District Courts and Patent Cases, Part I

By Jason Rantanen and Joshua Haugo*

During the oral argument in Octane Fitness, Justice Alito asked an interesting question about the frequency at which district court judges hear patent cases.  In response to a comment from Mr. Telscher that “I do think district court judges see a lot of patent litigation,” Justice Alito asked:

Is that really true? There’s nearly 700 district judges in the country.  If we had a statistic about the average number of patent cases that a district judge hears and receives on, let’s say, a 5 ­year period, what would it be?

Oral Argument Transcript at 14 (full transcript available here).

The question was posed in such a way as to imply that patent cases were a rare occurrence for most district court judges, and since neither counsel nor research into secondary sources provided a ready answer, we pulled data from Lex Machina to seek some insight into this issue.

Since we were interested in frequency, we looked at the number of patent cases filed between 2010 and 2013 on a per judge basis.  Our analysis shows that while patent cases are relatively common generally, their distribution is indeed highly skewed.  Nevertheless, most active judges heard at least one patent case during the time and the median number of patent cases received per judge was higher than one might expect (it’s eight).  The below chart illustrates the number of patents cases received by each judge who was active during the 4-year time period, sorted by the number of patent cases received (i.e.: the judges who heard no patent cases are to the left and the judges who heard the most patent cases are to the right, with Judge Gilstrap being judge #760).  The chart cuts off at 100 cases received, but the line continues up with seven judges receiving more than 600 patent cases each (Judges Robinson, Sleet, Andrews, Schneider, Stark, Davis, and Gilstrap).

Figure 1Methodology: To obtain the data set, we ran a search on Lex Machina for all patent cases filed between 2010 and 2013.  We then copied the judge data from Lex Machina’s dynamic filter, giving us the number of patent cases per judge.  We obtained data on all district court judges (not just those that appeared in the Lex Machina search results) from the Federal Judicial Center.  This allowed us to filter the results to include only judges that met our criteria of “active” judges for the time period (i.e.: judges that were confirmed to a district court prior to 12/31/2013 and had not retired or been terminated until after 1/1/2010).  There were a total of 760 active district court judges between 2010 and 2013, although some were active for only a short time during the window we analyzed.  We were also able to limit our data set to only judges who were active for the entire time period (i.e.: who were confirmed to a district court prior to 1/1/2010 and who did not retire or take senior status prior to 12/31/2013); a chart using this data is below.

Background Statistics: In total there were 19,325 patent cases filed before 865 judges over the four year period.  The judge with the most patent cases was Judge Gilstrap of the Eastern District of Texas, who received 1,636 patent cases. Although several judges received an extraordinary number of cases, many judges that heard patent cases had only 1 patent case filed before them during the 4 year window we examined.  

Of the 19,325 total cases heard in District Courts, 18,061 cases were heard by 760 active judges.  The remaining 1264 cases were heard by 165 judges that were primarily senior status, although there were several appellate judges sitting by designation.  For this analysis, we did not include any cases filed before judges that were not active during at least some portion of the period.

There is one important caveat to this data: it reflects patent cases received by the judges.  As a result, it does not directly report on the number of patent cases actually heard by district judges (since sometimes case settle soon after filing), nor does it directly report perhaps an even more important statistic relating to Justice Alito’s questioning, that of judges’ experience rendering substantive decisions in patent cases.  This data does, however, provide some insight into these issues because we know that both figures cannot be greater than the number of patent cases received and (unless there is a particular selection bias operating in certain districts that affects settlement rates), it seems likely that the distribution of both patent cases heard and decided would follow a similar pattern.

Analysis: The average number of cases received by active judges was 23.8 cases over the span of four years, or almost 6 cases per year, while the median was 8 cases over the four-year span.  While the highest districts in terms of filings did affect the mean, removing the three highest (the Eastern District of Texas, Central District of California, and District of Delaware) still resulted in an average of 13.3 cases per judge.  Of the active judges, there were 71 that did not receive any patent cases within the window.  Thus over 90% of active judges received at least 1 patent case filed during the window.

Additionally, we looked at the numbers for judges that were active throughout the 4 year time period, in order to get a sense of what an average “active” judge might see.  These judges were commissioned prior to 1/1/2010 and had not been terminated or retired prior to 12/31/2013 (thus excluding both judges who were on the bench for only a part of the period and judges who took senior status during a portion of the period).  For this set, there were a total of 11,096 patent cases received by 434 judges.  The average number of cases received was 25.6 with a median of 11 cases over the four-year period.  Removing the top three districts from this data set still produced an average of 20 cases and a median of 10 cases received over the four-year period.  In total, only 28 of the 434 active judges did not receive a patent case during this time; over 93% of judges received at least 1 patent case.  The graph below shows a frequency chart of only judges that were active during all 4 years (the bar on the far right reflects the fifteen judges who received over 100 patent cases during the four-year period).

Figure 2 While the numbers suggest that patent cases are not unicorns, even outside of the top three districts, there also may be some merit to Justice Alito’s concern that at least a substantial number of District Court judges do not hear more than an occasional patent case, and thus may find it difficult to determine which cases are “exceptional” based on their past experience with other patent cases.  Of course the ultimate issue may not be one of determining whether a patent case is exceptional, but in simply determining whether a complex litigation suit is exceptional.  And as to that, as Mr. Telscher observed in response to Justice Alito’s questioning about numbers of patent suits received by district court judges, “I don’t know what that number is, Your Honor. But I know that district court judges carry a widely varying docket of different areas of law and are called upon to learn the law and assess the reasonableness of those positions.”

*Joshua Haugo is a second-year law student at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Edit: Michael Risch pointed out that there may be an effect depending on how Lex Machina counts transferred cases, which he estimates at 15-20% of cases.  I’m looking into the way that Lex Machina counts these types of cases: its database certainly includes both the transferor and transferee dockets, but it does not appear to count the transferor judge as being the “judge” of the case.  Instead, it appears to only count the transferee judge.  I’ll update the post once I have a better sense of this effect.

Edit2: Based on further investigations (and subject to confirmation from the folks at Lex Machina), Lex Machina counts both the transferring court and the transferee court; in other words, its not deduplicating.  The effect of this is to artificially inflate, perhaps by as much as 15-20%, the case counts below.  This causes me to echo the caution I noted originally: just because a judge “received” a case does not mean that he or she “heard” it, let alone on the substantive merits.

Edit3: Lex Machina confirmed that “each separately assigned civil action number is a case except, if it is an intradistrict transfer, we detag it so it does not count as a patent case.  In the event of a inter-district transfer, we will have one case with the outcome “procedural: interdistrict transfer” and the other case with whatever its outcome was.”  So what I observed above holds.

 

Global-Tech v. SEB: Respondent and Additional Amicus Briefs

By Jason Rantanen

In Global-Tech v. SEB, the Supreme Court is addressing the state of mind requirement for inducement of infringement.  The petitioner, along with several amicus briefs filed in support, argues that inducement should require that the accused intend to infringe the patent, and that the accused infringer must know of the patent being infringed.  Earlier Patently-O discussions of those briefs are available here and here.

Last week, the respondent (SEB) filed its briefs.  SEB argues that there is no basis for requiring evidence that the accused party possess actual knowledge of the patent; rather, inducement must require a lower state of mind standard than both 35 U.S.C. § 271(c) (contributory infringement) and willful infringement, a standard that is met by Pentalpha's conduct.  In the alternative, SEB argues that Pentalpha's conduct constituted willful blindness, which SEB contends is a form of constructive knowledge and thus is sufficient for inducement.  In addition, SEB argues that the Court should affirm because all the damages were attributable to Pentalpha's direct infringement and because, through it's finding of willful infringement, the jury necessarily found that Pentalpha had actual knowledge of the patent.

Several amicus curiae have also filed briefs in support of the respondent, all arguing that inducement should require only intent to cause the acts as opposed to some form of scienter with respect to whether those acts infringe a patent.  Among these is the brief of a group of law professors led by Professor Ted Sichelman, argues that inducement should require only specific intent to cause the infringing acts – not some form of scienter with respect to whether the acts infringed a patent.  The brief supports this argument by looking to tort and criminal law, pointing out that in those contexts it is not necessary for the accused to know that that the acts violate a legal duty – only that the accused intend to cause the acts themselves. It also argues that prior to the 1952 Patent Act, no court (with one exception as dicta), held that indirect infringement required knowledge of the patent.  Thus, the brief argues, while inducement of infringement should require specific intent to further the acts of direct infringement, it did not traditionally – and should not – require any form of knowledge of whether those acts infringe a patent. 

Oral Argument is set for Wednesday, February 23, 2011.

SEB's Brief:

Amicus Briefs in Support of Respondent:

Note: I understand additional briefs may have been filed, including one on behalf of several companies and PhRMA, that do not appear on the ABA site.  This post will be updated when those briefs are available.

The Use of Online Databases for Legal Scholarship

By Jason Rantanen

Many empirical studies of Federal Circuit jurisprudence rely on searches of one of the leading legal databases such as Westlaw or Lexis.1 Relying on a search of a single database is potentially problematic, however, if the substantive content of the databases is not identical – in other words, if Lexis and Westlaw don't contain the same universe of cases, any claims about the results are necessarily limited by the dataset being used. 

In order to avoid this problem in connection with an empirical study of inequitable conduct that I'm working on, I recently performed a comparison of results obtained by a keyword search on Westlaw versus an identical search on Lexis.  This comparison revealed that although the data obtained from the two sources is largely comparable, small differences do exist that certain types of searchers may want to take into account.

The chart below shows the results, by year, produced by searching for the term "inequitable conduct" in the Federal Circuit databases for Lexis and Westlaw.2,3  In large part, the results suggest that there is relatively little variation between the two databases: in the context of this analysis, only 30 out of 681 (4.4%) Westlaw opinions were not found in Lexis and only 6 out of 657 (0.9%) Lexis opinions were not found in Westlaw.  Furthermore, in no instance did a precedential opinion appear in one database but not another.  Rather, all of the single-database hits were nonprecedential opinions.  In addition, nearly all of the nonprecedential opinions appearing in only a single database issued prior to 1991.   That said, there is a significant difference with respect to nonprecedential opinions for the period prior to 1991: nearly all the nonprecedential opinions from this time period are found in only one database.4  Thus, while it may not be efficient for most practitioners to run keyword searches on multiple databases, scholars conducting empirical research on Federal Circuit decisions, or individuals searching for older party-specific nonprecedential opinions, may want to be sensitive to the differences between the two databases.

Figure 1: Hits Resulting from Search Term "Inequitable Conduct" in Lexis and Westlaw5

 
Search comparison

1 See, e.g., Christopher A. Cotropia, "Determining Uniformity Within the Federal Circuit By Measuring Dissent and En Banc Review," 43 LOY. L.A. L. REV. 801, 811 (2010); Christian E. Mammen, Controlling the "Plague": Reforming the Doctrine of Inequitable Conduct,24 BERKELEY TECH. L.J. 1329, 1348 (2009);  Craig Allen Nard, Toward a Cautious Approach to Obeisance: The Role of Scholarship in Federal Circuit Patent Law Jurisprudence, 39 HOUS. L. REV. 667, 678 fn 40 (2002); Christian A. Chu, Empirical Analysis of The Federal Circuit's Claim Construction Trends, 16 BERK. TECH. L.J. 1075, 1092 (2001); but see R. Polk Wagner and Lee Petherbridge, Is the Federal Circuit Succeeding? An Empirical Assessment of Judicial Performance, 152 U. PA. L. REV. 1105, 1145 (2004) (using results from both Lexis and Westlaw).  In addition, some early empirical studies used the United States Patent Quarterly as their source (see, e.g., John R. Allison & Mark A. Lemley, How Federal Circuit Judges Vote in Patent Validity Cases, 10 FED. CIR. B.J. 435, 436 (2001)), which apparently contains some, but not all, nonprecedential patent decisions.  See e.g., Wirco, Inc. v. Rolock, Inc., 17 U.S.P.Q.2d 1084, 1990 WL 12901 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 14, 1990) as opposed to Mechanical Plastics Corp. v. Unifast Industries, Inc., 1988 WL 25422 (Fed. Cir. March 28, 1988).

For purposes of creating this chart, I used the additional limitation "CO(c.a.fed.)" to exclude CCPA and Court of Claims decisions, some of which are included in Westlaw's "ctaf" database.  In addition, I separately compared the results from a keyword search of the entire "ctaf" database to the results from the Lexis search in order to identify any Lexis-only hits that might have been excluded by the Westlaw court limiter.  This process did not reveal any such hits.

3 These results include every search hit that contained the term "inequitable conduct," regardless of the context.  It thus should not be viewed as reflecting any measure of substantive inequitable conduct determinations.  In addition, hits resulting from search terms appearing only in the database-specific casenotes were excluded, as were instances where the database contained duplicate entries of the case opinion or included a copy of a withdrawn opinion.   For more substantive analyses of inequitable conduct jurisprudence, see Lee Petherbridge, Jason Rantanen & Ali Mojibi, The Federal Circuit and Inequitable Conduct: An Empirical Assessment, ssrn id 1686102; Mammen, supra note 1.

4 In addition to double-checking the single-database cases against the search results of the other database, I also spot-checked several decisions against the Lexis/Westlaw case database as a whole by using terms from the parties' names and the Federal Reporter citation, where available.  Although in some instances this resulted in a hit, the contents of those hits were blank.  See, e.g., Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. v. Tanner, 738 F.2d 454 (1984) (nonprecedential) (no opinion in Westlaw; opinion in Lexis).

4 Although the results for 1997 appear equal, each database contained one opinion for that year that is not in the other database.

In re Glatt Air Techniques, Inc.: Single Embodiment Commercial Success

By Jason Rantanen

In re Glatt Air Techniques, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Newman, Prost (author), Moore

Glatt Air Techniques involves the reexamination of Patent No. 5,236,503, relating to an improvement to an apparatus known as a Wurster coater used to coat particles such as pharmaceutical ingredients.  The improvement comprises a shield means, such as a physical shield or air wall, positioned adjacent the spray nozzle that prevents particles from prematurely entering the stream of the coating spray before the spray pattern has fully developed, thus causing blockages in the apparatus.  During reexamination, the examiner rejected the claim at issue as obvious in light of the prior art, a determination that was upheld by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.  In reaching its conclusion, the Board also rejected Glatt's commercial success evidence because it related only to a single embodiment – a physical shield – and the claim also covered the use of an air wall.  Thus, the Board concluded, the evidence was not commensurate in scope with the claim.

On appeal, the CAFC first found that the Board had failed to establish a prima facie case of obviousness.  It also disagreed with the Board's rejection of Glatt's evidence of commercial success, expanding on its past holding that "commensurate" does not mean "every" embodiment.   "The fact that Glatt’s commercial products only contain one type of shielding means does not make its commercial success evidence irrelevant. Under the PTO’s logic, there would never be commercial success evidence for a claim that covers more than one embodiment."  Slip Op. at 10.  Citing past precedent, the CAFC went on to state that "we have consistently held that a patent applicant “need not sell every conceivable embodiment of the claims in order to rely upon evidence of commercial success.” Id. (quoting In re DBC, 545 F.3d 1373, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2008).  Thus, "commercial success evidence should be considered should be considered 'so long as what was sold was within the scope of the claims.'” Id.

Comment: Note that simply being commensurate with the scope of the claim does not necessarily satisfy the nexus requirement, as illustrated by the outcome of In re DBC.

Update: PharmaPatents Blog provides a detailed discussion of the CAFC's reversal of the Board's prima facie case of obviusness, asking whether there was anything else the applicant could have done to avoid a rejection by the examiner and Board.   

Judge Moore Weighs In on Vacatur of Invalidity Opinions

By Jason Rantanen

The Ohio Willow Wood Company v. Thermo-Ply, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Order 2011)
Panel: Rader (author), Newman (additional views), Moore (concurrence)

When a patentee is faced with an judgment of invalidity or inequitable conduct, it is a relatively common tactic to settle with the accused infringer who, as a condition of the settlement agreement, then joins the patentee in a joint motion for vacatur of the adverse decision.  Although vacatur requires exceptional circumstances, it is sometimes granted by the district court.  See e.g., Gracenote, Inc. v. MusicMatch, Inc.; Block Financial v. LendingTree; New Medium v. Barco.

The situation becomes more complex, however, when settlement occurs while the case is on appeal. Willow Wood involves an appeal of an Eastern District of Texas judgment invalidating the asserted claims of Patent No. 7,291,182.  While the appeal was pending, the parties settled and filed a motion for remand to the district court for consideration of a motion for vacatur.  In July 2010, the CAFC issued an order pointing out the high standard for vacatur and ordered the parties to explain what extraordinary circumstances would be presented to the district court that would justify vacatur.  Ohio Willow Wood Co. v. Thermo-Ply, Inc., (Fed. Cir. Order July 29, 2010) (nonprecedential). 

After considering the parties' response, along with an intervention request by a third party also being sued for infringement of the patent, the panel granted the request for "the limited purpose of the district court's consideration of the parties' motion for vacatur."  Ohio Willow Wood Co. v. Thermo-Play, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Order 2011) (Willow Wood II). The CAFC retained jurisdiction, however, "so that any of the parties may seek appellate review by notifying the Clerk of the Court within thirty days of entry of the district court’s decision on remand."  Id. at 3.

Concerned about the remand's potential imprimatur on the joint vacatur motion, Judge Moore, writing in concurrence, expressed the opinion that vacatur of existing invalidity opinions should be a rare and disfavored event, particularly in the patent context.  Citing U.S. Bancorp Mortgate Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 29 (1994), the judge reiterated the high threshold for justifying vacatur following settlement: "[o]nly in 'exceptional circumstances' should a district court grant vacatur at the request of the litigants."  Willow Wood II concurrence at 2.  This is particularly true with respect to patents:

In this case, for example, the patentee has already sued another party on the patent in question. If the decision that invalidated the patent at issue is not vacated, then the patentee will be collaterally estopped from asserting this patent in this and other suits, thereby saving courts and litigants the time and money it takes to proceed with patent litigation. Patent litigations are among the longest, most time-consuming types of civil actions. As of 2009, 384 patent cases had been pending in the district courts for three years or more. 2009 Admin. Off. U.S. Cts. Ann. Rep., at Table S-11. Moreover, the costs of patent litigation are enormous with an average patent case costing upwards of $3 million for each side. See American Intellectual Property Law Association, Report of the Economic Survey 2009 I-129 (2009). If the district court vacates its invalidity judgment then other defendants and other district courts will be forced to proceed with infringement suits, as there would likely be no collateral estoppel. Even if there were no other suits pending, these concerns should still weigh heavily against vacatur, as the only reason the patentee would want an invalidity judgment vacated is to potentially enforce the patent against others.

Concurrence at 3-4.

Judge Moore's decision to weigh in on the merits of the vacatur issue was criticized by Judge Newman, however, who wrote separately "to point out that the views of our colleague in separate concurrence are not the court’s remand order." Willow Wood II, additional views at 2.  Although favoring the remand on the basis that the district court is in the better position to rule on the issue of vacatur, Judge Newman declined to endorse Judge Moore's proffer of judicial advice, commenting that "[o]ur remand should be unencumbered by even the appearance of prejudgment or of the weight to be given to various considerations. Indeed, the issues on which our colleague in concurrence offers judicial advice are more complex than is here recognized."  Id.

In re Microsoft: Presence Created Solely for Purposes of Litigation Does Not Support Venue

By Jason Rantanen

In re Microsoft Corporation (Fed. Cir. Order 2011)
Panel: Newman, Friedman, Laurie (per curium)

The Federal Circuit's decision in In re Microsoft, which granted Microsoft's request for a writ of mandamus ordering the Eastern District of Texas to transfer the case to Washington State, originally issued as a nonprecedential order in early November; the CAFC reissued it as precedential today.  The order adds another piece to the now fairly substantial body of law surrounding review of denials of requests to transfer venue.  Allvoice Develop-ments, a company operated from the United Kingdom, sued Microsoft in the Eastern District of Texas for infringing Patent No. 5,799,273.  Microsoft, which is headquartered in the Western District of Washington (where a substantial portion of its employees and operations are located), requested a transfer of venue to Washington State. 

In denying Microsoft's motion to transfer venue, the district court relied on the existence of a local Allvoice office in Tyler, as well as Allvoice's incorporation under the laws of Texas.  The court also weighed the witness factor against transfer because Allvoice had identified potential non-party witnesses in New York, Massachusetts and Florida who, the court found, would find Texas more convenient for trial.  Although the court found that the sources of proof factor weighed in favor of transfer, it did so only slightly because Allvoice said that its documents were maintained in its office in the E.D. Texas. 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit granted Microsoft's request for a writ, likening this case to In re Genentech, Inc., 566 F.3d 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2009), and concluding that the district court abused its discretion by denying transfer.  The CAFC first noted that there was a vast disparity with respect to the convenience of witnesses: all individuals identified by Microsoft as having material information relating to the patents reside within 100 miles of the W.D. Wash.; all but two of the witnesses identified by Allvoice reside outside Texas, and even those two witnesses appear to be relatively peripheral.

Particularly notable, however, was the CAFC's refusal to consider Allvoice's presence in the E.D. Texas.  "Allvoice’s argument … rests on a fallacious assumption: that this court must honor connections to a preferred forum made in anticipation of litigation and for the likely purpose of making that forum appear convenient."  Slip Op. at 5.  Thus, just as transferring thousands of pages of relevant documents to the offices of litigation counsel in Texas in order to assert that the location of those documents favored non-transfer was entitled to no weight in In re Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., 587 F.3d 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2009), so too is the existence of an office created solely for the purpose of manipulating venue a meaningless fact for the venue analysis.  Nor did the CAFC ascribe any weight to extra step of incorporating under the laws of Texas, noting that it was done sixteen days before filing suit.

Uniloc v. Microsoft: The CAFC Rejects the 25 Percent Rule

By Jason Rantanen

Uniloc USA, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Rader, Linn (author), Moore

Uniloc v. Microsoft involves a host of issues, although one stands out as particularly noteworthy.  While  "passively tolerat[ing]" the 25 percent 'rule of thumb' (a method for calculating a reasonable royalty for purposes of infringement damages) in past cases, the CAFC held today that the rule "is a fundamentally flawed tool for determining a baseline royalty rate in a hypothetical negotiation," thus precluding its use for damages calculations.

Uniloc is the owner of Patent No. 5,490,216, an early patent covering a mechanism for combating "casual copying" of software, where users install copies of a software program on multiple computers in violation of applicable software licenses.  In general terms, the patented invention involves the creation of a registration number generated by the software on the user's computer.  The number is sent to the vendor's system, which uses an identical algorithm to create a remote license ID.  If the numbers match when the application boots, the program enters a "use mode;" if they do not, it enters a "demo mode."

In the suit against Microsoft, Uniloc alleged that the Product Activation feature for Microsoft's Word XP, Word 2003, and Windows XP software programs infringed the '216 patent.  A jury agreed, finding that Microsoft not only infringed the patent, but did so willfully.  The jury also rejected Microsoft's invalidity defenses and awarded Uniloc $388 million in damages.  Following the trial, the district court granted Microsoft's motion for JMOL of noninfringement and lack of willfulness (and in the alternative, ordered a new trial on these issues), but denied its request for a JMOL on invalidity.  The court also ordered a new trial on the issue of damages.  On appeal, Uniloc challenged the district court's noninfringement, willfulness, and damages rulings, while Microsoft cross-appealed the denial of its JMOL on invalidity.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district judge's rulings on willfulness, damages and invalidity, but reversed on the question of infringement, both with respect to JMOL and the grant of a new trial.

Damages
The damages section of the opinion is by far the most significant portion.  At trial, the jury awarded Uniloc $388 million in damages, relying on the testimony of Uniloc's expert, who opined that damages should be $564,946,803 based on a hypothetical negotiation between Uniloc and Microsoft and the Georgia-Pacific factors.  Using an internal Microsoft document relating to the value of product keys, the expert applied the 25 percent "rule of thumb" to the minimum value reported ($10 each), obtaining a value of $2.50 per key.  After applying the Georgia-Pacific factors, which he concluded did not modify the base rate, he multiplied it by the number of new licenses to Office and Windows products, producing the $565 million value.  He confirmed his valuation by "checking" it against the total market value of sales of the Microsoft products (approximately $19 billion, noting that it represented only 2.9% of the gross revenue of the products.   

The 25 Percent Rule: On appeal, the CAFC first rejected the use of the 25 percent rule to calculate patent damages.  "The 25 percent rule of thumb is a tool that has been used to approximate the reasonable royalty rate that the manufacturer of a patented product would be willing to offer to pay to the patentee during a hypothetical negotiation." Slip Op. at 36, citing Robert Goldscheider, John Jarosz and Carla Mulhern, USE OF THE 25 PER CENT RULE IN VALUING IP, 37 les Nouvelles 123, 123 (Dec. 2002).  Under the rule, "licensees pay a royalty rate equivalent to 25 per cent of its expected profits for the product that incorporates the IP at issue." Id., quoting Goldscheider et al. Included in the court's discussion of the rule is an extensive survey of the relevant literature (covering no less than nine articles), as well as an acknowledgement that the "court has passively tolerated its use where its acceptability has not been the focus of the case." Slip Op. at 39.  However, the court recognized that it  never squarely addressed the use of the rule.

Treating the issue as one of first principles, and after considering the relevant Supreme Court caselaw, the CAFC concluded that, as an abstract theory untied to particular factual circumstances of a given case, the 25 percent rule simply cannot be used for damages calculations: 

This court now holds as a matter of Federal Circuit law that the 25 percent rule of thumb is a fundamentally flawed tool for determining a baseline royalty rate in a hypothetical negotiation. Evidence relying on the 25 percent rule of thumb is thus inadmissible under Daubert and the Federal Rules of Evidence, because it fails to tie a reasonable royalty base to the facts of the case at issue.

Slip Op. at 41.  The court based its reasoning on the Daubert standard for expert testimony, concluding that general theories are only permissible if the expert adequately ties the theory to the specific facts of the case.  Under Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999) and General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 US 136 (1997), "one major determinant of whether an expert should be excluded under Daubert is whether he has justified the application of a general theory to the facts of the case."  Slip Op. at 43.

Applying this principle, the CAFC criticized the application of the 25 percent rule because there was no link between the rule and the specific case:

The meaning of these cases is clear: there must be a basis in fact to associate the royalty rates used in prior licenses to the particular hypothetical negotiation at issue in the case. The 25 percent rule of thumb as an abstract and largely theoretical construct fails to satisfy this fundamental requirement. The rule does not say anything about a particular hypothetical negotiation or reasonable royalty involving any particular technology, industry, or party.

Slip Op. at 45. In addition, the court pointed to the lack of testimony by Uniloc's expert suggesting that the starting point of a 25 percent royalty had any relation to the facts of the case, and thus the use of the rule was "arbitrary, unreliable, and irrelevant," failing to pass muster under Daubert and tainting the jury's damages calculation.  Id. at 47.

Entire Market Value Rule: The CAFC also rejected the expert's application of the entire market value rule, which he used as a check on the total damages.  "The entire market value rule allows a patentee to assess damages based on the entire market value of the accused product only where the patented feature creates the 'basis for customer demand' or 'substantially create[s] the value of the component parts.'"  Slip Op. at 48.  Here, however, there was no evidence that the patented component created the basis for customer demand, as required by the rule: "This case provides a good example of the danger of admitting consideration of the entire market value of the accused where the patented component does not create the basis for customer demand."  Slip Op. at 51.

Infringement
In opposing Uniloc's challenge on the issue of infringement, Microsoft argued that several grounds supported affirmance of the district court's grant of JMOL of noninfringement.  The CAFC rejected each argument in turn, concluding that substantial evidence supported the jury's finding of infringement. 

Standard of Review: One issue that sophisticated parties often dispute is the relevant standard that applies when reviewing jury verdicts. This appeal was no different – Microsoft contended that the jury verdict should be reviewed de novo, while Uniloc argued that it should be reviewed for substantial evidence.  The CAFC responded by distinguishing situations where "the parties conceded that under one claim construction there was infringement and under the other there was none, and were arguing only over which claim construction was appropriate." Slip Op. at 15.  In these cases, de novo review applies.  On the other hand, where "the claim construction itself is not contested, but the application of that claim construction to the accused device is," the court applies the substantial evidence standard. Id.

Comment: This distinction reinforces a basic principle of Federal Circuit appellate practice: Parties challenging a jury verdict on the issue of infringement will likely want to frame the dispute on appeal as a question of claim construction; parties defending the verdict will likely want to frame it as a question of application of an accepted construction to the accused product or method.  Of course, whether a party will be able to frame the question in a particular way depends largely on how the issue was set up in the district court – which itself is ideally part of counsel's long term strategic thinking.

Applying this standard, the Federal Circuit concluded that the jury's verdict of infringement was supported by substantial evidence, rejecting Microsoft's arguments to the contrary.  The court also rejected Microsoft's argument that a critical "means-plus-function" limitation should be read narrowly.  To the contrary, the court held, it should be read broadly, applying language from IMS Tech., Inc. v. Haas Automation, Inc., 206 F.3d 1422, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 2000) stating that "when in a claimed 'means' limitation the disclosed physical structure is of little or no importance to the claimed invention, there may be a broader range of equivalent structures than if the physical characteristics of the structure are critical in performing the claimed function." 

Expert Testimony, redux: Also of note is the court's ruling with respect to expert testimony as it pertains to infringment.  Although the district court rejected the testimony of Uniloc's expert as "incomplete, oversimplified and frankly inappropriate," the CAFC concluded that this rejection was improper because the district court had already fulfilled its gatekeeping function under Daubert when it explicitly noted that the expert was "qualified."  Thus, it was up to the jury "to evaluate the weight to be given to the testimony of dueling qualified experts."  This application of Daubert seems to be somewhat in tension with the court's treatment of expert testimony in the damages context, which focused on the content of the testimony, not the qualifications of the person giving it.

Joint Infringement: The CAFC also rejected Microsoft's joint infringement argument.  Rather than implicating joint conduct, the court ruled, Uniloc's claim was structured so as to capture infringement by a single party by focusing on one entity.  "That other parties are necessary to complete the environment in which the claimed element functions does not necessarily divide the infringement between the necessary parties. For example, a claim that reads “An algorithm incorporating means for receiving e-mails” may require two parties to function, but could nevertheless be infringed by the single party who uses an algorithm that receives e-mails."  Slip Op. at 29.

Willful Infringement: On the issue of willfulness, the CAFC continued to apply its objective super-threshold for proving willfulness.  "If the accused infringer's position is susceptible to a reasonable conclusion of no infringement, the first prong of Seagate cannot be met." Slip Op. at 32.  Particularly obtuse is the court's triple-negative articulation of the factual holding: "Uniloc has not presented any evidence at trial or on appeal showing why Microsoft, at the time it began infringement, could not have reasonably determined that [Microsoft's algorithms] did not meet the “licensee unique ID generating means,” “licensee unique ID,” or “registration system”/“mode switching means” limitations."

Presumption of Validity: in addressing Microsoft's cross-appeal of the denial of its motion for JMOL and a new trial on invalidity, the court declined to back away from the "clear and convincing" standard for invalidity.  Rejecting Microsoft's argument that its burden was to show invalidity simply by a preponderance of the evidence – as opposed to clear and convincing evidence – because the prior art reference was not before the PTO, the court continued to apply the higher standard.  "Until changed by the Supreme Court or this court sitting en ban, this is still the law."  Slip Op. at 55.  Applying this standard, the court rejected Microsoft's argument that it was simply practicing the prior art, and thus a finding of infringement necessitated a finding of invalidity. 

WiAV Solutions v. Motorola: Clarifying the Meaning of “Exclusive Licensee”

By Jason Rantanen

WiAV Solutions LLC v. Motorola, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Linn (author), Dyk

WiAV is the purported exclusive licensee of seven patents relating to aspects of signal transmission and data encoding/decoding owned by Mindspeed Technologies, Inc.  In 2009, WiAV sued a set of companies including Motorola, Inc.; Nokia Corporation; Palm, Inc.; and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (USA), Inc. for infringement of the Mindspeed patents.  The defendants contended, and the district court agreed, that WiAV lacked constitutional standing to assert the patents because WiAV is not an exclusive licensee of the patents under Textile Productions, Inc. v. Mead. Corp., 134 F.3d 1481 (Fed. Cir. 1998), which they argued holds that a party cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent when a third party has the right to license the patent. 

In reversing the district court's dismissal, the CAFC rejected this argument, instead holding that "a licensee is an exclusive licensee of a patent if it holds any of the exclusionary rights that accompany a patent."  Slip. Op. at 17 (emphasis added). This decision is in the vein of the court's earlier decision this year in Alfred E. Mann Foundation For Scientific Research v. Cochlear Corp., 604 F.3d 1354, in which it concluded that a licensee is an exclusive licensee of a patent despite retaining the ability to license the patent to settle lawsuits. 

Scope of the Licensing
The licensing rights at issue were held by six third parties, and stemmed from a series of spin-offs and other agreements that occurred as the patents were transferred from company to company. For example, when Rockwell International Corporation, the original owner of the Mindspeed patents, assigned them to Conexant, the second owner, its subsidiary, Rockwell Science Center, received a limited, non-exclusive license to use the patents in connection with its business, along with the right to sublicense to Rockwell International and its "Affiliates," or to transfer the license in connection with the sale of the respective businesses to which the intellectual property rights relate.  The district court found that several of these licensees retained a limited right to license the patents in the field of wireless handsets, and concluded that under Textile Productions, WiAV could thus not be an exclusive licensee of the Mindspeed Patents.

Any Exclusionary Rights
On appeal, the CAFC rejected the argument that, under Textile Productions  "a licensee cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent if others retain the right to license the patent."  Slip. Op. at 11.  Turning straight to the constitutional analysis, the court held that the standing determination  focuses only on whether a party has any exclusionary right in a patent:

Because the legally protected interests in a patent are the exclusionary rights created by the Patent Act, a party holding one or more of those exclusionary rights—such as an exclusive licensee—suffers a legally cognizable injury when an unauthorized party encroaches upon those rights and therefore has standing to sue. 

Thus, the touchstone of constitutional standing in a patent infringement suit is whether a party can establish that it has an exclusionary right in a patent that, if violated by another, would cause the party holding the exclusionary right to suffer legal injury. Contrary to the suggestion of the Defendants, neither this court’s Textile Productions nor Mars decision freed the constitutional standing inquiry from its legal injury mooring.

Slip Op. at 14-15.  Textile Productions, on the other hand, involved only the narrow question of whether a particular type of contract, a requirements contract for a patented product, automatically converts the exclusive supplier into an exclusive licensee.  "Nowhere did the Textile Productions court suggest that a party holding one or more of the exclusionary rights in a patent does not have standing to sue to protect those rights against infringement by an unauthorized third party. Nor is there any indication that the court created a bright-line rule that a party cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent if others have the right to license the patent."  Slip. Op. at 16.

The CAFC did impose one important limitation on the broad rule for standing: "Because an exclusive licensee derives its standing from the exclusionary rights it holds, it follows that its standing will ordinarily be coterminous with those rights."  Slip Op. at 17. Thus, an exclusive licensee may have standing to sue some parties, but not others; it may also lack standing to sue a party who has the ability to obtain a license from another party with the right to grant it. 

Applying its holding, the court concluded that none of the pre-existing licenses granted the right to license the Defendants to practice the patents in WiAV's field of exclusivity, and thus WiAV possessed constitutional standing for this case. 

Note: WiAV does not disturb the requirement that "[a]n exclusive licenseee generally must join the patent owner to the suit to satisfy prudential standing constraints, i.e., the 'judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.'" Slip Op. at 14-15, fn. 1.  Here, WiAV had satisfied those concerns by adding Mindspeed to the suit as the "defendant patent owner." 

Judge Kathleen O’Malley Confirmed to the Federal Circuit

By Jason Rantanen

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Kathleen McDonald O'Malley to fill the vacancy left by Judge Schall when he took senior status.  Judge O'Malley currently serves as a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, and will be the only sitting Federal Circuit judge to have previously served as a district court judge.   She was nominated for her first judgeship by President Clinton in 1994, prior to which she served in government and private practice.  An earlier Patently-O discussion of Judge O'Malley is available here

Two vacancies on the CAFC remain unfilled and although nominees were proposed during the 111th Congress (Jimmie Reyna and Edward DuMont), those nominations were not acted on.  

Prometheus Laboratories v. Mayo: The Broad Scope of Statutory Subject Matter

By Jason Rantanen

Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Services (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Lourie (author), Bryson

Last Friday, the Federal Circuit released its second noteworthy post-Bilski decision (the first being Research Corp v. Microsoft).  The opinion, Prometheus v. Mayo, issued following a grant-vacate-remand order from the Supreme Court instructing the CAFC to revisit its original decision in light of Bilski.  Despite this procedural posture, however, the new opinion is quite similar to the old, arriving at the same conclusion through essentially the same reasoning.   

Prometheus initially came to the Federal Circuit following a district court grant of summary judgment of invalidity under § 101 (lack of patentable subject matter).  After the CAFC reversed the ruling of invalidity using its "machine-or-transformation" test, Mayo sought review by the Supreme Court.  The Court granted certiorari, vacated the CAFC decision, and remanded for consideration in light of its Bilski opinion.  Earlier Patently-O commentary includes a summary of the original Federal Circuit opinion and a discussion of the remand.

The patents-in-suit claim a method for determining whether a patient has received a therapeutically efficacious amount of drugs such as 6-mercaptopurine ("6-MP") and azthiopurine ("AZA"), which are used to treat inflammatory bowel diseases but can produce toxic side effects.  In the human body, these drugs metabolize into 6-MP metabolites, including 6-methylmercaptopurine ("6-MMP") and 6-thioguanine ("6-TG").  By administering the drug, measuring the subject's levels of 6-MMP and 6-TG and comparing them to pre-determined levels, toxicity can be minimized and efficacy maximized. 

Claim 1 of Patent No. 6,355,623 is representative:

1. A method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for treatment of an immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder, comprising:
    (a) administering a drug providing 6-thioguanine to a subject having said im-mune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder; and
    (b) determining the level of 6-thioguanine in said subject having said immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder,
    wherein the level of 6-thioguanine less than about 230 pmol per 8×108 red blood cells indicates a need to increase the amount of said drug subsequently administered to said subject and
    wherein the level of 6-thioguanine greater than about 400 pmol per 8×108 red blood cells indicates a need to decrease the amount of said drug subsequently administered to said subject.

Although similar in most respects, some claims of the second patent-in-suit, No. 6,680,302, dispense with the "administering" step.

The Patents Do Not Claim a Physical Phenomena
On remand, the CAFC again rejected Mayo's argument that the '623 and '302 patents claim a "natural phenomenon."  In seeking a judgment of invalidity under Section 101, Mayo contended (and the district court agreed) that the "administering" and "determining" steps are merely necessary data-gathering steps for the use of the correlations between 6-TG and 6-MMP and therapeutic efficacy or toxicity in patients.  Because these correlations are simply natural phenomena, Mayo reasoned, they were unpatentable.

As before, the Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that Bilski provides a broad – although not unlimited – scope for patent protection, and “an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.”  Slip. Op. at 12, quoting Bilski, 130 S.Ct. at 3230.  Furthermore, the court stated, neither the Supreme Court's order to vacate and remand the original Prometheus decision nor Bilski dictates a wholly different analysis or different result.  

The crux of the CAFC's determination that the asserted claims recite a patent-eligible application of naturally occurring correlations between metabolite levels and efficacy or toxicity as opposed to the natural correlation itself rests on the specific treatment steps recited by the claims: the "administering" step and the "determining" step.  "The inventive nature of the claimed methods stems not from preemption of all use of these natural processes, but from the application of a natural phenomenon in a series of steps comprising particular methods of treatment." Slip. Op. at 15-16.

In support of its conclusion, the court reiterated its earlier determination that the treatment methods in Prometheus's patents satisfy the "machine-or-transformation test.  Although this is not the exclusive test, post-Bilski, it nevertheless provides important clues to subject matter patentabilty.  In applying the machine-or-transformation framework, the court specifically rejected Mayo's argument that the disputed claims simply claim natural correlations and the associated data-gathering steps, broadly stating that the asserted claims are "claims to methods of treatment, which are always transformative when one of a defined group of drugs is administered to the body to ameliorate the effects of an undesired condition."  Slip Op. at 17.  Even leaving out the administration step does not make the claims unpatentable, as the CAFC also found the "determining" step to be transformative because it involves "[s]ome form of manipulation, such as the high pressure liquid chromatography method specified in several of the asserted dependent claims or some other modification of the substances to be measured, [which] is necessary to extract the metabolites from a bodily sample and determine their concentration."  Id. at 18.

In reaching this conclusion, however, the court was forced to distinguish its earlier decision In re Grams, 888 F.2d 835 (Fed. Cir. 1989), which similarly claimed a process that involved "(1) performing a clinical test on individuals and (2) based on the data from that test, determining if an abnormality existed and determining possible causes of any abnormality by using an algorithm."  Id. at 20.   Unlike the claims in Grams – which the CAFC found unpatentable "because the tests were just to 'obtain data'" (Slip Op. at 20) – the claims of the Prometheus patents "require the performing of clinical tests on individuals that were transformative." 

Mental Steps
In addition to its overarching analysis of the subject matter issue, the opinion also includes an interesting discussion of the use of mental steps in patent claims.  Although the CAFC agreed that the final "wherein" clauses are mental steps, "A subsequent mental step does not, by itself, negate the transformative nature of prior steps. Thus, when viewed in the proper context, the final step of providing a warning based on the results of the prior steps does not detract from the patentability of Prometheus’s claimed methods as a whole." Slip Op. at 21. Because no claim in the Prometheus patents claims only mental steps, "contrary to Mayo’s assertions, a physician who only evaluates the result of the claimed methods, without carrying out the administering and/or determining steps that are present in all the claims, cannot infringe any claim that requires such steps." Id.

Additional Commentary
In addition to an extensive discussion about the decision in response to Dennis's post on Sunday, other sites commenting on the decision include:

  • Patent Docs
  • patents4life
  • IP Watchdog
  • Chris Holman's IP Blog
  • Hal Weger of Foley has suggested that another grant of certiorari may be down the road, given the opinion's refusal to discuss a three-Justice dissent from the dismissal of certiorari in Lab. Corp., 548 U.S. 124, that was cited with approval by five Justices in two concurrences in Bilski.

Akamai v. Limelight: Joint Infringement Requires an Agency Relationship or a Contractual Obligation

By Jason Rantanen and Dennis Crouch

Akamai Technologies, Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Linn (author), Prost

Three years ago, in BMC Resources, Inc. v. Paymentech, L.P., 498 F.3d 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2007), the Federal Circuit sharply limited the ability of patent holders to assert claims of joint infringement.  The BMC decision was further bolstered by Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp. and I-Deal (Fed. Cir. 2008). Akamai v. Limelight expands on the "control or direct" rule announced in BMC and Muniauction, explaining that joint infringement requires an agency relationship or a contractual obligation to carry out the relevant steps. 

Akamai's Claim of Joint Infringement
In order to win a patent infringement case, a patentee must prove that a single entity practiced every element (either literally or by equivalents) of at least one valid, enforceable claim. Joint infringement issues can arise when a patent holder asserts method claims over activities whose steps are not carried out by a single party.  For example, if a patent claims a method involving performing steps A, B, and C, the patent holder may need to argue joint infringement (as opposed to straightforward direct infringement) if steps A and B are performed by one party and step C is performed by a second party. 

In Akamai, while the accused party (Limelight) performed the majority of the steps of the asserted claims, at least one of the steps of each claim was performed by its customers.  The patent, No. 6,108,703, is directed to an improved method for storing web page content.  Conventionally, the entirety of a web page, including both the page itself and embedded content (such as graphics) is stored on a single server, or mirrored in its entirety across multiple servers.  The patents-in-suit claim a new approach, which involves storing only the embedded objects on mirrored servers (called a "Content Delivery Network," or "CDN"), while having the webpage itself continue to reside on the content provider's servers.  In order to make this system work, the claims further require that the object URLs be "tagged" to resolve to the CDN. 

Daniel Lewin and his adviser Thomas Leighton devised these methods (or algorithms) while at MIT where Leighton was the head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.  The pair founded Akamai, and their invention continues to serve as a basis for the company's core business.  Lewin was killed aboard American Airlines flight 11 when it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Limelight, Akamai's direct competitor in the CDN business, performed most of the claimed steps but had its customers (companies such as Netflix) tag the URLs.  Because some of the steps were performed by Limelight and some by its customers, Akamai relied on a theory of joint liability, arguing that Limelight controls or directs the activities of its customers.  At trial, the jury sided with Akamai and awarded over $40 million in lost-profit-damages. The district court rejected the jury verdict and supplemented its own non-infringement judgment – holding that there was "no material difference between Limelight's interaction with his customers and that of Thomson in Muniauction."

On appeal, Akamai contended that substantial evidence supported the infringement finding, arguing that Limelight "(1) creates and assigns a unique hostname for the content provider; (2) provides explicit step-by-step instructions to perform the tagging and serving claim steps; (3) offers technical assistance to help content providers with their performance of the claim step; and (4) contractually requires content providers to perform the tagging and serving claim steps if they utilize the Limelight service."  Slip Op at 11. 

Important holdings
In affirming the district court's judgment of noninfringement, the CAFC expanded on its ruling in BMC that "joint liability may be found when one party 'control[s] or direct[s]' the activities of another party."  Slip Op. at 9.  After noting the foundational nature of this standard, the Akamai panel further held that "what is essential is not merely the exercise of control or the providing of instructions, but whether the relationship between the parties is such that acts of one may be attributed to the other."   Id. at 12.  The court interpreted this as requiring either an agency relationship or a contractual obligation: "as a matter of Federal Circuit law that there can only be joint infringement when there is an agency relationship between the parties who perform the method steps or when one party is contractually obligated to the other to perform the steps."  Slip Op. at 14.

Analyzing the issue as a question of agency law, the CAFC concluded that no substantial evidence supported a finding that Limelight's customers perform any of the steps of the claimed method as agents for Limelight.  (Citing the Restatement (3rd) of Agency §1.01). The court also rejected Akamai's theory that Limelight's customers are contractually required to perform the tagging step.  Rather, the court stated, the contract does not obligate the customers to perform any of the method steps; instead, it "merely explains that the customer will have to perform the steps if it decides to take advantage of Limelight's service."  Slip Op. at 16.

Note: The court repeated the warning it set forth in BMC Resources, 498 F.3d at 1381, that concerns about the difficulty of proving infringement of claims that must be infringed by multiple parties "by proper claim drafting.  A patentee can usually structure a claim to capture infringement by a single party."  Slip. Op. at 17 (quoting BMC Resources).  Failing this, the court suggested (citing Mark Lemley's Divided Infringement article) that patentees may be able to correct a claim by seeking a reissue patent.

Claim Construction
Akamai also challenged the district court's construction of two claim terms in related patents, contending that both constructions imported limitations from the specification into the claims.  In a fact-intensive analysis, the CAFC rejected Akamai's arguments, concluding that the district court correctly interpreted the disputed terms given the treatment of the invention in the specification and the lack of any contrary evidence in the prosecution history. 

The Federal Circuit’s Use of Legal Scholarship

By Jason Rantanen

Professors Lee Petherbridge and David Schwartz have released a draft of their new study on the use of legal scholarship by the Federal Circuit.  In the paper, the authors question the conventional wisdom that the Federal Circuit is less likely than other circuit courts of appeals to use legal scholarship in its decision making, and conclude that this oft-repeated claim is contrary to the empirical evidence. 

Methodology and Dataset:  The authors conducted a search of all the reported opinions for the United States circuit courts of appeals for the years 1990-2008 using a mechanical approach to identify each opinion citing to legal scholarship at least once, followed by a custom-made computer program that identified individual citations to legal scholarship. 

Findings: Contrary to result expected under the conventional wisdom, the authors found that the Federal Circuit's use of legal scholarship is similar to that of the regional circuits.  Although it falls on the lower end of the spectrum of judicial citations, the overall frequency with which the CAFC cites legal scholarship is within the range expressed by the regional circuits, and the median frequency of citations per judge falls around the middle of the regional circuits.

The authors also discovered that, unlike some of the high-frequency-of-citation regional circuits, the Federal Circuit lacks any legal scholarship "super citers," such as Judges Posner, Easterbrook, Calibresi, Becker, and Kozinski, which may explain why its overall citation frequency falls on the lower end of the regional circuits.   

Implications: Based on their empirical analysis, the authors conclude that the "claim that the Federal Circuit does not use legal scholarship as much as it should because it does not use it as often as the regional circuit courts of appeals is essentially eviscerated."  Thus, the authors recommend that future scholarship should focus on the merits of the Federal Circuit's use of scholarship, asking questions about when and how the court uses legal scholarship.

The authors also suggest that adding or encouraging an existing judge to become a "super citer" might be beneficial.  They reason that having a small number of judges who regularly study and use legal scholarship allows that scholarship to make its way into the jurisprudence at a measured rate, where it can be considered by the remaining judges who rely on more traditional tools for developing the law.  This mechanism encourages jurisprudential innovation while preventing sudden dramatic shifts. 

Read the Paper: Download here.

In re Vistaprint Ltd.: Venue Transfer Denied

By Jason Rantanen

In re Vistaprint Ltd. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Gajarsa, Schall (author), and Moore

In a counterpoint to its recent decision in In re Acer, this morning the Federal Circuit denied a request for a writ of mandamus seeking transfer of venue out of the Eastern District of Texas.  The underlying action was bought by ColorQuick, LLC, which holds a patent relating to the preparation of production data for printing, against Vistaprint Limited and OfficeMax Incorporated.  As in Acer, none of the parties resided in Texas: Vistaprint, a foreign corporation, has a wholly-owned subsidiary in Massachusetts; OfficeMax is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois; and ColorQuick is a New Jersey corporation.  Both the panel and author in this appeal were identical to the panel and author that granted the writ in In re Acer.

In denying the request for a writ, the CAFC acknowledged the lack of residency, but ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying transfer.  The panel first noted that although a trial court has broad discretion in transfer decisions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), "that is not the same as saying that it may accord weight simply as it pleases."  Slip Op. at 4.  Applying that standard, the panel concluded the district court's weighing of factors in this case did not amount to a "patently erroneous result."  Id. (quoting In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 310 (5th Cir. 2008) (en banc)). Specifically, the CAFC concluded that the district court had not abused its discretion in weighing two factors relating to judicial economy: that the trial court had gained substantial experience in construing the claims of the same patent during a prior litigation and that there was a related case currently pending before the same court.

The CAFC also rejected the petitioners' argument that it is always improper for a district court to deny transfer based on judicial economy when all of the convenience factors clearly favor transfer.  While the court noted the importance of the convenience factors, it also recognized that "§ 1404(a) commits the balancing determination to the sound discretion of the trial court based not on per se rules but rather on an 'individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'"  Slip Op. at 6-7 (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)).  In this specific case, the CAFC could not conclude that "the trial court's balancing was so unreasonable as to warrant the extraordinary relief of mandamus."  Id. at 8.

Note: The opinion's final footnote appears to summarize the panel's overarching view on mandamus petitions directed to the venue transfer issue.  It states:

Our holding today does not mean that, once a patent is litigated in a particular venue the patent owner will necessarily have a free pass to maintain all future litigation involving that patent in that venue. However, where, as here, the trial court performed a detailed analysis explaining that it is very familiar with the only asserted patent and the related technology, and where there is a co-pending litigation before the trial court involving the same patent-in-suit, and pertaining to the same underly-ing technology and accusing similar services, we cannot say the trial court clearly abused its discretion in denying transfer.

Research Corp. v. Microsoft: Section 101 and Process Claims

By Jason Rantanen

There are three articulated exceptions to the scope of patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101: laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.  Research Corp. v. Microsoft places a high hurdle in front of challengers who seek to invalidate process patents on the third ground. 

Research Corp. Technologies v. Microsoft Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader (author), Newman, and Plager

Research Corporation ("RCT") owns several patents relating to digital image halftoning, which is the process of generating electronic display and print images using only a small number of pixel colors (ex.: red, blue and green in the case of color displays) while appearing to present many more colors and shades than were actually used.  Four related patents are relevant to this summary: Nos. 5,111,310, 5,341,228, 5,477,305, and 5,726,772.  The applications for the '310 and '228 patents (a continuation-in-part of the '310 patent) were filed before December 4, 1991; the remaining patents are continuations of the '228 patent and claim priority to the earlier filing dates. 

RCT brought an infringement action against Microsoft based on these patents; in response, Microsoft asserted, and the district court initially concluded, that the patents were unenforceable due to inequitable conduct, invalid and not infringed.  The Federal Circuit reversed that determination in 2008.  Microsoft subsequently sought summary judgment against the '310 and '228 patents on Section 101 patentable subject matter grounds, and asserted that the claims of the '772 patent were not entitled to the earlier priority date, thus rendering them anticipated.  The district court granted Microsoft's motions, and subsequently held that the only remaining claim, claim 29 of the '305 patent, also lacked entitlement to the earlier priority date.  Based on these ruling, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the suit and RCT appealed.

Section 101 and Process Claims
In reversing the district court's ruling that the '310 and '228 patents failed to satisfy Section 101, the Federal Circuit identified a set of considerations that can be applied when assessing the question of abstractness.  Drawing upon the Supreme Court's precedent in this area, including its recent decision In re Bilski, the opinion first reiterates that there are only three articulated exceptions to subject matter eligibility: "laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas." 

Focusing on the category of abstract ideas, the court noted the Supreme Court's admonition in Bilski not to provide a rigid formula or definition for abstractness.  Rather, "the Supreme Court invited this court to develop 'other limiting criteria that further the purpose of the Patent Act and are not inconsistent with its text.'" Slip Op. at 14.  With that guidance, the panel concluded that it perceived nothing abstract in the subject matter of the processes claimed in the '310 and '228 patents.  Specifically, the court observed that:

  • "The invention presents functional and palpable applications in the field of computer technology";
  • Some claims in the patents require physical components;
  • "[I]nventions with specific applications or improvements to technologies in the marketplace are not likely to be so abstract that they override the statutory language and framework of the Patent Act"; and
  • The incorporation of algorithms and formulas does not prevent patent eligibility.

Nevertheless, while finding these factors met in the instant case, the panel further noted that its analysis was limited to the context of Section 101, which provides only a coarse filter.  Abstractness challenges can also be brought against specific claims under Section 112 even if the requirements of Section 101 are met.

Comment: The court's discussion of Section 101 suggests that the issue of patentable subject matter should be analyzed with respect to the patent as a whole; in contrast, Section 112 challenges are analyzed on a per-claim basis.

Burden of Proof for Establishing Priority
In addressing the district court's ruling that the asserted claims of the '772 and '305 patents were not entitled to claim priority to the '310 and '228 filing dates, the opinion reinforced the court's prior ruling that the patent holder bears the burden of establishing priority.  As the court held, although a patent challenger has the burden of going forward with invalidating prior art, once it has done so the burden shifts to the patent holder.  Thus, in an instance where the patent holder attempts to defeat the assertion of invalidity by claiming priority to an earlier application, the patent holder bears the burden of proving the entitlement to priority – including that the claims of the earlier patent are supported by the written description of the earlier specification.

Note: The '772 and '305 patents shared the same specification as the earlier '305 and '228 patents.  If the relevant claims had been contained in the '305 or '228 patents, Microsoft would have had the burden of proving lack of written description, as opposed to the burden resting with RCT.  Thus, the fact that the claims were part of a continuation was highly significant with respect to the allocation of the burden.

Comment: A related issue is who bears the burden of proof in the context of claims to a pre-filing conception or reduction to practice date. Although not mandated by the text of the opinion, which specifically refers to the burden to establish "an earlier filing date," the court's analysis could be read to support the conclusion that the patent holder bears the burden of proof in this situation as well.

After dispensing with RCT's challenge to the district court's allocation of burden, the panel proceeded to address the priority claims on the merits.  With respect to the '772 claims, the panel agreed with the district court, concluding that they were unsupported by the prior disclosure.  The panel did reverse on the '305 claim, however, ruling that to satisfy the written description requirement for apparatus claims, the patent need not disclose every method of making the apparatus. 

Global-Tech v. SEB: Amicus Briefs

By Jason Rantanen

Several amicus briefs supporting Global-Tech/neither party were filed yesterday.  Among them is a brief by 41 Law, Economics, and Business Professors in support of the Petitioner that parallels a similar brief filed in support of the petition for certiorari.  The merits brief, coordinated by Mark Lemley, Timothy Holbrook, and Lynda Oswald, argues that the Court should reject the "deliberate indifference" standard articulated by the Federal Circuit in SEB, and instead hold that inducement require that the defendant "be aware of a patent and encourage an act that it knows or should know would infringe that patent."  In anticipation of an argument that may be made in support of the Respondent, the brief also asserts that a strict liability standard for inducement would be disastrous.  The brief can be directly downloaded here: Download 10-6, tsac, 41 Law, Economics, and Business Professors

The full set of amicus briefs is available on the American Bar Association Website.  It includes briefs from:

  • The Business Software Alliance in Support of Petitioner
  • Cisco Systems, Inc., Dell, Inc., and Intel Corporation in Support of Reversal
  • The Clearinghouse Association and Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in Support of Petitioner
  • Comcast Corporation, Facebook, Inc., Intuit Inc., Microsoft Corporation, Netflix, Inc., Overstock.Com, Inc., and SAP America, Inc. in Support of Petitioner
  • Google, Inc., in Support of Petitioner
  • NewEgg, Inc., in Support of Petitioner
  • The Software Freedom Law Center in Support of Petitioner
  • Yahoo! Inc., Ebay Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., General Motors LLC, Hewlett Packard Company, McAfee, Inc., Red Hat, Inc., and Symantec Corporation in Support of Petitioner
  • The Federal Circuit Bar Association in Support of Neither Party
  • The Intellectual Property Owners Association in Support of Neither Party

In re Acer: Transfer Out of the Eastern District of Texas

By Jason Rantanen

In re Acer America Corporation (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Gajarsa, Schall (Author), and Moore

In 2008, MedioStream, a company headquartered in the Northern District of California, brought a patent infringement suit in the Eastern District of Texas against twelve hardware and software companies, five of which are also headquartered in the Northern District of California.  The defendants moved to transfer venue to the Northern District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), which authorizes transfer "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice."  The district court denied the motion, primarily because one of the defendants, Dell, Inc., is headquarted in Round Rock, Texas, relatively close to (albeit outside) the Eastern District of Texas. The defendants petitioned the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus. 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Petitioners, concluding in a precedential opinion that the district court abused its discretion in denying the request to transfer venue.  Particularly important in the panel's analysis was the fact that a substantial number of party witnesses reside in or near the Northern District of California, and requiring them to travel to the Eastern District of Texas would result in substantial expenses for airfare, meals, lodging, and the loss of productivity from time spent away from work, as well as the personal costs imposed on the witnesses.  While it was possible that more than one Dell employee might testify, that number was likely to be insignificant in contrast with the substantial number of party witnesses that would be required to travel to Texas.  Similarly weighing in favor of transfer to California was the venue's ability to compel testmony through subspoena power, the presence of a significant portion of the evidence in the Northern District of Caliornia (and none in the Eastern District of Texas), and the local interest of the Northern District flowing from the residence of many of the parties in that district.

Note: Last month, the court granted a temporary stay of the district court proceedings.

Nuance Communications v. Abbyy Software

By Jason Rantanen

Cases involving foreign parties often raise complex procedural issues.  In this case, two of the defendants – a Russian corporation and a Cypriot corproration – argued that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction and that the plaintiff's attempts at service were insufficient.

Nuance Communications, Inc. v. Abbyy Software House (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader (author) Newman, Prost

In 2008, Nuance Communications sued Abbyy USA Software House, Abbyy Production, and Abbyy Software for patent infringement.  Abbyy Production, a corporation organized under the laws of the Russian Federation, and Abbyy Software, a Cypriot corporation, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper service of process.  In a short order, the district court granted the motion and declined to consider Nuance's request for jurisdictional discovery by not addressing that issue.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's ruling.  On the question of personal jurisdiction, the panel first noted that because this is a patent case, Federal Circuit precedent applies rather than that of the regional circuit.  The overarching analysis, however, focused on the traditional "minimum contacts" approach: "whether the defendant purposefully established 'minimum contacts' in the forum state."  Because the question in this case was one of specific jurisdiction, it thus required examining:

(1) whether the defendant purposefully directed activities at residents of the forum; (2) whether the claim arises out of or relates to those activities; and (3) whether assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.

Slip. Op. at 8.  Applying this test, the majority concluded that the district court had erred in dismissing Abbyy Production and Abbyy Software.  With respect to Abbyy Production, the appellate court noted that the defendant had engaged in a variety of activities directed at California, including its distribution of the allegedly infringing software to Abbyy USA, a California entity.  These activities also satisfied the second prong, as Nuance alleged in its Complaint that Abbyy Production's importation of the software into California infringed and induced infringement of the patents-in-suit.  The panel further found that the third prong was met, noting that even beyond the fact that Abbyy Production purposefully targeted activities at the forum state, it and Abbyy USA operated under a shared management team and were represented by the same counsel.

The panel declined to conduct a similar analysis for Abbyy Software, concluding that the extent of its involvement in sales of the accused product was uncertain on the facts before the court.  Consequently, the court remanded for additional jurisdictional discovery.

The Federal Circuit also reversed the dismissal based on improper service of process.  After a lengthy discussion of the applicability of Hague Convention procedures to service of process on corporations in the Russian Federation, the panel declined to opine on whether personal service on corporations was permissible in this case.  Rather, the court held that permitting substituted service under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3) was called for here, and service on Abbyy USA would be sufficient to satisfy constitutional notions of due process for service on Abbyy Production. 

Note: The panel also reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of Abbyy Software for improper service of process, noting that the court lacked authority to do so because Abbyy Software had waived the objection.

Liability for Future Indirect Infringement

By Jason Rantanen

In an earlier post, I summarized the Federal Circuit's affirmance of a preliminary injunction prohibiting Apotex from marketing its generic version of AstraZeneca's budesonide in AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc

The majority's discussion of inducement of infringement in this case is particularly interesting because it deals with inducement of infringement in the context of future acts, as opposed to damages for past inducement – and when dealing with future infringement, it's unclear whether an intent element should apply to indirect infringement at all.

Apotex Had Specific Intent to Cause Infringement
In its opinion affirming the district court's preliminary finding of inducement, the Federal Circuit rejected Apotex's argument that it lacked specific intent to cause infringement, concluding that Apotex knew about potential infringement problems posed by its label but nevertheless decided to proceed nonetheless.  Similarly unpersuasive to the court was Apotex's argument that it lacked specific intent because the FDA required it to include the pivotal titration language.  The majority pointed out that Apotex had a variety of options besides proceeding in the face of a risk of an infringement suit, including waiting until the patents expire, challenging infringement and validity, and formally appealing the FDA's denial of Apotex's proposed labeling amendment.  Given these circumstances, the court concluded that Apotex had the necessary specific intent to cause inducement.

Is Intent to Cause Infringement Even Relevant When Dealing With the Future?
The court's ruling, however, could be supported in another way: by concluding that inducement with respect to future acts of infringement does not require the patentee to establish that the accused party posessed "specific intent" to infringe the patent.   This is because when dealing with the future, there will necessarily be a court finding that the relevant third party conduct infringes. Inherent in the court's determination is the conclusion that once-daily use of Apotex's product – the use that the court concluded would result from Apotex's label – infringes AstraZeneca's patents.   In other words, once the court made this determination, AstraZeneca conclusively knew1 that patients taking its medication in a manner that it intended (i.e.: once daily) would infringe the method claims, and therefore continuing to engage in that conduct would satisfy the requrements of specific intent.  That Apotex may not want to infringe the patents is beside the point: its knowledge that the third party's conduct infringes, coupled with an intent to cause that conduct, is all that is required for this element of inducement, and for future acts those requirements would automatically be met. 

I'm not the first to identify this issue – Professor Timothy Holbrook made it few years back as well.  See Timothy Holbrook, The Intent Element of Induced Infringement, 22 SANTA CLARA COMPUTER & HIGH TECH. L.J. 399, 406 (2006).  Nevertheless, this is an instance where the argument that inducement of future infringement does not require the patent holder to prove specific intent to infringe could have been raised, and the parties apparently did not.

1 Note that this case involved a preliminary injunction, and thus the court's findings were necessarily non-final.  Thus one could argue that Apotex did not "know" that the future conduct would infringe despite the district court's preliminary determination of infringement because it could be subject to later change.   However, as in many pharmaceutical patent cases, the lower court's determination was made following substantial briefing and argument (along with a five-day hearing), and its reasoning was affirmed on appeal.  Furthermore, even in the preliminary injunction context, the focus should not be on the question of what Apotex thought in the past about infringement, but rather whether it would be substantially certain that the third party conduct would infringe in the future – an analysis that collapses into the district court's determination on the question of infringement.

Final Draft of ACTA Released

By Jason Rantanen

Yesterday, the negotiating parties (which include the United States) released the final draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a document that purports to combat the proliferation of pirated and counterfeit goods.  The development of this Agreement has been subject to considerable controversy, in large part due to the secretive nature of its negotiation, which took place outside conventional International IP bodies such as TRIPS and WIPO.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has written extensively about the subject, as has Michael Geist

In its final state, ACTA relates primarily to copyright and trademark infringement, and expressly disclaims application to patent law in several sections.  Nevertheless, everyone interested in intellectual property law issues should give it a read (and at only 24 pages long it's a surprisingly concise document), as within the area of trademark and copyright infringement the scope of ACTA is very broad: despite its characterization as a "Trade Agreement," it covers the enforcement of IP rights in the domestic civil, criminal, and digital spheres in addition to providing for border control measures, 

Although ACTA generally tracks existing U.S. law on copyright and trademark infringement, the Agreement has a clear pro-rights holder slant.  For instance, provisions on discovery discuss only the rights of the party asserting the infringement claim, and do not require similar rights on the part of the alleged infringer.  Readers may also want to pay particular attention to the criminal provisions – which seem on their surface to make any commercial willful trademark or copyright infringement subject to criminal penalties.

Given that this document likely will be scrutinized by scholars and practitioners concerned about the implications of strong copyright and digital property rights, I'll identify just a few specific drafting issues that leaped out at me.

  • "Trademark counterfeiting" and "copyright piracy" are broadly defined, and seem to include any form of trademark or copyright infringement.  In other words, these terms could be readily replaced with "trademark infringement" and "copyright infringement" wherever they appear in the document.  That said, the trademark counterfeiting language is somewhat ambiguous, and could plausibly be read to only apply to instances where the mark "cannot be distinguished in its essential aspects" from the registered trademark.
  • Another issue is the sudden appearance of "copyright or related right," which is first used in Chapter Two, Article 2.2(1).  Perhaps this is an artifact from earlier drafts, but I didn't see any definition of these "related rights."
  • The procedures for civil enforcement of IP rights largely appear to parallel U.S. law.  However, the damages provisions strongly favor rights holders, perhaps more so than current domestic copyright and trademark law. 
  • Similarly, to the extent the sections on litigation discovery procedures expand parties' rights and obligations, they may create a disjunction with current law.
  • In the context of border measures, the terms "goods of a commercial nature" and "goods of a non-commercial nature" are left undefined.  On the surface, it seems like nearly every good hs a commercial nature, but perhaps I'm just picking at nits with this one.
  • Likewise, the term "acts carried out on a commercial scale," used in the context of the section on criminal penalties, seems equally broad, especially given that it includes "at least those carried out as commercial activities for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage."
  • The pro-rights holder forum and education campaign requirements seem quite one-sided, especially for such a sensitive subject.  Chapter Three, Articles 3.1(4) and 3.4 are particularly strong in their requirement that governments present a pro-IP rights holder message.

The full text of the proposed version of ACTA is available here:  Download Finalized ACTA text.  In addition to substantive issues, some organizations have raised concerns about the potential approval of ACTA via Executive Agreement, as opposed to ratification by the Senate.  If the former approach is indeed used, it will likely have profound legal implications that courts, practitioners and scholars will need to address.

Update: As one commenter pointed out, Terry Hart's blog Copyhype has a detailed point-by-point comparison of many ACTA provisions to the relevant U.S. law.  Mr. Hart also responds to some of the negotiation transparency criticisms that various organizations have raised. 

En Banc Federal Circuit Arguments in TheraSense and TiVo: Update

By Jason Rantanen

Update: Binal Patel from Banner & Witcoff was kind enough to provide Patently-O with a transcript that the firm prepared of the TheraSense oral argument.  It can be obtained here: Download Therasense v Becton – transcription

* * *

Today the en banc Federal Circuit heard arguments in TheraSense v. BD and Bayer (Inequitable Conduct) and TiVo v. Echostar (post-injunction infringement proceedings).  Audio of both arguments is now available via the Federal Circuit's website, and Bruce Wexler of Paul Hastings has written a summary of the TheraSense argument.