Tag Archives: anticipation

No real consensus yet on CBM Sunsetting

Once initiated, CBMs are identical to post-grant reviews (PGR) – allowing for patents to be challenged on any patentability grounds.  As implemented, this includes 101 and 112 challenges in addition to the more traditional obviousness and novelty grounds.   PGRs, however, are limited to only AIA-patents and must be filed within a 9-month window from issuance.  Those caveats have severely limited the number of PGR petitions filed thus far.   For CBMs, the AIA-patent restriction and 9-month window are both eliminated.  However, the statute creates a subject-matter limitation that restricts CBMs to only non-technological financial-services business method patents.

Another feature of the CBM program is that it is “transitional” – i.e., it sunsets in 2020 and no petitions will be accepted after that date.

Last week, I hosted a quick anonymous survey on the transitional Covered Business Method Review program — asking whether the CBM program should be allowed to sunset or somehow extended.  240 Patently-O readers responded with results shown in the chart below.  About 44% of responses favored ending of the program outright — allowing it to sunset.  About 29% favored extending the program as-is, with the narrow financial-services scope.  The remaining favored extension and expansion: 17% would expand the scope to include all information processing patents, and the remaining 10% would extend the program to include all patents.  This final option would essentially mean ending the 9-month window for PGR filing.



The survey also offered (but did not require) an explanation of the answer.  A variety of themes emerge from that explanation. The following are a few examples.

For patent challengers, the key response is that “it works” as a mechanism for cancelling patents, and could be extended to other technology areas.  

  • CBM is a big success addressing one of the most abused categories of patents. Extend it to the very worst and most abused patents by including all of information processing and it can help clean up the system and make it stronger.
  • Business methods are not the only abstract processes being patented by the Office Patent. A majority of all information processing methods (even those outside of the Business arts) suffer from encompassing non-statutory abstract processes without reciting subject matter that amounts to anything significantly more than said abstract processes.

The historic problem associated with poor business method examination quality has now been fixed. 

  • It was intended to handle a temporary problem in a specific area.  State Street caused a flood of applications in an area that was new to the USPTO.  Now skills and databases have developed and the stats show that there is no particular need for either expanding or extending CBM.  Permanently singling out a particular subject matter for extra scrutiny could cause other countries to do the same in other areas.
  • If the goal was to clean up shoddy and overly broad patents and applications, then most all of the necessary work should be done by then.  There are existing mechanisms in place that should be forcing quality such that this becomes redundant and therefore unnecessary.
  • It was a political sop to begin with and should be allowed to expire per the legislation and the underlying political agreement.  It’s argument was to take care of “low-hanging fruit”, patents of old vintage, issued when the Office’s resources in this area were low.  8 years is more than enough time to pick that fruit.
  • CBM petitions are declining because most of the patents intended for consideration have already been undone.

Patents need to be strengthened, not weakened. 

  • The patent systems is already nearly dead.  Make patent owners in all areas feel the pain of having their patent rights trampled over by a kangaroo administrative court.
  • Broad restrictions on patentability are harming U.S. competitiveness in the areas of its greatest strength.  China and the EU are poised to eat our lunch, and we are serving it up to them.
  • A terrible idea from the outset.
  • It (CBM) deprives some of the best technological innovators the chance to protect their valuable property.  Abandon CBM, and instead seek recourse to the traditional approaches (102, 103 and 112) to rid the patent landscape of those patents that don’t rise to the level of technological innovation.

The PTAB process is either corrupt or incompetent. 

  • It has been abused by petitioners and PTAB has taken it too far.
  • Go back to district court litigation. The present scheme is a disaster.
  • The USPTO is turning into a mini-court system. That is not its competency. It needs to focus on technology, granting patents to those inventions that meet the basic statutory criteria, and leave the legal hair-splitting to courts.
  • This is a corrupt Review that benefits a specific class of infringers and is detrimental to the development of new technology.

The approach should be ended because it violates the constitutional rights of patent owners.

  • Unconstitutional.
  • AIA has overstepped its boundaries on constitutional grounds as patents are private rights.
  • All patent owners are entitled to due process, and that includes the right of access to a court of law before their patents are summarily cancelled by a political, the end-justifies-the means, so-called court.

Of course, there are other responses as well (perhaps more below in the comments).

The bottom line here, as you might expect, is that there is not yet any consensus on whether to extend the CBM program.  My own general framework begins with the recognition that CBM does no longer adds much value post Alice/Mayo and with district court eligibility determinations being done on the pleadings.  However, I would like to see the empirical evidence.   The point of creating legislation that sunsets is that it effectively places the burden of proof on anyone wanting to continue the program.  That work has not yet been done.


Written Description, Disclosed Embodiments, and BRI

By Dennis Crouch

The vast majority of written description problems arise when the patentee amends or adds claims with limitations not found in the original claim set and using language that does not directly map to specification disclosure.  In Cisco Systems v. Cirrex (Fed. Cir. 2017), the Federal Circuit provides an example of this in practice.

[The Decision: Cisco]

After the PTO initiated an inter partes reexamination, the patentee (Cirrex) dropped the original claims (1-34) and added new claims (35-124) of its ‘082 patent.[1]  In its final decision, the PTAB affirmed the examiner’s decision that most of the added claims were invalid as lacking written description support.  The Board did, however, find five of the claims patentable.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit partially reversed – finding all of the claims invalid as lacking written description support.

35 U.S.C. § 112(a) serves as the statutory source for three patentability doctrines: Written Description, Enablement, and Best Mode.

(a) IN GENERAL.—The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor or joint inventor of carrying out the invention.

In Ariad, the Federal Circuit wrote that the original written description filed by the patentee must “clearly allow persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that [he] invented what is claimed.”[2]  Channeling the old fox-law case of Pierson v. Post, courts have held that the requirement is intended to show “possession” of the claimed invention at the time of filing.  Whether the written description is sufficient is a question of fact – with the level of detail depending upon “the nature and scope of the claims and on the complexity and predictability of the relevant technology.”  Thus less description is necessary to show possession in simple technologies in predictable areas.  More description is likely required to show possession of novel structures and arrangements as compared to elements found in the prior art.

Here, the added claims at issue here are related to either equalization or discrete attenuation of fiber optic signals inside a lightguide (PLC).

The problem for Cirrex, according to the court, is that the original specification “lacks any disclosure or suggestion of how placing attenuation material inside the PLC … would result in equalizing the intensities of different wavelengths traveling in the PLC, or discretely attenuating a particular wavelength in the PLC.”  Rather, the disclosed embodiments teach equalizing to light energy outside the PLC and only collective (rather than discrete) attenuation within the PLC.   As such, the Federal Circuit held the claims lacked sufficient written description.

= = = = =

Alt: Essential Element Test: An interesting issue that the court avoided stems from an odd line of written description cases that center on what the Federal Circuit repeatedly denies is an “essential element” test.  In Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp.[3], the patentee amended claims to remove a previously recited limitation (placement of recliner controls between two recliners).  In that case, the court held that the broader claim lacked written description since the specification indicated possession of only a much narrower invention.  The basic conclusion is was that since the specification consistently described the invention as including “A, B, and C all connected together,” the patentee cannot broaden its claims to claim just A and B connected together (even if there would be no enablement problem).  Whenever the court cites Gentry, it almost always restates the seemingly contrary statement that this test should not be seen as an ‘essential element’ test but rather merely an inquiry as to whether the inventor possessed the invention now claimed.

Here, the challenger argued, in the alternative, that if the claims should also be invalid if interpreted to be broad enough to include equalizing activity whether inside or outside the PLC.  The problem is that all disclosed equalizing includes operating on signals outside the PLC, and the challenger argued that the disclosure does not then extend to the full scope of the claims.  This argument roughly follows the LizardTech decision where the court held that a broadened claim lacked written description because there was no showing of possession of the “full breadth of the claim.”[4]

This alternative argument was avoided in the appellate decision because the court more narrowly interpreted the claims as discussed above.

= = = = =

Broadest Reasonable Interpretation vs. Interpretation Most Likely to Invalidate: The court here did not discuss how BRI applies to its claim construction approach.  The theory behind BRI is that a broader claim interpretation typically makes it more likely to invalidate claims, and that approach helps ensure that patents released by the PTO are more likely to be upheld as valid.  The interpretation issue is typically the opposite for written description issues.  Let me explain – since the standard written description problem involves adding new particular limitations into the claims that are absent from the specification, a more narrow interpretation of the claims is actually more likely to invalidate.  (Here, I set aside the aforementioned LizardTech improper broadening issue.)  The query here is whether the PTO should be applying the reasonable interpretation most likely to invalidate rather than broadest reasonable interpretation.

= = = = =

[1] U.S. Patent No. U.S. Patent No. 6,415,082.

[2] Ariad Pharm., Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc) (quoting Vas-Cath Inc. v. Mahurkar, 935 F.2d 1555, 1563 (Fed. Cir. 1991)).

[3] Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp., 134 F.3d 1473, 1479 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

[4] LizardTech  v.  Earth Resource  Mapping,  Inc., 424  F.3d  1336 (Fed.  Cir.  2005).

Prof Patterson: Teasing Through a Single FRAND Rate

Guest Post by Prof. Mark R. Patterson, Fordham Law

Last week Professor Jorge Contreras provided here an excellent summary of the April 5 decision of Mr. Justice Birss of the UK’s High Court of Justice in Unwired Planet International Ltd. v Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., [2017] EWHC 711. The case addresses the problems that arise in determining FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing terms. Professor Contreras highlighted several novel aspects of the decision.  In the paragraphs below I focus on two of them.

A Single FRAND Rate

Mr. Justice Birss determined that there is only a single set of FRAND terms “in a given set of circumstances” (¶ 164). This approach stands in contrast to the approach of, for example, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc., 963 F. Supp. 2d 1176 (W.D. Wash. 2013), who concluded there would a range of possible FRAND royalties. As Professor Contreras wrote, Justice Birss’s approach poses a number of “logical hurdles . . . with respect to the SEP holder’s initial offer to the implementer and how to assess the SEP holder’s compliance with competition law.”

For one thing, Justice Birss does not seem to contemplate that after the first decision regarding FRAND terms for a particular portfolio, other courts or arbitration tribunals will follow along by applying the same rate. Instead, he appears to anticipate that each judge or arbitrator will make his or her own decision about the “single” FRAND rate, independently assessing the reasoning of prior courts or tribunals: “Decisions of other courts may have persuasive value but that will largely depend on the reasoning that court has given to reach its conclusion” (¶ 411).

Justice Birss makes this comment with reference to an Ericsson license to Huawei, not a license of Unwired Planet’s portfolio to a different licensee. Perhaps he contemplates more deference by subsequent courts to earlier determinations regarding the same portfolio, but that is not clear. Perhaps also, as Dennis Crouch has pointed out to me, there might be preclusive effects, even internationally, as a result of a prior decision, though that would presumably only put a ceiling on a rate, not a floor. In the absence of such effects, one can anticipate a multitude of “single” FRAND rates for a given portfolio.

Another factor that might lead to inconsistency among different rate determinations is what appears to be some reluctance to rely on arbitral decisions:

The decisions of other courts, assuming they are not binding authorities, may be useful as persuasive precedents. A point arises in this case about a licence which was the product of an arbitration. A licence agreement settled in an arbitration is more like terms set by a court than it is like a licence produced by negotiation and agreement. Huawei submitted that such a licence would be evidence of what a party was actually paying and as such was relevant. Aside from certain aspects of nondiscrimination which I will address separately, I do not accept that evidence of what a party is paying as a result of a binding arbitration will carry much weight. (¶ 171).

This skepticism regarding arbitrations is important because international arbitrations are used in the FRAND context to avoid country-by-country litigation. The passage suggests that Justice Birss would not treat rates set in an arbitration involving one licensee as very persuasive in a proceeding involving another licensee. On the other hand, the arbitration to which he was referring was one for which Huawei had introduced only the rates determined in the arbitration, not the award itself (id.). Later in the decision, he writes that “[a]n arbitral award is at least capable of having a similar persuasive value” as a court decision if the reasoning is available (¶ 411). In the end, it is not clear whether Justice Birss’s concern is with arbitration per se—he says that “[t]erms which were settled by an arbitrator are not evidence of what willing, reasonable business people would agree in a negotiation” (id.)—or simply that Huawei did not provide a complete picture of the arbitration at issue.

In any event, the overall picture appears to be that every court and tribunal can determine its own “single” FRAND rate and other terms (even when each is interpreting the same FRAND commitment for the same SEP portfolio). As Justice Birss indicates, there will be some limitations based on the non-discrimination element of FRAND, but he also limits that non-discrimination principle, as described below.

Another problem with the single-rate approach arises in connection with the CJEU’s 2015 decision in Huawei v. ZTE. Under the rules for FRAND negotiations established in that case, which the CJEU established as a template for the avoidance of abuse under Article 102 TFEU, the patentee and potential licensees are required to make FRAND offers. If there is only one single FRAND rate, as Justice Birss says, then of course the chances that either party’s offer, let alone both, will match that FRAND rate are very slim.

Justice Birss acknowledges this problem, and purports to resolve it by saying that “[t]he fact that concrete proposals [i.e., the required FRAND offers] are also required does not mean it is relevant to ask if those proposals are actually FRAND or not” (¶ 744(ii)). But the CJEU is clear that the parties’ proposals must be a “written offer for a licence on FRAND terms” (Huawei v. ZTE, ¶ 63) and “a specific counter-offer that corresponds to FRAND terms” (Huawei v. ZTE, ¶ 66). Justice Birss argues that this means only “that each side must make clear they are willing to conclude a licence on FRAND terms, since that is what matters,” (¶ 738), not that the offers themselves must be on FRAND terms. This claim, though, that “[w]hether a particular concrete proposal is actually FRAND is not what the CJEU is focussing on” (id.) is not the most natural reading of the CJEU’s decision.

Justice Birss does allow that “[n]o doubt a prejudicial demand or a sham proposal may itself be abusive (that issue arises below) but that is another matter” (id.). He says further that “only an offer which is so far above FRAND as to act to disrupt or prejudice the negotiations themselves . . . will fall foul of Art 102(a)” (¶ 738). He then concludes that the Unwired Planet offers and Huawei counteroffers in their negotiations, which were in the range of around three to ten times higher or lower than the actual FRAND rate that he determines, were not abusive given the circumstances of the negotiation (¶¶ 756-784).

In the end it is not clear just what are the implications of Justice Birss’s single FRAND rate. The determined rate does not necessarily constrain other courts or arbitral tribunals to impose the same rate, nor with Justice Birss’s interpretation do offers that deviate from the FRAND rate constitute abuse under Huawei v. ZTE. His approach can be contrasted, as Professor Contreras points out, with that of other courts that have interpreted FRAND as describing a range of rates, and although Justice Birss rejects that approach, his own approach seems likely to produce similar results. (It is possible that he chose the single-rate approach because he seems to have had some misgivings about the task of choosing between the parties’ two rate proposals if they were both FRAND, though in the end he concluded that “the court’s jurisdiction is not restricted to the binary question of assessing a given set of terms but extends to deciding between rival proposals and coming to a conclusion different from either side’s case on such a proposal” (¶ 169).)

The Non-Discrimination Principle

Mr. Justice Birss also addresses the non-discrimination element of FRAND. Here he distinguishes what he calls “general non-discrimination” and “hard-edged non-discrimination” obligations. The former requires that rates do not differ based on the licensee but only based “primarily” on the value of the portfolio licensed (¶ 175). Hard-edged discrimination, on the other hand, “to the extent it exists, is a distinct factor capable of applying to reduce a royalty rate (or adjust any licence term in any way) which would otherwise have been regarded as FRAND” (¶ 177).

Justice Birss rejects any hard-edged non-discrimination requirement beyond that which would be required by competition law. Although one might think that the ETSI FRAND policy imposes obligations independent of competition law, especially given Justice Birss’s conclusion that it creates contracts under French law, Justice Birss takes a different view regarding agreed-to licenses: “If parties agree licence terms then their rights and obligations under the ETSI FRAND undertaking will be discharged and replaced by their contractual rights under the licence” (¶ 155).

Justice Birss does not really explain the basis for this statement, though in other respects he is quite careful in his discussion of French law. First, ETSI is not a party to a license between a patentee and technology implementer/licensee. Hence, it is not clear how the agreement between patentee and licensee on the license could discharge ETSI’s rights under the FRAND contract. Furthermore, even if entry into a license could in principle discharge ETSI’s rights, it is not clear why discharge would result from entry into a license that turns out not to be FRAND when ETSI’s own right is to ensure the patentee’s obligation to license on FRAND terms. Moreover, as Professor Contreras says, it seems unlikely that the ETSI participants (or, I would add, the parties to the license) intend this result. It is likely that we will now see licensees seeking to include license provisions that preserve their rights to seek a remedy for hard-edged discrimination.

Beyond the contract question, Justice Birss turns to competition law: “If . . . the FRAND undertaking also includes a specific non-discrimination obligation whereby a licensee has the right to demand the very same rate as has been granted to another licensee which is lower than the benchmark rate, then that obligation only applies if the difference would distort competition between the two licensees” (¶ 503). That is, ETSI’s FRAND policy does no more than serve to restate competition law.

This surprising conclusion is made more surprising by the way in which Justice Birss applied competition law. Huawei argued that under EU competition law it did not have to show actual harm to competition so long as it provided evidence from which such harm could be inferred, and the court agreed (¶¶ 504-510). But Justice Birss then addressed Huawei’s discrimination claim, which was based on lower rates in an earlier Unwired Planet license to Samsung, by pointing out that the difference in royalty payments would be much smaller than Huawei’s profit margin (¶ 517).

A problem here is that Unwired Planet’s proportion of the total number of relevant SEPs was argued by Huawei to be 0.04% and by Unwired Planet to be 1.25% (¶ 261). Therefore, the aggregate effect over all SEPs of the difference between the Samsung and Huawei rates would be about 100 times greater than the effect the court considers. The judge does not provide the actual Samsung-Huawei royalty difference in the public decision, but the aggregate royalty burden for all SEPs, he wrote, would be about 10% given the FRAND rate he determines (id.). He also noted that Huawei’s profit margin was between $6 and $19 per device on prices between $164 to $185 (¶ 517), which produces profit percentages between 3.2% and 11.6%. Thus, it appears that if Samsung’s rate were half of Huawei’s, the difference would be about one-half or more of Huawei’s profits. Surely one could infer competitive harm from that difference.

Obviously Justice Birss’s decision applies only to Unwired Planet and Huawei, but it seems to be putting on blinders not to consider the overall effect that would result from similar decisions across all holders of SEPs. Would only holders of larger portfolios than Unwired Planet’s be subject to non-discrimination claims, or could such claims only be brought by licensees that have entered into licenses for significant proportions of all SEPs? If the latter, could the non-discrimination claims only be brought against the later-licensing patentees, when the competitive effect became more significant? As long as there is any role for hard-edged discrimination, and Justice Birss does allow it such a role, if only one coincident with competition law, these questions will have to be answered by subsequent decisions.

Supreme Court: Challenging Quick-Look Eligibility Denials

by Dennis Crouch

Broadband ITV v. Hawaiian Telecom (Supreme Court 2017)

A newly filed petition for writ of certiorari offers a substantial challenge to the quick-look eligibility decisions that have been so popular among district courts.  The challenge here is especially focused on no-evidence eligibility decisions that serve as a substitute for an obviousness determination.

In the case, the claims of BBiTV’s U.S. Patent No. 7,631,336 have been repeatedly upheld as non-obvious before a Hawaii district court ruled them ineligible on summary judgment.  In its 103 analysis, the Hawaii court also denied summary judgment of obviousness – finding questions of material fact regarding whether (1) elements of the claims were found in the prior art or (2) PHOSITA would have been motivated to combine those elements.  In its simultaneous 101 decision, however, the court determined as a matter of law that those same elements were “well-understood, routine, conventional activities previously known to the industry” that lack the “inventive concept” required by Alice.  The decision was (as is now common) affirmed without opinion by the Federal Circuit.

The petition challenges the decision and the newly-popular approach of using eligibility as a shortcut to more difficult and fact-intensive obviousness analysis. The three three questions:

1. Evidence for Underlying Factual Findings: Whether the statutory presumption of validity set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 282 applies to claims challenged under 35 U.S.C. § 101, as set forth by this Court in Microsoft Corp. v. i4i L.P., 564 U.S. 91 (2011), when the ultimate legal conclusion relies upon underlying findings of fact, such as whether the additional novel and non-obvious elements of the claims are merely well-understood, routine, and conventional or whether they add an inventive concept.

2. Standard for Summary Judgment: Whether, unlike every other area of law involving motions for summary judgment, as set forth by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 and Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986), and its progeny, a district court may resolve material underlying fact disputes against the non-movant party on a summary judgment motion for lack of patent-eligibility under § 101.

3. Not All Abstraction Are Abstract: Whether the judicially-created exception for “abstract ideas” broadly includes any abstraction of a claim (including novel business practices or methods of organizing human activities) or only “fundamental” and “long-standing” (i.e., pre-existing) practices and methods, as recognized by this Court in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593, 611 (2010) and Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347, 2356- 57 (2014).

The questions begin with the implicit understanding that, although a question of law, eligibility decisions are based upon a set of factual determinations that should be treated like any other factual determination by the court.  This approach is directly contrary to the approach often taken these days that follows Judge Mayer’s concurring opinion in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709 (Fed. Cir. 2014).

An important legal question here is how close the link should be between obviousness and eligibility.  Post-KSR and Alice, there does appear to be substantial connection between the obviousness analysis associated with combining-old-elements and the eligibility analysis of elements that are “well-understood, routine, and conventional.”  The two should often correlate, the court here may have the opportunity to explain the differences both in doctrine and procedure.

Read the petition here: [LINK]

Amicus Briefs in support of the Petition are due by May 17, 2017.


Objective Indicia of Non-Obviousness Must be Tied to Inventive Step

by Dennis Crouch

This post follows-up on my recent essay on Novartis v. Torrent Pharma.  If you recall, that decision by Judge Chen affirmed an IPR trial decision cancelling the claims of the Novartis patent as obvious.

Generics Successful at Invalidating Novartis Gilenya Patent

I did not previously discuss the portion of the case focusing on Novartis’ objective evidence of non-obviousness.  Novartis argued that its drug (1) met a long-felt but unsolved need, (2) received substantial industry praise, and (3) enjoyed commercial success.  The Supreme Court has accepted this type of evidence as relevant based upon the theory that an obvious invention (1) would have already been invented; (2) would not b praised by the industry as groundbreaking; and (3) would have its commercial success undermined by the similar prior art.

In recent years, however, the courts have also pushed a strong nexus doctrine — requiring a nexus or causal relationship between the objective evidence and the claimed invention. In other words, the patentee must show that it was the invention (as claimed) that led to the commercial success and not something else such as marketing. Because this evidence is used to rebut a prima facie case of obviousness, the burden shifts to the patentee to prove the nexus, although at times the court will presume a nexus.

Here, the court explains that the nexus requirement actually goes an important step further.  The secondary indicia of nonobviousness must be tied to the inventive step itself – i.e., what was claimed an not known in the art.

For objective indicia evidence to be accorded substantial weight, we require that a nexus must exist “between the evidence and the merits of the claimed invention.” Wyers v. Master Lock Co., 616 F.3d 1231 (Fed. Cir. 2010). “Where the offered secondary consideration actually results from something other than what is both claimed and novel in the claim, there is no nexus to the merits of the claimed invention.” In re Kao, 639 F.3d 1057 (Fed. Cir. 2011). . . In evaluating whether the requisite nexus exists, the identified objective indicia must be directed to what was not known in the prior art—including patents and publications—which may well be the novel combination or arrangement of known individual elements.

FDA Approval: Moving back to the facts of Novartis, the patentee argued that its commercial success was based upon “Gilenya being the first commercially-available solid oral multiple sclerosis treatment.”  Although that statement is true, the court found the commercial-availability focus misplaced for a non-obviousness argument.  Rather than first-commercial-availability, the focus should be based upon first-invention or disclosure.

The fact that Gilenya was the first to receive FDA approval for commercial marketing does not overcome the fact that solid multiple sclerosis compositions were already known.

With that framework, the court held that the “proffered evidence is not probative of the nonobviousness inquiry.”

[The Decision]

Generics Successful at Invalidating Novartis Gilenya Patent

by Dennis Crouch

Novartis v. Torrent Pharma, Apotex, and Mylan (Fed. Cir. 2017)

At the conclusion of its Inter Partes Review (IPR) Trial, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) found all claims of Novartis U.S. Patent No. 8,324,283 invalid as obvious.  The PTAB had allowed Novartis to include substitute claims as well, but found those also unpatentable as obvious.  On appeal here, the Federal Circuit affirms.

The ‘283 patent covers a solid combination of a sphingosine-1 phosphate (S1P) receptor agonist (fingolimod) and a sugar alcohol (mannitol). The drug – sold under the trade name Gilenya – is used to treat multiple sclerosis.  This is the first oral disease modifying MS drug approved by the FDA and is a big drug with billions in sales each year.

The particular ingredients were already known in the art, and the active ingredient – fingolimod – was already known as useful for treating autoimmune diseases such as MS.  However, none of the references brought-together the entire combination in a “solid pharmaceutical composition” as required by the claims.  However, the Board found that the combination of references would have led an ordinary skilled artisan to the invention claimed here.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reviews the Board’s factual findings for substantial evidence – a liberal and forgiving standard that only requires “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”  Conclusions of law, however, are reviewed de novo on appeal.  In patent law, the ultimate question of obviousness is deemed a question of law.  However, that ultimate conclusion must be based upon a set of predicate factual conclusions as outlined in Graham v. John Deere.

Perhaps of most relevance for many obviousness cases – the existence of a motivation-to-combine references is deemed a question of fact and thus deference is given to the PTO’s conclusion.  Here, the court noted that the board considered the negative properties of using mannitol (teaching-away), but was not convinced, and sufficient evidence supported the Board’s decision.  The patentee also focused on the fact that the Board’s written decision did not expressly consider all of the patentee’s teaching-away arguments.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument – holding that “there is no requirement that the Board expressly discuss each and every negative and positive piece of evidence lurking in the record to evaluate a cursory argument.” On this point, the court recognized the tension with Medichem‘s holding that the disadvantages of a reference must be considered, but held that Medichem does not create a bright-line rule requiring express discussion of all disadvantages.  Rather, the Board is “not require[d] . . . to address every argument raised by a party or explain every possible reason supporting its conclusion.” Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corp., 814 F.3d 1309, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

Novartis also raised an APA challenge – arguing that the Board did not provide the required notice and an opportunity since the Board included a new reference (Sakai) in its final decision.  Sakai was raised in the IPR petition, but institution was denied for the particular grounds raising Sakai.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit sided with the PTAB holding that – although institution decision rejected Sakai as anticipatory or the primary obviousness reference – the Board did not exclude Sakai from consideration since it is clearly a relevant reference.  “The Board’s discussion of Sakai in the Final Written Decision was not inconsistent with its review of Sakai in the Institution Decision.”  With this explanation, the court was able to justify the PTAB approach and find that the agency did not “change theories in midstream without giving respondents reasonable notice of the change.”   and ‘the opportunity to present argument under the new theory.” Rodale Press, Inc. v. FTC, 407 F.2d 1252, 1256–57 (D.C. Cir. 1968).

What next: I’ll note here that the ‘283 patent is only one of four patents listed in the Orange Book covering Gilenya, one of which is also currently being challenged at the PTAB.


Patentlyo Bits and Bytes by Anthony McCain

Upcoming Events

Los Angeles Intellectual Property Law Association Spring Seminar

Get a Job doing Patent Law                  

Unwired Planet v. Huawei: An English Perspective on FRAND Royalties

FRONDGuest Post by Professor Jorge L. Contreras

In the latest decision by the UK High Court of Justice (Patents) in Unwired Planet v. Huawei ([2017] EWHC 711 (Pat), 5 Apr. 2017], Mister Justice Colin Birss has issued a detailed and illuminating opinion regarding the assessment of royalties on standards-essential patents (SEPs) that are subject to FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing commitments.  Among the important and potentially controversial rulings in the case are:

  1. Single Royalty: there is but a single FRAND royalty rate applicable to any given set of SEPs and circumstances,
  2. Significance of Overstep: neither a breach of contract nor a competition claim for abuse of dominance will succeed unless a SEP holder’s offer is significantly above the true FRAND rate,
  3. Global License: FRAND licenses for global market players are necessarily global licenses and should not be limited to a single jurisdiction, and
  4. Soft-Edge: the “non-discrimination” (ND) prong of the FRAND commitment does not imply a “hard-edged” test in which a licensee may challenge the FRAND license that it has been granted on the basis that another similarly situated licensee has been granted a lower rate, so long as the difference does not distort competition between the two licensees.


This case began in 2014 when Unwired Planet, a U.S.-based patent assertion entity, sued Google, Samsung and Huawei for infringement under six UK patents (corresponding actions were filed in Germany).  Unwired Planet claimed that five of the asserted patents, which it acquired from Ericsson in 2013 as part of a portfolio comprising approximately 2000 patents, were essential to the 2G, 3G and 4G wireless telecommunications standards developed under the auspices of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).  Because Ericsson participated in development of the standards at ETSI, any patents shown to be SEPs would necessarily be encumbered by Ericsson’s FRAND commitment to ETSI.

The UK proceedings involved numerous stages, including five scheduled “technical trials” which would determine whether each of the asserted patents was valid, infringed and essential to the ETSI standards.  During these proceedings Google and Samsung settled with Unwired Planet and Ericsson (which receives a portion of the licensing and settlement revenue earned by Unwired Planet from the patents), leaving Huawei as the sole UK defendant.  By April 2016 three of the technical trials had been completed, resulting in findings that two of the asserted patents were invalid and that two were both valid and essential to the standards.  These findings are currently under appeal. The parties then agreed to suspend further technical trials.  In October 2016 a “non-technical” trial began regarding issues of competition law, FRAND, injunction and damages.  Hearings were concluded in December 2016, and the court’s opinion and judgment were issued on April 5, 2017.

A. The High Court’s Decision – Overview

The principal questions before the court were (1) the level of the FRAND royalty for Unwired Planet’s SEPs, (2) whether Unwired Planet abused a dominant position in violation of Section 102 of the Treaty for the Formation of the European Union (TFEU) by failing to adhere to the procedural requirements for FRAND negotiations outlined by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in Huawei v. ZTE (2014), and (3) whether an injunction should issue in the case.  In the below discussion, Paragraph numbers (¶) correspond to the numbered paragraphs in the High Court’s April 2017 opinion.

B. FRAND Commitments – General Observations

Justice Birss begins his opinion with some general observations and background about the standard-setting process and FRAND commitments.  A few notable points emerge from this discussion. (more…)

Federal Circuit Affirms Potentially Inconsistent Verdict

TVIIM v. McAfee (Fed. Cir. 2017) [tviim]

A N.D. California jury held that TVIIM’s U.S. Patent No. 6,889,168 was both invalid as anticipated and not infringed.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Here, the patentee argued that the jury’s verdict applied an inconsistent claim construction since, if the claims were broad enough to be anticipated then they would have also been infringed.  Likewise, IVIIM argues that if the claims were so narrow as to not be infringed, then they also would not have been anticipated by the prior art.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit rejected that approach for several reasons – most notably, that any error was harmless since “On appeal, TVIIM concedes that substantial evidence supports the jury’s finding for either non-infringement or invalidity but argues it does not support both.”

The result here is that a potentially inconsistent verdict is not improper so long as any possible resolution of the inconsistency reaches the same outcome (here, that the patentee loses).  In this case, any proposed construction of the claim terms resulted in either the patent being invalid or being not infringed.

= = = =

Claim 1 of the asserted patent is listed below:

1. A security system for a computer apparatus, wherein said computer apparatus includes a processor and system memory, said security system comprising:

at least one security module which under direction from the processor accesses and analyzes selected portions of the computer apparatus to identify vulnerabilities;

at least one utility module which under the direction from the processor, performs various utility functions with regards to the computer apparatus in response to the identified vulnerabilities; and

a security system memory which contains security information for performing the analysis of the computer apparatus.

Holding the Line on Anticipation against Eligibility Encroachement

Nidec Motor v. Zhongshan Broad Ocean Motor (Fed. Cir. 2017)

In a short and tidy opinion, the Federal Circuit has reversed a PTAB anticipation decision in an inter partes review – holding that the Board’s decision “is not supported by substantial evidence.”

At issue is claim 21 of Nidec’s U.S. Patent No. 7,208,895, which claims a “permanent magnet rotating machine and controller assembly configured to perform the method of claim 12.”  Claim 12, in turn is a motor control-method that involves calculating  two different phase currents:

The method disclosed in the ‘895 Patent relates to vector control of a permanent magnet machine in the rotating frame of reference. The claimed novel feature requires “combining” calculated Q-axis and d-axis currents to produce an “IQdr current demand” in the rotating frame of reference, which can later be further manipulated and back-transformed into the three phase currents in the stationary frame of reference that drive the motor. Combining the Q-axis and d-axis currents to produce a unitary IQdr demand occurs prior to the back-transformation process.

Appellant Brief.

My reading of the single prior art reference (Kusaka, U.S. Patent No. 5,569,995) is that it also uses the same inputs to achieve a three-part motor-control output, but does not particularly disclose that the transformation happens by first combining the inputs and then transforming the combination into the three-part output.  In its opinion, the Federal Circuit found this analysis compelling:

Because Kusaka does not disclose a signal in the rotating frame of reference, it does not disclose an IQdr demand.


Abstract Idea Creep: The decision approach here is important because it holds the line against encroachment of eligibility issues (Section 101) into the anticipation analysis.  Notably, the identified inventive step here is essentially requiring a two-step mathematical transformation (with IQdr intemediary) rather than a single-step transformation done in the prior art.  Of course, the claims themselves do not indicate how the combination occurs occurs – just requiring “combining” the inputs. I expect that a number of courts thinking about the eligibility analysis would see that step as lacking sufficient concrete inventiveness.

Remand? The court reversed, but did not indicate any remand.  That suggests to me that the case is over with the patentee winning the IPR.

Claim Scope: I’m still somewhat confused about whether the claim structure used here is proper under the law.  35 USC 112 states that “A claim in dependent form shall be construed to incorporate by reference all the limitations of the claim to which it refers.” In my mind, one element of claim 12 is that it is a “method” and claim 21 is a “machine . . . configured to perform the method.”  As such, claim 21 cannot itself meet the method limitation of claim 12.

= = = =

12. A method of controlling a permanent magnet rotating machine, the machine including a stator and a rotor situated to rotate relative to the stator, the stator having a plurality of energizable phase windings situated therein, the method comprising:

calculating an IQr demand from a speed or torque demand;
calculating a dr-axis injection current demand as a function of a speed of the rotor; and
combining the IQr demand and the dr-axis injection current demand to produce an IQdr demand that is compensated for any torque contribution of dr-axis-current.
21. A permanent magnet rotating machine and controller assembly configured to perform the method of claim 12.

LA BioMed’s Patent Case against Cialis Revived by Federal Circuit

by Dennis Crouch

LA BioMed v. Eli Lilly (Fed. Cir. 2017) [appeal decision ipr2014-00752] [appeal decision ipr2014-00693]

In a new pair of decisions, the Federal Circuit has again rejected the PTAB’s obviousness findings as inadequate and remanded for further proceedings.  As she has done in the past, Judge Newman agreed with the merits dissented from the remand – arguing that the challenger should not be so freely given what amounts to a new trial.

Lilly filed several separate IPR petitions against LA BioMed’s U.S. Patent No. 8,133,903 which covers a method of treating penile fibrosis which often leads to erectile dysfunction.  The IPR petitions were prompted by LA BioMed’s 2013 lawsuit alleging that Lilly’s popular Cialis drug led to infringement.  The basic idea here is that repeated treatments with Cialis has a long-term positive impact on the fibrosis.

In the two initiated IPR’s, the PTAB determined (1) the asserted prior art reference did not anticipate the challenged ‘903 claims (14-693 IPR); and (2) the asserted prior art references did render the challenged claims invalid as obvious (14-752 IPR).

Here, the claims are directed to a dosing regimine of a known drug treating an issue that it was already known to treat.  The particular claims require “a continuous long term regimen . . . at a dosage up to 1.5 mg/kg/day for not less than 45 days” for treating “an individual with … penile tunical fibrosis …”

On anticipation, the court drew a fine-line with its closest case being AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc. where the Federal Circuit affirmed that method claims for “once-daily dosing would likely survive an anticipation challenge by a prior advertisement that disclosed twice-daily dosing.”  Here, the prior art suggested “chronic administration” of the drug while the patent particularly requires 45 days of dosage.  A close reading of the prior art led the court to limit “chronic” to “daily administration for at least three days” and less than three-weeks (since the prior art’s study only lasted for three weeks).  Affirmed as Not Anticipated.

On obviousness, the PTAB found the claims obvious.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit rejected the PTAB’s claim construction of the requirement of treating “an individual with … penile tunical fibrosis.” In particular, the PTAB allowed-in prior art treating erectile dysfunction even if penile fibrosis had not been formally diagnosed.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit held the PTAB’s approach “reads that limitation out of the claim” since ED may have other causes (such as psychological).  Based upon this linguistic argument, the court made the leap that – therefore “it is unreasonable to use the symptom of erectile dysfunction as a proxy for penile fibrosis.”  In the eyes of the court, this distinction eliminated the motivation-to-combine the references since they did not directly address the penile fibrosis issue.

As mentioned above, the majority ordered a remand to the PTAB to make new findings on the motivation to combine.  Judge Newman dissented from that approach – arguing that the PTAB/Lilly had their chance and that the judgment should be final on appeal.

Provisional Priority:  A final note on the case involves LAB’s claim for priority to its early-filed provisional patent application.  As you might expect, the court ruled that it was not entitled to such priority because the provisional did not expressly disclose the claim limitation of 1.5 mg/kg/day.



Scan-to-Email Patent Finally Done; Claim Scope Broadened by Narrow Provisional Application

MPHJ Tech v. Ricoh (Fed. Cir. 2017)[16-1243-opinion-2-9-2017-11]

MPHJ’s patent enforcement campaign helped revive calls for further reform of the patent litigation system.  The patentee apparently mailed out thousands of demand letters to both small and large businesses who it suspected of infringing its scan-to-email patents.  The primary patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 8,488,173.

Ricoh, Xerox, and Lexmark successfully petitioned for inter partes review (IPR), and the PTAB concluded that the challenged claims (1–8) are invalid as both anticipated and obvious.[1] On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed.

Claim 1 is a fairly long sentence – 410 words, but basically requires a scanner with the ability to both store a local file and also email a file that can be operated with a “go button” followed by “seamless” transmission.  The patent itself is based upon a complex family of 15+ prior US filings, most of which have been abandoned, with the earliest priority filing of October 1996.

Although more than 20 years ago, there was prior art even back then.  However, the identified prior art process was apparently not entirely “seamless” in operation. On appeal, the patentee asked for a narrowing construction of the claim scope to require “a one-step operation without human intervention.”  Unfortunately for MPHJ, the claims are not so clear.

Relying upon the Provisional to Interpret the Claims: Attempting to narrow the claim scope, MPHJ pointed to one of the referenced provisional applications that disclosed a “one step” process requiring the user to simply push “a single button”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed that the provisional is relevant, but not how MPHJ hoped. Rather, the court found that the fact MPHJ omitted those limiting statements when it drafted the non-provisional serves as a suggestion that the claims were not intended to be limited either.

We agree that a provisional application can contribute to understanding the claims.[2] . . . In this case, it is the deletion from the ’798 Provisional application that contributes understanding of the intended scope of the final application. . . . We conclude that a person of skill in this field would deem the removal of these limiting clauses to be significant. The [challenged] Patent in its final form contains no statement or suggestion of an intent to limit the claims to the deleted one-step operation. Neither the specification nor the claims state that this limited scope is the only intended scope. Instead, the ’173 Patent describes the single step operation as “optional.” . . . A person skilled in this field would reasonably conclude that the inventor intended that single-step operation would be optional, not obligatory.

MPHJ’s efforts really should be written up as a case-study.  Unfortunate for patentees that this is the case members of the public will continue to hear about for years to come.

For patent prosecutors.  Here we have another example of how a low-quality provisional filing failed the patentee.  Now, you have to recognize that changes you make when filing the non-provisional will be used against you in the claim construction process.  While there may be ways to use this strategically, I expect that more patentees will be trapped than benefited.




= = = = =

[1] Ricoh Ams. Corp. v. MPHJ Tech. Invs., No. IPR2014-00538, 2015 WL 4911675, (P.T.A.B. Aug. 12, 2015).

[2] See Trs. of Columbia Univ. in New York v. Symantec Corp., 811 F.3d 1359, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (looking to the provisional application for guidance as to claim construction); Vederi, LLC v. Google, Inc., 744 F.3d 1376, 1383 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (same).

Eligibility: Explaining the IPO Legislative Proposal

by Dennis Crouch

Following Bilski, Prof. Rob Merges and I published a paper titled “Operating Efficiently Post-Bilski by Ordering Patent Doctrine Decision-Making” arguing, inter alia, that eligibility decisions are largely out of the normal bailiwick of PTO examiners.  As imagined by the Supreme Court, the eligibility doctrine really became too philosophical and policy based to be administrable.  Alice and Mayo were subsequently released and did not help the situation.  Under Dir. Lee, the USPTO did figure out a way to administer the test — by not following the test set-out by the Supreme Court.  Rather than looking for abstract ideas and laws of nature as imagined by the Supreme Court, examiners are guided to look specifically only for concepts that the courts have already identified as problematic.  Of course, as the number of court cases finding ineligible subject matter rises, the PTO’s approach has necessarily expanded as well.

The administration concern is one factor behind the IPO’s newly proposed legislative change to 35 U.S.C. 101.   For the IPO, though, the larger issue though is “revers[ing] the recent Supreme Court rulings and restore the scope of subject matter eligibility to that intended by Congress in the passage of the Patent Act of 1952.”

IPO Steps Up: Proposes Statute to Overturn Mayo and Alice

In a newly published whitepaper, the IPO explains its proposed legislative amendment. [PDF20170207_ipo-101-tf-proposed-amendments-and-report]

Following an explanation rejected by the Supreme Court in its eligibility doctrine, IPO explains that the traditional subject matter exceptions including abstract ideas and laws of nature were part of the pre-1952 “invention” requirement.  That requirement was eliminated in the 1952 Act in a way that, according to the IPO, should have opened the door to broad subject matter jurisprudence.  As the organization sees it, the Supreme Court began to go off track in the 1970s – a path revived in recent years.

With this avenue of legal argument rejected by the courts, the IPO sees itself forced to appeal to Congress for a more direct statement of broad subject matter eligibility.

The IPO’s proposed amendment is as follows:

101 Inventions patentable.

101(a) ELIGIBLE SUBJECT MATTER: Whoever invents or discovers, and claims as an invention, any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereto, shall be entitled to thereof, may obtain a patent for a claimed invention thereof therefor, subject only to the exceptions, conditions, and requirements set forth in this Title of this title.

101(b) SOLE EXCEPTION TO SUBJECT MATTER ELIGIBILITY: A claimed invention is ineligible under subsection (a) if and only if the claimed invention as a whole, as understood by a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains, exists in nature independently of and prior to any human activity, or exists solely in the human mind.

101(c) SOLE ELIGIBILITY STANDARD: The eligibility of a claimed invention under subsections (a) and (b) shall be determined without regard as to the requirements or conditions of sections 102, 103, and 112 of this Title, the manner in which the claimed invention was made or discovered, or the claimed invention’s inventive concept.

In describing the 101(a) amendment, the IPO explains that, in the amended structure “utility [is] the sole basis of eligibility.”  The requirement that the entitlement to a patent is “subject only to the exceptions and conditions set forth in this Title” is, according to the IPO, intended “to foreclose the development of any future ‘judicial exceptions” to section 101.” and to recognize that the “only exceptions to the entitlement to a patent … are those defined in the statute.”  The IPO statement does not consider the impact of other already-existing non-statutory exceptions such as double-patenting, but presumably those will disappear unless a sufficient statutory hook is found.

Proposed 102(b) includes a very narrow exception to eligibility.  I would suggest that there is almost nothing on earth that provably “exists in nature independently of and prior to any human activity” leaving the only actual exception that the invention “exists solely in the human mind.”  On this second exception, IPO writes:

This ineligibility criterion … makes eligible any claim limitation that requires some external involvement with the physical world or any representation thereof (e.g., data in a computer).
. . . [However] ideas that do not have physical or tangible aspects . . . are not patentable.

The IPO does not indicate whether the exception would be triggered if a single embodiment of the invention could conceivably exist solely in a human mind.  I expect that it would.

According to the IPO, 101(c) is designed to ensure that eligibility is not determined based upon the novelty, obviousness, or definiteness of a patent claim.  I would suggest that the language does not quite achieve the purpose suggested.  A more effective revision might state instead that “eligibility of a claimed invention. . . shall be determined without regard to its novelty, obviousness, or definiteness, or lack thereof.”

I compliment the IPO on taking this major step and beginning a conversation on legislative fixes to the eligibility doctrine.

I agree with the IPO members that the current situation is quite problematic both because the lines are so unclear and because they are ruling-out many inventions that should qualify in my conception.  That said, I believe that the provision likely goes too far.  I would suggest that the proposal take at least two further steps: (1) include a third exception to eligibility derived from the printed matter doctrine; and (2) include a new 102(d) that expressly defines the scope of the utility doctrine so that it becomes clear what work will be going on there.  It should be clear from the statute that ordinary works of authorship, for instance, are not patent eligible.

Supreme Court Update: Are Secondary Indicia of Invention Relevant to Eligibility?

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court is on recess until Feb 17.

I don’t know if my end-of-April prediction will hold true, but I do expect Neil Gorsuch to become a Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  As a 10th Circuit Judge, Gorsuch never decided a patent case, but does have a handful of interesting IP cases.

There are a few petitions filed that we have not discussed here: 

 In its newest petition, DataTreasury takes 101 for a new spin by taking the 101/103 analysis to its next logical level.  If we are going to include a 103 analysis as part of the eligibility doctrine then lets go whole hog.  Thus, DataTreasury asks: whether a court must consider secondary indicia of invention as evidence in its eligibility analysis? In the case, the Federal Circuit had affirmed the PTAB judgment without opinion under R.36. A second eligibility petition is found in TDE Petroleum Data Solutions, Inc. v. AKM Enterprise, Inc., dba Moblize, Inc. TDE asks the court to “please reconcile Diehr and Alice.” (I’m not literally quoting here).  The patent at issue (No. 6,892,812) claims a four-step process of “determining the state of a well operation.” (a) store several potential “states”; (b) receive well operation data from a plurality of systems; (c) determine that the data is valid by comparing it to a threshold limit; and (d) set the state based upon the valid data.

In Wi-LAN v. Apple, the patentee revives both Cuozzo and Markman claim construction arguments – this time focusing on “whether claim terms used to define the metes and bounds of an invention are generally given their “plain and ordinary meaning,” or are redefined (limited) to match the scope of the exemplary embodiments provided in the specification.”

duPont v. Macdermid asks whether summary judgment of obviousness is proper because of the factual disputes at issue.  Similarly, in Enplas v. Seoul Semiconductor, the petitioner argues that a finding of anticipation by the PTAB must be supported by findings each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art.  In Enplas, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB on a R.36 Judgment Without Appeal — it difficult for the petitioner to point to the particular deficiencies.


=== THE LIST===

1. 2016-2016 Decisions:

  • Design Patent Damages: Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., No 15-777 (Total profits may be based upon either the entire product sold to consumers or a component);  GVR order in parallel case Systems, Inc. v. Nordock, Inc., No. 15-978.  These cases are now back before the Federal Circuit for the job of explaining when a component

2. Petitions Granted:

3. Petitions with Invited Views of SG (CVSG): 

4. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Pending:

  • Claim Construction: Wi-LAN USA, Inc., et al. v. Apple Inc., No. 16-913 (“plain and ordinary meaning”)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Boston Scientific Corporation, et al. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, No. 16-470 (how closely must a state court “hew” federal court patent law precedents?) (Appeal from MD State Court)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Google Inc., et al. v. Arendi S A.R.L., et al., No. 16-626 (can “common sense” invalidate a patent claim that includes novel elements?) (Supreme Court has requested a brief in response)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Enplas Corporation v. Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd., et al., No. 16-867 (“Whether a finding of anticipation under 35 U.S.C. § 102 must be supported by findings that each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art?”)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company v. MacDermid Printing Solutions, L.L.C., No. 16-905 (summary judgment of obviousness proper)
  • Jury Trial: Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, et al., No. 16-712 (“Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”) [oilstatespetition]
  • Jury Trial: Nanovapor Fuels Group, Inc., et al. v. Vapor Point, LLC, et al., No. 16-892 (Can a party forfeit a properly demanded trial by jury without an explicit, clear, and unequivocal waiver?)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Big Baboon, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, No. 16-496 (Appeal of APA seeking overturning of evidentiary admission findings during reexamination – heard by Federal Circuit or Regional Circuit?)
  • LachesMedinol Ltd. v. Cordis Corporation, et al., No. 15-998 (follow-on to SCA); Endotach LLC v. Cook Medical LLC, No. 16-127 (SCA Redux); Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., et al, No. 16-202 (SCA Redux plus TM issue)
  • Eligibility: TDE Petroleum Data Solutions, Inc. v. AKM Enterprise, Inc., dba Moblize, Inc., No. 16-890 (Please reconcile Diehr and Alice)
  • Eligibility: DataTreasury Corporation v. Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., No. 16-883 (secondary indicia as part of eligibility analysis).
  • Eligibility: IPLearn-Focus, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 16-859 (evidence necessary for finding an abstract idea)

5. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Denied or Dismissed:


Wrongly Affirmed Without Opinion

by Dennis Crouch

I have uploaded a draft of a short article of mine titled Wrongly Affirmed Without Opinion – If I am correct, is has some potentially of shaking up the Federal Circuit’s current practice of issuing so many Rule 36 Affirmances Without Opinion.  [Download the Paper from SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2909007]

Many see the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as the patent court because of its national jurisdiction over patent cases and its congressional mandate to strengthen and bring uniformity to the patent system, presumably through precedential decision-making. Oddly, for the past few years most of the court’s merits decisions in Patent and Trademark Office appeals have not been released with precedential opinions – or even non-precedential opinions for that matter. Rather, most are filed as judgments without any opinion at all. The court’s approach is surprising considering the current high levels of uncertainty in the areas of patent law procedure (AIA Trials before the PTAB) and doctrine (eligibility under Alice and Mayo) that are being decided without opinion.

This short article raises a surprisingly simple but novel argument: the Federal Circuit is required by statute to issue an opinion in these PTO appeals. As I explain, the statute is plain and clear and is supported by strong policy goals. The court’s recent spate of hidden decisions is threatening its public legitimacy. I respect the members of this court so much, and I hope they will use this opportunity to take the next step in the right direction.


Predicting success in his effort to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, President Donald Trump has filed a new trademark application – focusing on his 2020 presidential campaign.  The new slogan: KEEP AMERICA GREAT.


The intent-to-use registration application for the mark KEEP AMERICA GREAT was filed on January 18, 2017 on behalf of the Delaware Corporation known as “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.,” Headquartered in Trump Tower, New York. Attorney of record is Patrice Jean of Hughes Hubbard.

Apparently, Trump coined the phrase during in the midst of a WaPo interview.  The following is a printed excerpt:

Halfway through his interview with The Washington Post, Trump shared a bit of news: He already has decided on his slogan for a reelection bid in 2020.

“Are you ready?” he said. “ ‘Keep America Great,’ exclamation point.”

“Get me my lawyer!” the president-elect shouted.

Two minutes later, one arrived.

“Will you trademark and register, if you would, if you like it — I think I like it, right? Do this: ‘Keep America Great,’ with an exclamation point. With and without an exclamation. ‘Keep America Great,’ ” Trump said.

“Got it,” the lawyer replied.

That bit of business out of the way, Trump returned to the interview.

One potential issue with the registration process is that Andreas Mueller filed a registration application for the same mark back in 2016 (although with a narrower set of classes).  His registration application was recently rejected by the TM examiner (Doritt Carroll) for “failure to function.”  Quoting the TMEP:

Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message; it does not function as a trademark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and to identify and distinguish them from others. Trademark Act Sections 1, 2, 3, and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1053, 1127; see In re Hulting, 107 USPQ2d 1175, 1177 (TTAB 2013) (holding NO MORE RINOS!, a slogan meaning “No More Republicans In Name Only,” not registrable for a variety of paper items, shirts, and novelty buttons because the mark would be perceived as a commonly used political slogan and not a trademark); In re Eagle Crest, Inc., 96 USPQ2d 1227, 1229-31 (TTAB 2010) (holding ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE not registrable for clothing items because the mark would be perceived as an old and familiar Marine expression and not a trademark); In re Volvo Cars of N. Am., Inc., 46 USPQ2d 1455, 1460-61 (TTAB 1998) (holding DRIVE SAFELY not registrable for automobiles and automobile parts because the mark would be perceived as a familiar safety admonition and not a trademark); TMEP §1202.04.

. . .

The evidence attached to the office action dated November 17, 2016, showed that the applicant’s slogan is commonly used as a counter to the “Make America Great Again” phrase, and thus functions to advocate for openness and inclusiveness, among other things. Because consumers are accustomed to seeing this slogan or term commonly used in everyday speech by many different sources, the public will not perceive the term or slogan as a trademark or service mark that identifies the source of applicant’s goods and/or services but rather only as conveying an informational message.

As a pro se applicant who is apparently not doing much actual hat-selling, Mueller may have some difficulty overcoming this rejection.  I expect that it will be much easier work for Trump’s team.


Trading Technologies: User Interface for Stock Trading

Before writing more about Trading Technologies v. CQG, I will first note that TT is my former client and I personally filed the original complaint in this very case 12 years ago (2005).  Although TT is no longer my client, I am bound by and respect the rules of professional ethics and the duties owed to former clients.  

The new non-precedential opinion from the Federal Circuit affirms the district court ruling that TT’s asserted claims are patent eligible.

The patent claims here cover a computerized method and system used for trading stocks and similar products.  When buying and selling stocks, speed and accuracy are both critically important and in this invention, TT created a Graphical-User-Interface design (and operational software) that helps traders buy and sell stock more quickly and more accurately. See U.S. Patents No. 6,772,132 and No. 6,766,304.

The court writes:

It is not disputed that the TTI System improves the accuracy of trader transactions, utilizing a software implemented programmatic [method]. For Section 101 purposes, precedent does not consider the substantive criteria of patentability. For Section 101 purposes, the claimed subject matter is “directed to a specific improvement to the way computers operate,” Enfish, for the claimed graphical user interface method imparts a specific functionality to a trading system “directed to a specific implementation of a solution to a problem in the software arts.” Id.

The opinion is authored by Judge Newman and joined by Judges O’Malley and Wallach.  The court’s opinion is a short and interesting read:

Precedent has recognized that specific technologic modifications to solve a problem or improve the functioning of a known system generally produce patent-eligible subject matter. … [I]neligible claims generally lack steps or limitations specific to solution of a problem, or improvement in the functioning of technology.

For some computer-implemented methods, software may be essential to conduct the contemplated improvements. Enfish… Abstraction is avoided or overcome when a proposed new application or computer-implemented function is not simply the generalized use of a computer as a tool to conduct a known or obvious process, but instead is an improvement to the capability of the system as a whole.

We reiterate the Court’s recognition that “at some level, all inventions . . . embody, use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas.” Alice, quoting Mayo. This threshold level of eligibility is often usefully explored by way of the substantive statutory criteria of patentability, for an invention that is new, useful and unobvious is more readily distinguished from the generalized knowledge that characterizes ineligible subject matter. This analysis is facilitated by the Court’s guidance whereby the claims are viewed in accordance with “the general rule that patent claims ‘must be considered as a whole’.” Alice, quoting Diamond v. Diehr.

As demonstrated in recent jurisprudence directed to eligibility, and as illustrated in the cases cited ante, the claim elements are considered in combination for evaluation under Alice Step 1, and then individually when Alice Step 2 is reached. Applying an overview of this evolving jurisprudence, the public interest in innovative advance is best served when close questions of eligibility are considered along with the understanding flowing from review of the patentability criteria of novelty, unobviousness, and enablement, for when these classical criteria are evaluated, the issue of subject matter eligibility is placed in the context of the patent-based incentive to technologic progress.


The patents are also currently being challenged on 101 grounds in CBM proceedings before the USPTO.  Although I feel that it should have a direct impact, it is unclear to me whether this decision will impact the PTO proceedings addressing the identical question.  (For instance, the court here holds that the patent covers a technological invention – and CBM proceedings can only proceed for non-technological inventions.) Patentees may also consider petitioning the court to make this decision precedential.

Supreme Court 2017 – Patent Preview

by Dennis Crouch

A new Supreme Court justice will likely be in place by the end of April, although the Trump edition is unlikely to substantially shake-up patent law doctrine in the short term.

The Supreme Court has decided one patent case this term. Samsung (design patent damages).  Five more cases have been granted certiorari and are scheduled to be decided by mid June 2017. These include SCA Hygiene (whether laches applies in patent cases); Life Tech (infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(1) for supplying single component); Impression Products (using patents as a personal property servitude); Sandoz (BPCIA patent dance); and last-but-not-least TC Heartland (Does the general definition of “residence” found in 28 U.S.C. 1391(c) apply to the patent venue statute 1400(b)).

Big news is that the Supreme Court granted writs of certiorari in the BPCIA dispute between Sandoz and Amgen.   The BPCIA can be thought of as the ‘Hatch Waxman of biologics’ – enacted as part of ObamaCare.   The provision offers automatic market exclusivity for twelve years for producers of pioneer biologics.   Those years of exclusivity enforced by the FDA – who will not approve a competitor’s expedited biosimilar  drug application during the exclusivity period.   The statute then provides for a process of exchanging patent and manufacturing information between a potential biosimilar producer and the pioneer – known as the patent dance.  The case here is the Court’s first chance to interpret the provisions of the law – the specific issue involves whether the pioneer (here Amgen) is required to ‘dance.’ [Andrew Williams has more @patentdocs]

A new eligibility petition by Matthew Powers in IPLearn-Focus v. Microsoft raises eligibility in a procedural form – Can a court properly find an abstract idea based only upon (1) the patent document and (2) attorney argument? (What if the only evidence presented supports eligibility?).  After reading claim 1 and 24 (24 is at issue) of U.S. Patent No. 8,538,320, you may see why the lower court bounced this. Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling without opinion under Federal Circuit Rule 36 and then denied IPLF’s petition for rehearing (again without opinion).

1. A computing system comprising:

a display;

an imaging sensor to sense a first feature of a user regarding a first volitional behavior of the user to produce a first set of measurements, the imaging sensor being detached from the first feature to sense the first feature, the first feature relating to the head of the user, and the first set of measurements including an image of the first feature, wherein the system further to sense a second feature of the user regarding a second volitional behavior of the user to produce a second set of measurements, the second feature not relating to the head of the user; and

a processor coupled to the imaging sensor and the display, the processor to:

analyze at least the first set and the second set of measurements; and determine whether to change what is to be presented by the display in view of the analysis.

24. A computing system as recited in claim 1, wherein the system capable of providing an indication regarding whether the user is paying attention to content presented by the display.

=== THE LIST===

1. 2016-2016 Decisions:

  • Design Patent Damages: Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., No 15-777 (Total profits may be based upon either the entire product sold to consumers or a component);  GVR order in parallel case Systems, Inc. v. Nordock, Inc., No. 15-978.  These cases are now back before the Federal Circuit for the job of explaining when a component

2. Petitions Granted:

3. Petitions with Invited Views of SG (CVSG): 

4. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Pending:

  • Is it a Patent Case?: Boston Scientific Corporation, et al. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, No. 16-470 (how closely must a state court “hew” federal court patent law precedents?) (Appeal from MD State Court)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Google Inc., et al. v. Arendi S A.R.L., et al., No. 16-626 (can “common sense” invalidate a patent claim that includes novel elements?) (Supreme Court has requested a brief in response)
  • Civil Procedure – Final Judgment: Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. v. Rembrandt Vision Technologies, L.P., No. 16-489 (Reopening final decision under R.60).
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Enplas Corporation v. Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd., et al., No. 16-867 (“Whether a finding of anticipation under 35 U.S.C. § 102 must be supported by findings that each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art?”)
  • Post Grant Admin: Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, et al., No. 16-712 (“Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”) [oilstatespetition]
  • Eligibility: IPLearn-Focus, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 16-859 (evidence necessary for finding an abstract idea)
  • Post Grant Admin: SightSound Technologies, LLC v. Apple Inc., No. 16-483 (Can the Federal Circuit review USPTO decision to initiate an IPR on a ground never asserted by any party)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Big Baboon, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, No. 16-496 (Appeal of APA seeking overturning of evidentiary admission findings during reexamination – heard by Federal Circuit or Regional Circuit?)
  • LachesMedinol Ltd. v. Cordis Corporation, et al., No. 15-998 (follow-on to SCA); Endotach LLC v. Cook Medical LLC, No. 16-127 (SCA Redux); Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., et al, No. 16-202 (SCA Redux plus TM issue)
  • Eligibility and CBM: DataTreasury Corporation v. Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., No. 16-883 (I have not seen the petition yet, but underlying case challenged whether (1) case was properly classified as CBM and (2) whether PTAB properly ruled claims ineligible as abstract ideas) (Patent Nos. 5,910,988 and 6,032,137).

5. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Denied or Dismissed:

Proving the existence of Functional Limitations in the Prior Art

In re Chudik (Fed. Cir. 2017)

This non-precedential decision offers a nice refresher on the law of anticipation for functional claim elements and discusses the patent casebook favorite – In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

In Schreiber, all of the structural limitations of a popcorn funnel were found in a prior art oil can spout.  However, the prior art did not expressly teach that the oil spout would “allows several kernels of popped popcorn to pass through at the same time.”  In its decision, the Federal Circuit held that the “where the Patent Office has reason to believe that a functional limitation … may, in fact, be an inherent characteristic of the prior art” the PTO can shift the burden to the applicant to prove that the prior art does not possess the characteristic.  (Quoting In re Swinehart, 439 F.2d 210 (C.C.P.A. 1971)).

Here, the court writes:

The price [of including functional limitations is] that when the structural limitations are met by a single prior art reference, and when the examiner “has reason to believe” that the prior art reference inherently teaches the functional limitation, the burden shifts to the patent applicant to show that the functional limitation cannot be met by the single prior art reference.

Of course, the benefit of functional claim limitations is that they can offer broad scope with little linguistic difficulty.  This case also shows how these functional limitations help avoid prior art.

In Chudik’s case, there is no dispute that all of the structural limitations for the claimed surgical scalpel are found within a single prior art reference. U.S. Patent No. 5,843,108 (“Samuels”).  A difference is that, Chudik’s invention is “configured for creating a passageway through skin and soft-tissue to a target site on a bone” while Samuels blade was designed for merely making ‘nicks’ in the skin for catheter insertion.  The examiner/PTAB concluded that the Samuels blade nicking could reach a shallow bone – and thus satisfied the limitation.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has reversed — finding that the examiner did not have (or at least explain) a substantial ‘reason to believe’ that the prior art inherently taught the functional limitation of being configured to reach a bone.

The [PTO] gave no justification for this belief, and nothing in Samuels offers an indication of the size of the blade or indicates that it would be able to contact subdermal anatomical features. If anything, Samuels explains that its design specifically prevents incisions that could damage structures near the skin. The examiner and the Board failed to explain how the Samuels blade could be employed in a manner to reach a shallow bone, but without the “disastrous consequences” that the blocker in Samuels is designed to prevent. For that reason, the examiner failed to make the necessary prima facie showing to shift the burden of going forward the applicant.

Reversed and remanded. It will be interesting to see whether the PTO now issues the patent or reopens prosecution with an obviousness rejection.


When is the PTO’s claim construction “reasonable”?

dagostinoimageD’Agostino v. Mastercard (Fed. Cir. 2016)

John D’Agostino’s patents cover processes for creating limited-use transaction codes to improve credit card security. U.S. Patent Nos. 7,840,486 and 8,036,988.  The approach basically keeps the card number out of the hands of the merchant (where most scamming occurs).  After being sued for infringement, MasterCard filed for inter partes review and successfully challenged many of the claims as obvious and anticipated by Cohen (U.S. Patent No. 6,422,462). On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit has vacated – holding that the PTAB’s claim interpretation was unreasonable.

Claim construction continues its reign as a messy hairball.  Rather than looking to the “proper” claim construction as defined by Phillips v. AWH, the PTAB defines claims according to their Broadest Reasonable Construction (BRI). That approach largely follows Phillips, but allows the PTO to select the “broadest” construction for any given limitation from the potential set of reasonable constructions.  The express intent here is to broaden the claims in order to make it easier to invalidate them during the IPR process. The idea then is that claims which survive the IPR-scope-puffery-gauntlet will be strong – giving confidence to judges and juries and fear into the hearts of infringers.

Reasonable is a Question of Law: In most areas of law ‘reasonableness‘ is considered a factual conclusion and conclusions regarding reasonableness are given deference on appeal.  The Federal Circuit however has ruled that the reasonableness of claim construction in the BRI context is reviewed de novo on appeal. Unfortunately, the court has not provided much helpful guidance in terms of knowing when a given construction is reasonable.  Their koan states that – although the BRI construction need not be the correct interpretation, the chosen BRI construction may not be “a legally incorrect interpretation.” (Quoting Skvorecz 2009).

Here, the question was whether the claims required a temporal separation between two communications.  The PTAB said no – since it was not expressly required and broadened the claims.   On appeal, the court looked at the claims and found that the express language did in fact require two separate communications: A first request that occurs “prior to” the merchant being identified  and then a second communication that includes the merchant ID.  According to the court, the PTAB’s interpretation (allowing for a single communication) was simply not reasonable.

On remand, the PTAB will decide whether the prior art the claim elements as they are more narrowly defined.

= = = = =

PTO Bound by its own Prior Construction?: Interesting issue ducked by the Federal Circuit involved the prior reexam of the patent where the PTO expressly narrowly construed the same claim scope. Court did not remark on the patentee’s suggestion here that PTO should be bound by its prior express constructions.  Seems reasonable to me.