Tag Archives: Claim Construction

First Rehearing Request Challenging No-Opinion Judgments

by Dennis Crouch

LSI v. FLIR (Fed. Cir. 2017) (request for rehearing) [16-1299-leak-surveys-v-flir_combined-rehg]

In its newly filed petition for rehearing, Leak Surveys has asked the Federal Circuit to withdraw its Judgment Without Opinion. Leak’s Counsel (Donald Puckett) argues:

It is hard to imagine an appeal more unsuitable for affirmance without opinion under Fed. Cir. R. 36 than this one.

The petition makes two primary arguments:

  1. If the Federal Circuit’s judgment is based upon new or alternative grounds not stated by the PTAB, then it must write an opinion.  Although the reason for a judgment without opinion are not directly discernible, the petitioner here suggests that it was likely based upon theories first espoused by the court and respondent at oral arguments — sufficient to form a prima facie conclusion that the judgment relied upon new or alternate grounds.
  2. LSI urges the en banc Court to grant rehearing to decide whether this Court can ever affirm a PTAB IPR decision without opinion. See 35 U.S.C. § 141 (in USPTO appeal, Federal Circuit “shall issue to the Director its mandate and opinion . . .”) (emphasis added). See also Crouch, Wrongly Affirmed Without Opinion, Univ. of Missou. L. Stud. Research Paper No. 2017-02, Forthcoming 52 Wake Forest Law Review ___ (2017) (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2909007).

In offering the first weaker option, LSI gives the court an option in case it “may hesitate to open a floodgate of rehearing requests.”  Of course, there are only about a dozen R.36 decisions that are still within the court’s 30-day deadline for requesting rehearing.  (The Supreme Court has a 90-day deadline).  The stronger approach that I argue for: “LSI presents this argument here to preserve it for further appeal to the U.S.
Supreme Court if necessary.”  [Amicus support due within two weeks]

The underlying appeal center on the validity of Leak’s U.S. Patent No. 8,193,496 and 8,426,813 that cover gas-leak detection equipment and methods using a passive-IR camera and bandpass filter.  The primary issues were claim construction (“leak” and “normal operating conditions”) and motivation to combine in the ultimate obviousness conclusion.   The original brief began as follows:

The IPR proceedings below resulted in the creation of a dense factual record involving 24 declarations and 14 depositions. Almost all witnesses were scientists (many with Ph.D. degrees) having personal knowledge of the petroleum industry’s extensive efforts (and failures) to develop a commercially viable imaging system for detecting hydrocarbon gas leaks in the field. Most of these same witnesses also offered first-hand testimony of [the inventor] David Furry’s own efforts to solve the same technical problem. Several witnesses -top scientists from the largest petroleum companies – described the day in 2004 when Furry showed up at the industry’s “Scan Off” to demonstrate his “Hawk” camera against the industry’s then-best optical leak detection systems. These scientists, having dedicated years of work and countless resources to creating a commercially viable optical leak detection system, testified that they were completely surprised and astonished by the Hawk’s unexpected results. It was immediately apparent that Furry had solved an important technical problem that the petroleum industry had been unable to solve.




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:


TC Heartland: Statutory Interpretation, Fairness, and E.D.Texas

by Dennis Crouch

The topside briefs have been filed in TC Heartland with strong support for the petitioner who is looking to dismantle the notion of nationwide venue against accused patent infringers.  The question presented in the case is one of basic statutory interpretation of Congress’s venue statute: Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not to be supplemented by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).

28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) appears to severely limit venue in patent cases to “the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  Section 1391(c), however seems to broaden the definition of residence “For all venue purposes . . . (2) . . .[defendant] shall be deemed to reside … in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction.”  Since most patent defendants are subject to nationwide personal jurisdiction, venue is then proper in any jurisdiction.

This first-level statutory interpretation seems to make TC Heartland’s case a loser. The thing is, the Supreme Court already decided what is almost the exact same case in its 1957 decision Fourco Glass (limiting patent venue) and the unusual concentration of patent cases in the E.D.Texas has certainly reached the ears of the high court in a way that may influence the outcome.

TC Heartland’s attorneys Dabney & Duffy write:

This is an extraordinary case because it presents a question of statutory interpretation that this Court specifically answered more than a half century ago.

[Petitioner’s Merits Brief: 16-341_pet-authcheckdam1]

In addition to stare decisis, the brief offers a cogent explanation that the narrower, specific interpretation makes sense and that the “for all venue purposes” phrase in the broader statute is limited by its preparatory statement “except as otherwise provided by law.”

One debate here that may arise is a question of what is the “settled law.”  The Federal Circuit broad-venue doctrine has been the approach since its 1990 VE Holdings decision.  Here, however, TC Heartland raises the little known case of  Andrews v. Hovey (1888) for the proposition that a patent statute’s interpretation “cannot be regarded as judicially settled [until] so settled by the highest judicial authority which can pass upon the question.” I wonder though, whether creation of the Federal Circuit should be seen as overruling that prior statute – likely not.

A strong set of amicus briefs have been filed in support.  Most briefs are fairly similar – arguing the statutory interpretation and that the result is bad policy / unfair.  See Bankers Brief [16-341-tsac-aba];  ABA [16-341-tsac-american-bar-association]; APP Ass’n [16-341-tsac-act]; Internet Companies and Retailers [16-341-tsac-48-internet-companies]

The only party in opposition thus far is AIPLA who argues, inter alia, that if a policy needs changed then congress should do the changing. [16-341-ac-aipla]

Although I do not expect the Federal Government (SJ) to weigh-in on the case, one interesting brief comes from a group of 17 state attorneys general, including Texas whose “citizens [have been facing] abusive claims of patent infringement, which businesses and residents confirm are a drag on economic growth.” [16-341-texas-et-al]

Without the Government Brief, Mark Lemley’s brief (on behalf of 61 professors) may be seen as the most influential.  However, I would suggest that the brief loses some amount of its “law professor” credibility by being so one-sided in its statutory construction. [16-341-tsac-61-prof-of-law] Alongside Lemley’s brief is that filed by Stanford’s IP Clinic that argues, inter alia, harm to small businesses and start-ups: “frivolous PAE litigation is negatively correlated with venture capital (VC) investment.” Implicit (and often explicit) in these briefs is the argument that E.D.Texas is supporting frivolous litigation. Stanford writes:  “The Eastern District of Texas Exhibits Abnormal Forum-Selling and Litigant Gamesmanship That Undermine the Appearance of Integrity of the Patent Litigation System.” [16-341tsacengineadvocacy] Orange County IP Law Association’s brief filed by Bill Brown raises the real argument that E.D. Texas Judges now have “de facto policy making authority.” [16-341-tsac-ocipla]; See also Unified Patents [16-341-tsac-unified-patents]

Intel and Dell also offered a strong brief filed by Donald Verrilli in his new role at Munger Tolles: All indicia of statutory meaning show that Congress narrowed patent venue in 1897 and has never expressed an intent to expand it.” [16-341tsacintelcorporation].  Following onto Intel’s intent argument, WLF explains that post-Fourco amendments by Congress should be considered “within the context of a century of special rules governing patent cases. [16-341tsacwashingtonlegalfoundation] The Intel brief also focuses on a common complaint against the Federal Circuit – that it fails to really respect and follow the principles of statutory interpretation.  Here though, the issue is failing to follow Supreme Court precedent.  Intel argues that the “Court does not depart from the doctrine of stare decisis without some compelling justification.” (quoting Hilton v. S. Carolina Pub. Rys. Comm’n, 502 U.S. 197, 201 (1991).

GiantCo GE offers some crocodile tears at the “unfairness” of the provision to nice companies like GE.  Astutely foreshadowing a likely upcoming challenge, GE also reflects that part of the problem is “the Federal Circuit’s expansive approach to personal jurisdiction [that] has further stretched the boundaries of permissible venue in patent cases.” (citations omitted). [16-341-ac-ge]

Although GE’s unfairness arguments likely fall flat, one of the best briefs is that filed by EFF who does a great job of explaining how venue’s primary concern is that of fairness and that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation completely ignores that import. [16-341-tsac-electronic-frontier-foundation]

Generic Pharma adds to the statutory construction by explaining that the venue provisions in Hatch-Waxman Act are inconsistent with the Federal Circuit’s interpretation. [16-341-tsac-generic-pharmaceutical-association]

Finally, last but not least, Chicago’s IP Law Ass’n offers its analysis that patent venue battles over the “best venue” are wasting time and would be unnecessary under Fourco. [16-341-ac-intellectual-property-law-association] [16-341-ac-appendix]

Guest Post: Administrative Law Matters Even More following Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee

By David Boundy

David Boundy of Cambridge Technology Law LLC, a patent law firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, practices at the intersection of patent and administrative law, and consults with other firms on PTAB trials and appeals. In 2007–09, David led the teams that successfully urged the Office of Management and Budget to quash the USPTO’s continuations, claims, information disclosure statements, and appeal regulations under the Paperwork Reduction Act.

This paper is a short version of an article in the current issue of ABA Landslide, vol. 9, no. 3, electronic edition.  It’s a follow up to my earlier paper on the Cuozzo case, which ran in Patently-O in February 2015.

Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee[1] illustrates an important lesson for the patent bar: federal courts are far more familiar with administrative law than with patent law. Almost every federal court hears several times as many administrative law cases as patent cases. Even the Federal Circuit sees at least as many administrative law issues (involving various federal employees and contracts) as patent law issues. We patent lawyers need better administrative law issue spotting skills, and when a case presents them, we must argue on administrative law grounds with administrative law expertise. Basic principles of good advocacy urge us to argue our cases on the courts’ choice of turf.

Cuozzo is a prime illustration.  In Cuozzo, the Supreme Court narrowly decided that the PTO’s decision to institute an inter partes review (IPR) against Cuozzo’s patent was unreviewable.  Notably, the Court’s reasoning clarifies that many decisions to institute are judicially reviewable, so long as the issues are cloaked in administrative law terms rather than patent law terms. Cuozzo’s loss stems from Cuozzo’s briefing that failed to mention a dead-on administrative law statute, and that was all but silent on the Supreme Court’s administrative law precedent. Cuozzo creates many future opportunities for informed administrative law advocacy.

The AIA, Its Preclusion Statutes, and Cuozzo’s Path to the Supreme Court

The 2011 America Invents Act (AIA) created new patent reviews within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and covered business method review (CBM). Congress included preclusion statutes that limit judicial review of USPTO decisions to institute such reviews.

The preclusion statutes for IPR and PGR decisions to institute, 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) and § 324(e) respectively, are essentially similar: “The determination by the Director whether to institute [a review] under this section shall be final and nonappealable.” Compared to other preclusion statutes (discussed in the full Landslide paper), this is decidedly on the weak end of the spectrum of preclusion statutes.

In February 2015, the Federal Circuit gave its first deep consideration to these statutes in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC.[2] The IPR petition against Cuozzo’s patent had applied reference A to claim 10, and references A, B, and C to claim 17 (which depended from claim 10). However, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) instituted on references A, B, and C against claim 10. The PTAB cited no statute or regulation, only its own naked claim of “discretion” to mix and match among the grounds in the petition.

The IPR ended in cancellation of claim 10, on references A, B, and C.

Cuozzo appealed the final decision to the Federal Circuit, and challenged the decision to institute. The Federal Circuit held that § 314(d) precluded all review of all issues embedded in a decision to institute: “On its face, the provision is not directed to precluding review only before a final decision. It is written to exclude all review of the decision whether to institute review.”[3]

In June 2016, the Supreme Court issued its further decision.  Where all decisions leave open issues, Cuozzo introduces several internal contradictions.  Let’s look at the background administrative law case law, and how Cuozzo fits—or misfits.

APA § 706: Government-Wide Grounds of Judicial Review

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), in 5 U.S.C. § 706(2), confines judicial review of agency action to a specific list of errors—a court may set aside agency actions that are:

(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;  …
(C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right;
(D) without observance of procedure required by law; …

Section 706(2) is famously deferential to agencies, but it doesn’t insulate agencies totally. Courts set aside agency decisions that fail standards of “reasoned decisionmaking” by failing to explain an important point, giving an irrelevant explanation, omitting consideration of important factors or basing a decision on impermissible factors, deciding without evidence, deciding on legal error, acting beyond jurisdictional authority, and the like.

APA § 704: Preliminary Decisions Are Reviewable with Final Agency Action

Procedural lapses usually find review under 5 U.S.C. § 704: “A preliminary, procedural, or intermediate agency action or ruling not directly reviewable is subject to review on the review of the final agency action.” Thus, if an agency’s final decision is infected by error earlier in the process, the final decision can be attacked on the basis of that underlying error.

Supreme Court’s Presumption of Judicial Review

Since the days of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court has relied on a strong presumption that judicial review is available for executive branch action.[4] Agency decisions are presumed to be reviewable, and preclusion statutes are construed narrowly. Even within the scope of preclusion, an agency decision that reflects “brazen disregard” of procedure, or “abuse,” or that has sufficiently grave consequences, often can be reviewed.  Likewise, the Court has always held agencies to scrupulous observance of their own procedures. The presumption of review has always been extraordinarily high for procedure, and the “holes” in preclusion statutes for procedure and “abuse” have always been quite large. Cuozzo is an extraordinary outlier. Among the principles established in Supreme Court precedent:

  • Courts accept judicial review of underlying issues in agency decisions, even if the final decisions are unreviewable, especially where procedural fairness is at stake.[5]
  • Preclusion statutes are read narrowly—they preclude only what they say they preclude, and no more. Even where a statute precludes review of an end result decision, underlying issues are not precluded unless the preclusion statute speaks expressly to those underlying issues.  “[R]eview is available to determine whether there has been a substantial departure from important procedural rights, a misconstruction of the governing legislation, or some like error going to the heart of the administrative determination.”[6]
  • Courts read statutes closely to split issues finely, and will review issues (especially underlying issues) that differ by a hair’s breadth from precluded issues. When a statute precludes benefit amounts for individual claimants, “challenges to the validity of the Secretary’s instructions and regulations[] are cognizable in courts of law.”[7]
  • When an agency statute, regulation, or guidance promises the public that an agency or agency employee “must” or “will,” the agency must follow those procedures “scrupulously.” Review of agency decisions under § 706(2)(D), “without observance of procedure required by law,” is “strict” and “without deference.”[8]

Review under § 704/§ 706 is a persistent substrate. To preclude review, especially of underlying issues, Congress must speak expressly.

Cuozzo’s Brief, the Majority Opinion, and the End Result: Cuozzo’s Specific Institution Is Nonreviewable

The Cuozzo majority opinion follows the basic contour of 50 years of precedent: preclusion statutes are to be read narrowly. However, on the facts, Cuozzo lost—the Court characterized Cuozzo’s complaint to be a “mine-run claim,” “an ordinary dispute about the application of certain relevant patent statutes,” and “little more than a challenge to the Patent Office’s conclusion, under § 314(a), that the ‘information presented in the petition’ warranted review.”[9] That is, the Supreme Court understood the case to be a good faith difference of opinion in application of validly promulgated law, not a case of an agency tribunal exercising naked “discretion” against a party, making up new rules on the fly with no grounding in any text, and asserting those new rules in a context with no opportunity for rejoinder. Because the Court was not informed of the procedural basis for the case, the Cuozzo opinion stands in striking contrast with the Court’s precedent that requires agencies’ “scrupulous” observance of procedure, and strict “no deference” judicial review for procedural issues.

The Supreme Court majority opinion embeds a number of internal contradictions that leave a great deal of unclear ground. The majority’s holding, if applied to the facts—at least the procedural facts as we patent lawyers understand them—leads to the opposite result.

Most of these contradictions in the majority opinion, and perhaps the final result itself, are invited error. Cuozzo’s brief treats the case as a patent law case, arguing page after page of Title 35 U.S.C. and Federal Circuit patent law cases.[10] Cuozzo’s opening brief cites Supreme Court “preclusion of review” cases only as a cursory afterthought—a single string cite, with no discussion of analogies to precedential cases. The brief compounds the error by citing a 1946 case that had been overruled by the Supreme Court in 2013.  The table of authorities in Cuozzo’s opening brief has only a single cite to Title 5 U.S.C., and only one more in the reply brief.

But reviewability is an administrative law issue, and that’s where the Court decided it.

Even though Cuozzo’s briefs are all but irrelevant to the administrative law bases on which the Court decided the case, the reasoning comes so close to going Cuozzo’s way. Cuozzo demonstrates the importance of identifying the turf where a court is likely to decide an issue, and arguing it there.  And that may well be administrative law, rather than patent law.

Cuozzo’s “Long Paragraph”

The heart of the majority opinion is a long paragraph toward the end of section II, beginning “Nonetheless.” The majority explains that most issues arising under patent law are precluded, but that issues arising under other bodies of law are not. Review remains available for constitutional questions, and most importantly, for issues slotted into one of the pigeonholes of APA § 706.  The latter half of the “long paragraph” reads as follows:

[W]e do not categorically preclude review of a final decision where a petition fails to give “sufficient notice” such that there is a due process problem with the entire proceeding, nor does our interpretation enable the agency to act outside its statutory limits by, for example, canceling a patent claim for “indefiniteness under § 112” in inter partes review. Such “shenanigans” may be properly reviewable in the context of § 319 and under the Administrative Procedure Act, which enables reviewing courts to “set aside agency action” that is “contrary to constitutional right,” “in excess of statutory jurisdiction,” or “arbitrary [and] capricious.”[11]

The latter half of the long paragraph, especially the last sentence, opens a wide barn door. The Cuozzo majority’s long paragraph indicates that the full reach of § 706 applies to underlying issues in decisions to institute.  Cuozzo tells us that issues that are losers when presented in patent law vocabulary become winners when wrapped in administrative law vocabulary.

Cuozzo Could Have Argued an Administrative Law Jurisdictional Issue

Cuozzo’s brief doesn’t squarely present the issue of the PTAB’s transgression of its own jurisdictional boundaries. Section 312(a) reads, “A petition . . . may be considered only if . . . the petition identifies, in writing and with particularity, each claim challenged, the grounds on which the challenge to each claim is based . . . .” Section 314(a) reads, “The Director may not authorize [institution of an IPR] unless the Director determines that the information presented in the petition . . . shows that there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail . . . .” These are plainly jurisdictional statutes, confining jurisdiction to the grounds in the petition. The APA, in § 706(2)(C), provides that a court shall set aside agency action “in excess of statutory jurisdiction.” Yet, Cuozzo’s brief argues only breaches of the AIA, not the administrative law jurisdictional issues that—the majority tells us—would be reviewable under administrative law principles.

The Supreme Court has been quite strict in enforcing agencies’ jurisdictional boundaries, no matter (in the Cuozzo majority’s words) how compelling “one important congressional objective” might be.[12]

Cuozzo’s brief fleetingly nibbles at the edges of the issue, and even cites one of the important cases in this line (for a different proposition), but never squarely frames the challenge as “in excess of [the agency’s] jurisdiction”—neither brief mentions § 706 at all.  And thus Cuozzo lost the issue.

The latter half of Cuozzo’s “long paragraph” places jurisdictional issues within the scope of judicial review, so long as they are framed in an § 706(2)(C) administrative law context, not a patent law context.  Subject matter jurisdiction is central to a court’s duty to prevent agencies from “act[ing] outside . . . statutory limits,” or in the language of § 706, “in excess of statutory jurisdiction.”

Had the issue been presented squarely as a challenge to PTAB action beyond its jurisdiction, with the patent law issues argued as underlying support for APA § 706(2)(C) “in excess of jurisdiction” grounds, Cuozzo likely would have obtained a favorable result, and the Court majority would not have been left grasping at inconsistent straws to reach its decision.

Several more omissions from Cuozzo’s brief, and internal contradictions in the majority opinion, are discussed in the full Landslide paper.  The full paper shows that Cuozzo lost a very winnable case because the opening brief argued patent law principles to the near exclusion of administrative law principles. The patent bar is left with a resultant set of internal contradictions in the Cuozzo decison, with all the problems and opportunities they create.  And the Federal Circuit is left with a difficult task of reconciling Cuozzo’s reasoning against its end result.


The full paper gives a number of other examples of questions that come out differently depending on whether they’re argued as patent law issues or administrative law issues. There are many differences between the powers of an Article III court and of an agency tribunal, differences between appellate review of an Article III court vs. judicial review of an agency, differences in the arguments that an appellant and appellee can raise, and differences in limits on raising new issues on appeal. Unfortunately, Cuozzo’s brief did not exploit those differences or cite the applicable administrative law.

The key take-away is that almost every PTAB proceeding and appeal presents a “target rich environment” of administrative law issues. Teams that include administrative law expertise will successfully exploit many opportunities that are invisible to teams without that expertise.

Because of internal tensions in the Cuozzo decision, many issues remain to be decided by the Federal Circuit, and will be decided differently depending on how well parties match their argument turf to courts’ choice of decision turf.


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

[2]In re Cuozzo Speed Techs. LLC (Cuozzo I), 778 F.3d 1271 (Fed. Cir. 2015), reissued without change to the reviewability discussionCuozzo II, 793 F.3d 1268 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

[3]Cuozzo I, 778 F.3d at 1276.

[4]. 5 U.S.C. § 702 (“A person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute, is entitled to judicial review thereof.”); Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971).

[5]Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363 (1957); Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535 (1959).

[6]Lindahl v. Office of Personnel Management,470 U.S. 768, 791 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted).

[7]Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667, 680 (1986).

[8]Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 950–51 (D.C. Cir. 1986); see also Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 544 (1988) (“The agency has no discretion to deviate from [its procedural regulations].”).

[9]Cuozzo III, 136 S. Ct. 2131, 2136, 2139, 2142 (2016).

[10]See Brief for the Petitioner, Cuozzo III (No. 15-446), 2016 WL 737452 at xiv, 52-53, 54 (Feb. 22, 20142016); Reply Brief for the Petitioner at iii, Cuozzo III, 2016 WL 1554733 (Apr. 15, 2016).

[11]Cuozzo III at 2141–42 (majority opinion).

[12]FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 125 (2000)

Federal Circuit Closes the Door on CGI Preliminary Injunction

garagedoorThe Chamberlain Group (CGI) v. TechTronic Indus. (Fed. Cir. 2017) (non-precedential opinion)

Following on the heel of the Federal Circuit’s approval of preliminary relief in the water balloon case, the court here has reversed a lower court’s preliminary injunction – finding its claim construction error led the district court to incorrectly conclude that the patentee (CGI) was likely to prevail on the merits.

Since a preliminary injunction is ordinarily awarded well before any final judgment on the merits, nobody actually knows which side will win the case.  Because of the powerful nature of injunctive relief, the courts have long required that the party seeking relief to at least prove that it will likely win the case.  Although termed a “factor” in the four factor analysis, it is actually a necessary element that must be proven before relief will be granted.  “The movant must establish both “likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm” for the court to grant a preliminary injunction.”

The CGI patent here covers a garage door opener that transmits status-information. Whereas most garage doors are operated by a single “go” trigger, the improvement here might have one button for “up” and another for “down.”   The patent claims are broad enough to include any sort of status-information (light on, auxiliary power on, etc.).  U.S. Patent 7,224,275.  Claim 1:

1. A movable barrier operator comprising:

a controller having a plurality of potential operational status conditions defined, at least in part, by a plurality of operating states;

a movable barrier interface that is operably coupled to the controller;

a wireless status condition data transmitter that is operably coupled to the controller, wherein the wireless status condition data transmitter transmits a status condition signal that: corresponds to a present operational status condition defined, at least in part, by at least two operating states from the plurality of operating states; and comprises an identifier that is at least relatively unique to the movable barrier operator, such that the status condition signal substantially uniquely identifies the movable barrier operator.

Although a preliminary injunction determination is reviewed with deference, any underlying claim construction is reviewed de novo on appeal.  Here, the appellate panel found that the lower court had too narrowly construed the term “controller” by requiring that it be a “self-aware controller.”  Easy decision by the court since the specification was clear that the controller need not be self-aware:

Depending upon the needs of the setting, the controller can be self-aware of such operational status conditions (as when, for example, the controller is aware that it has switched a given ambient light fixture on or off) or the controller can be provided with externally developed information regarding the condition.

In addition, at least one of the dependent claims required that the controller be provided its ‘state’ information from an external sensor.

With the broader construction, the Federal Circuit remanded to consider whether the presented prior art creates an invalidity problem.  Reminder here – it was the patentee who wanted the narrow claim construction in order to avoid prior art problems and the broad claim language (permitted by the PTO) that created trouble.

Depending upon what happens below, the patentee may instead try to narrow these claims as part of a reissue application.


A sideline issue in the case involved the Federal Circuit’s aggressive undermining of Teva v. Sandoz.  That Supreme Court decision requires that the Federal Circuit give deference to lower court’s factual findings on appeal. “Federal Circuit judges lack the tools that district courts have available to resolve factual disputes fairly and accurately such as questioning the experts.” Teva quoting Judge O’Malley.

In their briefs, both parties agreed that the district court relied upon factual evidence in the form of expert testimony (from both sides) for its claim construction conclusions.  However, the order apparently does not follow Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 52(a), by separately finding facts and stating conclusions of law butu instead “mingled factual and legal conclusions with no distinction between the two.” (patentee brief).

Contradicting both parties, the Federal Circuit on appeal held that it need not give any deference to any of the district court conclusions since “there is no indication that the district court made any factual findings that underlie its construction.”

Unfortunately, the district court order is under seal and therefore not available. As such, we cannot know who is right in this instance. Update: I found a redacted version of the district court opinion in the appendix filed to the Federal Circuit. [cgi_appendix]  In its claim construction, the court repeatedly refers to and relies upon competing expert testimony, but doesn’t appear to make any straight-up factual findings.  I have to think about my – conclusion here, but I have crossed-out the “aggressive” undermining from above.

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:

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.


My Letter to the USPTO About Duty of Candor Amendments



Dear Mr. Sked:

I write solely in my personal capacity as someone who advises patent practitioners on ethical issues and litigates patent cases.  These views are not those of my employer or my clients.

I have one broad concern and several more specific ones.

The USPTO Should Interpret the Patent Act Correctly and not Give False Security to Practitioners. 

            At a broad level, I agree uniformity is a good thing.  However, there will not be uniformity because of the different claim constructions given in litigation than in proceedings before the Office. I also agree with the USPTO that it need not follow the Federal Circuit’s definition of materiality (or anything else) from Therasense. However, it seems incongruous for the agency, as the entity charged by Congress with implementing the Patent Act, to adopt a definition that it rejected. Given than uniformity will not exist, what does the USPTO believe is required by the Patent Act of applicants?

More troublesome, however, is the real likelihood that the narrow definitions from Therasense will be rejected by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court has in recent years routinely rejected the Federal Circuit’s rigid, cabined interpretations of the Patent Act.  While no one knows what the future holds, today’s practitioner’s conduct may be judged by a more stringent standard than suggested in Therasense and proposed here. That has happened with eligibility, obviously.  Given that the Supreme Court could hold that the Patent Act requires more than avoiding intentionally obtaining a patent that you know you shouldn’t get, and given that that interpretation will likely be applied to all issued patents, and given the USPTO’s statement that it hopes that the new definition will result in less disclosure, one can see a trap for the unwary practitioner.  This may give practitioners a false sense of security.

My more specific comments relate primarily to “who” is covered by these rules.  They don’t make sense.

Rule 1.56 Makes Sense as to Who is Covered; Rule 1.555 Does Not.

As written, Rule 1.56 applies to “[e]ach individual associated with the filing and prosecution of a patent application,” and is further narrowed by subsection (c) which requires “substantive involvement.”  The rule ties the individual to substantive involvement in prosecution or filing.

Rule 1.555, in contrast, is (I think) unintentionally broad.  It states that the duty is owed by “the patent owner, each attorney or agent who represents the patent owner, and every other individual who is substantively involved on behalf of the patent owner.”  The way this is worded, every attorney and other person “associated with” the patent owner must disclose material information, even if the person has no involvement whatsoever in the reexamination. I believe if the sentence were written much like 1.56(c) is, this would clear this up: “The persons who owe a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to them to be material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding are every person who is substantively involved in the reexamination and who is associated with the patent owner, including each attorney or agent who represents the patent owner in the proceeding.”

            Who, in Both Rules, can Commit “Affirmative Egregious Misconduct?”

             The amendment to Rule 1.555 seems to limit who can commit “affirmative egregious misconduct” to the patent owner and those who act “on behalf of” the patent owner.  Rule 1.56 is not so limited, and is also written in the passive voice.

These differences and wordings raise three questions.

First, as noted above, the definition for reexamination would seem to allow for a patent to be held unenforceable due to conduct by every person “associated with” a patent owner, whether that person was involved in the reexamination, or not.  Granted, it likely won’t be affirmative egregious misconduct if the person wasn’t involved, but having a clear definition may help.

Second, under Rule 1.555, can someone other than “the patent owner, each attorney or agent who represents the patent owner, and every other individual who is substantively involved on behalf of the patent owner” in a reexamination commit affirmative egregious misconduct?  Presumably so; but is that the intent of the Office? Again, the comment in the prior paragraph may make this an academic point, but the way the rule is worded the person doesn’t need to be substantively involved in prosecution (and, as noted above, presumably substantive involvement is what was intended).

Third, when read in pari materia, Rule 1.56 is broader than Rule 1.555, since Rule 1.56’s “affirmative egregious misconduct” prong is not limited in the same way as Rule 1.555.  When read together, under Rule 1.56 a person’s conduct can result in non-issuance of a patent even if that person was not acting on behalf of the patent owner.  This seems harsh and unintended.  My suggestion would be to make the two provisions in the different rules have the same scope, and affirmative egregious conduct “by or on behalf of the patent owner” probably is reasonably clear and meaningfully limited in scope.

A Closing Thought:  Uniformity.

In closing, as noted at the outset, uniformity can be a good thing.  To that end, the USPTO has rules that relate to the same general concept – candor and disclosure – but which cover different groups of people. While there may be a policy basis to make the distinctions the rules make, I am not able to guess them.

For example, in addition to the differences discussed above, I note that Section 42.11 – the “rule 11” of IPR — applies to “parties and individuals involved” in an IPR.  Section 42.11 does not require “substantive involvement,” just “involvement.”  Further, because it includes “parties,” it creates the same problem discussed above with respect to Rule 1.555:  everyone who works for a “party” apparently is covered by 42.11, even if that person has nothing to do with the IPR.  As a final example of the varying coverage of these somewhat related rules, Section 42.51(b)(1)(iii) – the obligation in IPR to disclose inconsistent information — requires disclosure by “inventors, corporate officers, and persons involved in the preparation or filing of the documents or things.” Again, substantive involvement is not required, merely “involvement,” but “parties” are not subject to this rule.

It may be helpful to strive toward a single definition in these different rules is my point in closing.  These create practical problems and potential traps and needless litigation.

Glad to provide further information if I can.

Very truly yours,


David Hricik



Default Judgment for Major Discovery Failures

TileTechPatentby Dennis Crouch

United Construction was won on default judgment and was awarded a permanent injunction to bar Tile Tech from ongoing infringement of its U.S. Patent No. 8,302,356.  Although Tile Tech had participated in the case, it had missed many discovery deadlines and had produced only two document – both of which were nonresponsive.  The district court issued an order to comply with a warning that failure to comply would result in default judgment.  Tile Tech did not respond to the order and the court then entered default judgment. (Tile Tech had also destroyed evidence …)

The patent at issue is covers a support pedestal used to secure tiles elevated above a flooring base.  Some folks use these to support a roof-top deck, for instance. (Tile Tech’s Website showing use).

On appeal here the Federal Circuit has affirmed – finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the default judgment (following 9th Circuit law)

Here, the District Court gave ample warning to Tile Tech in its Order to Compel that it would enter default judgment if discovery responses were not forthcoming. . . . The District Court’s opinion demonstrates its thorough consideration of the Malone factors leading to the ultimate decision not to impose lesser sanctions in this case, a decision which we find was not an abuse of discretion. As the District Court explained, “[w]here a party so damages the integrity of the discovery process that there can never be assurance of proceeding on the true facts, a case dispositive [remedy] may be appropriate.”

Quoting Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co. v. New Images of Beverly Hills, 482 F.3d 1091, 1097 (9th Cir. 2007).

The Federal Circuit’s one interpretative change involved a portion of the injunction that barred Tile Tech from using using images of the patentee’s products in “any marketing material.”  This portion of the injunction was not based upon the infringement claim but instead upon the parallel unfair competition claim.  Still, Tile Tech argued that the injunction was over-broad because it would bar legal activities such as competitive advertising where there is no likelihood of confusion. On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed with Tile Tech that such a prohibition would be over broad.  However, instead of amending or vacating the injunction, the Federal Circuit determined that the injunction should simply be narrowly interpreted: “To the extent that in the future Tile Tech’s advertising clearly distinguishes its product from that of United’s in a comparative advertisement, in a way that is not ‘an act of unfair competition,’ we read the injunction to not prohibit such uses.”  With that limitation, the injunction fit within the proper bounds.


Lemley-Oliver-Richardson: Patent Purchases and Litigation Outcomes

The sales market for patent rights continues to vex analysts – especially in terms of valuation. In their Patently-O Patent Law Journal article, Professor Mark Lemley teams up with the Richardson Oliver Group to provide some amount of further guidance.  The article particularly considers how patent litigation outcomes vary according to the identity of the patentee (ownership) and the manner in which the patent was obtained (source).

We analyzed the data based on ownership and source to test our intuitions about how successfully purchased patents can be litigated. The results, especially, when analyzed based on the entity type produced both confirmatory and surprising results. For example, the intuition that companies generally do better with their own patents was confirmed. In contrast, surprisingly, inventor-started companies fared better with purchased patents. Purchasers can use the results of this analysis to inform future modeling and purchase decisions.

Mark A. Lemley, Erik Oliver, Kent Richardson, James Yoon, & Michael Costa, Patent Purchases and Litigation Outcomes, 2016 Patently-O Patent Law Journal 15.

Read the ArticleLemley.2016.PatentMarket

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

  • 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)

Microsoft v. Enfish: Turns Out the Claims Are Obvious

This is a discussion of the new Federal Circuit Decision Microsoft v. Enfish appealing a PTAB final decision.

In the prior parallel decision – Enfish v. Microsoft, 822 F.3d 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2016), the Federal Circuit reversed a district court ruling that Enfish’s asserted software claims were ineligible under § 101 and also vacated the lower court’s holding that some of the claims were invalid as anticipated. U.S. Patent Nos. 6,151,604 and 6,163,775 (inventions relating to a “self-referential” database).

Enfish sued Microsoft for infringement in 2012. In addition to its litigation defenses, Microsoft marshaled a collateral attack on the patents with five petitions with the US Patent Office for inter partes review of the ’604 and ’775 patents.

After instituting review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found some of the patent claims invalid as anticipated/obvious.  On appeal, PTAB factual findings are generally given deference but legal conclusions are reviewed without deference.  After reviewing the claim construction and rejections, the Federal Circuit affirmed in a non-precedential decision.

Collateral Attacks: These collateral attacks work well to cancel patent claims with obviousness arguments that would have been unlikely to be accepted by a trial court or jury.  This is a pointed example here since the previously rejected district court’s judgment was based upon a more simplistic Section 101 analysis that is easier for the Federal Circuit to overturn.

Not Amenable to Construction:  The most interesting aspect of the decision is hidden in a single sentence statement:  “As to claims 1–26 and 30 of both patents—which are not at issue before us—the Board terminated proceedings after concluding that those claims were not amenable to construction.”

In its final judgment, the Board explained that those claims include a means-plus-function element (“means for configuring said memory according to a logical table“) but that no embodiments of the element were provided in the specification.  And, although a person of skill in the art may know how to construct the element, our 112(f) jurisprudence requires embodiments in the specification and does not allow a patentee to “rely on the knowledge of one skilled in the art to address the deficiencies” See Function Media, LLC v. Google Inc., 708 F.3d 1310 (Fed. Cir. 2013).  The statute states permits means-plus-function claims but also provides a guide for narrowly construing those claims.

35 U.S.C. 112(f) ELEMENT IN CLAIM FOR A COMBINATION.—An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.

In both patent prosecution and district court litigation, failure to properly disclose structural embodiments for a means-plus-function limitation results in the claim being held invalid as indefinite since the limitation’s scope cannot be properly construed.  In the inter partes review situation, however, the Board’s power is limited to cancelling patents on novelty or obviousness grounds.  As such, the Board simply terminated the IPR trial with respect to these non-construable claims. The Board writes:

In the circumstance when the specification of the challenged patent lacks sufficient disclosure of structure under 35 U.S.C. § 112, sixth paragraph, the scope of the claims cannot be determined without speculation and, consequently, the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art cannot be ascertained. For the reasons given, we determine that independent claims 1, 11, and 15 are not amenable to construction and, thus, we terminate this proceeding with respect to claims 1, 11, and 15 under 37 C.F.R. § 42.72.

[PTAB Final Decision].

No Appeal of Termination: Neither party appealed the termination, although the Federal Circuit previously held that its appellate jurisdiction over these cases is limited to appeals of “final written decision[s] with respect to the patentability of any patent claim challenged by the petitioner …”  A termination decision was seen as essentially an extension of the institution decision that is not itself appealable.


Of course, the original Federal Enfish decision mentioned above also addressed this indefiniteness issue and held that the claims were not indefinite because sufficient structure was disclosed — holding that the scant description was adequate because “the sufficiency of the structure is viewed through the lens of a person of skill in the art and without need to ‘disclose structures well known in the art.’  I guess that this means that those claims are OK.

USPTO Proposed to Revise Rule 56

by David Hricik [Originally published on Nov 1]

The announcement is here.  I will be submitting comments before the 12/27 deadline, and so if you have any ideas or thoughts, please post away.  The proposed amendment include responses to comments made back in 2011 when the USPTO was initially pondering this, and the proposed rule now reads:

(a) A patent by its very nature is affected with a public interest. The public interest is best served, and the most effective patent examination occurs when, at the time an application is being examined, the Office is aware of and evaluates the teachings of all information material to patentability. Each individual associated with the filing and prosecution of a patent application has a duty of candor and good faith in dealing with the Office, which includes a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to that individual to be material to patentability under the but-for materiality standard as defined in paragraph (b) of this section. The duty to disclose information exists with respect to each pending claim until the claim is cancelled or withdrawn from consideration or the application becomes abandoned. Information material to the patentability of a claim that is cancelled or withdrawn from consideration need not be submitted if the information is not material to the patentability of any claim remaining under consideration in the application. There is no duty to submit information which is not material to the patentability of any existing claim. The duty to disclose all information known to be material to patentability is deemed to be satisfied if all information known to be material to patentability of any claim issued in a patent was cited by the Office or submitted to the Office in the manner prescribed by §§ 1.97(b) through (d) and 1.98. However, no patent will be granted on an application in connection with which affirmative egregious misconduct was engaged in, fraud on the Office was practiced or attempted, or the duty of disclosure was violated through bad faith or intentional misconduct. The Office encourages applicants to carefully examine:

(1) Prior art cited in search reports of a foreign patent office in a counterpart application, and

(2) The closest information over which individuals associated with the filing or prosecution of a patent application believe any pending claim patentably defines, to make sure that any material information contained therein is disclosed to the Office.

(b) Information is but-for material to patentability if the Office would not allow a claim if the Office were aware of the information, applying the preponderance of the evidence standard and giving the claim its broadest reasonable construction consistent with the specification.

* * * * *
■ 3. Section 1.555 is amended by revising paragraphs (a) and (b) to read as follows:

§ 1.555 Information material to patentability in ex parte reexamination and inter partes reexamination proceedings.

(a) A patent by its very nature is affected with a public interest. The public interest is best served, and the most effective reexamination occurs when, at the time a reexamination proceeding is being conducted, the Office is aware of and evaluates the teachings of all information material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding. Each individual associated with the patent owner in a reexamination proceeding has a duty of candor and good faith in dealing with the Office, which includes a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to that individual to be material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding under the but-for materiality standard as defined in paragraph (b) of this section. The individuals who have a duty to disclose to the Office all information known to them to be material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding are the patent owner, each attorney or agent who represents the patent owner, and every other individual who is substantively involved on behalf of the patent owner in a reexamination proceeding. The duty to disclose the information exists with respect to each claim pending in the reexamination proceeding until the claim is cancelled. Information material to the patentability of a cancelled claim need not be submitted if the information is not material to patentability of any claim remaining under consideration in the reexamination proceeding. The duty to disclose all information known to be material to patentability in a reexamination proceeding is deemed to be satisfied if all information known to be material to patentability of any claim in the patent after issuance of the reexamination certificate was cited by the Office or submitted to the Office in an information disclosure statement. However, the duties of candor, good faith, and disclosure have not been complied with if affirmative egregious misconduct was engaged in, any fraud on the Office was practiced or attempted, or the duty of disclosure was violated through bad faith or intentional misconduct by, or on behalf of, the patent owner in the reexamination proceeding. Any information disclosure statement must be filed with the items listed in § 1.98(a) as applied to individuals associated with the patent owner in a reexamination proceeding and should be filed within two months of the date of the order for reexamination or as soon thereafter as possible.

(b) Information is but-for material to patentability if, for any matter proper for consideration in reexamination, the Office would not find a claim patentable if the Office were aware of the information, applying the preponderance of the evidence standard and giving the claim its broadest reasonable construction consistent with the specification.

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Post Sale Exhaustion

by Dennis Crouch

Substantive Patent Law: Newly filed petition in Merck & Cie v. Watson Labs raises a core substantive patent issue – does the on sale bar apply to secret sales? The defendant asks:

Whether the “on sale” bar found in § 102(b) applies only to sales or offers of sale made available to the public, as Congress, this Court, and the United States have all made clear, or whether it also applies to non-public sales or offers of sale, as the Federal Circuit has held.

The Merck petition is focused on pre-AIA patents.  The PTO (and patentees) are arguing more forcefully that the AIA certainly intended to exclude secret sales from the scope of prior art in cases now pending before the Federal Circuit.

The second new substantive patent law case is Google v. Arendi that challenge’s the Federal Circuit’s limitations on the use of common sense in the obviousness analysis.  In its decision, the Federal Circuit limited KSR to combination patents and held that “common sense” cannot be used to supply missing limitations.  Google argues that the Federal Circuit’s approach is contrary to the broad and flexible obviousness analysis required by KSR.  Patentees bristle term “common sense” – they see an overly flexible analysis as providing opportunities to invalidate patents without evidence.  The question: “Did the Federal Circuit err in restricting the Board’s ability to rely on the common sense and common knowledge of skilled artisans to establish the obviousness of patent claims?”

As these new petitions were being filed, the Supreme Court has also denied the pending obviousness, anticipation, and eligibility petitions.  In addition, Cooper v. Square has also been denied.

Civil Procedure: In J&J v. Rembrandt, the defendant J&J won at trial. However, Rembrandt later learned that J&J’s expert had testified falsely and the Federal Circuit ordered the case re-opened under R.60(b)(3) that empowers district courts to revisit final judgments after a showing of “fraud …, misrepresentation, or misconduct by the opposing party.”  The various circuits follow different standards and procedures for analyzing process and J&J has asked the Supreme Court to reconcile these (in its favor).  Another CivPro petition was also filed by Eon Corp that questions whether an appellee needed to file a R.50 JMOL motion to overturn a jury verdict that was based upon a faulty legal conclusion by the district court (here claim construction).  The Question Presented is:

Whether the Federal Circuit erred in ordering entry of judgment as a matter of law on a ground not presented in a Rule 50 motion in the district court, even though the ground presented a purely legal question.

Both J&J and Eon are only marginally patent cases, the core procedure case now pending is TC Heartland that would substantially upset the status quo of patent lawsuit concentration in E.D. Texas. Briefing continues in TC Heartland. In recent weeks a set of seven amici briefs were filed on the top side.

Next week Supreme Court conference includes review of the most likely-to-be-granted petition of Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. that focuses on important questions of post-sale exhaustion of patent rights.  The setup – If I buy a used product that was made and sold by the patentee, do I still need to worry that I might get sued for patent infringement?  The Federal Circuit says yes. The Supreme Court is likely to add some caveats to that.  The US Government (Obama Administration via DOJ) has argued that the case should be reviewed and that the Federal Circuit’s position should be rejected. Both parties then filed supplemental responsive briefs.  Lexmark’s best argument here is that these principles are well settled and that Congress can take on the role of tweaking them if needed.

Upcoming Supreme Court Oral Argument: Life Tech (export of components) set for December 6, 2016.


Construing Claims as of their Effective Filing Date

A short aside from Dennis Crouch

In Phillips v. AWH, the en banc Federal Circuit included an oddball statement regarding PHOSITA perspective in claim construction.  The court wrote that the focus is on the meaning to PHOSITA “at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.”  I call the statement odd because it incorrectly states that the time-of-the-invention is the same as the patent application’s effective-filing-date. The difference can be critical — although word-meaning changes slowly over time, recent invention is an important trigger for rapid definitional change.

Regardless of whether the Phillips statement is correct, going forward for Post-AIA patents, the court should now eliminate “the time of the invention” from its claim construction process.  Under the statute, all of the focus now is on the effective filing date with invention shifted to a mere historic element of the patenting process.

Stepping Back: One problem with any time-of-the-invention analysis is that the traditional legal definition of invention involves a potentially wide temporal expansion.  Remember, invention begins with conception but is not completed until the invention is reduced to practice.  The patent courts added further to this by finding the filing of a patent application to be a constructive reduction to practice that completes the invention process. Because most patent applications are filed prior to a complete reduction to practice, for most patented inventions the time of invention completion is the same as the effective filing date of the patent at issue.


Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at the 2016 AIPLA Luncheon

USPTO Director Michelle Lee offered a set of Remarks at the October 28, 2016 AIPLA Luncheon.  As a presidential appointee, Director Lee is likely nearing the end of her term as USPTO Director.  Although the likely election of fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton suggests a smooth transition that could extend her term beyond January 2017, I expect that she will step-down prior to that point and that Deputy Director Russ Slifer will step-up as Acting Director.

The following are a few snippets from her speech:

Thank you, Denise, for the introduction.  And, good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a real pleasure to be here with you today. I always look forward to the AIPLA annual meeting. In fact, it is the third time I’ve had the honor to speak at this conference. I’m reminded of the first time I spoke at AIPLA, the mid-winter conference in Phoenix, AZ in January 2014. It was literally just a few weeks after I had moved from California to Washington and became acting head of the USPTO. At that conference you all welcomed me to my new role and we began our work together to strengthen and protect the intellectual property system that we know is so critical to our country’s continued economic success.

Almost three years have passed since that meeting, and I find myself honored and humbled every single day to serve in this role and to be a part of an amazing team at the USPTO. I feel it every time I’m at an international conference, seated behind a flag of the United States on the table in front of me, reflecting on how I’m a child of immigrant parents representing the United States of America.  And I feel it today, standing before you, reflecting on just how far the USPTO has come during this Administration.

Today, I’d like to share with you my views of the state of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and how this situates us to meet our future challenges. Back in January 2009, when our President was first sworn into office, the USPTO’s patent application backlog and pendency numbers were at all-time highs. Today, both our backlog and pendencies are now lower than they’ve been in more than a decade, and they continue to go down. That is hardly the only success story. But it’s emblematic of how much the USPTO has charged forward the last eight years, and how strongly it is positioned to face future challenges. This has been a team effort, with incredible work done by my predecessors, Congressional cooperation, the incredibly dedicated and talented staff at the USPTO, and all of you.

Together, we have put the Agency in a spot where we are ready to build on our successes. Today, we are financially more secure thanks to the America Invents Act, a milestone of this Administration, which gave us, among other things, fee setting authority. Additionally, we are more customer-service oriented and more responsive to stakeholder input than ever before. We’ve constantly welcomed—in fact solicited—feedback and input, and are willing to refine and improve where needed. We’ve had more RFC’s, Proposed Rules, and roundtables than ever before–and thank you for your input and patience responding to each. Whether you gave feedback on our EPQI, our 101 guidance, our PTAB implementation and refinements, and/or our transparency of patent ownership proposal, your input has been valuable.

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 over a dozen IP attaches across the globe. And, we’ve worked to provide you with more access to examiner interviews by training and promoting their benefits internally at the USPTO and externally, leading to an increase of 232% more interviewing hours in just eight years.

Finally, and importantly, the USPTO’s relationships with all of its partners is healthier and stronger than ever before–that’s with our users, our employees, our unions, Congress, and within the Administration. I want to take a brief moment on this topic, because I really do believe it is key to the Agency’s success – past and future. Thinking back to even just 10 years ago [under Jon Dudas], the relationship with our users was nowhere near as collaborative, transparent, or productive as it is today. The Agency often didn’t seek much public input on examiner guidance or implementation rules, and interviews weren’t encouraged as they are today. Together, we have changed that dynamic.

Second, we’ve strengthened our working relationship with our employees. All told, we have enjoyed some of the highest rankings in the Partnership for Public Service’s list of Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. And we all know, an engaged workforce produces better work product and services for all of you. Over the last eight years, our attrition rate has reduced significantly to the point where we compete favorably with some top companies in the private sector. Also, we’ve developed a productive relationship with our unions, allowing us to make better and faster improvements in important areas such as our production count system, patent quality, and our telework program.

We have also maintained a healthy working relationship with Congress on both policy proposals and operational issues. From the passage of AIA, to the Defend Trade Secrets Act, to technical assistance on various legislative proposals, we have engaged with our colleagues on the Hill in impactful ways and the USPTO’s voice is a respected one.

Finally, the USPTO is effectively fulfilling its role as principal advisor to the President and Administration on IP policy. I’ve been pleased with the confidence the President and the Secretary of Commerce have shown my team and I, allowing us to pursue policies and programs in the best interest of our innovators. All of this: the greater financial security, the increased customer service orientation and responsiveness, and  the better relationships with all of our stakeholders, has enabled us to make real progress on our priorities, and positions us for even greater success going forward.

There is strong evidence of this in a number of important areas, including patent backlog and pendencies, quality and policy. During this Administration, we have: Reduced the backlog of unexamined patent applications by ~30%, despite an average ~4% year-over-year increase in filings. Reduced our first action pendency by ~38% to 16.2 months, and reduced total pendency by ~25% to 25.3 months. This is due to numerous actions taken by the USPTO leadership team and my predecessors, and the hard work of our examining corps, and we will continue to do more.

Armed with greater finances and a shrinking backlog, we embarked on an unprecedented effort to enhance the quality of patents – a core goal of the Agency. There is a cost to society when the USPTO issues a patent that we should not issue, just as there is a cost to society when we don’t issue a patent that should issue. And just as there is a cost to society when there is a patent in the system that properly issued, but that may no longer be valid due to changes in the case law. Recognizing this, we have enhanced the quality of patents in our system, both before they leave our office through our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (led by a new Deputy Commissioner and a newly created department within the Patents organization solely focused on this effort); and after the patents return to the office through our PTAB and other post grant review proceedings (which double check the Office’s work and allow reconsideration in light of evolving case law or newly discovered prior art).

Addressing the second prong first, the new PTAB proceedings have significantly changed the patent landscape. With over 5,000 PTAB petitions now filed, we have one of the busiest dockets in the country. These proceedings are meeting our Congressional mandate of providing a faster, more cost efficient quality check on the patents in the system. With extensive input from all of you, we have worked hard to implement and conduct these proceedings as fairly and efficiently as possible. That’s why I asked my team to engage the public in a series of listening tours that led to a set of “quick fixes” in 2015 and then more substantive revised rules last April. That’s also why we took it upon ourselves to assess the frequency of motions to amend and the reasons for their grants or denial.  We’re applying your input to identify where we can do better. These PTAB proceedings have proven themselves a valuable check on patent quality, particularly in the later part of a patent’s lifecycle.

At this point, it makes sense to bring greater resources to bear if there are questions about a patent’s validity. The economics are different at the beginning of a patent’s lifecycle. The value of a patent is often not fully known at time of filing (perhaps due to the nascency of the technology, industry and/or market), and the time and resources afforded during examination are typically limited. Innovation isn’t served if the USPTO strives to issue very expensive, “bullet-proof” patents after many years of examination. Extensive time and expense would mean that innovators would file too few patent applications, given finite budgets. The purpose of the patent system—to incentivize disclosures to advance the progress of science and the useful arts—would be defeated because too few disclosures would be made. If over time the industry and the market determine that a piece of patented technology is valuable and the public believes it is not valid under current law or newly discovered art, then there is an economic incentive to expend greater resources to test the validity of the patent. And a panel of technically trained judges steeped in patent law is well-suited to perform this double-check quickly and efficiently.  In short, to best incentivize innovation. The USPTO needs to issue IP rights that are as certain, reliable and affordable as they can reasonably be, and offer post-grant proceedings that quickly, accurately and cost-effectively test the validity of certain patents proven to be of economic importance if questions of validity arise.

With all of that said, it is essential that these post-grant proceedings are properly calibrated so that they provide a quality check but do not bar deserving patentees from enforcing their patent rights. It’s why some protections in the AIA are so important, such as restrictions on timing of challenges, thresholds petitioners must meet for institution, and strict estoppel provisions. It’s also why the Agency is committed to revising our rules as many times as needed so these proceedings are as fair and effective as possible within our Congressional mandate. It’s why it is critical, within this framework, the USPTO issue the very best quality patents possible. Patents that are issued correctly in accordance with the law, that are clear providing notice to the public of the patent’s boundaries, and that are issued consistently across the Patent Examination Corps. And, it’s why I launched the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative in 2015, so patent owners can have greater confidence and certainty of their rights in this new environment. Today, we’ve got about a dozen initiatives underway that, we believe, will meaningfully move the needle on enhancing patent quality. This includes making sure we’re getting the most relevant prior art before our examiners as early as possible by: leveraging technology, making prior art cited in our PTAB proceedings available to the examiner handling a related pending child application, and transitioning our entire patent examination corps from the decades old, antiquated U.S. Patent Classification System to the updated, increasingly global Cooperative Patent Classification System. It also includes drilling down on best practices (such as clarity of the record) during examination coupled with targeted training. Developing new and better ways to measure our progress, like our Master Review Form and new Quality Metrics. And, providing a new after-final procedure that offers applicants the opportunity to make a presentation before a panel and receive a detailed write-up of the panel’s decision that  might resolve an issue without going to appeal, or even result in the application being allowed.

So, this is what we’re doing at a high level. But I’d like to share more specifics about one of our flagship programs—our “Clarity of the Record Initiative”–and some of the great progress we have been making on our Clarity of the Record pilot program. The goal of this program is to develop best practices on how much detail to include in certain key parts of the prosecution record, for example: Interview summaries, or reasons for allowance, or construction of 112(f) limitations. Regarding interview summaries: How many times have you reviewed a file history, noted the patent rejected and then seen the patent allowed after an examiner interview with minimal or no changes to the claims and little or no explanation for the allowance? In this pilot, we worked to provide more detailed summaries including the substance of the examiner’s position, details of any agreement reached, and a description of next steps following the interview. After the pilot concluded, we measured 22 data points focused on clarity, and found an average of 15% improvement in clarity between the pilot examiners and a control group.

On reasons for allowance: How many times have you reviewed a prosecution history, and there is nothing in the record to indicate why the claims were allowed by the examiner? Because it is at the discretion of the individual examiner to set forth reasons for allowance, those reasons have not always been included in every Notice of Allowance. As part of this pilot, participants were trained on setting forth reasons for allowance in every Notice of Allowance. At the conclusion of the pilot, we found a 25% improvement in the clarity of reasons for allowance between the pilot examiners and a control group. Through the pilot, we also found the following practices significantly improved overall clarity addressing each independent claim separately, particularly identifying the applicant’s persuasive arguments (wherever they may be in the record), and identifying the specific allowable subject matter of the claim rather than merely reciting the entire claim as the basis for allowance. This pilot also helped us review the best practices around claim interpretation.

On claim interpretation:  How many times have you seen a prosecution record where there was clearly an issue about how a claim was interpreted, but the record was devoid of any explanation of the claim’s interpretation? In the pilot, the examiners were given training on explicitly setting forth key claim interpretations to minimize ambiguities. For example: Explaining all Section 112(f) presumptions and whether the presumptions were overcome, identifying on the record the structure in the specification that performs the function, and when a prior art reference is used to reject multiple claims, clearly addressing specific limitations in each claim that provide the basis for the rejection.

With our trainings on interview summaries, reasons for allowance and claim interpretations, we saw a statistically significant improvement in clarity when examiners used these best practices. Perhaps the most telling indicator of progress from this pilot is that when these pilot examiners were examining applications not included in the pilot program, they continued to apply the pilot’s best practices. This is a strong indication of the success of our training. Also, the clarity of the record initiative furthers the goal of compact prosecution by encouraging the applicant to rebut the examiner’s on-the-record position promptly and directly if there is disagreement. In short, we are already taking steps to clarify the record and you will see our examiners doing so increasingly over time.

Of course, patent quality also means applying the law accurately and clearly even in areas of the law that are evolving. Including, for example, the 101 jurisprudence on what is patent eligible subject matter. As many of you know, we’ve spent a fair amount of effort on this in recent years. Following major court rulings, we’ve revised our examination guidance, with input from all of you, multiple times and trained our examiners on the new guidance. Based upon input from our stakeholders, we also introduced training focused on clear drafting of 101 rejections and subsequent responses. And, we just announced in a Federal Register Notice two roundtables focused exclusively on the topic of patent eligible subject matter. At the first roundtable, we will discuss potential updates to our examination guidance, and at the second roundtable, we will discuss the impact of the current 101 jurisprudence on innovation, what changes might be considered to further support innovation, and whether such changes are best achieved legislatively, judicially or administratively. We thought it would be helpful to begin the public discussion, to create a record of where there is agreement or disagreement and what, if any, need for improvement. We welcome your participation on this important and complex issue.

As I hope you can see from this quick run-down of our initiatives, we are very excited about EPQI! It is an ambitious effort that is yielding results now and will yield many more in the long run. To learn more about our EPQI progress to date, please join us— mark your calendars—on December 13, at the USPTO, where we will spend a good part of the day sharing details of the results of each of the dozen or so EPQI.  We think you will like what you hear.

Turning now to some of our policy and other accomplishments over the course of this Administration, thanks to the AIA, we can now engage more directly with innovators—through our regional patent offices in Detroit, Denver, Silicon Valley, and Dallas. As you know, I started my tenure in public service as the Director of the Silicon Valley Regional Office. Having had the opportunity to help define the vision of these Offices, and stand up three of the four regional offices, I am very proud of this legacy to our IP system that will endure for generations to come. I’ve always said that, one day when my daughter is old enough, I can point to the Silicon Valley Regional Office in our hometown and say, “Your mom had a hand in opening that office.” And I’d feel very proud about my contribution to our community and society for that. Through these offices, we powerfully expand our ability to educate regional innovators about intellectual property and help small and large businesses and inventors directly access a wider range of services offered by the USPTO.

Additionally, one of the great privileges serving as head of the America’s Innovation Agency is that it is my job to increase opportunities and awareness about STEM, invention and intellectual property and, to me, this means across all geographic regions of this great country of ours and across all demographics. For example, when fewer than 15% of U.S. based inventors listed on a patent are women, it’s clear that we are leaving valuable inventive talent behind. This is something we cannot afford, especially as our companies cannot hire the technical talent they need, and  they are asking Congress to change our immigration laws to provide more flexibility in our visa and immigration system to ensure we can hire the best talent here in the U.S. We have the power to change this. We’ve called this our “All in STEM” campaign—and, true to the complex nature of the problem—it’s a multifaceted approach, including increasing awareness of the issue;

Getting girls interested in science, invention and IP early through efforts like our Girl Scout IP Patch and retaining and supporting women in STEM fields by mentoring, training and simply highlighting the female success stories through social media and inventors baseball trading cards for distribution to our school-aged children, so all our kids can see themselves as inventors! It’s not just a social imperative, it’s an economic imperative as we look compete in an increasingly global and competitive environment. 

And, it is no less an economic imperative to ensure that intellectual property beyond patents is properly calibrated to support creativity and entrepreneurship. We’ve advocated for significant modernizations of copyright law, beginning with our Green and White Papers on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy, where we made in the White Paper legislative recommendations on reforms to statutory damages for copyrights. We completed two historic copyright treaties and sent ratification packages to Congress—One on facilitating access to published works by the visually impaired, and another to expand copyrights for actors in audiovisual works.

On Trademarks, we’ve taken steps to improve the efficiency of our operations by adopting policies to encourage electronic filings of trademark applications which permitted fee reductions; and introducing the first major overhaul of rules at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board since 2007, and I was pleased to recently join the President in the Oval Office when he signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which created a new federal civil cause of action for trade secrets This provided much needed, additional protections to innovators of today, in an environment where confidential business information can be quickly transported or emailed over state—or international—lines. While modern trade secret protection is essential, we are mindful that inventors need to be able to have the choice to instead disclose their invention in exchange for the exclusivity guaranteed by a patent—through reliable patent protection here and abroad.

As many of you know, there’s an entire department at the USPTO devoted to this very mission, complemented by IP attachés stationed in about a dozen countries across the globe. With this team, I have frequently represented the USPTO abroad, helping to ensure that a strong and equitable IP system does not stop at our nation’s borders.  One such trip—to China in 2015—stands out in my mind, both because of the importance of promoting strong IP rights in the second largest economy in the world, and because I experienced, on a personal level, the depth of opportunity offered by our country. As I articulated our positions on these critical IP policy issues with the Vice Premier in Zhongnanhai, Beijing, the central headquarters for the Chinese government, I thought for a moment of my parents back home in the Bay Area. When they bravely left their homeland in China to move to the United States to build a new life, did they ever imagine their daughter would one day be in such a meeting, in such a role? They understood America is the land for those willing to work hard and embrace its values.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of having many great opportunities over the last three years while leading the USPTO, and, I’ve capitalized on those opportunities for the benefit of innovators because, each and every day, I’ve been able to count on an amazing team of public servants at the USPTO working hard to best serve all of you. I firmly believe that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is healthy, well-functioning and poised to successfully handle whatever challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

Our issues are important, complex and nuanced. And while not everyone will always agree with all that the Agency does, we are well prepared to work together and with all of you to accomplish our top priorities and successfully address the challenges ahead. So, thank you for all your help. And thank you for all I know you will continue to do to ensure that our greatest inventions are yet to come.

Although Functionally Claimed, Court Imports Structural Limitations from Specification

by Dennis Crouch – Note, the prevailing party here (Merck & Co.) is represented in this case by MBHB Partner Dan Boehnen. MBHB is a major sponsor of Patently-O.

ProFoot v. Merck & Co. (Fed. Cir. 2016)

This case offers a straightforward narrowing claim construction analysis involving the ProFoot’s patented method of fitting shoe inserts.  U.S. Patent No. 6,845,568.  The decision also lays traps for prosecutors hoping for implicitly broad claims. 

After a narrowing claim construction, the plaintiff stipulated that Merck’s Dr. Scholl’s process did not infringe and the case was dismissed.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed in a nonprecedential opinion.

The claim construction process looks to provide additional meaning and context to the expressly stated claims.  The approach is to look for how a personal of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the application filing date would have interpreted the claim language.  In this process, Phillips v. AWH indicates that the primary sources for interpretation are the intrinsic documents: the patent document (the single best guide) and the prosecution history (a helpful additional resource).  When appealed, the Federal Circuit reviews claim construction determinations de novo while giving deference to underlying factual findings.

Here, the claimed insert-fitting method include use of a “neutralizer” that is used to place a customer’s ankle in a “neutral position.”  Following the Markman process, the district court construed the “neutralizer” according to how it was described in the specification — requiring a housing, protractor, and angular-adjustable foot plate.  On appeal, ProFoot argued that the district court improperly imported elements of the specification to limit the claims and that the claimed neutralizer does not require those specific components.  Rather, according to ProFoot, a neutralizer should be defined based upon its functional ability rather than any particular physical elements.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected ProFoot’s broad-construction argument — holding that “when read in the context of the [asserted] patent, this term requires a device that includes these components.”  To reach this conclusion the court started with claim language that require a user to step on the neutralizer (claim 1 requires “place right foot on a neutralizer”) and to use the neutralizer to measure an angle.  Looking to the specification, the court found that the patentee had described “only two embodiments of the neutralizer” – and both embodiments required all of the components found in the claim construction in ways that are consistent with the requirements of the claims.

Although the appellate panel found that evidence from the specification was sufficient to support the district court ruling, it also noted that the prosecution history of the parent application offered additional support. The prosecution history story goes as follows: the claimed neutralizer was not found in the originally filed claim set but was added during prosecution with an express claim requirement that the neutralizer include the physical elements (housing, protractor, etc.). Although the physical components are not included in the child application, the court noted that the patentee never  indicated that it intended the child-patent neutralizer to be any different from the parent-patent neutralizer.  ProFoot made the claim-differentiation argument here – the child application does not include the express limitations that are included in the parent and therefore should be seen as broader.  The court rejected that argument as not providing any further information as to what the inventor understood “neutralizer” to include.  I the inventor had thought the word should be interpreted differently in the two cases “he could have said so explicitly or revised the [asserted] patent to include other, broader embodiments of the neutralizer.”

One question that I have here involves the court’s use of prosecution history as providing “evidence of the inventor’s understanding of neutralizer.”  The court has previously held that inventor’s understanding of claim meaning is not directly relevant to claim construction.  Rather, the focus is on the objective meaning understood by someone of ordinary skill in the art.

= = = =

ProFoot’s Claim 1.

A method of fitting an individual with right and left foot inserts which place the ankles of the individual in a neutral position comprising the steps of:

for creating a right foot insert, having the individual place the right foot on a neutralizer while elevating the left foot off of the neutralizer;

using the neutralizer to determine the angle necessary to place the right ankle in a neutral position;

providing an insert having an angle which represents the neutral state for the right ankle;

for creating a left foot insert, having the individual place the left foot on a neutralizer while elevating the right foot off of the neutralizer;

using the neutralizer to determine the angle necessary to place the left ankle in a neutral position; and

providing an insert having an angle which represents the neutral state for the left ankle.

November Patent Quality Forum Series

The USPTO continues to move forward with its Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) and is hosting a set of five Quality Forum events over the next month in DC, Milwaukee, KC, Baton Rouge, and Portland. [Link]  See you soon!

Particular initiatives being discussed include:

  • Post-Prosecution Pilot: This ongoing pilot is part of the PTO’s continued search for compact-prosecution mechanisms.  After final rejection, the patentee offers a 5-page argument and then participates in a 20-minute conference with a panel of three examiners who then offer a written opinion.
  • Post Grant Outcomes Pilot: This pilot is now being implemented office wide and basically makes sure that AIA Trial Proceedings (including applicant arguments and submitted prior art) are given to examiners handling pending related applications.
  • Stakeholder Training on Examination Practice and Procedure: The training program is for non-examiners on patent office practice. Looks awesome – and would be exceptionally helpful for someone studying for the bar exam.
  • Clarity of the Record Pilot: Looking primarily for clear claim construction statements and also clear information provided in interview summaries


TC Heartland Law Professor Amicus Brief

In TC Heartland, the accused infringer has asked the Supreme Court to reset the law of venue and give effect to the statutory statement that infringement actions be brought either (1) “in the judicial district where the defendant resides” or (2)” where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  28 U.S.C. § 1400(b).   In its 1957 Fourco decision, the Supreme Court affirmatively answered this question.  However, Fourco has been undermined by subsequent Federal Circuit decisions.  Thus, the question presented again is the same as what was originally asked in Fourco: “Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) is the sole and exclusive provision governing venue in patent infringement actions and is not to be supplemented by 28 U.S.C. § 1391(c).”

From a policy perspective, the case is seen as a vehicle for defendants who do not like being sued in the Eastern District of Texas and into more venues perceived as more defendant friendly.

A group of 50+ law and economics professors led by Mark Lemley, Colleen Chien, Brian Love, and Arti Rai have filed an important brief in support of the TC Heartland petition that I have copied below.  Their position is (1) the Federal Circuit has erred on interpreting the law; and (2) the permissive venue result has fueled many of the problems of our patent system.

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Amici are 53 professors and researchers of law and economics at universities throughout the United States. We have no personal interest in the outcome of this case, but a professional interest in seeing patent law develop in a way that encourages innovation and creativity as efficiently as possible.


28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) provides that a defendant in a patent case may be sued where the defendant is incorporated or has a regular and established place of business and has infringed the patent. This Court made clear in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 223 (1957), that those were the only permissible venues for a patent case.  But the Federal Circuit has rejected Fourco and the plain meaning of § 1400(b), instead permitting a patent plaintiff to file suit against a defendant anywhere there is personal jurisdiction over that defendant.  The result has been rampant forum shopping, particularly by patent trolls. 44% of 2015 patent lawsuits were filed in a single district: the Eastern District of Texas, a forum with plaintiff-friendly rules and practices, and where few of the defendants are incorporated or have established places of business.  And an estimated 86% of 2015 patent cases were filed somewhere other than the jurisdictions specified in the statute. Colleen V. Chien & Michael Risch, Recalibrating Patent Venue, Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-1 (Sept. 1, 2016), Table 3. This Court should grant certiorari to review the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) because the Federal Circuit’s dubious interpretation of the statute plays an outsized and detrimental role, both legally and economically, in the patent system.


1. The Federal Circuit’s Expansive and Incorrect Interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) Allows Patentholders to Sue Anywhere in the Nation

Section 48 of the Judiciary Act of 1897 limited jurisdiction in patent cases to districts that the defendant inhabited or had a place of business and committed infringing acts. Act of March 3, 1897, c. 395, 29 Stat. 695. In 1942, this Court confirmed that “Congress did not intend the Act of 1897 to dovetail with the general provisions relating to the venue of civil suits, but rather that it alone should control venue in patent infringement proceedings.” Stonite Prods. Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561, 563 (1942).

In 1948, Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), specifying that “patent venue is proper in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” In 1957, this Court confirmed that patent venue should not be interpreted with reference to the general jurisdiction statute, holding that “28 U.S.C. 1400(b) . . . is the sole and exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions, and that it is not to be supplemented by the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 1391(c).” Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 223 (1957).

In 1990, the Federal Circuit declined to apply this Court’s longstanding precedent and decided that the general venue statute should define interpretation of the patent venue statute.  It made this decision on the basis of a ministerial change Congress made in 1988 to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F.2d 1574, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1990). That statutory language changed the wording in 28 U.S.C. § 1391, from defining residence “for venue purposes” to defining residence “for purposes of venue under this chapter.” There was no indication that Congress intended this change to impact the patent venue statute.

The Federal Circuit’s conclusion that Congress’s ministerial change overruled this Court’s longstanding precedent is incorrect for at least two reasons.  First, it violates fundamental rules of statutory construction.  It is well-established that Congress “does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions—it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes.” Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 468 (2001) (citing MCI Telecomm. Corp. v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 512 U.S. 218, 231 (1994); FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 159-60 (2000)).

Second, the Federal Circuit’s interpretation renders the second half of § 1400(b) largely superfluous.  That section provides:

Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.

The term “resides” in § 1400(b) must mean something different than having “a regular and established place of business.” Otherwise, there would have been no reason to include both provisions in the venue statute, or to link them through the disjunctive term “or.”  In Brunette, this Court, interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1391(d), confirmed that where a corporation “resides” is where it is incorporated. Brunette Mach. Works v. Kockum Indus., 406 U.S. 706, n.2 (1972).

Instead of parsing § 1400(b) carefully, the Federal Circuit has chosen to read the § 1391(c)(2) definition of corporate residence for general venue purposes into the specific patent venue provision.  In relevant part, § 1391(c)(2) provides that corporate defendants:

shall be deemed to reside . . . in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question . . . .

For patent infringement cases, the relevant aspect of personal jurisdiction is typically specific jurisdiction, which focuses on whether the defendant’s suit-related conduct establishes a “substantial connection” with the judicial forum in question.  Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115, 1121 (2014).  But a corporation will have established a suit-related “substantial connection” with, and thus be subject to jurisdiction in, any district in which it “has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” So the Federal Circuit’s decision to read the § 1391(c) definition of “resid[ing]” into § 1400(b) renders the second half of the latter section superfluous as to corporations, a category which includes virtually all patent defendants.  A judicial reading that renders half of a statutory provision superfluous is strongly disfavored.  United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 131 S.Ct. 2313, 2330 (2011) (“‘As our cases have noted in the past, we are hesitant to adopt an interpretation of a congressional enactment which renders superfluous another portion of that same law.’” (quoting Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Serv., Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 837 (1988))); Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, 515 U.S. 687, 698 (1995) (noting “[a] reluctance to treat statutory terms as surplusage”).

The Federal Circuit’s expansive, and we believe incorrect, interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) effectively allows patent owners to file suit in any federal district where an allegedly infringing product is sold.  In re TC Heartland, LLC, No. 2016-105, at 10 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 29, 2016) (holding that jurisdiction is proper in a patent suit “where a nonresident defendant purposefully shipped accused products into the forum through an established distribution channel and the cause of action for patent infringement was alleged to arise out of those activities”).  The widespread availability of products over the internet means, in effect, that patentholders can bring their suits in any district in any state in the country.

2. Permissive Venue has Fueled and Enabled Forum Shopping and Selling, Patent Trolls, and Case Concentration

The Federal Circuit’s expansive interpretation of 28 U.S.C. §1400(b) has harmed the patent system in three distinct ways. It has led to forum selling and forum shopping, it has contributed to the growth of opportunistic patent litigation by patent trolls, and it has led to undue case concentration.

Patent lawyers today spend a great deal of time figuring out the best districts in which to file patent cases, and for good reason. The district in which you file your patent case has consequences for how much your case will cost, how long it will last, and whether you will prevail in court. Mark A. Lemley, Where to File Your Patent Case, 38 AIPLA Q.J. 401 (2010); Brian J. Love & James C. Yoon, Predictably Expensive: A Critical Look at Patent Litigation in the Eastern District of Texas, Stan. Tech. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming, 2016).

The choice of venue enabled by the Federal Circuit’s liberal interpretation of the statute has created an incentive for courts to differentiate themselves in order to compete for litigants and “sell” their forum to prospective plaintiffs. See J. Jonas Anderson, Court Competition for Patent Cases, 163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 631 (2015); Daniel M. Klerman & Greg Reilly, Forum Selling, 89 S. Cal. L. Rev. 241 (2016).

Among district courts, the Eastern District of Texas is the clear forum of choice for patent plaintiffs. It has been the most popular venue for patent cases in eight of the last ten years. Chien & Risch, supra at 3.  Whether intentionally or not, judges in the Eastern District of Texas have adopted rules and practices relating to case assignment, joinder, discovery, transfer, and summary judgment that attract patent plaintiffs to their district. Klerman & Reilly, supra; Matthew Sag, IP Litigation in U.S. District Courts: 1994-2014, 101 Iowa L. Rev. 1065 (2016) (detailing evidence of “forum selling” and five advantages to plaintiffs of filing suit in the Eastern District of Texas).

A study of all patent cases filed from 2014 to June 2016 quantifies some of the advantages. Love & Yoon, supra.  Compared to their colleagues across the nation, judges in the Eastern District of Texas take 150 additional days on average to rule on motions to transfer, id. at 15, and are 10 percentage points less likely to stay the case in favor of an expert adjudication on the validity of the patent by Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in inter partes review, id. at 26., despite the fact that patents asserted in the Eastern District of Texas are challenged in inter partes review more often than patents asserted in any other district. Saurabh Vishnubhakat, Arti Rai, & Jay Kesan, Strategic Decision Making in Dual PTAB and District Court Proceedings, 31 Berkeley Tech. Law J. 45, 109 (2016).  At the same time, judges in the Eastern District of Texas have adopted discovery rules that begin earlier, end sooner, and require broader disclosure than just about anywhere else in the country. Love and Yoon, supra at 19-22 (comparing discovery and other pretrial deadlines applicable in the Eastern District of Texas and District of Delaware).  In combination, relatively early and broad discovery requirements and relatively late rulings on motions to transfer ensure that defendants sued in the Eastern District of Texas will be forced to incur large discovery costs, regardless of the case’s connection to the venue.

However, not all types of plaintiffs choose to take advantage of the leverage that these rules and procedures make possible.  Patent assertion entities (PAEs), or patent “trolls” use patents primarily to gain licensing fees rather than to commercialize or transfer technology. Colleen V. Chien, From Arms Race to Marketplace: The Complex Patent Ecosystem and Its Implications for the Patent System, 62 Hastings L.J. 297 (2010) Trolls make particular use of the advantages provided by the Federal Circuit’s permissive approach to forum shopping. Since 2014, over 90 percent of patent suits brought in the Eastern District of Texas were filed by trolls established for the purpose of litigating patent suits.  Love & Yoon, supra at 9. By contrast, operating companies, individuals, and universities are more likely to sue in other districts.  Chien & Risch, supra at 3-4, 40.

The troll business model explains this difference in behavior. As the FTC’s recent report describes, “litigation PAEs” sign licenses that are “less than the lower bounds of early stage litigation costs,” a finding “consistent with nuisance litigation, in which defendant companies decide to settle based on the cost of litigation rather than the likelihood of their infringement.” Federal Trade Commission, Patent Assertion Entity Activity: An FTC Study, https://www.ftc.gov/reports/patent-assertion-entity-activity-ftc-study.   Rather than a decision on the merits and damages commensurate with the value of patented technology, litigation PAEs instead seek to leverage the high cost of litigation to coerce nuisance-value settlements keyed not to the merits of the lawsuit, but the cost of litigation.  Mark A. Lemley & A. Douglas Melamed, Missing the Forest for the Trolls, 113 Colum. L. Rev. 2117 (2013). Further, unlike operating companies that sell products, litigation PAEs generally lack customers and regular operations and therefore have the flexibility to incorporate and file suit based solely on litigation considerations, through shell companies or otherwise.

While forum shopping in general impairs the operation of law, disadvantages those who lack the resources to engage in forum shopping, and creates economic waste, Jeanne C. Fromer, Patentography, 85 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1444, 1464-1465 (2010), the rise of the troll business model exacerbates these problems in patent litigation, creating a particularly urgent need for the Court to hear this case. This Court has previously warned against the problems of abusive patent litigation.  More than a century ago, it worried about the rise of “a class of speculative schemers who make it their business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of the arts.”  Atlantic Works v. Brady, 107 U.S. 192, 200 (1883).  And in Commil v. Cisco, this Court said:

The Court is well aware that an “industry has developed in which firms use patents not as a basis for producing and selling goods but, instead, primarily for obtaining licensing fees.” eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L. L. C., 547 U. S. 388, 396 (2006) (KENNEDY, J., concurring). Some companies may use patents as a sword to go after defendants for money, even when their claims are frivolous.

576  U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1920 (2015).

Because troll suits now dominate patent litigation nationwide, their filing patterns have led to an overall concentration of 44% of all patent cases in the Eastern District of Texas in 2015. Among cases initiated 2014 through 2016, one U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Texas—Judge Rodney Gilstrap of Marshall, Texas—was assigned almost one quarter of all patent case filings nationwide, more than the total number of patent cases assigned to all federal judges in California, New York, and Florida combined.[2]

This level of concentration is a problem for the legal system whatever one thinks of the decisions of the Eastern District of Texas and regardless of how fair and capable the judges there are. Simply from a logistical standpoint, the current caseload in the Eastern District of Texas is problematic.  If even 10 percent of the 1,686 patent cases assigned to Judge Gilstrap in 2015 go to trial, he will need to preside over three to four patent trials per week every week for an entire year to avoid creating a backlog.

Further, when Congress decided to consolidate patent appeals in the newly-created United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, it deliberately chose to include both appeals from the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the district courts, so the new court would not hear only appeals from patent owners.  And it considered and rejected proposals to create a specialized district court to hear patent cases.  But the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of § 1400(b) has in practice created just such a court.

The current distribution of patent litigation filings is the result of strategic behavior by a specific type of patent enforcer, not an artifact of proximity to the original locus of invention or alleged infringement. Forum-shopping plaintiffs will naturally gravitate towards whatever district seems to have the most favorable rules. The effect of the Federal Circuit’s decision to expand patent venue beyond the scope of the statute and this Court’s decisions has been to create a de-facto specialized patent trial court, one chosen by litigants on one side rather than by Congress.


The Federal Circuit’s permissive venue rule has fundamentally shaped the landscape of patent litigation in ways that harm the patent system, by enabling extensive forum shopping and forum selling, supporting opportunistic patent litigation by patent trolls, and creating undue case concentration.  This Court should grant certiorari in order to curb abuse of venue based on its misinterpretation of § 1400(b).

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[1] No person other than the amici and their counsel participated in the writing of this brief or made a financial contribution to the brief. Letters signifying the parties’ consent to the filing of this brief are on file with the Court.

[2] According to Lex Machina, between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016 Judge Gilstrap was assigned 3,166 new patent suits, more than the combined total of all district courts in California, Florida, and New York: 2,656. Love & Yoon, supra, at 5 (collecting these statistics).

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Signed, Professor John R. Allison (Texas); Professor Margo Bagley (Emory); Professor James Bessen (BU); Professor Jeremy Bock (Memphis); Professor Daniel H. Brean (Akron); Professor Michael A. Carrier (Rutgers); Professor Michael W. Carroll (American); Professor Bernard Chao (Denver); Professor Tun-Jen Chiang (George Mason); Professor Colleen V. Chien (Santa Clara); Professor Andrew Chin (UNC); Professor Robert Cook-Deegan (ASU); Professor Rochelle Dreyfuss (NYU); Dr. Dieter Ernst (Honolulu); Professor Robin C. Feldman (Hastings); Professor Lee Fleming (Berkeley); Professor Brian Frye (Kentucky); Professor William Gallagher (Golden Gate); Professor Shubha Ghosh (Wisconsin); Professor Eric Goldman (Santa Clara); Professor Bronwyn H. Hall (Berkeley); Professor Yaniv Heled (Georgia State); Professor Christian Helmers (Santa Clara); Professor Joachim Henkel (Technische Universität München); Professor Susan Helper (CWRU); Professor Tim Holbrook (Emory); Professor Herbert Hovenkamp (Iowa); Professor William Hubbard (Baltimore); Dr. Xavier Jaravel (Stanford); Professor Dennis S. Karjala (ASU); Professor Peter Lee (UC Davis); Professor Mark A. Lemley (Stanford); Professor David K. Levine (WashU); Professor David S. Levine (Elon); Professor Doug Lichtman (UCLA); Professor Yvette Joy Liebesman (SLU); Professor Orly Lobel (USD); Professor Brian Love (Santa Clara); Professor Phil Malone (Stanford); Professor Michael J. Meurer (BU); Dr. Shawn Miller (Stanford); Professor Matthew Mitchell (Toronto); Professor Susan Barbieri Montgomery (Northeastern); Professor Sean Pager (Michigan State); Professor Arti K. Rai (Duke); Professor Jacob H. Rooksby (Duquesne); Professor Jorge R. Roig (Charleston); Professor Matthew Sag (Loyola Chicago); Professor Pamela Samuelson (Berkeley); Ana Santos Rutschman (DePaul); Professor Lea Bishop Shaver (Indiana); Professor John L. Turner (Georgia); Professor Jennifer Urban (Berkeley); Professor Eric von Hippel (MIT).

Supreme Court Update: Extending the ITC’s Reach Beyond US Borders

by Dennis Crouch

Constitutional Challenge to Inter Partes Review: Although the Constitutional issues in Cooper v. Lee and MCM v. HP were law-professor-interesting, they were not substantial enough for certiorari.  The Supreme Court has now denied the Cooper and MCM petitions — leaving the IPR regime unchanged.  Although Cooper v. Square is still pending, its chances are slight. The Supreme Court has also denied certiorari in Encyclopaedia Britannica (malpractice), Gnosis (appellate review), and GeoTag (case-or-controversy).

A new 101 Challenge: In its first conference of the term, the Supreme Court denied all of the pending petitions regarding patent eligibility.  However, Trading Technologies has filed a new petition asking whether a new card game is categorically unpatentable so long as it uses a standard deck (rather than a novel deck) of cards.  My post on the case asks: Does the Patent Statute Cabin-in the Abstract Idea Exception?  That question references Section 100 of the Patent Act that expressly allows for the patenting of new use of a known manufacture.

Extra Territoriality of Trade Secrecy Law: On the trade secrecy front, Sino Legend has petitioned to review the Federal Circuit’s affirmance of the International Trade Commision’s ban on Legend’s importation of rubber resins used for tire production. The underlying bad-act was a trade secret misappropriation that occurred in China and the question on appeal asks: Whether Section 337(a)(1)(A) permits the ITC to adjudicate claims regarding trade secret misappropriation alleged to have occurred outside the United States.  A Chinese court looked at the same case and found no misappropriation.

Design Patent Damages: Oral arguments were held earlier this week in Samsung v. Apple. During the arguments, all parties agreed that (1) the statute does not allow for apportionment of damages but rather requires profit disgorgement; (2) the article-of-manufacture from which profits can be calculated may be a component of the product sold to consumers; and (3) the determination of what counts as the article-of-manufacture is a question of fact to be determined by the jury.   The only dispute then was on the factors that a jury should be considered and when the “inside gears” of a product should ever be included in the calculation.

Upcoming Supreme Court Oral Argument: SCA Hygiene (laches) on November 1; Star Athletica (copyright of cheerleader outfit) on October 31.


Samsung v. Apple: A view from inside the courtroom


By Sarah Burstein, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law

Samsung Elecs. Am., Inc. v. Apple Inc., No. 15-777 (argued Oct. 11, 2016) Transcript

On Tuesday, I attended the oral arguments in Samsung v. Apple.  As mentioned in a previous Patently-O post, the Court granted cert on a single issue, namely:

Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?

The relevant statute is 35 U.S.C. § 289, which provides a special additional remedy for certain acts of design patent infringement. Section 289 states:

Whoever during the term of a patent for a design, without license of the owner, (1) applies the patented design, or any colorable imitation thereof, to any article of manufacture for the purpose of sale, or (2) sells or exposes for sale any article of manufacture to which such design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250, recoverable in any United States district court having jurisdiction of the parties.

Nothing in this section shall prevent, lessen, or impeach any other remedy which an owner of an infringed patent has under the provisions of this title, but he shall not twice recover the profit made from the infringement.

In Apple and a case decided briefly after it, Nordock v. Systems, the Federal Circuit ruled that § 289 requires a court to award the total profit from the entire infringing product to a successful design patentee—even when the design patent claims a small portion of the overall product design.

In its cert petition and merits brief, Samsung argued that the “article of manufacture” in § 289 could be something less than the entire infringing product. In its brief opposing cert, Apple defended the Federal Circuit’s interpretation. Yet, in its merits brief, Apple agreed with Samsung (and the United States) that the relevant “article of manufacture” could be something less than the entire infringing product.

At oral argument, Samsung informed the Court that it was dropping its “causation argument” (i.e., that § 289 must be read in light of background causation principles from general tort law) and wanted to focus on its “article of manufacture” argument (i.e., its argument that a successful design patentee should be entitled to the “total profit” from the “article of manufacture” but that the relevant article should be determined mainly by looking at whether the patent claims a whole design or only part).

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the oral argument was spent discussing how factfinders should  determine what constitutes the relevant “article of manufacture” for the purposes of § 289. The Justices seemed particularly interested in how a jury could be instructed to perform this determination. The Justices spent a lot of time pressing the parties about the desirability of the four-part test proposed by the United States, asking if they thought that approach was appropriate and if there were any factors they would add.

It was also very clear during the argument that Apple really wanted to focus on its new waiver argument. In its merits brief (though not in its brief opposing cert), Apple argued that Samsung failed to preserve the “article of manufacture” argument for appeal. After a few questions, however, the Justices’ patience for this line of argument waned and the Chief Justice rather pointedly told Apple’s counsel to move on. The clear message conveyed was that the Justices didn’t need to be told what was in the record; they were perfectly capable of reviewing it for themselves.

On the whole, and based solely on the arguments, it seemed like the Justices were leaning toward adopting some form of multi-factor test to determine what constitutes the relevant “article of manufacture.” What that test might look like was far from clear. At some points, the Justices seemed visibly frustrated by the prospect of coming up with a workable test; whether they were convinced that any of the proposed tests would, indeed, be workable remains to be seen.

In this observer’s opinion, the real problem is the attempt to add a qualitative element to this test, instead of focusing on what the patentee actually claims. Also, it’s no wonder that the Justices and parties had difficulty trying to identify the relevant article of manufacture for the D’305 patent, which claims a design for a single screenshot of the iPhone graphical user interface (“GUI”). Like other GUI designs, the D’305 patent claims a design for software, not a design for a screen (no matter what the PTO says).

In any case, there was no indication that any of the Justices were seriously considering upholding the Federal Circuit’s whole-product rule, which a couple of justices derided as clearly absurd. Justice Breyer did express some concern, at the end, about subverting the original congressional intent. However, he seemed more concerned about creating/affirming a rule with “absurd results.”

One thought: The phrase “article of manufacture” doesn’t just appear in § 289. It also appears in § 171, which defines design-patentable subject matter. Although the Federal Circuit wasn’t asked to construe that phrase in § 289 until Apple, it has issued a number of decisions on what constitutes an “article of manufacture” in the context of § 171. The Federal Circuit didn’t mention any of those cases in its decision in Apple and the parties haven’t relied on them to make their points before the Supreme Court. However, under normal principles of statutory construction, this phrase should mean the same thing in both of these key design patent provisions. It seems fairly clear that the Federal Circuit expanded the definition of “article of manufacture” in § 171 without thinking of the potential consequences for § 289 (arguably leading to the worst of the “absurd results” created by the Federal Circuit’s Apple/Nordock rule). And it seems likely that the reverse might happen here—the Justices might redefine the “article of manufacture” in § 289 without considering any potential consequences for § 171. Of course, those issues weren’t briefed. But it’s still an issue worth keeping an eye on.