quality of our service are meant to do one thing:  help you stick together with the people who make your life come alive.  That’s why we’re here.

 

Ten Ways to Spend Your Bonus: Holiday Gifts for a Patent Attorney

  1. ScreenShot076$350 — Roomba: Even a patent attorney can handle this vacuum. Handsfree cleaning that “makes a difference in the lives of people.” ScreenShot075
  2. $310 — Garmin Nuvi 260 Pocket Vehicle GPS Navigator with Maps for North America. This portable GPS fits in your pocket and works in the car. Voice prompts know streets throughout America.  Although she’s not a patent attorney, I’m getting this for my mother-in-law.
  3. $160 — Ipod Nano.
  4. $120 — Jawbone: a BlueTooth (wireless) headset for your mobile phone that actually works well. According to reports, the noise cancellation is amazing.  Jawbone self reports the “Highest Rated Bluetooth Headset. Ever.”
  5. ScreenShot072$100 — Eye-Fi: A 2GB SD card for your camera. The card has a built-in wi-fi chip so that your pictures are wirelessly uploaded to the computer.ScreenShot077
  6. Pointers: Green laser pointer (no more ugly red). For those of you with romantic delusions, this pointer is strong enough so that the beam can be seen while watching the stars. Perhaps more practical is the wireless presenter (with red laser).
  7. $25 —  Blue Oxford Shirt that is both wrinkle free and stain resistant. Patent attorneys have a standard uniform that includes a blue oxford shirt with a button-down collar. Please nothing fancy or shiny.
  8. ScreenShot074$16 — “Originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense, Swedish FireSteel is a flash of genius. Its 3,000°C spark makes fire building easy in any weather, at any altitude.” Swedish FireSteel. You may need some MayaDust as well to get the fire started.
  9. ScreenShot079$15 — Reverse Engineer T-Shirt.
  10. Priceless — Several friends suggested the following: new management at the PTO, more technically-trained federal judges, and a Congress that is not for sale. I have been unable to find an appropriate Amazon.com link. Here is one potential solution. ($8).

Bonus Books: Freakonomics; iProperty; Undue Diligence; The Book of Air and Shadows. Happy shopping!

Thanks to all those who contributed ideas!

Verizon v. Vonage

Vonage is the darling of network neutrality advocates.  Using Vonage, millions of people have canceled their telephone service in favor of an IP-phone that connects through the Internet.

Last month, a jury determined that Vonage infringed three Verizon patents. (6,282,574, 6,104,711, 6,359,880).  These patents all relate to various aspects of Internet telephony.

This is not a “troll” case — By definition, patent trolls are only looking for a payment in exchange for a patent license. Here, it is fairly clear that Verizon hopes that its patents will cause Vonage to close its doors.  Thus, Verizon requested and was granted a permanent injunction.

Stays Pending Appeal: The general rule as stated in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [R. 62(a)] is that a permanent injunction “shall not be stayed during the period after its entry and until an appeal is taken or during the pendency of an appeal.” At its discretion, a district court can stay an injunction.  In cases such as this, where the patents strike to the core of the defendant’s business, denial of a stay often ends the case because an appeal 3-months-later is too late. Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure [R. 8(a)], a defendant may make a motion to the appellate panel for temporary relief after first showing that a lower court motion would have been “impractical.” 

In Standard Havens, the Federal Circuit announced a four-factor test for considering whether to issue a stay pending appeal.

  • Likelihood of success on the merits of the appeal;
  • Irreparable harmed absent a stay;
  • Irreparable harm due to a stay (continued infringement); and
  • Public interest.

Vonage Partial Stay: The U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton (E.D.Va) issued the permanent injunction and but granted a partial stay. The judge’s decision allowed Vonage to continue in operation, but barred the upstart from signing-up any new customers.

Emergency Appeal: As it did in TiVo v. EchoStar, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) immediately stayed the injunction (at the request of Vonage) and will hear an appeal regarding injunctive relief on April 24, 2007.

Wireless Patent Attorney – Large Corporation – Santa Clara, Calif.

Come join Intel’s IntelLegal General Counsel as a Patent Attorney with wireless expertise.

Responsibilities

  • Assist with portfolio management tasks including invention disclosure harvestings, committee meetings and dispositions, quality reviews, outside counsel oversight, notice of allowance and post issuance reviews;
  • Prosecute selected US and foreign matters;
  • Counsel inventors on legal questions in areas such as bars to obtaining a patent, patentability, and inventorship requirements;
  • Provide harvestings and trainings to engineers and business units and establish and maintain relationships with key inventors and business units; and
  • Oversee areas of strategic interest and provide substantive feedback to end users in litigation, licensing and analysis.

Key Qualifications

  • A Juris Doctor Degree (J.D.)
  • Experience: 5+ years of directly relevant experience
  • Admission to a state bar for US-based attorneys.

The ideal candidate must also demonstrate:

  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work in a dynamic and team oriented environment

The Business Group
Legal and Corporate Affairs offers unique opportunities to work in a variety of areas, including counsel to Intel businesses; technology and intellectual property licensing; patent prosecution; trademarks and brands; litigation, mergers, acquisitions and investing; legislative and regulatory lobbying; and corporate compliance.

Intel prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, marital status, pregnancy, gender expression or identity, sexual orientation or any other legally protected status.

Contact
Apply online by visiting this link: https://intel.taleo.net/careersection/10000/jobdetail.ftl?job=742842.

Additional Info
Employer Type: Large Corporation
Job Location: Santa Clara, California

Ring Plus v. Cingular Wireless

By Jason Rantanen

Although the court ultimately reversed the determination of inequitable conduct based on a lack of intent, its discussion of materiality is significant because the misrepresentation at issue occurred in the patent itself, in the form of statements about a prior art reference.  Prosecutors may want to take special note of this opinion in crafting their Background of the Invention sections. 

Ring Plus, Inc. v. Cingular Wireless Corp. (Fed. Cir., August 6, 2010)
Panel: Lourie, Gajarsa and Moore (author)

Ring Plus is the assignee of Patent No. 7,006,608 (the '608 patent), which relates to a software based algorithm and method for generating and delivering messages over a phone line that replace or overlay a ring-back signal.

After granting summary judgment of noninfringement, the district court held a bench trial on the unenforceability of the '608 patent.  Following the bench trial, the district court concluded that the '608 patent was unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.  Ring Plus appealed both determinations, along with the denial of its motion to disqualify Cingular's counsel. 

Inequitable conduct: Materiality but no Intent
The district court's inequitable conduct determination was based on two alleged misrepresentations concerning the substance of two prior art references, Strietzel and Sleevi.  The district court found that the first misrepresentation was in the Background of the Invention section of the '608 patent, which asserted that both references proposed hardware based systems but no software to operate those systems.  Contrary to this assertion, the district court found, one of skill in the art would have understood the references to disclose software-based algorithms.1 

The panel agreed that this was a material misrepresentation.  Although neither reference explicitly disclosed software, the panel could not say that the district court clearly erred in finding that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood the references to disclose software-based algorithms. 

In arriving at the conclusion that the statement about the contents of the prior art constituted a misrepresentation, the panel rejected the contention that it was merely attorney argument.  The court did not address this issue in any depth, merely stating that because the statement was a misrepresentation, it "was outside the boundas of permissible attorney argument."  Slip Op. at 9.

Comment: I am a troubled by the court's cursory statement on this point because of the ambiguity it creates.  These types of sweeping assertions, made without addressing the substance of the argument or citing relevant authorities, are the kinds of things that are likely to tie attorneys and judges in knots.  Indeed, the court's quotation from Rothman is particularly perplexing, as Rothman reached the opposite conclusion on similar facts.  At a minimum, one would expect the court to explain why Rothman does not apply.

Ultimately, however, the panel concluded that Cingular had failed to present clear and convincing evidence of intent to deceive.  In arriving at this conclusion the court noted that the references were ambiguous as to operating software, and the prosecuting attorney's testimony gave rise to the inference that the applicants believed that the two references did not disclose software for operating a telephone system.  Because this inference was as reasonable as the district court's inference of deceptive intent, the district erred in its finding of deceptive intent.

Other holdings
The panel also addressed Ring Plus's challenge to the district court's construction of two claim terms, which formed the basis of the noninfringement ruling.  The court affirmed the district court's construction, relating to the sequence of steps in the '608 patent.  In addition, the court rejected Ring Plus's argument that Cingular's counsel should have been disqualified for ex parte contact with a Ring Plus director and officer.  The court concluded that there was no evidence of impropriety under Fifth Circuit law.

1The district court also found that the applicants made a misrepresentation about these references during prosecution; the panel concluded that this statement was not a misrepresentation.

(Non)Precedent on Venue Transfer?

by Dennis Crouch

In TracFone, the Federal Circuit issued two strongly worded strongly worded mandamus opinion relating to venue.

  • In re TracFone Wireless, Inc., 2021-118, 2021 WL 865353 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 8, 2021) (remanding for a ruling on venue); and
  • In re TracFone Wireless, Inc., 2021-136, 2021 WL 1546036 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 20, 2021) (ordering transfer under 1404(a)).

The March 2021 decision orders W.D.Tex. Judge Albright to immediately decide TracFone’s venue motions (and write a reviewable opinion).  Judge Albright immediately complied by denying TracFone’s motion to dismiss or transfer the case. The Federal Circuit’s April 2021 decision concluded that Judge Albright had “abused [his] discretion.”  The appellate panel then ordered the case to be transferred to Florida.

Although the April 2021 decision provides finality, it is actually the March 2021 decision that is perhaps more interesting. The appellate panel ordered immediate action on the venue question and generally suggested that a district court should drop-everything to decide venue motions.  The judge’s familiarity with the facts/law of a particular case is typically seen as relevant the outcome of an inconvenient venue motion under 1404(a).  In its decision though, the court held that the district court should not consider any familiarity it has gained after the filing of the complaint:

[W]e remind the lower court that any familiarity that it has gained with the underlying litigation due to the progress of the case since the filing of the complaint is irrelevant when considering the transfer motion and should not color its decision.

Slip Op.

One problem with this decision is that it is non-precedential.  Thus, the clear language has limited value going forward. Now, a group of law professors have petitioned to reissue the decision as precedential.

This Court should reissue its TracFone order as precedential to definitively establish the law regarding improper delays in ruling on transfer motions and requests for stay pending the resolution of such motions. Absent clear precedential guidance, courts may continue to disregard this court’s nonprecedential instructions and make procedural errors that force parties to settle or to litigate in an inappropriate, inconvenient, and costly forum.

Motion to Reissue as Precedential. Federal Circuit Local Rule 32.1 provides the following procedure for this type of motion:

Within sixty (60) days after the court issues a nonprecedential opinion or order, any person may request through motion filed in the case that the opinion or order be reissued as precedential. The request will be considered by the panel that rendered the disposition. The motion must identify any case that person knows to be pending that would be determined or affected by reissuance as precedential. Parties to pending cases having a stake in the outcome of a decision on the motion must be given an opportunity to respond. If the request is granted, the opinion or order may be revised as appropriate.

Rules.  The motion was filed by Stanford’s IP Clinic (Philip Malone) on behalf of a group of law professors led by Mark Lemley.

I’ll note here as an aside that some of the language here could also be applied in the context of stays of litigation pending outcome of an AIA trial. Judge Albright has generally taken an approach of refusing stays in most cases.

= = = =

In re Western Digital (Fed. Cir. 2021). In a separate decision today, the Federal Circuit denied Western Digital’s petition for writ of mandamus to escape from W.D. Tex.  The appellate panel did find that Judge Albright had applied the wrong legal standard by stating Western-Digital faced a “heavy” and “significant” burden before a case would be moved for convenience.

To be sure, the district court incorrectly overstated the burden on WDT as “heavy” and “significant.” but see Volkswagen, 545 F.3d at 314–15 (explaining that Congress intended to grant transfer under section 1404(a) upon a lesser showing of inconvenience than the “heavy burden” traditionally required under the forum non conveniens doctrine).

Slip Op. Still, the court found no abuse of discretion in denying transfer:

Although we may have evaluated some of the factors differently, we are not prepared to say that the district court’s ultimate conclusion that the transferee venue was not clearly more convenient amounted to a clear abuse of discretion.

Id.

= = = = =

One issue with this exercise has to do with the Federal Circuit’s approach to non-patent issues that come before the court. Motions to transfer under 1404(a) (inconvenient forum) are not patent-specific and so the Federal Circuit applies the law of the regional circuit court of appeals rather than its own precedent. For these cases out of W.D.Tex., the court applies 5th Circuit law regarding transfer of venue rather than its own precedent.  Likewise, lower courts follow 5th circuit law rather than Federal Circuit law. Thus, we have a question of what role a precedential opinion on this point would actually serve.

$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.

 

Federal Circuit Orders PTO to limit business method review trials (CBM) to “financial products or services” since that is the law

by Dennis Crouch

In Unwired Planet v. Google, the Federal Circuit has vacated a PTAB covered business method decision – holding that the PTO’s definition of a “covered business method” was unduly broad.

The America Invents Act created a powerful set of post-issuance administrative review procedures known generally as AIA trials, including the covered business method (CBM) review. CBM is designed as a transitional proceeding that will sunset in the year 2020 barring congressional action. The most popular form of AIA trial is inter partes review (IPR) that allows for review of any issued patent but is limited to only novelty and obviousness challenges based upon prior art.  CBM review applies to a much narrower set of patents – only “covered business methods” – but those patents can be challenged on almost any patentability ground, including eligibility.  Here, the Board found the challenged claims unpatentable subject matter under section 101.

The term covered business method is particularly defined to include any patent “that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.” AIA § 18(d)(1).  In its implementing rules, the PTO did not further define or explain the CBM definition within its official rules – although the PTO did propose the “incidental” or “complementary” language in its official responses to comments on its proposed rules.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has rejected the more expansive definition as contrary to the statute.

Here Unwired’s Patent No. 7,203,752 claims a method of using privacy preferences to configure when various applications are permitted to access a wireless device’s location information.  PTAB found CBM claims by noting that businesses may want “to know a wireless device is in its area so relevant advertising may be transmitted.” The PTAB’s finding here was not conjecture but instead came from the patent’s written description.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit found the required “financial product or service” link too tenuous.  The court explains:

The Board’s application of the “incidental to” and “complementary to” language from the PTO policy statement instead of the statutory definition renders superfluous the limits Congress placed on the definition of a CBM patent.

The court then provides a few analogies:

The patent for a novel lightbulb that is found to work particularly well in bank vaults does not become a CBM patent because of its incidental or complementary use in banks. Likewise, it cannot be the case that a patent covering a method and corresponding apparatuses becomes a CBM patent because its practice could involve a potential sale of a good or service. All patents, at some level, relate to potential sale of a good or service. Take, for example, a patent for an apparatus for digging ditches. Does the sale of the dirt that results from use of the ditch digger render the patent a CBM patent? No, because the claims of the ditch-digging method or apparatus are not directed to “performing data processing or other operations” or “used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service,” as required by the statute. It is not enough that a sale has occurred or may occur, or even that the specification speculates such a potential sale might occur.

The decision here thus appears to eliminate any chance that the patent will be considered a CBM and thus the Section 101 decision by the PTAB goes away.

No Appeal? Like IPR proceedings, CBM proceedings begin with an initiation decision followed by a trial decision.  And, like IPR proceedings, the decision to initiate a CBM is not appealable.  In Versata, however, the Federal Circuit held that the initiation question of whether a patent is a CBM patent may be reviewed on appeal.  Despite the statutory language and the intervening Supreme Court decision in Cuozzo, the court here held that it still has jurisdiction to review the CBM initiation question on appeal.

Deference: In reviewing the PTAB determination, the court gave no deference to the Board’s interpretation of the law. “We review the Board’s statutory interpretation de novo.”  The Court also gave no deference to the PTO’s “policy statement” made in its notice of final rules.  The court does implicitly suggest – as it did in Versata – that implementation of a more thorough definition in the CFR rules would be given deference. However, the PTO has not taken that approach.

I do not know yet whether Google will push this case to the Supreme Court.  The strongest argument is that Cuozzo implicitly overruled Versata. That is the holding suggested by Alito’s dissenting interpretation of the Cuozzo majority.

 

Reasonable Royalty for Industry Standard Patents

by Dennis Crouch

The Australian governmental research agency CSIRO has been the plaintiff in a number of E.D. Texas patent cases over the past decade — repeatedly enforcing its wireless local-area-network (LAN) U.S. Patent No. 5,487,069 that has been held to cover WiFi (802.11a and 802.11g).

After a long battle, CISCO stipulated to liability and validity of the patent.  In a bench trial, the court found that a reasonable royalty was about $.83 per WiFi product sold by Cisco.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit vacated that Judgment – holding that the royalty rate was likely too high because it internalized the lock-in value of the standardized technology.  There are many ways to create a wireless local network and there really is not any indication that the ‘069 patent offers the best way (even among other available alternatives).  Instead, what makes the ‘069 patent so valuable is that it was chosen as the standard.

The underlying question now on petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court is whether and the extent that CSIRO’s royalty rate should be discounted because the invention was chosen as the standard.  However, CSIRO’s petition focuses on the standard of appellate review:

The Patent Act provides that a “[u]pon finding for the claimant the court shall award the claimant damages adequate to compensate for the infringement ….” 35 U.S.C. § 284. In contravention of this broad language, the Federal Circuit has erected a rigid set of legal rules to control the determination of damages by triers of fact. As a result, the Federal Circuit now exercises de novo review over inherently factual questions, resulting in routine reversals.
This Court has held with regard to another patent remedies provision that it is improper for the Federal Circuit to “superimposed an inflexible framework onto statutory text that is inherently flexible.” Octane Fitness. And this Court is considering related questions in relation to another portion of section 284 in Stryker Corp. and Halo Electronics.

The question presented is:

Is the Federal Circuit’s promulgation of rigid legal rules to control the weight to be given by the trier of fact to evidence of patent infringement damages proper under 35 U.S.C. § 284?

 

Because damages are now the fundamental remedy for patentees, this case will be an important one to follow.

[Read the Petition: CSIRO v. Cisco Petition for Certiorari]

Guest Post by Prof. Contreras – CSIRO v. Cisco: The Convergence of RAND and non-RAND Royalties for Standards-Essential Patents

Guest Post by Prof. Contreras – CSIRO v. Cisco: The Convergence of RAND and non-RAND Royalties for Standards-Essential Patents

Guest Post by Jorge L. Contreras, Associate Professor, University of Utah College of Law. 

In Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation v. Cisco Systems, Inc. (Fed. Cir., Dec. 1, 2015), the Federal Circuit established important new guidelines for the calculation of “reasonable royalty” damages for standards-essential patents (SEPs), even in the absence of the patent holder’s commitment to license on reasonable and nondiscriminatory (RAND) terms. Chief Judge Prost, writing for a panel that also included Judges Dyk and Hughes, found that Chief Judge Leonard Davis of the Eastern District of Texas erred by failing, among other things, to account for the “standard-essential status” of a Commonwealth Scientific (CSIRO) patent infringed by Cisco. The decision signals another important step toward the convergence of “reasonable royalty” damages in RAND and other patent cases.

Background

CSIRO is a leading Australian governmental research organization. In 1996 CSIRO obtained U.S. Patent 5,487,069, claiming techniques for addressing “multipath” problems in wireless signal processing. These techniques were later incorporated into IEEE’s 802.11a (“Wi-Fi”) standard, first published in 1999. In connection with the approval of 802.11a, IEEE requested, and CSIRO provided, a Letter of Assurance under which CSIRO committed to license the ‘069 patent to manufacturers of 802.11a-compliant products on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” (RAND) terms. When later versions of 802.11 were developed, IEEE again requested that CSIRO commit to license the ‘069 patent on RAND terms. CSIRO, however, refused to issue such additional assurances.

In 2001, Cisco acquired Radiata, Inc., a company founded by a former CSIRO scientist to manufacture wireless chips. Radiata had entered into a Technology License Agreement (TLA) with CSIRO in 1998, under which Radiata paid CSIRO royalties for use of the ‘069 patent based on a percentage of Radiata’s chip sale prices. These royalties ranged from 1% to 5% of the chip price, depending on sales volume. When Cisco acquired Radiata, it inherited the TLA and paid CSIRO approximately $900,000 in royalties over the next several years. Cisco stopped paying royalties under the TLA in 2007, when it discontinued the use of Radiata chips in its products. Cisco and CSIRO negotiated for several years regarding an ongoing license for the ‘069 patent, but could not reach agreement and CSIRO sued Cisco for infringement in 2011.

After a four-day bench trial, the District Court determined that the “reasonable” range for royalties for the ‘069 patent was between $0.90 (based on an “informal suggestion” made by Cisco’s chief patent counsel during negotiations in 2005) and $1.90 (based on the maximum rate that CSIRO offered to potential licensees in 2003). CSIRO v. Cisco, 2014 WL 3805817 (E.D. Tex. 2014). (The Court made a slightly different calculation with respect to products sold by Cisco’s Linksys subsidiary, but we will not consider that here). With these ranges in mind, the District Court developed a volume-based royalty table and assessed damages of approximately $16 million against Cisco. Cisco appealed, arguing that the District Court erred in three major regards: (1) by failing to begin its royalty analysis with the price of a Wi-Fi enabled chip, representing the smallest salable patent-practicing unit (SSPPU) in Cisco’s Wi-Fi enabled products, (2) by failing to adjust its reasonable royalty analysis to account for the essentiality of the ‘069 patent to the 802.11 standard, and (3) by basing its royalty determination on the parties’ negotiation positions rather than the TLA. The Federal Circuit found that the District Court erred as to points (2) and (3), vacating the decision below and remanding for recalculation of the damages award.

Apportionment and the Smallest Saleable Patent-Practicing Unit (SSPPU)

In CSIRO, the Federal Circuit reiterated the century-old rule, now embodied in Section 284 of the Patent Act, that patent infringement damages “must reflect the value attributable to the infringing features of the product, and no more.” Ericsson, Inc. v. D-Link Sys., Inc., 773 F.3d 1201, 1226 (Fed. Cir. 2014). It went on to explain that “[t]his principle—apportionment—is the governing rule where multi-component products are involved” (slip op. at 10, internal quotations omitted). The Court noted, however, that the rule of apportionment may be supplemented by additional tools to help determine the incremental value of the patented invention. One of these tools is the SSPPU model: when “a damages model apportions from a royalty base, the model should use the smallest salable patent-practicing unit as the base” (slip op. at 12).

Cisco argued that the District Court erred by beginning its reasonable royalty analysis using rates derived from inter-party negotiations rather than the SSPPU. The Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that the SSPPU model was inapplicable in the case, as the District Court did not determine a royalty “base” (i.e., the price that is multiplied by a royalty expressed in percentage terms) at all. Instead, the Court used so-called per-unit royalties (i.e., a specific dollar amount per end product). As such, there was no call for use of the SSPPU model, and the District Court did not err by avoiding its use.

Comparable Licenses

As noted above, the District Court determined the applicable range of royalties on the ‘069 patent to be between $0.90 and $1.90 based on figures introduced by the parties at different stages during their licensing negotiations. Cisco argued, however, that the appropriate royalty range should be based on the rates set forth in the TLA entered into by Radiata and CSIRO, as to which Cisco later succeeded. Under the TLA, the royalty rates for Cisco products would have been $0.03 to $0.33 (rates for Linksys products would have been slightly different, but I will disregard these for the sake of simplicity).

The District Court rejected any application of the TLA in its reasonable royalty analysis, reasoning, among other things, that (a) the TLA was a related-party agreement between CSIRO and one of its former scientists, rendering it not comparable to the proposed arm’s length agreement between Cisco and CSIRO, (b) the TLA was entered in 1998, long before any hypothetical negotiation between Cisco and CSIRO, and (c) the TLA royalty rates were based on the price of chips sold by Radiata rather than the value of the invention embodied by the ‘069 patent. To this last point, the District Court reasoned that “[b]asing a royalty solely on chip price is like valuing a copyrighted book based only on the costs of the binding, paper, and ink needed to actually produce the physical product. While such a calculation captures the cost of the physical product, it provides no indication of its actual value” (CSIRO, 2014 WL 3805817 at *11).

The Federal Circuit rejected most of the District Court’s reasoning regarding the TLA, largely because Cisco and CSIRO renegotiated numerous terms of the TLA following Cisco’s acquisition of Radiata. This renegotiation demonstrated both that the TLA did not embody a “special relationship” between CSIRO and the licensee (as Cisco presumably negotiated at arm’s length) and the timing of the amendments coincided with any hypothetical negotiation that would have been conducted between Cisco and CSIRO. As for the District Court’s discomfort with the TLA’s use of chip prices as the base upon which royalties would be calculated, the Federal Circuit quoted its recent decision in Ericsson, 773 F.3d at 1228,

in which it held that a comparable license may not be excluded from the fact finder’s consideration “solely because of its chosen royalty base.” Given this reasoning, the Federal Circuit held that the District Court erred by excluding the TLA from its analysis and directed the Court on remand to “reevaluate the relevance of the as-amended TLA in its damages analysis” (slip op. at 22).

Interestingly, this case represents the second appellate decision this year in which the admissibility of comparable license agreements has been challenged in RAND royalty determinations. In the prior case, Microsoft v. Motorola, 795 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2015), the Ninth Circuit was more deferential to the District Court’s exclusion of potentially comparable license agreements. In Microsoft, the Circuit Court upheld the District Court’s exclusion of three arm’s length license agreements to which Motorola was a party for reasons including the fact that some agreements were entered into to settle or forestall litigation, they included patents other than the patents at issue, they included cross-licenses and they included royalty caps. It will be interesting to see how the Circuits reconcile their interpretations of this key evidentiary standard in future cases.

Impact of Standardization

Perhaps the most far-reaching implication of CSIRO arises from the Federal Circuit’s holding regarding the impact of standardization on a patent. In the case, the District Court determined a “reasonable royalty” using the well-known framework established in Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. U.S. Plywood Corp., 318 F. Supp. 1116 (S.D.N.Y. 1970). Cisco argued that the District Court erred by failing to modify the Georgia-Pacific factors to account for the fact that the ‘069 patent was essential to the 802.11 standard. In particular, the Court failed to disregard any additional compensation that CSIRO might have been able to extract in a hypothetical negotiation solely as a result of the ‘069 patent’s essentiality to the 802.11 standard. This additional compensation, Cisco argued, is not indicative of the incremental value of the patented technology, but of the significant costs that manufacturers would have to incur if forced to switch to an alternative technology (so-called “switching costs”). For this reason, such adjustments to the Georgia-Pacific factors were made by prior courts determining reasonable royalty rates for standards-essential patents (e.g., Microsoft, Ericsson, and In re Innovatio IP Ventures, LLC, 956 F.Supp.2d 925 (N.D.Ill. 2013)).

But CSIRO pointed to a significant distinction with these prior cases. As noted above, CSIRO agreed to license the ‘069 patent on RAND terms to manufacturers of 802.11a-compliant products. But by the time of CSIRO’s suit, 802.11a was largely obsolete and represented only 0.03% of Cisco’s accused products (slip op. at 8). Thus, CSIRO argued and the District Court agreed that CSIRO had no obligation to offer RAND terms to Cisco with respect to its products implementing later versions of 802.11. And because no RAND obligation was implicated, no adjustment to the Georgia-Pacific factors was warranted.

The Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that the incremental value of a standard-essential patent (SEP) should be determined independently of manufacturer switching costs, whether or not the SEP was RAND-encumbered (slip op. at 17). Citing Ericsson, the Court reasoned that “damages awards for SEPs must be premised on methodologies that attempt to capture the asserted patent’s value resulting not from the value added by the standard’s widespread adoption, but only from the technology’s superiority” (id.) The Federal Circuit thus found that the District Court erred by failing to consider the extent to which the value of standardization may have impacted the calculated compensation range for the ‘069 patent, and remanded for further consideration of this issue.

Implications for RAND and Standards

The Federal Circuit’s analysis of the third factor in CSIRO is sensible, but does raise some interesting questions about standards and SEPs. In rejecting CSIRO’s argument that the royalty damages analysis should not be adjusted because the ‘069 patent was not RAND-encumbered, the Federal Circuit noted first that Ericsson distinguished between RAND-encumbered SEPs and SEPs generally (slip op. at 17). On this basis, the court reasoned that even though the ‘069 patent might not be encumbered by a RAND commitment, the court’s reasonable royalty analysis must take into account the fact that the patent was a SEP (and thus correct for excess compensation that could be extracted based on broad industry adoption of the standard).

If this is the case, then what is the difference in the royalty payable with respect to a RAND-encumbered SEP and the royalty payable with respect to an unencumbered SEP? The result in CSIRO suggests that there is no difference at all. In the case of RAND-encumbered SEPs, the patent holder agrees to charge a “reasonable royalty”, which the courts have calculated using a modified version of the Georgia-Pacific framework. But Section 284 of the Patent Act establishes a “reasonable royalty” as the baseline measure of damages for all patents. Accordingly, a similar reasonable royalty calculation, also using the Georgia-Pacific framework should be used for unencumbered SEPs. And, as held by the Federal Circuit in CSIRO, that calculation must avoid the inclusion of switching costs in the “reasonable” royalty.

In a recent paper, A Unified Framework for RAND and other Reasonable Royalties, 30 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 1447-1499 (2015), Richard Gilbert and I predict this result: namely, the convergence of reasonable royalty damages for RAND-encumbered and unencumbered patents. As we have written, and as the Federal Circuit has repeatedly confirmed, the appropriate measure of damages in patent cases, whether or not involving SEPs, is the incremental value of the patented invention to the product in which it is incorporated.

But if royalty rates for RAND-encumbered SEPs are no lower than royalty rates for unencumbered SEPs, then what is the point of making a RAND commitment? Does it have any effect at all? Professor Gilbert and I argue that RAND commitments are meaningful even without this royalty differential. Most importantly, a SEP holder that makes a RAND commitment severely limits its ability to obtain an injunction to prevent infringement by manufacturers of standardized products. Holders of unencumbered SEPs, on the other hand, have not committed to license their patents, and may not face the same hurdles to obtaining injunctive relief. Then, as predicted by Farrell, Lemley, Shapiro and others, they could use the leverage conferred by the threat of an injunction to extract a higher (unreasonable?) royalty from manufacturers of standardized products without having to resort to a judicial damages determination (which, as we have seen, will be limited to a “reasonable” royalty). This possibility has significant implications, particularly given the increasing acquisition and assertion of SEPs by patent assertion entities that do not make RAND commitments, a complex topic well beyond the scope of this note, but which I have written about here. For these and other reasons, RAND commitments, and the encouragement of RAND commitments by SSOs and market participants, will continue to play an important role in fostering standardization and innovation.