Tag Archives: Claim Construction

Remarks By Director Michelle K. Lee at the George Washington University School of Law

The following is an excerpt from PTO Director Michelle Lee’s keynote address today, at George Washington University Law School. Read the full remarks here.- DC

How do we continue to incentivize … incredible innovations? First, we must ensure that the USPTO issues the highest quality patents as quickly and efficiently as possible. This means, at a minimum, continuing to bring down our backlog and pendency so that good ideas can be patented quickly. Which is why I am proud to report that we’ve reduced our backlog of unexamined patent applications by almost 30 percent from its peak in January 2009, despite a 32 percent increase in applications over this time period. Our so-called first action pendencies – that measure the time from filing an application to the time of obtaining an initial decision from the examiner— are down by 43 percent—from 28 months in 2011 to 16 months today. Our total pendencies – the time from filing an application to the time of obtaining a final office action, such as an allowance—are down by 26 percent—from 35 months in 2010 to 26 months today. Our backlog of Ex Parte Appeals – that’s not AIA proceedings, but our internal appeal process to the Board after the examiner issues her decision – has also gone down. We have reduced our inventory of ex parte appeals by 45 percent from a high of about 26,000 in 2012 to about 15,000 today. And, we have reduced the average pendency for appeals by 30 percent from 28 months in 2016 to 19 months today. In short, our backlog and pendencies are now lower than they’ve been in more than a decade, and they will continue to go down. Simply stated, this means more inventors are obtaining more patents more quickly. . . .

We constantly welcome—in fact, we solicit—feedback and input. And we have shown that we are willing to refine and improve as many times as needed. For example, we’ve provided applicants with more access to examiner interviews more than doubling the number of interview hours in just eight years. We’ve had more RFC’s, Proposed Rules, and public roundtables than ever before – including on such topics as our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, our 101 guidance, and our Patent Trial and Appeal Board proceedings. We’ve also brought a broader range of services to support American innovators where and when needed, including through four regional offices across the country, and through over a dozen IP attaches across the globe. For those of you who may not know, our attaches in China, the EU, India, Brazil, and other locations help U.S. innovators obtain and enforce IP rights outside the US, and also help advocate for improved IP laws outside the U.S. . . .

Examining patents quickly and efficiently is only part of the job. The public relies on us to issue quality patents. Today, we have about a dozen programs underway that we believe will meaningfully improve patent quality. These include programs for making sure we’re getting the most relevant prior art before our examiners as early as possible by making prior art cited in our PTAB proceedings available to examiners handling related applications, and transitioning all our examiners from the decades old, antiquated U.S. Patent Classification System to the updated, increasingly global Cooperative Patent Classification System. Developing best practices such as for enhancing the clarity of the record. And developing new and better ways to measure our progress. For example, with our Master Review Form, we are now processing twice as many reviews, and capturing data not only about the correctness of our actions, but also about the clarity of our actions. This helps us identify trends, and helps us pinpoint very specific areas for training. Finally, and, importantly, for the first time in 40 years, we are doing a comprehensive review of the amount of time our examiners need to do their work in light of the many recent changes within the patent system. We are already seeing measurable and statistically significant results in our patent quality efforts even in the short amount of time since we began the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. And you can look forward to more improvements in the future. In sum, the USPTO is operating well, and is issuing more, higher quality patents than ever. …

What work lies ahead? Our top priority today is to make sure the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s AIA proceedings are as effective and as fair as possible–within our Congressional mandate. Now is the right time to examine and make any needed reforms to these proceedings, because we have five years of data and experience to guide us. …

Let’s take a look at where we are with the AIA trials today. We have shared regular updates on the number of cases and the results of those cases, but we want to break down the numbers even further so that everyone has the facts, as there have been many numbers cited – some of which are accurate, some of which are not.

Slide 1 Revised

This waterfall slide is our attempt to present even more data in a more accessible and transparent format. According to waterfall slide data, which shows the status of every petition filed since beginning of AIA, of those petitions that have reached some sort of final disposition (i.e., are not pending), about one third of all petitions are denied institution and do not go to trial; about one third of all petitions settle either before or after the decision to institute; and only about one third of all petitions ever reach final written decision. It is only at that point of reaching final written decision is it relevant to talk about the patentability or unpatentability of the claims of a patent. And, at that point, it is true that 66 percent of petitions will find all instituted claims of the patent unpatentable, 17 percent of petitions will find all instituted claims of the patent patentable, and an additional 17 percent will have mixed results (some instituted claims will be found to be patentable and some will be found to be unpatentable). So statements that “all” or 95 percent or even 80 percent of patents are found unpatentable are not supported by the data and do not account for prior disposition by settlement or by denial of institution.

Slide 2 Revised

Drilling down further on the institution rate, here is some helpful data from the years the AIA trials have been in effect. As you can see, the institution rate in our proceedings has been steadily declining from a high of 87 percent in the beginning, to about two thirds today. These are the numbers, and these are the facts. Now, our stakeholders have understandably asked how the rates of unpatentability in AIA proceedings, reflect on the quality of all of the other patents we’ve issued. . . . [T]here are almost 2.8 million patents in force. Incredible. Of those 2.8 million about 4,000 patents have been challenged in AIA trials. This represents less than 0.2 percent of the patents currently in force. …

As I have said many times in the past, the USPTO is constantly looking for ways to make the AIA trials as effective and as fair as possible within our Congressional mandate.  And we welcome your suggestions and ideas, the more specific, the better. To this end, we’ve set up a mailbox where you can submit your ideas at PTABProceduralReformInitiative@uspto.gov. This is an early opportunity to provide input. Your feedback here will help form the basis for our recommendations to the administration on next steps.

In fact, we have already heard from a number of you regarding a number of issues. As discussed:

  1. Multiple petitions, and how best to curb abusive practices.
  2. Whether to provide other opportunities to amend claims later in the proceedings when patent owners may have a better sense of where their claims stand,
  3. Whether to reevaluate our claim construction standards in view of new data and experiences, and
  4. How to best incorporate the findings and legal conclusions of prior proceedings at the USPTO, including examination and other post-grant proceedings, as well as, importantly, proceedings conducted in the federal courts.
  5. What considerations should go into a decision to institute, for example, how can we better take into account considerations such as the interests of justice, economic factors, and hardship.
  6. As to decisions to institute, whether there should be additional review of institution and termination decisions—and by whom.
  7.  When and how to permit parties to join proceedings.
  8. When and under what circumstances might it be appropriate to extend the length of the proceedings beyond 12 months and what impact would extensions have on litigations before, not only the Board, but district courts. . . .

[W]e are [also] streamlining the way the Board identifies and designates opinions as precedential, with the goal of designating more opinions precedential. Why? Because doing so 1). Improves the consistency across panels of the Board, and 2). Provides greater notice to the public to help you make better informed decisions on how to manage your Board proceedings. . . .

Fees: Finally, we are also proposing increases to our AIA trial fees. . . . We believe, as many of you do, that these proceedings should be self-funded. I commend our team for making thoughtful initial cost projections and for recommending revisions to ensure that these proceedings are fully self-funded. There is much to do on AIA proceedings, patent quality, and in many other areas, and I promise you that we are working diligently, with a sense of purpose, every day.

In closing, we all want what’s best for this country’s inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. Because it is through their efforts that our country remains at the forefront – economically and globally. Simply stated—and I think President Trump and Secretary Ross would agree—we want the United States to out-innovate and out-perform our global competitors, producing new jobs and new technologies and new industries that benefit all Americans, including individual inventors and those in our small businesses and startups. Let’s not forget that the modest businesses and unknown inventors of today may become the largest and most well-known drivers of our economy tomorrow. To make that happen, Congress, the courts, the administration (especially the USPTO), and even all of you here today, must all work together to make sure the system envisioned by our Founding Fathers lives up to its purpose to promote innovation. You have the commitment of the entire USPTO team that we will play our part to ensure that we continue to incentivize the kind of innovations that make our lives better and safer And that put men and women—like Mr. Iver Anderson with his lead-free solder—in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Our future depends upon it. Thank you.

IPR Petition Response => Claim Construction Disclaimer

Aylus Networks v. Apple (Fed. Cir. 2017)

The court here holds that claim construction “prosecution disclaimer” applies to statements made by the patentee in a preliminary response to an IPR proceeding.  This holding makes sense and was entirely expected — however it also sets yet another trap for patentees seeking to enforce their patent rights.

The appeal here involves Aylus infringement lawsuit against Apple that alleges AirPlay infringes U.S. Patent No. RE 44,412.  After Aylus sued Apple for infringement, Apple responded with two inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging all of the patented claims.  However, the Director (via the PTAB) refused to grant the petition as to several claims, including 2, 4, 21, and 23.

Back in the litigation, Aylus amended its complaint to only allege infringement of those non-instituted claims.  In its subsequent motion for summary judgment of non-infringement, Apple argued for a narrow interpretation of the claimed use of “CPP logic . . . negotiate media content delivery between the MS and the MR.”  As evidence for the narrow interpretation, Apple and the district court focused on statements by the patentee (Aylus) in its preliminary response to Apple’s IPR petition.  On appeal here, the Federal Circuit has affirmed:

[S]tatements made by a patent owner during an IPR proceeding, whether before or after an institution decision, can be relied on to support a finding of prosecution disclaimer.

Those of us closely following IPR doctrine will raise some hairs at this statement since the Federal Circuit has previously held that “IPR does not begin until it is instituted.” Shaw Indus. Grp., Inc. v. Automated Creel Sys., Inc., 817 F.3d 1293, 1300 (Fed. Cir. 2016).   Here, the court recognized that general holding, but found that it dies not apply “for the purposes of prosecution disclaimer.” Rather, for this situation, the court found that the proceedings begin with the IPR petition.

If I were writing the opinion, I would have come to the same result – that statements by the applicant to the PTO can form prosecution disclaimer.  However, I would have reached the conclusion without upsetting and further complicating the definition of an IPR proceeding.

= = = = =

An oddity of all of this is that the Federal Circuit appears quite concerned in this case about the linkages between claim construction during inter partes review and subsequent litigation, but previously ignored that issue during the prior cuozzo debate.   My take has long been that we should be applying the actual claim construction in both situations.

= = = = =

This case focused on prosecution disclaimer and the finding of a clear and unmistakable disclaimer of claim scope.  However, the same approach should also apply in applying IPR statements as primary intrinsic evidence used in the claim construction analysis even when short of disclaimer.

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).

Interpreting the Interpretation of the Broadest Interpretation

By Dennis Crouch

Nestle USA v. Steuben Foods (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential)

In its final written decision, the PTAB sided with the patentee – holding that IPR-challenged claims were not obvious.  U.S. Patent No. 6,945,013 claims 18-20 (aseptic bottling at > 100 bottles per minute).  On appeal, Nestle has successfully argued that Board incorrectly construed the claim term “aseptic.”

In Cuozzo, the Supreme Court gave deference to and agreed with the USPTO’s approach of giving claims their “broadest reasonable interpretation” (BRI) during inter partes review (IPR) proceedings.[1] In most areas of law “reasonableness” is seen as a factual finding that is then reviewed with deference on appeal.  Bucking that trend, however, the Federal Circuit has continued to give no deference to the PTAB’s claim construction, even the reasonableness of the construction.  The one exception is that “factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence” are reviewed for substantial evidence.[2]

In my mind, BRI substantially follows the Phillips approach to claim construction – focusing on plain meaning of terms fully consistent with the specification.  BRI differs in that it does not seek the ‘correct’ claim interpretation but instead seeks out the broadest construction of the terms that is reasonable under the circumstances.  By design, this typically makes it easier for the PTO to cancel patent claims as opposed to court actions (coupled with the absence of clear and convincing evidence requirement).

Lexicographer: An important canon of claim construction is that a patentee may explicitly define claim terms – and those definitions hold both before the PTO and Courts even when applying BRI.  Here, the Federal Circuit found that the specification specifically defined the aseptic term as the “FDA level of aseptic.”  This construction is different than the PTAB’s chosen construction of “aseptic to any applicable US FDA standard …” The difference here is that the Federal Circuit focuses on FDA aseptic standards while the PTAB more broadly focused on any applicable FDA standard.

Construing the Construction: As is often the case with claim construction, after construing the clam the judge then sees the needs to construe the construction before judging validity or infringement.  Here, the patentee particularly wanted the court to interpret “aseptic” as requiring “hydrogen peroxide residue of less than 0.5 ppm.”  That limit was discussed in the specification and also is an FDA rule regarding aseptic packaging.

In the appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that hydrogen peroxide standard should not bind the aseptic definition.   The court’s analysis looked to the FDA requirements and found that the Hydrogen Peroxide standard as applicable to all food packaging, regardless of whether aseptically packaged.   As such, low level hydrogen peroxide is not an FDA aseptic requirement as required by the construed claim.  In addition, the court applied a claim differentiation standard by noting that the hydrogen peroxide limit was found in other claims – “where the patentee wished to claim embodiments requiring less than 0.5 ppm of hydrogen peroxide residue, it did so using express language.”

Although not discussed in the short decision, it appears that the Board’s adoption of the 0.5 ppm hydrogen peroxide was critical in avoiding prior art, and the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded that decision.  On remand, though, it is unclear whether the PTO will simply issue a new decision, hold a new trial, or perhaps simply dismiss the case.

= = =

[1] Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

[2] See Teva; Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyonn, Inc. 789 F.3d 1292 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

Off-Book Claim Constructions: PTAB Free to Follow its Own Path

Intellectual Ventures v. Ericsson (Fed. Cir. 2017)

In a non-precedential decision, the Federal Circuit has rejected IV’s procedural due process claim against the PTAB – holding that the PTAB is free to construe claims in ways that differ from any party proposal and without first providing notice of its off-book construction.  [IVDueProcess]

The parties had argued over the construction of several claim terms.  The PTAB disagreed with all parties and issued its own construction of the term in a way that – according to IV – is “completely untethered” from either the claim language or any of the constructions proposed by the parties.

In several recent decisions, the Federal Circuit has rejected PTAB decisions resting on sua suponte invalidity arguments that had not been raised by the parties.  Magnum Oil; SAS.  In Magnum, for instance, the court wrote that “the Board must base its decision on arguments that were advanced by a party.”  On appeal, here, the Federal Circuit has attempted to narrow the Magnum Oil holding and instead follow traditional procedural due process requirements that simply require notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an impartial decision-maker.  Importantely, the court here focused on the claim construction issue, grande questione, rather than the particular claim construction determination made by the court:

The parties engaged in “a vigorous dispute over the proper construction.” . . . Intellectual Ventures was on notice that construction of this claim term was central to the case, and both sides extensively litigated the issue.

The parallel IPR proceedings involved same-day trials.  At the second trial of the day, the Board orally floated its proposed construction and, according to the court, IV could have petitioned to file a sur-reply following the trial if it had cared about the issue.  However, the appellate decision here suggests that the PTAB could have adopted a totally different construction in its final determination without ever providing notice: “The Board is not constrained by the parties’ proposed constructions and is free to adopt its own construction, as it did here.”

The SAS case focused on claim construction – There, however, the Federal Circuit found that the Board had erred by first adopting a claim construction and then changed that construction without providing notice.  Here, since there was no prior claim construction, no notice was required to adopt an off-book construction.

Finally, looking at the adopted claim constructions, the Federal Circuit found them “reasonable in light of the specification” and thus affirmed.

Step one: Find the Gist (Do not Construe)

In Blue Spike v. Google, the patentee has asked the Supreme Court to further elucidate its test for eligibility under Mayo, Alice, and Myriad with the following three questions presented.

  1. May patentable subject matter under § 101 properly be assessed by over-generalizing patent claims to a “gist”?
  2. May a district court properly assess patentability under § 101 prior to authoritatively construing the patent’s claims?
  3. May a district court adjudicating a motion for judgment on the pleadings on § 101 patentability grounds properly consider questions of patent enablement under 35 U.S.C. § 112?

We have an interesting case here where the district court expressly stated its approach to Mayo/Alice Step 1 is to distill the claimed invention to its “gist” and ask whether that gist is an abstract idea.

In its lawsuit against Google, Blue Spike asserted five related patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 7,346,472 (the “’472 Patent”), 7,660, 700 (the “’700 Patent”), 7,949,494 (the “’494 Patent”), 8,214,175 (the “’175 Patent”), and 8,712,728 (the “’728 Patent”).  Looking at asserted claim 1 of the ‘472 patent as an example: the claim requires comparing a query signal with a reference signal.  The process involves creating an “abstract” (essentially a hash or digital fingerprint) of each signal that uses “perceptual qualities” of each signal, and then comparing those abstracts.

The district court dismissed the case on the pleadings – holding that the asserted claims were all invalid as a matter of law for effectively encompassing an abstract idea.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed without opinion.

In its decision, the district court expressly “distill[ed] the gist of the claim[s]” and found that the gist of the claims is to “model, on a computer, ‘the highly effective ability of humans to identify and recognize a signal’ [using a method that] mirrors the manner in which the human mind undertakes the same task.” (quoting the patent specification).   Essentially, the court found, all of the claims are directed to the abstract idea – “the idea of comparing one thing to another.”  Moving on from there, the court recognized the computer implementation, but found no inventive concept in that implementation.  The patentee argues here that the court erred in its gist analysis, and compounded that error by failing to construe the claims prior to the gisting process:

[M]any trial courts have adopted the practice of reducing patent claims to a highly general “gist,” then assessing that gist to determine whether it is so abstract as to be unpatentable. Because distillation to a “gist” inherently abstracts from a patent’s specific claims, this approach builds in a bias towards invalidity. . . . Deciding eligibility before claim construction exacerbates the tendency noted above to ignore a patent’s specific claims and over-generalize its “gist.”

The petition also spends substantial time discussing the Federal Circuit’s new status quo of issuing a substantial number of no-opinion judgments under Rule 36:

[T]he Federal Circuit appears unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for clarifying the Alice/Mayo analysis. That court’s use of summary Rule 36 affirmances seems to be both commonplace and increasing. This is particularly true in cases concerning patentable subject matter under § 101. One recent report identified a dozen Federal Circuit appeals raising this issue decided by Rule 36 affirmances in 2016 alone. . . . [P]recedential opinions in § 101 cases are important not just for trial courts reviewing issued patents, but also for the PTO’s examiners who must determine whether to issue patents in the first place. When the Federal Circuit fails to write a written opinion, it fails to provide the USPTO with necessary examples to use in granting patent applications.

In this particular case, the R.36 judgment is not a law violation (since the case arose from the district court rather than the PTO) but should also not be an excuse for failing to properly resolve the case – certainly the issues raised are not resolved and there is need for explanatory precedent.

[Blue Spike Petition (April 6 2017)]


Wrongly Affirmed Without Opinion: At the Supreme Court

Shore v. Lee (Supreme Court 2017)

In a new petition for writ of certiorari, patent attorney and inventor Michael Shore has challenged the propriety of the Federal Circuit’s continued approach of affirming patent office decisions without opinion. In a forthcoming article titled “Wrongly Affirmed Without Opinion” (Wake Forest Law Review), I raise the previously unnoticed requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 144 that the Federal Circuit issue an opinion in appeals from the Patent Office (PTO).  Although the Supreme Court generally permits its lower appellate courts to issue summary affirmances, I argue that the Patent and Trademark statutes take precedence in this particular situation.  The issue has come to a head with the large number of no-opinion judgments being issued by the court since the creation of the system of administrative patent trials (IPR/PGR/CBM).

Running with that argument, Shore raises the following three questions:

  1. Does the Federal Circuit’s affirmance without opinion of the PTO’s rejection of Petitioner’s patent application violate 35 U.S.C. § 144?
  2. Does the statute’s requirement that the Federal Circuit issue a “mandate and opinion” govern over Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 36’s general permission for appellate courts to render judgment without opinion?
  3. Assuming that the Federal Circuit can issue an affirmance without opinion despite the language of § 144, does the Federal Circuit act within its discretion by issuing an affirmance without opinion that does not meet any of the criteria listed in Fed. Cir. R. 36(a)-(e)?

[Read the petition: 2017_WL_1406097]

Certainly, if the PTAB had issued its judgment without opinion, the Federal Circuit would have immediately vacated that decision. However, the appellate court suggests that the rules of opinion writing should not be self applied.

In the underlying case, Shore’s patent application (with co-inventor Charles Attal – founder of Austin City Limits Festival) covers a method for creating a custom video track of a live musical performance.  The claims were rejected as obvious – affirmed by the PTAB.  On appeal, Shore raised several challenges regarding both interpretation of the prior art and claim construction.  Rather than working through those arguments, the Federal Circuit simply affirmed without opinion.

“Exemplary Embodiments” as Boiler Plate

US08342852-20130101-D00009Skedco v. Strategic Operations (StOps) (Fed. Cir. 2017)

The district court sided with the accused-infringer StOps – finding (on summary judgment) no-infringement of Skedco’s exclusively licensed U.S. Patent No. 8,342,852 covering a “trauma training system.”

The system is designed to replicate trauma, and includes a pump in fluid connection with a valve that is in connection with a wound site “to simulate a hemorrhage.”

18. A trauma training system … comprising: a collapsible reservoir …, a pump in fluid communication with … said reservoir, at least one valve in fluid communication with said pump, a controller connected to said pump and said at least one valve, and at least one wound site detachably in fluid communication with said valve, wherein fluid is provided to said wound site to simulate a hemorrhage.

The problem for the patentee is that, while the claim appears to separately claim the pump and the valve, the accused device physically links them together – “these valves reside within the pump housing.”  In addition, although the claim requires a controller connected to both the pump and the valve, the accused device’s controller is only connected to the pump.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has vacated the judgment – finding that the district court erred in its claim construction.

First, although the patent requires a pump in fluid connection with a valve, the federal circuit found that “nothing in the claims requires the pump and valve to be physically separated.”

We see no reason why a device that moves fluid cannot contain another device that regulates flow within it. A pump does not cease moving fluid—i.e., being a “pump”—just because an internal valve adjusts fluid flow. … In short, we agree with the district court that a “pump” is not a “valve,” id. at 1108, but nothing in the claims or specification prohibits a valve from residing within a pump.

Of course, none of the embodiments teach a pump with internal valve.  Responding to that argument, the court appeared to look back primarily to pre-Phillips cases:

“[I]t is the claims, not the written description, which define the scope of the patent right.” Laitram Corp v. NEC Corp., 163 F.3d 1342 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Patents do not need to include drawings of particular embodiments in order to claim them. See CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2002). For this reason, a claim is not limited to inventions looking like those in the drawings. MBO Labs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 474 F.3d 1323, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2007). This guidance is especially apt here because the patent refers to the drawings to which StOps points as “exemplary embodiment[s].”

Looking at the second non-infringement justification, the district court had construed the claim to require a controller be actually connected to both a pump and a valve – based upon the requirement of “a controller connected to said pump and said at least one valve.” ON appeal, the Federal Circuit found it was improper to require an actual physical connection between the controller and the the valve:

[W]e think that the correct construction of “a controller connected to said pump and said at least one valve” is “an activation mechanism configured to control a pump and a valve to which it is directly or indirectly joined, united, or linked.”  . . . It [] incorporates the specification’s envisaged indirect connections. . . .

As far as the district court’s “physical” limitation is concerned, we see no reason to import such a requirement into claim 18. The claimed “controller” is merely “an activation mechanism,” and nothing limits this activation to physical channels. Indeed, the ’852 patent includes several embodiments where a remote controller 160 activates a valve. This activation must occur at least in part through a nonphysical connection. See id., figs.3, 9A, 9C. We therefore hold that it was error to limit the claimed connection to physical connections.

Thus, reasoned the district court, the BPS does not have “direct,” “independent,” and “physical” connections between the controller and the valve such that the valve is “controlled by the controller.” Id. at 1105–06, 1108. The court also ruled as a matter of law that claims 18, 19, and 20 were not infringed under the doctrine of equivalents. Having granted summary judgment of noninfringement, the court dismissed Skedco’s complaint. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1). controller.” Id. at 1105–06, 1108. We hold that it was error for the district court to have included some of these additional limitations into claim 18.

On remand, the district court will be asked to consider infringement under this now broader construction.


Issue Preclusion: Claim Construction in Prior Lawsuit

US5428933-1by Dennis Crouch

Phil-Insul Corp. (IntegraSpec) v. Airlite Plastics (Fed. Cir. 2017) [IntegraSpec].

IntegraSpec’s U.S. Patent No. 5,428,933 covers an insulated concrete form (Styrofoam molds) used in building construction.

Back in 2011, IntegraSpec sued Reward Wall and Nudura Corp. for infringing the ‘933 patent. In that case, the district court sided with the defendants – finding no infringement. That decision was affirmed in 2014 by the CAFC without opinion.  During the interim, the USPTO also confirmed the patentability of several claims of the patent.

Meanwhile, IntegraSpec sued Airlite in May 2012 alleging infringement, but the district court dismissed the case in 2014 (after a two year stay) finding them precluded based upon the common law doctrine of collateral estoppel (these days usually called issue preclusion).  Here, we might term this non-mutual defensive collateral estoppel.

Basically, IntegraSpec was asking for a different claim construction in the second case than what was awarded in the first case.  The district court saw the problem with this since accused products were virtually identical and the narrow claim construction in the original case was critical to the non-infringement outcome.

Collateral estoppel kicks-in to prevent a party from re-litigating an already decided issue when:

(1) Same Party: the party being precluded was a party (or in privity with a party) in the prior action.

(2) Same Issue: the issue being precluded is the same as the issue in the prior action;

(3) Actually Litigated: the issue being precluded was actually litigated in the prior action;

(4) Final Judgment: the issue being precluded was determined by a valid final judgment; and

(5) Essential: the determination of the issue in the prior action must have been essential to the prior judgment.

The list above is 8th Circuit law, but is fairly standard.  The Federal Circuit has created some additional patent-specific rules regarding issue preclusion – For infringement, two infringement claims are “the same” if the accused products are “essentially the same,” i.e., differences are either “merely colorable” or else unrelated to the limitations of the asserted patent claims. Roche Palo Alto LLC v. Apotex, Inc., 531 F.3d 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2008)

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed – specifically holding that its prior R.36 Judgment may be used in support of an issue preclusion conclusion so long as only a single dispositive issue was appealed in that prior appeal.

The second issue – in the first case claim 1 was asserted. Meanwhile, claim 1 was cancelled in a reexam and formerly dependent claim 2 rewritten to include all of the prior limitations.  In this new action, claim 2 is asserted.  In the appeal, the Federal Circuit confirmed that collateral estoppel applies even though the original court interpreted claim 1.  The court based this upon its bare statement that “It is well-established, however, that claim terms are to be construed consistently throughout a patent.”


Trade Secret Protections at the Patent Office

The USPTO is hosting a free symposium on Trade Secret Protections – May 8, 2017, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT at the Alexandria HQ as well as via webcast. More info here: https://www.uspto.gov/​learning-and-resources/​ip-policy/​enforcement/​trade-secret-symposium.

DTSA enforcement continues to primarily focus on charges against former employees who join a competitor.  In Santander Securities v. Gamche, 2017 WL 1208066 (E.D. Penn. April 2017), the case centers on Gary Gamche who left Santander and joined a competitor Citizens Securities as a financial advisor – taking with him a list of his clients.  Similarly, in Brand Energy v. Irex, the construction company claims its former employees stole its proprietary business information (target bids and potential customer information); joined competitor Irex; and began poaching business.  So far, there are only a few DTSA decisions. In Brand, the Pennsylvania District Court  recently denied the defendant’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted – finding that the alleged use easily fits within very broad definition of misappropriation found in the new federal statute.

Although the DTSA is limited to post-enactment misappropriations, the court in Brand held that it can apply to “continuing misappropriation that occurs after the effective date.”   Following Adams Arms, LLC v. Unified Weapon Sys., Inc., 16–cv–1503, 2016 WL 5391394, at *5–7 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 27, 2016).

In addition to the DTSA claim, the court found that the RICO and CFAA claims had been appropriately pled.

CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) is interesting in that it imposes liability on anyone who knowingly “accesses a … computer without authorization, or exceeds authorized access” of the computer.  Here, Brand’s theory is that of ‘indirect access.’ After leaving BRAND, the defendants convinced a current employee to access the database and provide information.  According to the judge here, the defendants can be seen as accessing the computer (albeit indirectly and non-electronically via the employee) without authorization.  The statutory justification for this outcome is the court’s conclusion that Congress could have particularly defined “access” as “personal access” or “direct access” but instead left the term broadly stated.



Brand Energy v. Irex.

Construing claims to avoid invalidity (and also infringement)

by Dennis Crouch

MedCo v. Mylan (Fed. Cir. 2017)

In this Hatch-Waxman dispute, the Federal Circuit has sided with the accused infringer Mylan and reversed a lower court’s judgment that Mylan’s proposed Bivalirudin formulation would infringe The Medicines Company (MedCo) U.S. Patent No. 7,582,727 (covering ANGIOMAX).  This decision appears to clear the way for Mylan’s generic launch. (An authorized generic is already being marketed by Sandoz).

Claim construction: Rather than focusing solely on individual dosages, the MedCo patents include a limitation for consistant “batches” of the active ingredient based upon various impurity level targets and a target pH that is “adjusted by a base.”  Although not expressly claimed, the patent describes an “efficient mixing” process used to ensure the consistency.  Mylan’s proposal would use a different process to ensure batch consistency and pH level – Thus, the issue is whether the claims – as properly interpreted – require efficient mixing.

We hold that [the] patents include a “batches” limitation that requires batch consistency, which, according to the patents in suit, is achieved through efficient mixing. . . . We further construe efficient mixing as defined by Example 5 of the patents’ specification.

To reach this conclusion, the court applied a canon of construing-for-validity: Here, the claim language require a particular impurity level but the court found that they could not simply apply to individual-batches since that is already taught by the prior art. “Such a construction would render the claims of the ’727 patent invalid in light of Medicines’ numerous pre-critical-date sales of ANGIOMAX® batches having Asp9 levels below 0.6 percent.”  Rather, the requirement that “the batches have a maximum impurity level” limitation must be construed to require cross-batch consistency — which requires that all of the batches be produced with the “same compounding process.”  Looking to the specification, the court found that the patentee had stated its “development of a compounding process for formulating bivalirudin that consistently generates formulations having low levels of impurities is desirable” and later discussed “the compounding process . . . of the invention” . . . “and as prepared by the new process of the present invention.”  When then further delving into the specification, it became clear that the compounding process discussed is the efficient mixing process.  The specification spells out that process in “example 5” and contrasts it with the non-efficient process of “example 4.” (Example 5 was the only embodiment of efficient mixing described). The court writes:

Although the specification provides that Example 5 is “non-limiting,” no other part of the patents’ written description sufficiently teaches the affirmative steps that constitute efficient mixing. In this circumstance, we think it entirely appropriate to limit the term “efficiently mixing” to the sole portion of the specification that adequately discloses “efficient mixing” to the public.

Once the efficient mixing limitation was read into the claims, it was accepted by the parties that the Mylan proposal would not infringe.

To spell out the results here. The appellate court reversed the district court’s decision based upon its revised claim construction.  The claims require “batches” of the active ingredient that “have a maximum impurity level.”  The court construed that term to require a consistent process for making all the batches, and then looked to the specification to note that the patentee intended to use an “efficient mixing” process as that consistent process since that was the type of process described in the specification; And then finally zeroed-in on the the “efficient mixing” process and required that it follow the particulars of “example 5” of the patent since that was the only detailed example given of efficient mixing.  With that narrowed claim construction, non infringement was easy.

Although the court does not state as much here, this appears to me a case that de novo review was critical in the appellate court’s analysis.


PTAB Procedural Reform Initiative


[T]he USPTO is launching an initiative to use nearly five years of historical data and user experiences to further shape and improve Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) trial proceedings, particularly inter partes review proceedings. The purpose of the initiative is to ensure that the proceedings are as effective and fair as possible within the USPTO’s congressional mandate to provide administrative review of the patentability of patent claims after they issue.

Since being created through the passage of the America Invents Act (AIA), PTAB proceedings have significantly changed the patent landscape by providing a faster, cost-efficient quality check on issued patents. . . .

This initiative will examine procedures including, but not limited to, procedures relating to multiple petitions, motions to amend, claim construction, and decisions to institute. It will evaluate the input already received from small and large businesses, startups and individual inventors, IP law associations, trade associations, and patent practitioners, and will seek to obtain more feedback regarding potential procedural enhancements.

Coke Morgan Stewart, Senior Advisor to the Director [and veteran patent litigator], will be coordinating this effort.

Members of the public may submit their ideas regarding PTAB procedural reform to: PTABProceduralReformInitiative@uspto.gov

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.

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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.

Origins of Patent Exhaustion in Jacksonian Politics, Patent Farming, and the Basis of the Bargain

Guest Post by Sean M. O’Connor, Boeing International Professor, University of Washington School of Law

As most readers of this blog know, patent exhaustion is usually traced to Chief Justice Taney’s statement in the 1853 case of Bloomer v. McQuewan: “when the machine passes to the hands of the purchaser, it is no longer within the limits of the [patent]. It passes outside of it.”[1] Taken on its own, the quote seems straightforward to establish the modern doctrine, perhaps relying on some underlying common law rule regarding free alienability of goods. But those who read the full opinion carefully can feel less certain of this—something doesn’t seem right. As Judge Taranto correctly noted in the Federal Circuit’s Lexmark International, Inc. v. Impression Products, Inc. opinion, currently on appeal at the Supreme Court, the transactions at issue appear to be licenses or assignments and not sales of patented machines.[2] Recent scholarship has shed further light on the roots of exhaustion. John Duffy and Richard Hynes advance an account of exhaustion as judicial efforts to cabin overlapping fields of law.[3] Christopher Beauchamp revealed the details behind the first patent litigation explosion, drawing similarities to modern concerns.[4] And Adam Mossoff identified Taney’s quote as dicta, while insightfully placing it in the context of Taney’s Jacksonian Democrat politics and judicial activism.[5]

In a paper recently posted to SSRN,[6] I argue that, while this new scholarship is on the right track, it does not go far enough in unpacking the transactions and cases behind Taney’s quote. A careful reconstruction reveals that machine patentees were engaged in “patent farming:” franchising systems that relied on multilevel assignments and licenses down through wholesalers to local craftsmen who built and used patented machines in their businesses. This was because mass manufacturing and nationwide distribution of machines or other complex patented inventions was not feasible in the antebellum period.

These systems were disrupted under the patent term extensions authorized in the 1836 Patent Act, as patentees treated the extensions as new terms that allowed them to demand new deals from existing assignees/licensees. The latter believed that a proviso in the Act preserved their grants into the new term. Things came to a head in 1846’s Wilson v. Rousseau, a complicated set of consolidates cases that essentially had two holdings: 1) the extensions wiped away any existing assignments and licenses, unequivocally stating that the local franchisees could not continue using the machines they had built themselves in the first term; but 2) the proviso created a compulsory license authorizing the existing grantees to continue using the existing machines, but they could no longer make or sell machines even if they held those rights in the first term.[7] Crucially, defendants raised an exhaustion-type argument that the Court rejected.

In Bloomer, the Court was called on to decide whether the proviso also applied to Congressional private act extensions that were silent on existing grantee rights. Writing for the Court, Taney made an in pari materia argument that the private acts had to be “ingrafted” onto the general Patent Act, including the proviso, because otherwise they did not provide enough details on their own. While this fully resolved the matter, Taney engaged in extensive, unnecessary dicta—as he would do in Dred Scott and elsewhere—to explain or justify Congress’ policy decision to include the proviso in the Act. It was here that he argued that, because the local licensee franchisees received no direct benefit from the patent (they could neither sell machines, grant sublicenses, or enforce the patent), such grantees’ machines should be seen as “outside the monopoly,” with continued use rights. But the compelling spatial metaphor proved more than Taney claimed. If the machine were truly outside the patent then the franchisee should be able to resell it, which the Court clearly prohibited by expressly extending Wilson’s proviso interpretation to private act extensions. Taney’s opinion seemed driven by his Jacksonian Democrat political views to limit the reach of federal power—in the form of patents—and to protect local craftsmen from distant patent sharks and financiers.

Contrary to modern cursory histories of exhaustion, Bloomer in fact made no changes to patent law (other than applying the proviso to private act extensions). Subsequent treatises and cases cited Bloomer only for this principle. But one of Taney’s fellow Jacksonians on the Court, Justice Clifford, picked up the dicta and began oddly restating it in cases as if it were a statement of law, even though it was usually inapposite to the facts at hand and itself dicta outside the case’s holding. Incrementally, Clifford seemed to convince other Justices (and lower courts) that there was some kernel of binding law here. Slowly but steadily, Taney’s dicta edged into holdings.

Notwithstanding, it took twenty years for the dicta to be used in a Supreme Court holding for use-rights only in an actuals sale of goods,[8] and another twenty to find a right of resale as part of what was originally called “emancipation.”[9] Patent exhaustion did not arise from common law principles of free alienability of chattels,[10] nor was it solely a statutory interpretation issue, nor an intentional effort to protect consumer rights or limit anticompetitive behavior generally. Instead, the unifying principle was that the courts were trying to protect the parties’ reasonable expectations and basis of the bargain when unexpected developments, such as unforeseen legislation creating a new kind of patent term extension, appeared. To this end, with few exceptions (such as the antitrust zeal of the early twentieth century), the Supreme Court was clear that emancipation/exhaustion was a default implied license for use (and later, resale) by purchasers of patented goods, but that could be contracted around by express mutually-assented conditions. At the same time, the courts were vigilant against “gotcha” tactics of some patentees and purchasers alike, and many of the cases are best understood as courts policing these abuses.

In the end, courts of the nineteenth century were grappling with an explosion of innovative patent commercialization models similar to today’s experimentation with IP-based transactions. But the response then was not to straightjacket these new models into a single mandatory transaction type. And the Supreme Court should resist that temptation in deciding Lexmark now. To decide that exhaustion is a mandatory rule precluding the use of expressly conditional sales that are the mutually assented basis of the parties’ bargain would be historically and doctrinally inaccurate. Equally important, it would cut off many economically and socially useful IP-goods transactions, especially in the modern globalized value/supply chain production of technology-based goods such as computers, smartphones, and televisions.[11]

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[1] Bloomer v. McQuewan, 55 U.S (14 How.) 539, 549 (1853).

[2] See, e.g., Lexmark International, Inc. v. Impression Products, Inc., 2014-1617, 2014-1619 Slip Op. (Fed. Cir. 2016) (describing the transactions at the heart of Bloomer as patent licenses and not sales of goods).

[3] John Duffy and Richard Hynes, Statutory Domain and the Commercial Law of Intellectual Property, 102 Va. L. Rev. 1 (2016).

[4] Christopher Beauchamp, The First Patent Litigation Explosion, 125 Yale L.J. 848 (2015).

[5] Adam Mossoff, Commercializing Property Rights in Inventions: Lessons for Modern Patent Theory from Classic Patent Doctrine, in Competition Policy and Patent Law Under Uncertainty: Regulating Innovation (eds. Geoffrey Manne and Joshua Wright, Cambridge Univ. Press 2011); Adam Mossoff, Exclusion and Exclusive Use in Patent Law, 22 Harvard. J.L. Tech. 321 (2009); Adam Mossoff, A Simple Conveyance Rule for Complex Innovation 118 Tulsa L. Rev. 101, 107-10 (2009).

[6] Sean M. O’Connor, Origins of Patent Exhaustion in Jacksonian Politics, Patent Farming, and the Basis of the Bargain available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2920738.

[7] 45 U.S. 646 (1846).

[8] Adams v. Burke, 84 U.S. 453 (1873).

[9] Keeler v. Standard Folding Bed Co., 157 U.S. 659 (1895).

[10] In the paper, I expand on Judge Taranto’s and Professors Duffy and Hynes’ arguments that Justice Breyer’s citation to Lord Coke’s 1628 Institutes in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 1351 (2013), is not dispositive to show a common law basis for exhaustion.

[11] See Brief of 44 Law, Business and Economics Professors, Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers2.cfm?abstract_id=2923826; Sean M. O’Connor, IP Transactions as Facilitators of the Globalized Innovation Economy 212-27 in Rochelle Dreyfuss et al., Working Within the Boundaries of Intellectual Property: Innovation Policy for the Knowledge Society (Oxford Univ. Press 2010).

The Imminent Outpouring from the Eastern District of Texas

The following guest post by Professor Paul Janicke ties-in with his new article published at: Paul M. Janicke, The Imminent Outpouring from the Eastern District of Texas, 2017 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. – DC

by Paul M. Janicke

When the Supreme Court reverses the Federal Circuit’s venue ruling in the TC Heartland case, a reversal widely expected, it will return patent venue to the time prior to 1988, when the residence of a corporation for patent venue purpose was limited to (i) a district within the state of incorporation, or (ii) a district where the corporation has a regular and established place of business and has allegedly committed an act of infringement. Presently pending in the Eastern District of Texas are 1,000+ patent cases. The number may go up or down a little before the Court’s ruling, but it’s not likely to change much in that short time.[1] My inquiry is: What will happen to those cases?  My analysis on this subject can be found at Paul M. Janicke, The Imminent Outpouring from the Eastern District of Texas, 2017 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1..

The new venue statute upon which the Court will base its ruling became effective in January 2012. That means it applies to nearly all the cases now on the Eastern District’s docket, and the venue for hundreds of those cases was likely improper. Those defendants who are not Texas corporations and who lacked any regular and established place of business in Eastern Texas when suit was filed will be entitled to dismissal or transfer to a district that would have been proper under the new law, unless they have waived the improper venue defense. Let’s take a look at the groups of possibly affected defendants.

Local Merchants

Some defendants are local merchants in the Eastern District, accused of infringement only because they sell products made by others. Venue as to these merchants will be proper under either the old or new venue rules, so they are entitled to neither dismissal nor transfer. If the case against a merchant’s vendor is transferred, the merchant’s best bet is to seek a stay of the case against it. While stays are not particularly favored in the Eastern District, a situation like the present one has not likely been encountered before. It may work.

Active Players As Defendants

These are typically manufacturers of high-tech products or vendors of software. Computer-related technology is said to be the subject of over 90% of patent case filings in the district. Most of them lack any regular place of business in Eastern Texas, although we have found some 70 companies who employ 100 or more persons in the district and are defendants in pending patent cases there. Most of these businesses are in Plano, with a few in Beaumont. They too will have to stay put. It isn’t required that the place of business be related to the accused infringing activity.

The Many Other Defendants, And the Problem of Waiver

Those companies lacking a regular business location in the Eastern District will, for the most part, want to exit that district. Some may choose to stay there in order to effect a quick settlement or to show support for their beleaguered customers who have been sued in the district, but I estimate at least 800 will consider seeking a transfer. These break down into two roughly equal groups, those who have waived improper venue and those who have not. Waiver of this defense most typically occurs by failure to plead it in the answer or in an early motion under Rule 12. A sampling of pleadings in pending Eastern District patent cases reveals that in roughly 400 cases the main defendant did not plead improper venue or make a Rule 12 motion. (Note that this is a different subject from inconvenient venue, which is handled under a different statutory section and was sometimes pleaded in the answers.) It is understandable why the improper venue pleading was missing in so many cases: No one knew or even suspected until very recently that the venue rules had been changed by Congress in 2011, effective for all cases filed after January 2012. Good ethical lawyers know they shouldn’t plead a matter for which they have no legal or factual basis, and so they didn’t, and therein lies the waiver. Unfortunately, they cannot undo it by arguing “change in the law.” The change occurred in 2012.

The other group of defendants may have been insightful, but more likely were just following a form-book shotgun answer, and so they did plead improper venue in their answers. Answering this way is usually enough to preserve this defense, but not always. It has been held that taking discovery does not trigger a waiver, nor does proceeding to trial. It is thought that the corporate defendant who has pleaded the defense unsuccessfully has been forced to remain in the improper forum, so these litigation activities are not held against it. However, some courts have held that moving for summary judgment (unsuccessfully of course) is a different matter and does cause a waiver. You are not obliged to seek summary judgment, and you are invoking the court’s power. So some in the second group may find they too have waived.

For Those Exiting, Where Will They Be Sent?

This leaves about 400 non-waived cases. The case law on improper venue cases shows a distinct judicial preference for transfers rather than dismissals. To what districts will these non-waived defendants be transferred? Whatever districts are chosen, we should bear in mind that some of the NPE plaintiffs may not wish to follow, due to the expense involved, so those cases may effectively end. For more serious plaintiffs, we do not know where the cases will go. It depends on subjective factors applicable to each case, but here are some possible options: (1) Choose a district that one or both parties ask for. (2) Select a proper district that has a number of patent pilot judges, the three largest being Northern Illinois, Southern New York, and Central California. (3)  Use history as a guide: In 1997, one year before the large influx to Eastern Texas began, the busiest patent districts were Northern California (172 filings), Central California (162 filings), and Northern Illinois (116 filings). In that year the number of patent cases filed in the Eastern District of Texas was: 10. We shall soon see.

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Professor of Law, University of Houston Law Center

[1] The case is set for argument March 27, with a decision very likely before the end of the Court’s term in June.

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Read the ArticleJanicke.2017.Venue

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

  • Mark A. Lemley, Erik Oliver, Kent Richardson, James Yoon, & Michael Costa, Patent Purchases and Litigation Outcomes, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 15 (Lemley.2016.PatentMarket)
  • Bernard Chao and Amy Mapes, An Early Look at Mayo’s Impact on Personalized Medicine, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 10 (Chao.2016.PersonalizedMedicine)
  • James E. Daily, An Empirical Analysis of Some Proponents and Opponents of Patent Reform, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (Daily.2016.Professors)
  • Tristan Gray–Le Coz and Charles Duan, Apply It to the USPTO: Review of the Implementation of Alice v. CLS Bank in Patent Examination, 2014 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1. (GrayLeCozDuan)
  • Robert L. Stoll, Maintaining Post-Grant Review Estoppel in the America Invents Act: A Call for Legislative Restraint, 2012 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (Stoll.2012.estoppel.pdf)
  • Paul Morgan, The Ambiguity in Section 102(a)(1) of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 29.  (Morgan.2011.AIAAmbiguities)
  • Joshua D. Sarnoff, Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 12 (sarnoff.2011.derivation.pdf)
  • Bernard Chao, Not So Confidential: A Call for Restraint in Sealing Court Records, 2011 Patently-O Patent Patent Law Journal 6 (chao.sealedrecords.pdf)
  • Benjamin Levi and Rodney R. Sweetland, The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Recommendations to the International Trade Commission (ITC):  Unsound, Unmeasured, and Unauthoritative, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 1 (levi.ftcunsound.pdf)
  • Kevin Emerson Collins, An Initial Comment on King Pharmaceuticals: The Printed Matter Doctrine as a Structural Doctrine and Its Implications for Prometheus Laboratories, 2010 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 111 (Collins.KingPharma.pdf)
  • Robert A. Matthews, Jr., When Multiple Plaintiffs/Relators Sue for the Same Act of Patent False Marking, 2010 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 95 (matthews.falsemarking.pdf)
  • Kristen Osenga, The Patent Office’s Fast Track Will Not Take Us in the Right Direction, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 89 (Osenga.pdf)
  • Peter S. Menell,  The International Trade Commission’s Section 337 Authority, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 79
  • Donald S. Chisum, Written Description of the Invention: Ariad (2010) and the Overlooked Invention Priority Principle, 2010 Patently‐O Patent L.J. 72
  • Kevin Collins, An Initial Comment on Ariad: Written Description and the Baseline of Patent Protection for After-Arising Technology, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 24
  • Etan Chatlynne, Investigating Patent Law’s Presumption of Validity—An Empirical Analysis, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 37
  • Michael Kasdan and Joseph Casino, Federal Courts Closely Scrutinizing and Slashing Patent Damage Awards, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 24 (Kasdan.Casino.Damages)
  • Dennis Crouch, Broadening Federal Circuit Jurisprudence: Moving Beyond Federal Circuit Patent Cases, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 19 (2010)
  • Edward Reines and Nathan Greenblatt, Interlocutory Appeals of Claim Construction in the Patent Reform Act of 2009, Part II, 2010 Patently‐O Patent L.J. 7  (2010) (Reines.2010)
  • Gregory P. Landis & Loria B. Yeadon, Selecting the Next Nominee for the Federal Circuit: Patently Obvious to Consider Diversity, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1 (2010) (Nominee Diversity)
  • Paul Cole, Patentability of Computer Software As Such, 2008 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1. (Cole.pdf)
  • John F. Duffy, The Death of Google’s Patents, 2008 Patently O-Pat. L.J. ___ (googlepatents101.pdf)
  • Mark R. Patterson, Reestablishing the Doctrine of Patent Exhaustion, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 38
  • Arti K. Rai, The GSK Case: An Administrative Perspective, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 36
  • Joshua D. Sarnoff, BIO v. DC and the New Need to Eliminate Federal Patent Law Preemption of State and Local Price and Product Regulation, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 30 (Download Sarnoff.BIO.pdf)
  • John F. Duffy, Are Administrative Patent Judges Unconstitutional?, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 21. (Duffy.BPAI.pdf)
  • Joseph Casino and Michael Kasdan, In re Seagate Technology: Willfulness and Waiver, a Summary and a Proposal, 2007 Patently-O Patent L.J. 1 (Casino-Seagate)

Limits on Disclaimer in Claim Construction

by Dennis Crouch

Technology Properties Ltd. v. Huawei Tech, et al. (Fed. Cir. 2017)

This decision by Judge Moore recalls the Federal Circuit’s long history of rejecting district court claim constructions and also highlights Judge Moore’s formalistic approach to claim construction.

Here, the claim term on appeal is “entire oscillator disposed upon [an] integrated circuit substrate” as used in Tech Properties’ U.S. Patent No. 5,809,336.  The patent is directed to a microprocessor system that has two independent clocks: A variable frequency CPU ring oscillator clock and a fixed frequency quartz crystal I/O clock.  The improvement here is in linking the variable frequency clock to the CPU so that the performance of both vary according to external stress (such as temperature) while not impacting the I/O clock speed.


Following a Markman hearing, the district construed the oscillator term as being the variable-speed clock and requiring “an oscillator located entirely on the same semiconductor substrate as the central processing unit that does not require a control signal and whose frequency is not fixed by any external crystal.”  Although the claims do not expressly include the negative limitation of no-control-signal and no-external-crystal for the CPU, the district court found that the prosecution history showed that the patentee disclaimed scope of its claims when attempting to overcome prior art rejections.

Claim construction: The general process of claim construction is to interpret the claims according how a person of skill in the art (PHOSITA) would understand the claims in the context of the intrinsic record (patent and prosecution history).  This standard process uses the intrinsic record to help give meaning to the claim terms.  Phillips v. AWH.

Disclaimer: Unlike the soft and seemingly flexible approach of Phillips, any disclaimer of scope must be “clear and unmistakable.” to one of ordinary skill in the art.  Statements by the patentee that are either “ambiguous or amenable to multiple reasonable interpretations” do not create a disclaimer.  Disclaimer is big because it allows the court to permissible add limitations from the specification and prosecution into the claims.

PTO ERROR: Let me note here that – in my view – every time we have a strong prosecution disclaimer argument, we know that the PTO erred.  When the patentee made the argument that the claimed oscillator was variable-speed, the examiner should have replied: “Please amend the claims to actually include that limitation.”

No fixed-crystal-clock: During prosecution, the patentee distinguished the prior art by noting that unlike the “variable speed clock as claimed”, the prior art “is at a fixed, not a variable frequency” and “relies on an external crystal.”  For Judge Moore, these statements were sufficient to find that the patentee had disclaimed fixed-speed clocks from its entire oscillator claim scope.

The patentee noted that the disclaimer was not necessary to overcome the prior art. On appeal, however, the court rejected that factor non-determinative.  Rather, the question for disclaimer is whether the statements were “clear and unmistakable.”

[T]he scope of surrender is not limited to what is absolutely necessary to avoid a prior art reference; patentees may surrender more than necessary. . . [W]e hold patentees to the actual arguments made, not the arguments that could have been made.

Scope of Disclaimer: The district court also found that the patentee had disclaimed any use of a control-signal in its “entire oscillator.” On appeal, the Federal Circuit modified the disclaimer to an oscillator “that does not require a command input to change the clock frequency” since the patentee had disclaimed only a “particular use of a command signal” when it characterized the prior art as different sinc it included “a command input . . . to change the clock speed.”

The principle associated with this second point goes to the scope of disclaimer which follows the general principle that a patentee’s disclaimer only extends to the scope of what is actually disclaimed.

On remand, the district court will need to decide whether this change impacts the prior non-infringement decision.


Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group

The Supreme Court has asked for the USPTO’s input on whether it should hear the pending dispute Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group (Supreme Court 2017).  The case again raises constitutional questions as to the power of an executive agency (the USPTO) to cancel issued patent rights. [petition][opposition][reply]

Questions presented:

1. Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.

2. Whether the amendment process implemented by the PTO in interpartes review conflicts with this Court’s decision in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016), and congressional direction.

3. Whether the “broadest reasonable interpretation” of patent claims–upheld in Cuozzo for use in inter partes review–requires the application of traditional claim construction principles, including disclaimer by disparagement of prior art and reading claims in light of the patent’s specification.

The request for the USPTO’s input in the case is not, however as amicus but instead as respondent.  In December, the USPTO waived its right to respond to the action.  USPTO’s brief is due March 29, 2017.

So far, no amicus briefs have been filed in the case and the deadline had been long past to support petitioner.  However, the Supreme Court’s new request for response from the PTO resets the timeline. Under Supreme Court rules, briefs in support of petitioner (or neither party) can be filed within 30 days from the February 27, 2017 request.

The Patent at issue in the case is U.S. Patent No. 6,179,053 that covers a lockdown mechanism for well tools.

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.



Claim Construction: “support an entire body”

by Dennis Crouch

I have been waiting for the Federal Circuit’s decision in Metalcraft of Mayville (Scag Power) v. Toro.  In my patent law class last semester, we used the appeal of a preliminary injunction order as the basis for our 5th annual Patent Law Moot-Court Competition (sponsored by McKool Smith).  I want to also thank the attorneys at Boyle Fredrickson and Merchant & Gould for being good sports and providing us with documents from the case.

[Read the Decision: 16-2433-opinion-2-14-2017-11]

SCAG and TORO are competitors in the lawnmower market.  In 2016, SCAG sued TORO for infringing its U.S. Patent No. 8,186,475 that covers a vehicle (lawnmower) having an operator-platform-suspension-system. This design differs from the more traditional seat-suspension because it supports the “entire body” of the operator and helps reduce harmful shock and vibrations on users.

In the case, the district court issued a preliminary injunction against Toro to cease “making, using, selling, and offering to sell lawnmowers equipped with platform suspension systems that infringe SCAG’s patent.”  Toro appealed both the merits of the infringement case (under a proper claim construction, no infringement) and also the terms of the injunction (Failure of the injunction order to include “reasonable detail” as required by Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 65(d)).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed, but with a slightly modified injunction.

The patent drawing below an operator platform that supports the foot rest and the seat.  In the patent drawings, the hand-controls (55) are also supported by the operator platform. However, in the accused Toro lawnmower, the controls are directly attached to the chassis and thus not supported by the operator platform.


The claims require that the operator platform “support an entire body of an operator” during operation use of the vehicle.  Toro argued that users of its mowers must keep their hands on the hand-controls during operation and – since hands are part of the body – their platform does not support the “entire body.”  On appeal though, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument for narrowing claim scope.  Most importantly, the court found that the claims do not specifically require steering controls mounted to the operator platform.  Moving from there, the court attempts (but in my view fails) to adequately address the core argument:

Moreover, the specification makes clear that the operator platform supports the entire body and that steering controls are connected to, but not part of, the operator platform. The specification consistently distinguishes the operator platform from components that may be attached to it.

The court here seems to suggest that the platform must directly support the entire body rather than through a component.  The problem with this argument is the seat (another component attached to the platform) actually supports most of the operator’s body.  For the claim to make any sense, the platform’s support function must pass through these attached components.

By accepting the broader claim construction, the court was also able to affirm the finding that Scag is likely to succeed on the merits of the case (proving infringement). Here, the district court’s order enjoins Toro from “making, using, selling, and offering to sell lawnmowers equipped with platform suspension systems that infringe Scag’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,186,457.” J.A. 6. Toro argues the district court’s preliminary injunction is overly broad. We do not agree. The Decision and Order in which the district court grants the motion for the preliminary injunction discusses both the claims at issue as well as the defendants’ accused products which it enjoins. J.A. 6–18. Claim 21 was argued to cover all the accused products, and Toro has made no meaningful arguments which delineated among the accused products. We have affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the patentee has established a likelihood of success that the accused products infringe claim 21 and that there is not a substantial question of validity as to claim 21. In such a case, we affirm the preliminary injunction as to the accused products.

Scope of the Injunction: Fed. R. Civ. Pro. R. 65(d)(1) requires that every order granting an injunction to “state the reasons why it issued; state its terms specifically; and describe in reasonable detail—and not by referring to the complaint or other document—the act or acts restrained or required.” Here, the order stated merely that TORO must cease “making, using, selling, and offering to sell lawnmowers equipped with platform suspension systems that infringe SCAG’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,186,475.”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the order, with the caveat of limiting it to the accused products. “We affirm the preliminary injunction as to the accused products.”

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.




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[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).