Is this Heart Monitor Merely an Abstract Idea?

by Dennis Crouch

For the past several years, I have been conducting an annual patent law moot court competition at Mizzou. This year – the eighth annual – the case was was captioned as an appeal of a recent dismissal by District Court Judge Indira Talwani in Cardionet, LLC v. Infobionic, Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177305, 2018 WL 5017913 (D. Mass October 16, 2018).  In her decision, Judge Talwani dismissed the case for failure to state a claim — ruling CardioNet’s heart monitor patent is directed to an abstract idea rather than a patent eligible invention. U.S. Patent Number 7,941,207 (“the ‘207 patent”).  The moot court is sponsored by McKool Smith and so the winner receives $1,000.

In the mock appeal, the patentee raises two issues:

  1. Whether the district court’s opinion should be reversed because the asserted claims are patent eligible; and
  2. In the alternative, whether the district court’s opinions should be vacated based upon substantial issues of material fact that make a R. 12(b)(6) judgment for failure to state a claim improper.

The patent here covers a device for diagnosing and monitoring heart arrhythmia — particularly atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.  The basic setup uses standard portable-heart-monitor equipment to get ECG signals.  With those signals, the patentee measures variability in beat-to-beat timing of the heart and also ventricular-beat timing.  Those two measures can be used then to diagnose a-fib while ruling out other arrhythmia. Claim 1:

1. A device, comprising:

a beat detector to identify a beat-to-beat timing of cardiac activity;

a ventricular beat detector to identify ventricular beats in the cardiac activity;

variability determination logic to determine a variability in the beat-to-beat timing of a collection of beats;

relevance determination logic to identify a relevance of the variability in the beat-to-beat timing to at least one of atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter; and

an event generator to generate an event when the variability in the beat-to-beat timing is identified as relevant to the at least one of atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter in light of the variability in the beat-to-beat timing caused by ventricular beats identified by the ventricular beat detector.

3. The device of claim 1, wherein the variability determination logic is to compare times between R-waves in three successive QRS complexes to determine the variability in the beat-to-beat timing.

CardioNet sued InfoBionic for infringement in March 2017. Rather than filing an answer, InfoBionic filed a Motion to Dismiss for “failure to meet the pleading standard of Twombly and Iqbal and for patent ineligibility of the ‘207 patent pursuant to § 101.” While the district court was considering the briefed motion, the Federal Circuit decided Aatrix and Berkheimer but did not permit supplemental briefing regarding material facts at issue in the case. The district court then granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice – finding the claims invalid as directed to an abstract idea. The court explained “the innovation of the … patent may be to use  computer equipment and logic to monitor the variability of beats, but nothing in these claims places any limitation on that abstract idea.”

I still struggle with failure-to-state-a-claim motions in this particular situation because it confounds the ordinary approach to procedure in federal civil litigation. Namely, in ordinary litigation, the complaint does not need to anticipate defenses (such as invalidity) and plead facts to get around those defenses.  Rather, the complaint is where the patentee makes its prima facie case of infringement.  That said, the courts are disagreeing, at least de facto.

Question: How would you argue this appeal?

CardioNet has filed its notice of appeal, but briefing is not due in the actual case until January 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting your Flavor

Levola Hengelo BV v. Smilde Foods BV (Court of Appeal, Arnhem-Leeuwarden, Netherlands 2018) involves a spreadable dip known as ‘Heksenkaas’ or Witch’s Cheese.  In particular, the claimant argued that it owned a copyright in the taste of its dip.

We have copyright for protection for works that excite our other senses — works with a certain look, feel, or sound. Why not taste and odor?  We have literary and audiovisual works — why not flavorful works?

As you might imagine, the court said no — taste cannot be protected under European copyright. “The taste of a food product cannot be likened to any ‘works’ protected by that treaty and, to my knowledge, no other provision of international law provides for the copyright protection of the taste of a food product. . . . I consider that the taste of a food product does not constitute a ‘work’ within the meaning of Directive 2001/29.”

Update: The Netherlands Court of Appeals case was decided earlier this year, the EU Court of Justice has now provided its own answer to the question – agreeing with the Court of Appeals and holding that

Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as precluding (i) the taste of a food product from being protected by copyright under that directive and (ii) national legislation from being interpreted in such a way that it grants copyright protection to such a taste.



Get that Case Out of Here! Federal Circuit Continues to Allow Mandamus Actions to Cure Improper Venue

by Dennis Crouch

In re OATH HOLDINGS, INC. (Formerly Known as Yahoo Holdings, Inc.) (Fed. Cir. 2018)

Oath, Inc. tagline blue transparent.svg

The outcome of this case is simple: Oath doesn’t have to defend a patent infringement lawsuit in E.D.N.Y. because that location is an “improper venue.”

Under TC Heartland (2017), patent owners in patent cases now have a fairly limited set of options for filing infringement actions.  In particular, a lawsuit against a domestic defendant must be filed either:

  1. Where the defendant resides (i.e., its state of incorporation)
  2. Where the defendant has a regular and established place of business (i.e., physical building).

TC Heartland falls directly in line with the prior supreme court decision in Fourco Glass (1957).  However, during the interim, the Federal Circuit had expanded its definition of proper venue to include any court that has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.  Thus, for someone who studies only Supreme Court law, TC Heartland was a continuation of an unchanged law. On the other hand, the case was a major shift for those of us whose gaze is directed to the Federal Circuit (and practical district court litigation). The Federal Circuit has identified the latter frame of reference as appropriate — holding that TC Heartland was a change in the law.  In re Micron Technology, Inc., 875 F.3d 1091 (Fed. Cir. 2017).  The Micron decision was important because it prompted district courts to revisit the venue question even if the issue was seemingly waived.

In its decision here, the Federal Circuit holds that Oath/Yahoo should not be considered to have waived the venue issue because it promptly raised the issue immediately following TC Heartland.

There is no dispute that venue in the Eastern District of New York in this case is contrary to § 1400(b). The only question is whether Oath waived or forfeited the right to have the case dismissed on that basis by waiting too long to invoke it. The district court answered yes to that question. The district court’s principal ground for doing so, however, rests on its failure to follow our directly controlling Micron precedent addressing the issue of waiver under Rule 12(g)(2) and (h)(1) as applied to TC Heartland’s rejection of this court’s earlier, longstanding VE Holding precedent. . . .

Micron answers the entire question of waiver under Rule 12(g)(2) and (h)(1) for purposes of this case: there was no such waiver. In what is nearly the only basis for the district court’s denial of Oath’s venue motion, the district court clearly erred in not following the Micron precedent giving that answer. That error warrants mandamus relief.

On remand, the district court is ordered to either dismiss the case or transfer it to a proper venue.

= = = =

One tricky aspect of this decision involves the question of “binding precedent.” The Federal Circuit’s patent law precedent is binding on all of the district courts with regard to patent law questions.  However, the Federal Circuit relies upon the law of the various regional circuit courts of appeals when deciding non-patent issues such as  general civil procedure.  Here, although the question of proper venue is a “patent law” question, the patentee argued that the waiver analysis of Micron was an interpretation of First Circuit law and didn’t bind the E.D.N.Y. judge sitting in the Second Circuit.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that analysis holding that “issues of waiver or forfeiture of patent-venue rights under § 1400(b) and § 1406(a) are likewise governed by our [Federal Circuit] law.” Thus, Micron controls all the district courts.

Inventors Can Challenge their Own Patents – But Only at the PTAB

by Dennis Crouch

The traditional rule of assignor estoppel prevents prior owners of a patent from later challenging the validity of the patent.  The doctrine stems from old property law cases and is based upon the idea is that the assignor “should not be permitted to sell something and later to assert that what was sold is worthless, all to the detriment of the assignee.” Diamond Scientific Co. v. Ambico, Inc., 848 F.2d 1220 (Fed. Cir. 1988); see Westinghouse Elec. & Mfg. Co. v. Formica Ins. Co., 266 U.S. 342 (1924). Of course, most ‘assignors’ are inventor-employees who assign away rights well before even conceiving of their inventions.  In his 2016 article, Mark Lemley argued that:

[T]he doctrine is out of touch with the realities of both modern inventing and modern patent law, and that it interferes with both the invalidation of bad patents and the goal of employee mobility.

Mark A. Lemley, Rethinking Assignor Estoppel, 54 Hous. L. Rev. 513 (2016).

In Arista Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Sys., Inc., 2017-1525, 2018 WL 5851331 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 9, 2018), the Federal Circuit was faced with the question of whether assignor estoppel applies to prevent an assignor from later challenging a patent in an inter partes review proceeding. In that framework, the court sided with Lemley and agreed to rethink the doctrine — holding that an inventor is not estopped from challenging his assigned patent in an IPR proceeding.

In this case, the inventor-professor-billionaire David Cheriton was formerly employed as Cisco’s chief product architect.  After inventing an improved “logging module,” Cheriton assigned rights to Cisco who patented the invention. The assignment included several promises , including a promise to “do everything possible to aid said assignee, their successors, assigns and nominees, at their request and expense, in obtaining and enforcing patents for said invention in all countries.”  Cheriton later left Cisco and founded Arista.  At that point, Cisco turned around and sued Arista for infringement.  Arista responded with the IPR challenge.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit began with a consideration of the common law approach — “that assignor estoppel is a well-established common-law doctrine that should be presumed to apply absent a statutory indication to the contrary.”  Although the AIA obviously did not mention the doctrine, the appellate court found that the law had an “evident” statutory purpose that is contrary to the doctrine. In particular, the court focuses on Section 311(a) that states:

(a) In General.— Subject to the provisions of this chapter, a person who is not the owner of a patent may file with the Office a petition to institute an inter partes review of the patent.

In reading the statute, the court decided that “plain language of this statutory provision is unambiguous. . . The plain language of § 311(a) demonstrates that an assignor, who is no longer the owner of a patent, may file an IPR petition as to that patent. . . . In sum, we conclude that § 311(a), by allowing “a person who is not the owner of a patent” to file an IPR, unambiguously dictates that assignor estoppel has no place in IPR proceedings.”

The legal analysis by the court could fairly be called low quality because it does not content with the many other areas of patent law (and other areas of law) that allow for departures from the statute in order to allow for traditional common law doctrines.  Take for instance, Section 282(b) that provides invalidity as a defense in “any” infringement lawsuit — of course as discussed above the court has held that 282(b) does not eliminate assignor estoppel.

I will note that the appellate panel questioned the ongoing viability of assignor estoppel as it applies in any patent case, but decided to narrowly focus its decision here on IPR proceedings rather than patent law cases as a whole.

No Costs to Government when it Intervenes in IPR Proceedings

by Dennis Crouch

LG Electronics v. Iancu (Fed. Cir. 2018) [ORDER]

In a R.36 Affirmance, the Federal Circuit upheld the PTAB obviousness judgment. The USPTO promptly filed a request for a bill of costs for $387.60.  The Federal Circuit has now rejected that request since the PTO was an intervenor, not a party.

LG Electronics (LG) sued Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) for infringement back in 2014 and AMD responded with the filing of this inter partes review (IPR) petition. U.S. Patent 7,664,971. The PTAB found all the challenged claims obvious and LGE appealed, but AMD did not defend the case on appeal since the parties settled the underlying infringement dispute.  At that point, the PTO “exercised its right to intervene” under 35 U.S.C. 143.

The Director shall have the right to intervene in an appeal from a decision entered by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in a derivation proceeding under section 135 or in an inter partes or post-grant review under chapter 31 or 32.

After affirming on the merits, the PTO asked for its costs Federal Circuit Rule 39.  Under the rule, costs just include copying, service of process, clerk fees, etc. — and here added up to $388.

The Federal Circuit rule states that “if a judgment is affirmed, costs are taxed against the appellant.” However, the rule includes a caveat when costs are “for or against” the US. In that case, costs are assessed “only if authorized by law.”  28 U.S.C. § 2412(a) allows for costs when the Government is a party to litigation.  Here, however, the Government was an intervenor.

This appeal was not brought by or against the United States. It was a dispute arising between two private parties, AMD and LG. The PTO was an intervenor, which, although having a right to intervene, see 35 U.S.C. § 143, had no obligation to intervene. No one asked it to intervene. It was in effect a volunteer. Section 2412(a) is therefore not applicable to this case.

The court found no other particular statute authorizing costs to the government — and thus the court “decline[d] to award costs in these circumstances.”

Interesting petition

Havilland v. FX Networks LLC, Supreme Ct. Docket No. 18-453

Olivia de Havilland is a 102-year-old, two-time Academy Award winning best actress, who played Melanie Hamilton in the movie classic, “Gone with the Wind.” Of particular relevance here, she is also a woman who lives her life devoted to high moral and ethical standards.

FX Networks, LLC and Pacific 2.1 Entertainment Group, Inc. appropriated the literal name and identity of Olivia de Havilland, without consent or compensation, to be the narrator of a mini-series, “Feud: Bette and Joan,” devoted to the theme of women actors catfighting, using vulgar language, and backstabbing one another. FX, claiming artistic license, admits that many of the statements and vulgar language attributed to de Havilland were fabricated and knowingly untrue.

The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge’s denial of a Motion to Strike, and dismissed Miss de Havilland’s claims, based on a First Amendment defense for docudramas.

The Question for the Court is: Are reckless or knowing false statements about a living public figure, published in docudrama format, entitled to absolute First Amendment protection from claims based on the victim’s statutory and common law causes of action for defamation and right of publicity, so as to justify dismissal at the pleading stage?

Infringing?: Offers (made in the US) to Sell (abroad)

by Dennis Crouch

Texas Advanced Optoelectronic Solutions, Inc., (TAOS) v. Renesas Electronics America, Inc., fka Intersil Corporation (Supreme Court 2018)

This case focuses on TAOS’ patented photodiode array ambient light sensor that is now widely used in smartphones to adjust display brightness.  U.S. Patent No. 6,596,981.  Following failed merger negotiations with TAOS, Intersil developed a competing product and Apple signed-on as a client. However, a jury found Intersil liable for patent infringement, trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and tortious interference with prospective business (finding that Intersil had improperly used confidential information from the merger talks).

A tough aspect of the patent case against Intersil itself is that 98.8% of its products are manufactured, packaged, and tested abroad — then delivered to customers abroad. U.S. patent law is territorial and almost none of the products were made, used, or sold “within the United States.” 35 U.S.C. 271(a).  In its new petition for writ of certiorari, TAOS argues that the infringer should still be liable becase it made “offers to sell” the invention within the US.

Here, the evidence shows that an offer was made in California by Intersil to sell the accused sensors to Apple at $.035 each.  Although the offer was made in California, delivery was set outside the U.S.  The delivery location is critical under the leading Federal Circuit decision in Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Inc. v. Maersk Contractors USA, Inc., 617 F.3d 1296 (Fed. Cir. 2010).  In Transocean, the court held that “offers to sell . . . within the United States” are limited to offers where – if accepted – the sale will occur in the United States.   Now TAOS raises the following question to the Supreme Court:

Whether an “offer[] to sell” occurs where the offer is actually made or where the offer contemplates that the proposed sale will take place.

[Petition].  Linguistically — the basic question is whether “within the United States” clause modifies “offers” or “sell” (or perhaps both). In the context of the statute’s list of bad actions it is pretty clear that the focal point is “offers.”

[W]hoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

35 U.S.C. 271(a). There is really no Congressional guidance on what was intended when the law was implemented as part of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (1994).

In Transocean, the offer was made in Scandinavia to but for delivery in the US — the court held this as infringing because the sale was going to take place in the US. “In order for an offer to sell to constitute infringement, the offer must be to sell a patented invention within the United States. The focus should not be on the location of the offer, but rather the location of the future sale that would occur pursuant to the offer.”  Id. The Supreme Court called for views of the Solicitor General in that case, but the parties settled prior to resolution.   Now the court has another chance to consider the issues.

= = = =

The importance of this case is much greater following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp.  In that case, the court indicated that foreign consequential damages are available to compensate for U.S. acts of infringement.   Here, that could mean that TAOS could collect damages for the foreign made products that stemmed from the US originated offer.

= = = =

One way to look at this case is through a simple two-by-two table of activities showing the location of the offer as well as the location of the proposed sale.  Everyone agrees that box-1 is infringing where both the offer and eventual sale are in the US; we all also agree that box-4 is not infringing where neither the offer nor the eventual sale are in the US.  The debate is then over boxes 2 and 3.  In Transocean, the Federal Circuit held that box-3 is also infringing — focusing on the location of the eventual sale.  Here, the patentee is arguing that the statute focuses on the location of the offer and thus that boxes 1 and 2 are the actionable situations.  I can also conceive of a court saying that of the four, only box 1 is infringing or alternatively that 1, 2, and 3 are all infringing..


Interpreting Claims — Claiming Elements from the Background Art

DISCLOSURE: Back in 2013/14 I talked with the attorneys for Cave Consulting about serving as an expert witness for the underlying district court litigation. I ended up not doing any work related to the case. – DC

by Dennis Crouch

Cave Consulting Group, LLC, v. OptumInsight, Inc. (Supreme Court 2018) [20181102114930196_Cave Consulting v. Optuminsight Inc. Petition for Writ]

This pending case before the Supreme Court focuses on fundamental questions of how to interpret patent claim scope. 

Cave Consulting’s U.S. Patent No. 7,739,126 covers a method of determining physician efficiency that includes, inter alia, a step of calculating a “weighted statistic” associated with various “episodes of care.”  The broader claims are not expressly limited to the particular statistic used, while the dependent claims require alternatively require “indirect standardization” (Claim 25) or “indirect standardization” (Claim 26) of the weighting.  To be clear, the specification spends substantial time focusing on indirect standardization in detail, whereas direct standardization is a method known in the prior art.

In its case against Optum (a subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare and my insurance provider), the patentee argued that Optum used the direct-standardization weighting as claimed and a jury found agreed with a $12 million damages award.

On appeal the Federal Circuit shifted claim construction and reversed — holding that the independent claims implicitly excluded direct-standardization weighting. In its holding the court relied upon its precedent in Retractable Techs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 653 F.3d 1296, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 2011) in stating that claims should be construed to “tether the claims to what the specifications indicate the inventor actually invented.”

Optum had argued disclaimer, but could not point toward any “clear and unmistakable” disavowal of scope or lexicographical redefinition of the terms. Rather, the court simply found that the best construction of the claimed “weighted statistic” excluded the traditional direct-standardization weighting.

Cave does not identify, nor do we find, any indication in the ’126 patent’s description that its invention employs direct standardization, and, other than the dependent claims, Cave’s support for including direct standardization comes exclusively from the description of the prior art methods in the background section.

Although there might ordinarily be a claim differentiation argument, the court found it weak here because the aforementioned dependent claims had been added during prosecution.

[I]n view of the specification’s consistently limiting description, we conclude that these interpretive canons, despite the later-added dependent claims, cannot overcome the claim scope that is unambiguously prescribed by the specification.

Now Cave Consulting has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case with the following question presented:

May a court construe a patent claim in a way that contradicts its plain and ordinary meaning by relying on statements in the specification that do not constitute lexicography or disavowal?

Cave Consulting sets up the case as a debate over whether claims control the scope of the rights:

  • When there is a conflict between clear and unambiguous claim language and statements in the specification, the claim language wins. White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47, 52 (1886)(“The claim is a statutory requirement, prescribed for the very purpose of making the patentee define precisely what his invention is, and it is unjust to the public, as well as an evasion of the law, to construe it in a manner different from the plain import of its terms.”)
  • Howe Mach. Co. v. Nat’l Needle Co., 134 U.S. 388, 394 (1890) (“Doubtless a claim is to be construed in connection with the explanation contained in the specification . . . but, since the inventor must particularly specify and point out [what] he claims as his own invention or discovery, the specification and drawings are usually looked at only for the purpose of better understanding the meaning of the claim, and certainly not for the purpose of changing it, and making it different from what it is.”);
  • Cimiotti Unhairing Co. v. Am. Fur Ref. Co., 198 U.S. 399, 410 (1905) (“In making his claim the inventor is at liberty to choose his own form of expression, and while the courts may construe the same in view of the specifications and the state of the art, they may not add to or detract from the claim.”);
  • Motion Picture Patents Co. v. Universal Film Mfg. Co., 243 U.S. 502, 510 (1917)(“It is to the claims of every patent, therefore, that we must turn when we are seeking to determine what the invention is . . . .”);
  • Smith v. Snow, 294 U.S. 1, 11 (1935) (“We may take it that, as the statute requires, the specifications just detailed show a way of using the inventor’s method, and that he conceived that particular way described was the best one. But he is not confined to that particular mode of use, since the claims of the patent, not its specifications, measure the invention.”);
  • Graver Tank & Mfg. Co. v. Linde Air Prods. Co., 336 U.S. 271, 277 (1949) (refusing to narrow the unambiguous claim language based on the specification, noting that the Court has “frequently held that it is the claim which measures the grant to the patentee.”).

As you can see, this is an important area of jurisprudence that the Supreme Court has discussed on multiple occasions — increasing the odds of certiorari.

= = =

Richard Brophy and Marc Vander Tuig of Armstrong Teasdale filed the petition on behalf of Cave Consulting.

= = =

I’ll note here that it is cases like this that discourage patentees from including any background section at all.

= = =


Whitaker on Patent Marketing

by Dennis Crouch

Following up on the patent experience of US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.  Although not a patent attorney, Whitaker has been a board member of the now defunct invention promotion scam World Patent Marketing.  In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed suit against the company, won a preliminary injunction against its ongoing business, and then a consent decree for $27 million in judgments and injunction against ongoing business.  (Apparently at least $24 million is gone and not being repaid.)

Gene Quinn has written extensively about invention marketing scams discussed the preliminary injunction on his IPWatchdog site.  Quinn explains:

“The record supports a preliminary finding that Defendants devised a fraudulent scheme to use consumer funds to enrich themselves,” concluded United States District Judge Darrin P. Gayles. “Accordingly, the Court finds a preliminary injunction is necessary to maintain the status quo pending a trial on the merits.”

Perhaps most egregious, however, were the threats and intimidation World Patent Marketing directed toward complaining customers.

As a former Federal Prosecutor, Whitaker’s place on the Board lent the company a high level of credibility. For lending his name, Whitaker was paid only about $600 per month.  At the time, Whitaker was also managing director of his own small Iowa law firm and penned at least one letter toward a complaining customer:

Whitaker was not prosecuted by the FTC and was not named in either the preliminary injunction or the consent decree.  Unlike other board members, Whitaker has not returned the cash he received in the scheme and has made no public statement regarding his role or the scam.  My hope is that the AG will have learned from this experience, however his ongoing silence on the issue is troubling.

USPTO News and Updates

  • We have a new USPTO deputy director LAURA PETER.  Ms. Peter has been a registered patent practitioner since 1989 — working primarily in house for the past two decades. Most recently she was Deputy General Counsel at A10 Networks. She was also GC at Immersion Corp — by that point the company was really just enforcing its patents on haptic feedback game controllers. (See recent case) In 2010 Peters was the republican candidate for the California State House of Representatives — she won the primary but lost to the Democratic incumbent in the general election.
  • Ms. Peter’s Reg. No. is 33,545.  The most recent PTO registration number belongs to Mr. Noble Woo with Reg. No. 77,596 (Registered 11/5/18). Congratulations Mr. Woo!
  • The Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) will hold its next meeting on November 8 (AGENDA). You can either attend in person at the USPTO or watch via web stream.
  • The USPTO is continuing its excellent STEPP program for registered patent practitioners (STEPP = Stakeholder Training on Examination Practice and Procedure).  The next training is January 15-17 in Dallas. [More Info | Apply to Attend]
  • In January we’ll see a major shift on the House Judiciary Committee — this is important because patent legislation generally goes through that committee. Hank Johnson (D-Ga) is expected to take over as ranking member of the IP Subcommittee. Although Johnson does not have extensive IP experience, he is known as an effective legislator.  Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) and Darrell Issa (R-Ca) are retiring from the House.

Enforcing FRAND Commitments

FTC v. Qualcomm (N.D. Cal. 2018)

In an important decision, Judge Koh granted partial summary judgment for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that will require Qualcomm to license its Standard-EssentialPatents (SEPs) for 3G Mobile (and other) communication standards on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms.  [FTC v Qualcomm]

Qualcomm agreed that it was subject to its prior FRAND commitment, but argued that it only applied to “complete devices like cellular handsets” and not to components like modem chips.  In other words, Qualcomm was happy to license to its chip customers, but not to its competitors. This decision follows other cases, including Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc., 696 F.3d 872 (9th Cir. 2012) where the 9th Circuit held that “FRAND commitments include an obligation to license to all comers, including competing modem chip suppliers.”

The FTC sued Qualcomm alleging unfair competition under Section 5 of the FTCA — alleging that the failure to license represented anti-competitive behavior.

Although this particular issue is resolved, the case is moving forward on other antitrust allegations — including allegations that Qualcomm used its market dominance to negotiate higher royalties and terms, including exclusivity requirements, from handset makers.

Joke: What do you call a claim without a transition phrase?

by Dennis Crouch

Acceleration Bay, LLC v. Activision Blizzard Inc., Docket No. 17-2084 (Fed. Cir. 2018)

This consolidated appeal involves 12 different inter partes review proceedings collectively challenging three Acceleration Bay patents.[1] The patents at issue here are all related to methods of broadcasting information over a peer-to-peer network.  The basic approach here is to ensure that the network is sufficiently connected and then send data through each node to its neighbor participants.  I made the gif below that provides a simple example.

The PTAB split in its decision – finding many of the challenged claims obvious but some patentable.[2]  The decision involves a few patent attorney inside questions:

If a claim has no transition phrase, is it all body? Some of the challenged claims had no transition phrase such as “comprising” — Claim 1 of the ‘966 patent is on point:

1. A computer network for providing an information delivery service for a plurality of participants, each participant having connections to at least three neighbor participants, wherein an originating participant . . .

On appeal, the patentee argued that “information delivery services” should be seen as a limiting claim term — because it is part of the body of the claim — rather than a non-limiting portion of the preamble. Here, challenged term appears toward the start of the claim, but the patentee argues that the claim is all-body (and therefore is all limiting).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit sided with the PTAB that the term was part of the preamble and was non-limiting. The court writes “Acceleration’s poor claim drafting will not be an excuse for it to infuse confusion into its claim scope.”  Note here that the patents originally belonged to Boeing and were prosecuted by Perkins Coie.

Printed Publication: In its cross-appeal, Blizzard argued that a particular reference (“Lin”) should count as a prior art printed publication. The article in question is captioned:

Meng-Jang Lin, et al., Gossip versus Deterministic Flooding: Low Message Overhead and High Reliability for Broadcasting on Small Networks, Technical Report No. CS1999-0637 (Univ. of Cal. San Diego, 1999).

The unchallenged testimony was that the article by Lin was uploaded to the UCSD Computer Science and Engineering website (on a page of CSE technical reports).  The upload took place in 1999 before the critical date for the patents and the site was indexed and searchable – although the search function was limited. Still, the PTAB found that the document was not “published” — a conclusion affirmed on appeal. 

To qualify as a “publication” the document must either (1) be actually distributed to the public or (2) be publicly available. Because there was no evidence that the document actually reached members of the public, the focus was on the second prong, public availability.  The question here: “whether an interested skilled artisan, using reasonable diligence, would have found Lin on the CSE Technical Reports Library website.”  Although the site was indexed and searchable, the PTAB concluded that the search function was limited and that the evidence only “suggests that an artisan might have located Lin by skimming through potentially hundreds of titles in the same year, with most containing unrelated subject matter, or by viewing all titles in the database listed by author, when the authors were not particularly well known.”

Treating public accessibility as a factual determinatoin, the Federal Circuit affirmed — finding that “[s]ubstantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that there “is insufficient evidence of record to support a finding that a person of ordinary skill in the art in 1999 could have located Lin using the CSE Library website’s search function.”

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As noted above, a critical factor in the Federal Circuit’s analysis was the deference given to PTAB fact finding — holding that public accessibility is a question of fact.

Whether a reference qualifies as a printed publication under § 102 is a legal conclusion based on underlying fact findings. Jazz Pharm., Inc. v. Amneal Pharm., LLC, 895 F.3d 1347, 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2018); accord Cooper Cameron Corp. v. Kvaerner Oilfield Prod., Inc., 291 F.3d 1317, 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2002). One such fact question is public accessibility, which we review for substantial evidence. Jazz Pharm., 895 F.3d at 1356.

In a prior post, I walked though a series of low quality citation strings on the question of whether public-accessibility is a question of fact (or instead a question of law).

Here, the court cites Jazz Pharma, and Jazz Pharma does include the holding that “[p]ublic accessibility is a question of fact.”  Jazz Pharma justifies this holding with a citation to In re NTP, Inc., 654 F.3d 1279 (Fed. Cir. 2011). NTP also includes the short statement that “publicly accessible is a question of fact,” again without any reasoning or explanation other than a citation back to In re Klopfenstein, 380 F.3d 1345 (Fed. Cir. 2004) along with the parenthetical (holding that whether a reference is publicly accessible is based on the “facts and circumstances surrounding the reference’s disclosure to members of the public”).  It turns out though that Klopfenstein did not actually make that holding. Once again, this citation string goes back to nowhere.

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[1] IPR2015-01951, IPR2015-01953, IPR2015-01964, IPR2015-01970, IPR2015-01972, IPR2015-01996, IPR2016-00933, IPR2016-00934, IPR2016-00935, IPR2016-00936, IPR2016-00963, IPR2016-00964.

[2] “Claims 1–9 of U.S. Patent No. 6,829,634, claims 1–11 and 16–19 of U.S. Patent No. 6,701,344, and claims 1–11 and 16–17 of U.S. Patent No. 6,714,966” were all found invalid. “Claims 10–18 of the ’634 patent, as well as substitute claims 19 of the ’966 patent, 21 of the ’344 patent, and 25 of the ’634 patent” were all found patentable.



US: Vote Today

Here in Missouri we have a Univ. of Missouri School of Law Graduate – Claire McCaskel – running against a former Univ. of Missouri School of Law Professor – Josh Hawley (whose spouse is a current Univ. of Missouri School of Law Professor).  Keeping it all close to home.

Failure to Disclose Prior License

by Dennis Crouch

Hollister Inc. v. Zassi Holdings, Inc., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 30085 (11th Circuit 2018) [Hollister Inc. v. Zassi Holdings_ Inc._ 2018 U.S. App][Hollister Inc. v. Zassi Holdings_ Inc._ 2016 U.S. Dist]

This case before the 11th Circuit involves a patent sale with a hidden prior license.  Hollister bought two pending patent applications from Zassi.  As part of the transaction, Zassi and its founder (Peter von Dyck) represented that the rights were “free and clear of any licenses.”

Later, when Hollister sued two competitors, Bard and ConvaTek, for infringement it learned that Zassi had already licensed the technology to ConvaTek.  Thus, while Bard paid $6 million for a license, the case against ConvaTek was dismissed.   Hollister Inc. v. ConvaTec Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66638 (N.D. Ill. June 21, 2011), aff’d without opinion, Hollister Inc. v. ConvaTec Inc., 470 F. App’x 904 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

Hollister then turned back to Zassi and von Dyck and sued for damages associated with the undisclosed license to ConvaTek.  The jury sided against Zassi and von Dyk for breach of warranty of title and fraud.  As a twist, however, the court awarded no damages.  Using a case-within-a-case analysis, the district court found that ConvaTek’s actions were infringing, but-for the prior license.  Hollister relied upon its license to Bard as a mechanism to calculate a reasonable royalty damage amount for ConvaTek as the “best, most comparable, most reliable evidence.”  However, the district rejected the argument — finding that the settlement with Bard had now foundational basis other than being the amount the parties agreed upon.  In other words, Hollister provided no objective economic approach showing the $6 million settlement was a reasonable royalty.

Hollister’s failure to explain how the parties calculated the lump-sum in the Bard agreement or to prove that the $6.65 million amount represented a reasonable royalty, upon which its damages theory in this case depends, is a failure of proof.

The district court similarly refused to give credence to the $5.9 million that ConvaTek paid to Zassi for the prior license.  The problem was that these settlements didn’t have an associated economic story. Without an objective economic story, the district court suggested it was left in the wind without any grounding for assigning a royalty amount.

Given no other tools to arrive at a reasonable royalty, the Court cannot invent one out of thin air, particularly given that the Federal Circuit requires sound economic proof of the nature of the market and likely outcomes in order to prevent the hypothetical from lapsing into pure speculation. (quoting Riles v. Shell Exploration & Prod. Co., 298 F.3d 1302 (Fed. Cir. 2002)).

As a result of the lack of proof, the district court awarded ZERO dollars in damages.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit has reversed — finding the whole approach here suspect.  The problem is that the damages for fraud should be calculated as of the bargain back in 2006 — here though the district court looked at damages as of the 2010 lawsuit against ConvaTek.

This was error; it is too speculative to treat the amount that ConvaTec would have paid as a royalty for a license in 2010 as establishing the value of a license four years earlier. This is particularly true because in 2006 a license would have been less valuable due to the fact that no patent had yet been granted for the technology.

Then going on to the proof of damages, the appellate panel found that the evidence Hollister presented was enough to allow to recover at least “some damages in the hypothetical infringement action.”

Even when the patentee’s proof of damages is extremely weak, the proper course is for the court to award nominal damages, not zero damages. . . . Hollister introduced proof that the license ConvaTec negotiated in 2010 had value. . . . Even if Hollister’s proof of a reasonable royalty wasn’t very exact or there were ways that the proof could be challenged, it seems to us that Hollister was still entitled to something more than a royalty of zero.

On remand, the lower court will hold a new trial on damages — focusing on the question of what is the damages for the fraud associated with selling the applications without providing notice that the applications had already been licensed.

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You could conceive of a system where a prior patent license is not good against a subsequent good faith purchaser for value. In fact, the patent law provides a statute on point, but is limited to assignments:

An interest that constitutes an assignment, grant or conveyance shall be void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee for a valuable consideration, without notice, unless it is recorded in the Patent and Trademark Office within three months from its date or prior to the date of such subsequent purchase or mortgage.

35 U.S.C. 261.  The USPTO will record license agreements. MPEP 301-302. But, there is no general negative consequence that flows from failure to record. (Certain gov’t licenses must be recorded).

Patently-O Bits and Bytes by Juvan Bonni

Recent Headlines in the IP World:

Commentary and Journal Articles:

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The October Berkheimer Series

by Dennis Crouch

In Berkheimer, the Federal Circuit explained that underlying factual disputes might prevent a motion on the pleadings or summary judgment decision.  In this post, I looked at four recent district court cases that cite Berkheimer.

In iSentium, LLC v. Bloomberg Fin. L.P., 2018 WL 5447503 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2018), the district court considered Berkheimer but primarily cited to its statement that “not every § 101 determination contains genuine disputes over the underlying facts material to the § 101 inquiry.”  This was a case where additional facts were not necessary because the claim elements beyond the abstract idea were merely “a combination of elements is well understood, routine and conventional.”

In ECOSERVICES, LLC, Pl., v. CERTIFIED AVIATION SERVICES, LLC, 2018 WL 5629301 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 26, 2018) the district court had an interesting use of Berkheimer.  In the case, the defendant did not file for summary judgment on eligibility but instead waited until post trial to make its eligibility motion.  The district court found no waiver — noting particularly that post trial a good time because of the potential underlying facts that might be developed there. Citing Berkheimer.  In fact, in that case the defendant relied “on trial testimony and the jury’s verdict for part of its argument, [as such] it was reasonable to wait to resolve the § 101 issue until after trial.”

In CardioNet, LLC v. InfoBionic, Inc., 2018 WL 5017913 (D. Mass. Oct. 16, 2018), the court ruled on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. As such, the court limited the potential factual-dispute-inquiry to the allegations made in the complaint.  However, the complaint did not include any particular “non-conclusory factual assertions” to create any dispute.  As such, the court ruled the patent ineligible as a matter of law.

Finally in KROY IP HOLDINGS, LLC, Pl., v. GROUPON, INC., 2018 WL 4905595 (D. Del. Oct. 9, 2018), the magistrate judge refused to recommend dismissal of the case on the pleadings — finding that “questions of fact remain as to whether the asserted claims of the ’660 patent were conventional at the time of the patent, and unresolved issues of claim construction could potentially bear on the analysis.”