Tag Archives: Damages

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)

Samsung v. Apple: Design Patent Damages May be Limited to Components

by Dennis Crouch

Samsung v. Apple (Supreme Court 2016)

In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court has reversed the Federal Circuit in this important design patent damages case.  Although the case offers hope for Samsung and others adjudged of infringing design patents, it offers no clarity as to the rule of law.

The decision centers on the special statutory provision for damage awards in design patents – 35 U.S.C. § 289.  Section 289 provides for the significant remedy of profit disgorgement based upon a defendant’s use of the patented “article of manufacture.” The infringer “shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit.”

The challenge in Samsung v. Apple is whether to calculate the award based upon Samsung’s profits for its smartphone devices as a whole or instead whether profits could be narrowed to profits associated with individual components (such as the screen or phone body shape) even though those components are not sold directly to the consumers.

Siding with the infringer Samsung, the court held that the statute allows for damages to be applied at the component level since components are also “articles of manufacture.” The court also indicated that the product as a whole is also an article of manufacture.

[T]he term “article of manufacture” is broad enough to embrace both a product sold to a consumer and a component of that product, whether sold separately or not. Thus, reading “article of manufacture” in §289 to cover only an end product sold to a consumer gives too narrow a meaning to the phrase.

Thus, it will be up to courts to figure out which to level applies in particular cases.

No Test: Here, the court refused to offer any opinion as as to (1) how a judge or jury might go about deciding whether the profits apply to the product as a whole or instead to an individual component or (2) whether – in this case – the profits should be applied to the entire Samsung Galaxy smartphones or only to the individual components.  The problem, according to the Court, was inadequate briefing. “We decline to lay out a test for the first step of the §289 damages inquiry in the absence of adequate briefing by the parties.”  On remand, the Federal Circuit may grapple with these issues — what is the best test?

Defining Article of Manufacture:  In the decision, the court offered what it termed a “broad” meaning of “article of manufacture” as “a thing made by hand or machine.”  Although broad, the definition appears to exclude digital and virtual designs.   I query here whether Apple’s patented “graphical user interface for a display screen” at issue in this case fits this definition. USD0604305Sale of an Article of Manufacture: One problem with the decision is how it intermingles Section 171 with Section 289.  Section 171 can be thought of as the 101-of-design-patents and allows for the patenting of “any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” Once issued, the design patent may be asserted either under the general patent statutes Section 271/284 (infringement/damages) or else under the alternative design patent alternative codified in Section 289.  The statute expressly allows for either option, but forbids double-collection of damages.  The distinction: Although Section 171 may well allow for patenting of a component or portion of a device (see below), it does not necessarily follow that an infringement action would lie in Section 289 for such a component – since that section requires a sale of the patented article of manufacture.   Perhaps all of this will be baked into the Federal Circuit test.

Component-Based Design Patents: Of some interest, the Court accepts as a given that design patents may properly cover a component of a multi-component invention. In the process, it affirmatively cites Judge Rich’s 1980 Zahn decision that allows for design patents covering partial components even when non-discrete or incomplete. Application of Zahn, 617 F. 2d 261 (CCPA 1980) (“Section 171 authorizes patents on ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. While the design must be embodied in some articles, the statute is not limited to designs for complete articles, or ‘discrete’ articles, and certainly not to articles separately sold . . . ”).  This goes beyond the also-cited old case of Ex parte Adams, 84 Off. Gaz. Pat. Office 311 (1898) (design patents allowed on movable/separable components).

Read the short decision: SamsungAppleDecision.

More Pressure on Texas Supreme Court to Enforce Ethical Rules Despite Arbitration Clauses

Dennis wrote about this case involving Jenner & Block and Parallel Networks on the main page, and I was an expert in the underlying case for the client.  Boiled down, Jenner agreed to represent Parallel Networks on a contingent fee.  The firm got upset when the client fell behind on expenses, and the client paid up.  Then the firm lost  on summary judgment, and dumped the client.

The law in Texas is pretty clear that there’s a big distinction between whether you can quit a case — withdrawal — and whether you can quit a case and be paid.  The former is pretty narrowly circumscribed but the latter is severely so:  without “just cause” you lose any right to any money.  Makes sense, otherwise a contingent fee is illusory:  I get in a case, and it’s a loser, I withdraw but still get paid.  Undermines the entire notion of contingent fees.

Although Jenner gave up on its client’s case, the client didn’t.  But the client had to pay another firm hourly fees to handle the appeal and get the case out of the ditch into which Jenner had put it, and left it.

Then that firm (my old firm, Baker Botts), turned the case around on appeal,  resulting in settlement money.

Believe it or not, Jenner then demanded that — even though it had left its own client in the ditch to fend for itself — because of the contingent fee agreement, it was entitled to its fully hourly fees. Yes, full hourly fees because supposedly that’s what the agreement provided.  The arbitrator awarded the firm some money, but not full hourly fees.  The agreement is quite something to read and Jenner pointed out that the client had used it in another case (long story), and so, presumably, was the cause of any unethical provisions in it.  (Think on that.)

The Texas courts have, so far, refused to even examine the merits  of the award because, supposedly, the Federal Arbitration Act precludes review unless the award was fraudulent, etc.

As you can imagine, the prevailing notion in Texas that we’ve outsourced ethics to arbitrators (aka, lawyers), and as a result insulated their decisions from review by the judiciary — supposedly independent and constitutionally charged in many states with enforcing ethics —  has caused some people to wonder about what is wrong in Texas courts.  If anything, the Texas Supreme Court should say, clearly:  “if there’s an arbitration clause it will be enforced even if the conduct is unethical because that’s what the FAA requires,” so the Supreme Court can take corrective action.

The latest amicus brief is here.  Dennis’ post which links to my earlier one, is here.

I don’t mean to be flippant but, the way things stand, suppose you hire a hit man and, being the good lawyer you are, you include an arbitration clause in your written agreement. He then decides it’s not right to murder someone. So you bring an arbitration proceeding for damages. Hooray for you.  That arbitrator is free to ignore public policy saying that contract is no good, and make then hitman pay, and a Texas court will enforce the award.  Yes, a silly example and obviously extreme, but that’s where Texas now is. It’s obviously wrong, seriously misguided, and needs to be corrected by that court or the one above it.

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.


SCA Hygiene Laches Oral Arguments: How Do we Interpret Congressional Silence?

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in SCA Hygiene v. First Quality with the following question presented:

Whether and to what extent the defense of laches may bar a claim for patent infringement brought within the Patent Act’s six-year statutory limitations period, 35 U.S.C. § 286.

Sitting in the background is the Supreme Court’s parallel copyright decision in Petrella v. MGM (2014) holding that the doctrine of laches cannot bar a claim for legal damages brought within the three-year statutory limitations of copyright law. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit distinguished Petrella – finding that in this situation patents should be treated differently than copyrights.

Martin Black (Dechert) argued for petitioner-patentee SCA Hygiene and suggested that Petrella paves the way: “There is nothing in the Patent Act which compels the creation of a unique patent law rule, and if the Court were to create an exception here, that would invite litigation in the lower courts over a wide range of Federal statutes.”

According to Black, the focus should be on the statute – and the statute does not provide for laches. Further, section 286 is entitled “Time Limitation on Damages” — that is the section that should be applied when determining whether a patentee unduly delayed its enforcement.

Mr. Black: Laches has never been applied in the face of the Federal statute of limitations. The Court looked at that issue exhaustively in Petrella and could not find Respondents one single example.

Petrella was decided 6-3 and with Justice Scalia’s death the result would be 5-3.  Justice Breyer dissented then and indicated in oral argument “Just to repeat, I’m still dissenting.”

Mr. Waxman, representing the accused infringer in this case (who won on laches) began by highlighting the background of the 1952 Patent Act — “This Court has repeatedly recognized that the 1952 Patent Act sought to retain and reflect patent law as it then existed.”  And, at that time (1952), laches was thought to be an available defense.

Mr. Waxman: The question  in this case is what Congress understood the patent law doctrine was in 1952. And we think that there is a literal mountain of cases. Every single case that was decided in any court at any level from 1897 when the six-year damages cap was put into place until today, with the exception of one district court decision in Massachusetts which demonstrably misapplied the two authorities that it cited, every single case has recognized that — that laches was a defense in an appropriate case to claims for damages. And no case has ever said or suggested to the contrary.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That mountain of cases were in equity, right? . . .  that’s where your mountain becomes a mole hill, right? . . .

Mr. Waxman: But the point I’m trying to make — and if I make no other point, please let me not be misunderstood here — Congress in 1952 simply continued in haec verba the statute that had existed on the books since it was put in on the equity side in 1897. And there were — whether it is a mountain, a mole hill, or a mesa, all of the — okay. Never mind. I’ll just stick with mountain or mole hill. All of the — I mean, I — I don’t think — I hope I live long enough to have another case where I can come to Court and say, all of the case law that decide — that examine this question, all of which was adjudicating the applicability of laches to claims of damages alongside the six-year damages limitation provision, all of them recognize that laches existed comfortably alongside that provision. And there is nothing really anomalous about that.


The difference then, according to Waxman, between patents and copyright is not really found in the statutory text itself but instead emanates from the history and congressional sense at the times of enactment.  For patents, the background law allowed laches and congress intended to implement that background law in 1952.

Mr. Black disagreed with the state-of-the-law:

So it was in front of Congress in 1952 with three things. This Court’s precedent that said that  laches could not be used to bar legal relief. You had the merger of law and equity in 1938 which scrambled all the eggs. You had the 1946 Lanham Act, which also went through the committee on patents and copyrights where they specifically included the word “laches” in the statute. And you had the abolition of the remedy that parties had been seeking as the primary means of monetary relief in patent law for 60 years. There is no way that you can look at that, that fact, and get around it by pointing to a book, a treatise, which, by the way, does not have a section in it on unenforceability.

A practical problem with eliminating laches is the lying-in-wait scenario — do we allow a patentee to simply wait for years until the defendant is locked-in and then sue? Mr. Black argued that Congress offered a solution — concerned third parties can file a declaratory judgment action or else a petition for inter partes review.   Black also argued that the lying-in-wait scenerio doesn’t happen in practice because the patent term ends too soon (unlike in copyright law).  The discussion also entered into patent trolls and the FTC recent report.  Mr. Black argued that “The companies that get hurt by [Laches] are operating companies who don’t like to sue and therefore wait until they have to [while] patent trolls . . . have to sue to monetize.”

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.

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).

Bad Patents and the False Claims Act

by Dennis Crouch

An interesting False Claims Act case has recently been unsealed. USA ex rel. Lower Drug Prices for Consumers (LDPFC) v. Allergan and Forest Labs., Case No. 16-cv-09 (E.D.Tex. 2016) (SEALED USA Complaint).

The False Claims Act provides special incentives for whistleblowers to uncover fraud against the U.S. Government.  The Act authorizes the whistleblower to file a qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the Government and then receive a cut of any recovered damages. See 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729–3733.  The whistleblower here LDPFC appears to be a branch of the hedge fund Foxhill Capital.

This case involves Allergan/Forrest Labs U.S. Patent No. 6,545,040 that is listed in the FDA Orange Book as covering the drug Bystolic.  The basic false claims argument is that the market price of Bystolic is high because of the patent coverage – but the patent is (allegedly) invalid.  If true, this means that Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA hospitals are all paying more than they should for the drug.  As stated by the complaint: “The current market price for Nebivolol (Bystolic) is a false price because the ‘040 patent is invalid.”

Although the legal theory makes sense, the facts may get in the way: Is the patent invalid (PTAB says its close, but no) and, if it is invalid – did the patentee have knowledge of the invalidity?

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.

It is Improper to Consider Extra-Record Claim Construction Evidence On Appeal

Apple v. Samsung (Fed. Cir. 2016) (En banc)

Note: This SamsApple case is not the design patent damages case now before the US Supreme Court. Rather, this case involves Apple’s patents covering slide-to-unlock; phone number recognition; and auto spell correction. At the district court, the jury found that three of Apple’s touch-screen patents infringed by Samsung devices (resulting in $119.6 million in damages).  The jury also found one Samsung patent  infringed by Apple, but only awarded less than $200,000 in damages.  In a February 2016 opinion authored by Judge Dyk, the Federal Circuit reversed the jury verdicts – finding two of Apple’s patents invalid as obvious and the other not-infringed.

Now, in a surprise en banc ruling Friday, the Federal Circuit has chastised the that original panel in this case – writing to:

[A]ffirm our understanding of the appellate function as limited to deciding the issues raised in the appeal by the parties, deciding these issues only on the basis of the record below, and as requiring appropriate deference be applied to review of fact finding.

Zeroing in here, the en banc found that the original panel had improperly considered “extra-record extrinsic evidence to construe a patent claim term.”

Prior to Teva v. Sandoz (and especially prior to Phillips v. AWH) Federal Circuit panels regularly relied upon extra-record evidence such as dictionary definitions in reaching appellate decisions.  In Phillips, the court shifted focus away from dictionary definition toward intrinsic evidence such as the patent document and prosecution history.   Then, in Teva, the Supreme Court held that extrinsic factual conclusions of a district court must be given deference on appeal.  According to the en banc panel here – “After Teva, such fact findings are indisputably the province of the district court.”  With this framework, the en banc majority then offered its holdings:

(1)  the appellate court cannot rely on extra-record extrinsic evidence in the first instance or make factual findings about what such extrinsic evidence suggests about the plain meaning of a claim term in the art at the relevant time or how such extra record evidence may inform our understanding of how the accused device operates

(2) the appellate court is not permitted to reverse fact findings that were not appealed; and

(3) the appellate court is required to review jury fact findings when they are appealed for substantial evidence.

In discussing the obviousness determination, the en banc majority noted that the panel (and en banc dissents) raise important questions, but found those questions must wait for a different case since “no party—at the panel or the petition for rehearing en banc stage—invited this court to consider changing the existing law of obviousness.”

After chastising the original panel, the en banc majority then reaffirmed the jury verdicts – finding them supported by substantial evidence and thus reinstated the verdict for Apple.

The en banc opinion judgment here was 8-4 8-3 with Judge Moore authoring the 7-member majority opinion; Judge Hughes concurring in judgment but without authoring any opinion whatsoever; The original panel members, Chief Judge Prost, Judge Dyk, and Judge Reyna each dissented and each authored their own opinions; and Judge Taranto not participating.

Judge Dyk’s is the most interesting in the way that it reveals some inner-court-workings:

 For the first time in 26 years, this court has taken an obviousness case en banc. See In re Dillon, 919 F.2d 688 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (en banc). Remarkably, the majority has done so without further briefing and argument from the parties, amici, or the government, as has been our almost uniform practice in this court’s en banc decisions. . . .

The present en banc decision will have a significant and immediate impact on the future resolution of obviousness issues. While purporting to apply established circuit law, the majority is in fact making significant changes to the law as articulated by the Supreme Court. Indeed, as Judge Reyna convincingly points out, it is difficult to understand how this case would satisfy the requirements for en banc review if the majority’s purpose were not to clarify the law.

The majority states that it takes this case en banc to correct the original panel’s reliance on extra-record evidence. This could hardly be the reason the majority has granted en banc review, since the panel has continuingly expressed willingness, and indeed desire, to eliminate references to any extra-record evidence because of concerns raised in Apple’s petition for rehearing and because they were unnecessary to the panel opinion. . . . [T]he principles that the majority announces are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions in KSR, Graham v. John Deere, as well as earlier Supreme Court cases, and will make proof of obviousness far more difficult.

Judge’s Prost and Reyna also agreed that the majority’s application of the law in this case is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.

If you made it here, then you you see that there is substantially more to discuss – save that for the next post.


Infringement Complaint Must Provide Factual Allegations at the Claim-Element-by-Claim-Element Level

by Dennis Crouch

Lyda v. CBS (Fed. Cir. 2016)

Although at first glance, Lyda appears as a narrow decision against an individual-inventor plaintiff, the decision is important because it establishes that a patent infringement complaint must provide factual allegations at the claim-element-by-claim-element level in order to avoid a dismissal on the pleadings.  

In a civ-pro focused decision, the court has affirmed the dismissal of Lyda’s infringement case for failure to state a claim – finding that Lyda’s complaint fails to satisfy the Twiqbal pleading standards.[1]  Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a “ a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[2]  Failure to state a claim is grounds for dismissal under R. 12(b)(6).[3] The Supreme Court gloss requires allegations of sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief.  Although statements in the complaint are taken as true, “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[4] “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”

Until recently, Twiqbal was not directly applied to patent complaints because the existence of a bare-bones form infringement complaint (Form 18) that the rules deemed to be sufficient.  Form 18 was eliminated in the December 1, 2015 changes to the rules.  In the present case, the amended complaint was filed prior to the change, but the court held that Form 18 does not apply in this case because Lyda implicitly alleged a claim of joint infringement rather than the standard direct infringement that is the focus of Form 18.[5]

Applying Twiqbal is not easy – although the general rule is that the pleadings must include enough plausible facts that – if taken as true – would lead to a verdict for the plaintiff.  In discussing its application, the Supreme Court noted that it will be “context-specific” requiring both “judicial experience and common sense.”  Applying that approach to patent infringement cases, the court here took the fairly bold stance of requiring that the facts plausibly pled be “sufficient to allow a reasonable inference that all steps of the claimed method are performed.”

Lyda’s case was particularly dismissed because the patentee failed to plead the elements of joint infringement required by Akamai.  The Lyda court writes:

[Under the plaintiffs theory of infringement, the] Amended Complaint must plausibly allege that Defendants exercise the requisite “direction or control” over the performance of the claim steps, such that performance of every step is attributable to Defendants. The Amended Complaint alleges that CBS Interactive controls certain independent contractors who in turn direct and control the “participation” of unnamed third persons to send votes on either their own or borrowed cell phones. Mr. Lyda does not set forth any factual allegations in support of his assertion that CBS Interactive directed or controlled the independent contractors. Nor does the Amended Complaint contain factual allegations relating to how the independent contractors directed or controlled the unnamed third parties. Most importantly, the Amended Complaint does not allege any relationship between the Defendants and the unnamed third parties, who own or borrow cell phones, in a way that the actions of these unnamed third parties should be attributed to Defendants. Rather, the Amended Complaint alleges conclusively and without factual support that CBS directed or controlled the independent contractors who then directed or controlled the unnamed third parties. There are thus no allegations in the Amended Complaint that can form the basis of a reasonable inference that each claim step was performed by or should be attributed to Defendants. The Amended Complaint fails to plausibly plead sufficient facts to ground a joint infringement claim under this court’s Akamai decision and does not satisfy the Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard.

The district court also denied Lyda leave to amend the complaint a second time. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed that determination – finding that the district court has “broad power to control its own docket.” With the case dismissed, I expect that Lyda can refile and just potentially lose some of the back damages.

= = = = =

[The complaint]

[1] Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

[2] Fed. R. Civ. Pro. R. 8.

[3] Fed. R. Civ. Pro. R. 12(b)(6) (“a party may assert . . . (6) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”).

[4] Iqbal.

[5] See Akamai Techs., Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc., 797 F.3d 1020 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc) (requiring that “(1) one party exercises the requisite ‘direction or control’ over the others’ performance or (2) the actors form a joint enterprise such that performance of every step is attributable to the controlling party).

Supreme Court Patent Cases – September 28 Update

by Dennis Crouch

Cooper v. Lee and Cooper v. Square are both ask the same question: whether 35 U.S.C. §318(b) violates Article III of the United States Constitution, to the extent that it empowers an executive agency tribunal to assert judicial power canceling private property rights amongst private parties embroiled in a private federal dispute of a type known in the common law courts of 1789, rather than merely issue an advisory opinion as an adjunct to a trial court.”  The issues here are also parallel to those raised in MCM Portfolio v. HP (“Does IPR violate Article III of the Constitution?”).  The cases received a boost this month with the Court’s call for response (CFR) in Cooper v. Square.  Square had previously waived its right to respond, but its response is now expected by October 11, 2016.  Under Supreme Court R. 37, the Call for Response reopens the period for filing of an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioner. (~ due October 8, 2016).  Eight Amici Curiae briefs were filed in MCM and two in Cooper v. Lee.  In general, each brief additional brief incrementally increases the odds of certiorari.  Statistical analysis also suggests that a call for response significantly increases the odds of certiorari being granted.

I wrote earlier this week about the new IPR process challenge in Ethicon where the patentee has challenged Director Lee’s delegation of institution decision authority to the PTAB.  The case is one of statutory interpretation but uses the separation-of-function doctrine as an interpretive guide. The same question is also presented in LifeScan Scotland, Ltd. v. Pharmatech Solutions, Inc.  Both petitioners (Ethicon and LifeScan) are owned by J&J.

The final new petition is a personal jurisdiction case: Mylan v. Acorda.  The Hatch-Waxman setup involved Mylan preparing and filing its abbreviated new drug application that created a cause of action for infringement under 35 U.S.C. 271(e)(2). Although the ANDA preparation occurred in West Virginia and the filing in Maryland, the infringement lawsuit was filed by Acorda in Delaware.  Mylan asks: “Whether the mere filing of an abbreviated new drug application by a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer is sufficient to subject the manufacturer to specific personal jurisdiction in any state where it might someday market the drug.”  The argument builds on the non-patent decision Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014). In the pro-business case of Daimler, the Supreme Court reduced the scope of general personal jurisdiction to states where the defendant company is incorporated or has its personal place of business.


In the claim construction front, the Supreme Court also called for a response in Google v. Cioffi. In that case Google suggests an interpretative principle of “strictly construing” amended claim language against the patentee. [GoogleCioffiPetition]

On the merits side – we have three patent cases pending oral arguments.  First-up is the design patent damages case of Apple v. Samsung.   Although not a party, the Solicitor General has requested to been granted leave to participate in oral arguments.   Its brief, the SJ argued (1) Section 289 does not permit apportionment but rather requires award of the infringers profits on the relevant article of manufacture; but (2) the article of manufacture can be a “component” rather than a finished product sold to end-users.  In the end, the SJ argues that the jury should have been tasked with determining the appropriate article-of-manufacture and that the case should be remanded to determine whether a new trial is warranted.  Briefing continues in both SCA Hygiene (laches) and Life Tech (Component Export liability).



Unpacking Trade Secret Damages

Prof. Elizabeth Rowe (Florida) has posted a new article on trade secret damages: Unpacking Trade Secret Damages.   The article looks at outcomes of about 150 federal trade secret lawsuits that went to trial and received a verdict. These cases are all pre-DTSA and thus in federal court on diversity or supplemental jurisdiction grounds.   Prof Rowe found – in my view – a surprisingly low percentage of cases where punitive damages or attorney fees were awarded (~2% and 8% respectively – of cases with an award).

The award distribution is also highly skewed.  “[T]en cases account for half of the total damages of the approximately $2.4 billion awarded since 2000.”  Top on this list is DuPont’s 2011 award of 900 million against Kolon.

[Read the Article]


Update: If Alice was always the law, why did you get so many “invalid” patents for your clients?

I blogged about this case — Encylopaedia Britannica, Inc. v. Dickstein Shapiro LLP (D. D.C. Aug. 26, 2015) — way back when it came out.  The case was summarily affirmed in June.  A cert petition has been filed, and it’s worth reviewing this case again.  If the law stays the way it is, then maybe clients should start suing lawyers to get their fees back for patents that the lawyers “should have known” were “invalid” years before Alice came out…

The Dickstein Shapiro firm had been retained by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. (EB) in 1993 to file a patent application. The patent issued, and in 2006 EB sued several companies for infringing it. The patent was held invalid due to “an unnoticed defect” in the 1993 application.  The basis for invalidity was not 101, and is not clearly stated in the opinion, but seems to have been a break in the chain for priority.

EB then sued the law firm for malpractice in prosecuting the 1993 application.  EB contended that, but for the firm’s negligence, it would have made a lot of money in the infringement suit.

After the malpractice suit was filed, Alice was decided.  The defendant law firm then argued that — had the defendants in the 2006 case not prevailed on the “unnoticed defect” defense (the break in the chain for priority) — they would have prevailed because the patents were “invalid” under 101.  Because the claims would have been “invalid” in the 2006 litigation under 101, there was no harm caused by the actual basis for invalidity — the priority problem.

To put this in context:  Because of a 2014 Supreme Court decision, the 2006 infringement case would have been lost in 2009 anyway because the court in 2009 would have applied Alice’s standard and found the claims ineligible.

And the argument worked.  The district court granted a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (actually, for judgment on the pleadings under 12(c), but same standard), finding (holding?) the subject matter ineligible on the face of the patent.

What is interesting is the court’s approach to retroactive application of Alice.  The issue was whether in the 2006 litigation asserting the patent, even had the firm’s alleged malpractice not caused the invalidity of the patent because of the break in priority, the claims were “invalid” under 101 in 2006 — years before Alice was decided.  The district court held that Alice did not change the law, but merely stated what it had always been.    Specifically, the district court stated:

When the Supreme Court construes a federal statute… that construction is an authoritative statement of what the statute has always meant that applies retroactively.  Alice represents the Supreme Court’s definitive statement on what 101 means — and always meant.  Because the underlying case is governed by 101, it is appropriate for this Court to apply the Supreme Court’s construction of 101 as set forth in Alice.

(Citations omitted).

For this and other reasons, the court reasoned that “the only rule that makes sense in this context is to apply the objectively correct legal standard as enunciated by the Supreme Court in Alice, rather than an incorrect legal standard that the [district court in the 2006 infringement case] may have applied prior to July 2015 [when the court was deciding the motion.]”  The court then applied Alice and found the claims “invalid” under 101.  Thus, the firm’s failure to maintain priority did not cause harm — the “invalidity” under 101 did.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

Let’s start with a basic statutory interpretation principle: as a matter of statutory construction the retroactivity principle relied upon by the district court is correct in that retroactivity does not ordinarily apply when an interpretation is changed.  (This perhaps explains why the Supreme Court is careful to avoid saying it is changing an interpretation, because changes to interpretations of a statute are prospective, only, as a general rule.  In that regard, think about Therasense for a moment.) So, if Alice changed the law, then the district court was likely wrong to apply it retroactively.

Let’s be real:  the Supreme Court will never say that Alice changed the law.  We all know it did, or I guess a better way of putting it is:  we were wrong about what the pre-Alice law meant — despite reading the cases as best we could, and so was the USPTO (which is why it issued all those bad patents, and had to put in place, post-Alice, all of those new guidelines, etc.).  So, we were all wrong and Alice merely said what we all were not smart enough to understand the law always was and had been.

Shame on us.

But now let’s look at Dickstein Shapiro’s conduct through that lens: if the law was that clear — that you could 12(b)(6) or summary judgment this patent for “invalidity” under Section 101, why did you get the for the client in the first place?    If the law about 101 “always” was this way, why did you advise EB to spend so much money on a patent so clearly invalid that a judge could decide it by looking at it?

If cert is not granted, patent prosecutors should be ready to disgorge a lot of fees, I guess is what I’m saying.  Remember:  fee disgorgment doesn’t require damages — it requires (usually) a clear and serious breach of duty.  How can this not be?

So now let’s say prospective litigation counsel looks at a patent and in evaluating it, says to the patentee “no, this one’s bad under Alice.  It’s worthless.”  If the client then sues the lawyer who prosecute the patented, you’d think the client would have an easy case: “Lawyer, the law was always the way Alice says it was, and yet you got me this stupid patent, and charged me $25,000 to get it. Give that money back.”

Now, we can get into what is called judgmental immunity — but if the law was settled and clear, how can that help?  We could also argue the law changed — but it didn’t, or so the courts tell us.

But we can’t obviously do this: Allow lawyers to escape liability for bad patents because the law was “clear” back then, and so the client would never have prevailed in an infringement suit, but then allow lawyers to say “the law was unclear” and allow them to avoid disgorging fees.

Someone got any ideas?  The intellectually honest way to approach it is to say that the EB case was wrongly decided:  whether the patent would have been “invalid” under 101 in the 2006 litigation should be decided under the law at the time of trial, not the law in 2014, just as the decision to seek the patent in 1993 should turn on 101 law in 1993, not the law in 2014.  More to that point, we all know that certain claim formats have fallen out of favor (e.g., means-plus-function). If the law was favorable to them in, say, 1993, and a lawyer picked them, why should we use standards developed in 2014 to judge the lawyer’s conduct, even though the “change” is more subtle than occurred in Alice?

And now one more wrinkle.  Suppose a firm represents the client, and sues.  Suppose the judge shifts fees onto the client under 285.  Unless the court holds that those fees are the responsibility of the lawyer bringing the suit, not the client, then the client’ going to be responsible for having sued on an “invalid” patent. Is it going to sue the prosecution firm and say: the law was clear back then, why did you get this patent for me? Look at the damages you caused…?

Stay tuned.


Objective Reasonableness Still at Play in Willfulness Cases

WesternGeco v. Ion Geophysical (Fed. Cir. 2016) [WesternGeco]

Following Halo v. Pulse, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded WesternGeco’s case for further consideration.  Now on remand, the Federal Circuit now vacates the district court judgment denying willfulness.

The patent act authorizes district court to award enhanced damages. 35 U.S.C. 284 (“the court may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed”).  In Halo v. Pulse, the Supreme Court held that the statute grants district courts discretion in awarding enhanced damages – although noting that the punitive damages should ordinarily be limited to egregious infringement – “typified by willful infringement.”  In rejecting the Federal Circuit’s Seagate test, the Court held proof of “subjective willfulness” is sufficient to prove egregious infringement.  “The subjective willfulness of a patent infringer, intentional or knowing, may warrant enhanced damages, without regard to whether his infringement was objectively reckless.”  Halo at 1933.  As with other punitive damage regimes – proof sufficient for an award does not necessitate such an award. In patent cases, punitive damages remain within the discretion of the district court even after sufficient evidence establish the egregious behavior.

In WesternGeco, the jury issued a verdict on subjective willfulness — that “ION actually knew, or it was so obvious that ION should have known, that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent claim.”  However, following that verdict, the district court excused the willfulness under the objective willfulness prong of Seagate – finding that ION’s non-infringement and invalidity defenses were “not unreasonable.”

On remand, the district court will first determine whether the jury verdict was supported by substantial evidence and, if so, whether enhanced damages should be awarded.  The Federal Circuit writes:

The district court, on remand, should consider whether ION’s infringement constituted an “egregious case[] of misconduct beyond typical infringement” meriting enhanced damages under § 284 and, if so, the appropriate extent of the enhancement.

Slip Opinion. On remand, we vacate the district court’s judgment with respect to enhanced damages for willful infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 284 and reinstate our earlier opinion and judgment in all other respects.

Using Objective Evidence Going Forward: An interesting aspect of the WesternGeco decision is its discussion of the ongoing relevance of “the objective reasonableness of the accused infringer’s positions.” In particular, the Federal Circuit held that objective reasonableness is part of the “totality of the circumstances” that to be considered before awarding enhanced damages.  In some ways this holding is in tension with the Halo decision itself. Halo does not mention the “totality of the circumstances” approach and writes harshly against the objective test as merely awarding “attorney[] ingenuity.”  Judge Dyk explains the holding as follows: (1) “Halo relied upon the patent attorney fee case of Octane Fitness for the relevant standard of district court’s discretion; (2) Octane Fitness in turn held looked to the copyright case attorney fee case of Fogerty v. Fantasy; and (3) Fogerty required consideration of a “totality of the circumstances,” which “could” include objective unreasonableness.” Thus, the Federal Circuit writes: “objective reasonableness is one of the relevant factors.”

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Malpractice, Obviousness, and Venue

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court will begin granting and denying petitions in early October.  Meanwhile, several new petitions are now on file.  Last week I wrote about the TC Heartland case as a mechanism for limiting venue. Without any good reason, the Federal Circuit overruled a 1957 Supreme Court case that had strictly limited patent venue as spelled out in the patent venue statute 1400(b).  See VE Holdings (explaining its overruling of Fourco Glass). A result of VE Holdings is the expansive venue availability that facilitated the rise of E.D. Texas as the most popular patent venue. TC Heartland simply asks the Supreme Court reassert its Fourco holding – something that could almost be done with a one-line opinion: “REVERSED. See Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).”  The best arguments for the Federal Circuit’s approach are (1) the reasoning of Fourco itself is a bit dodgy; and (2) VE Holdings is well settled doctrine (decided 26 years ago) and Congress has revised the statutory provisions several times without amending.  As a side note, several members of Congress have suggested they will act legislatively if SCOTUS fails to act.

Two new petitions (Grunenthal v. Teva and Purdue v. Epic) stem from the same Federal Circuit OxyContin case and focus on anticipation and obviousness respectively.  Grunenthal v. Teva questions how ‘inherently’ operates for anticipation purposes.   Purdue suggests that – despite the final sentence of Section 103, that the actual circumstances of the invention should be available to help prove non-obviousness (but still not be available to prove obviousness).   Another new petition includes the BPCIA case Apotex v. Amgen that serves as a complement to the pending Sandoz case questioning the requirements and benefits of providing notice of commercial marketing.

Finally – Encyclopedia Britannica v. Dickstein Shapiro is a patent prosecution malpractice action.  The lower court held the lawyers harmless since Alice would have invalidated the patents even if drafted to perfection. The petition asks whether Alice Corp can excuse patent prosecutors from alleged prosecution errors made well prior to that decision.


Stryker v. Zimmer: Federal Circuit Remands Enhancement Determination for Enhancement Determination

By Jason Rantanen

Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2016) Download opinion
Panel: Prost (author), Newman, Hughes

Stryker prevailed in a patent infringement suit against Zimmer, obtaining partial summary judgment of infringement as to some claims, a jury verdict of infringement as to another claim, and a jury finding that the claims were valid.  The jury awarded Striker $70 million in lost profits, further finding that Zimmer’s infringement was willful.  In a post-trial order, the district judge awarded treble damages, found the case exceptional and awarded Stryker its attorneys’ fees.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed as to infringement, validity and damages.  Applying In re Seagate, however, it reversed as to willful infringement and the enhancement of damages.  Based on that reversal, it also vacated the award of treble damages and attorneys’ fees.  Styrker sought, and obtained, review by the Supreme Court in a case that was consolidated with Halo Electronics., Inc. v. Pulse Electronics., Inc.  In Halo v. Pulse, the Supreme Court held that the the Federal Circuit’s two-part Seagate “test for determining when a district court may increase damages pursuant to § 284” was not consistent with § 284.  Both Halo and Stryker were remanded to the Federal Circuit for further proceedings.  Last month, the Federal Circuit issued its revised opinion in Halo.  Today, the court released the  revised Stryker opinion.

Most of the new Stryker opinion involves a recitation of the Federal Circuit’s previous opinion affirming the district court as to infringement and validity.  The last three pages, however, deal with the § 284 enhancement issue on remand.  What’s interesting is that the Federal Circuit is maintaining its bifurcated approach to enhancement of damages, first requiring a predicate willfulness determination followed by the judge’s discretionary determination of whether and how much to enhance damages.  This is essentially the same process as before.   See i4i Ltd. Partnership v. Microsoft Corp., 598 F.3d 831 (2010) Pre-Halo, the second step of the process (the district judge’s determination of whether and how much to enhance damages) was a totality-of-the circumstances analysis that was reviewed for abuse of discretion (i.e.: basically the same as the court required in Halo).  Id. The Federal Circuit’s post-Halo approach to enhancement involves the same two steps, with the exception that the willfulness determination itself is guided by the holding in Halo rather than requiring the two-element objective/subjective determination of Halo. (The enhancement determination is too, but it’s hard to see much difference there.)  Under Halo, the subjective component alone can be enough to establish willfulness.

Here, Zimmer did not challenge the subjective component so the Federal Circuit affirmed willfulness on remand.  However, it then remanded the case back to the district court for a further determination as to whether and how much damages should be enhanced. In Halo, this remand made sense, as the district judge had relied on the Seagate test to grant JMOL of no willful infringement over a jury verdict of willful infringement.  Here, however, after the jury found willful infringement and the district judge denied JMOL of no willful infringement, the district judge exercised his discretion to treble damages.  The consequence is that a remand in this case is somewhat odd given that the district judge has already made a discretionary determination to award the maximum amount of enhancement.  In any event, the Federal Circuit decided that the better course of action was to ask the district judge to re-make the discretionary determination:

“As Halo makes clear, the decision to enhance damages is a discretionary one that the district court should make based on the circumstances of the case, ‘in light of the longstanding considerations . . . as having guided both Congress and the courts.’ Id. at 1934. Thus, it is for the district court to determine whether, in its discretion, enhancement is appropriate here. We therefore vacate the district court’s award of enhanced damages and remand to the district court so that it may exercise its discretion.”

Based on a similar rationale (although relying instead on Octane Fitness v. ICON), the Federal Circuit also remanded on the issue of attorney’s fees.

Disclosure: I co-authored an amicus brief in support of neither party in Halo v. Pulse.

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Previewing the October Term 2016

by Dennis Crouch

When the Supreme Court’s October 2016 Term begins in a few weeks, its first patent hearing will be the design patent damages case of Samsung v. AppleIn Samsung, the Court asks: 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 statute at issue – 35 U.S.C. § 289 – indicates that, someone who (without license) “applies” the patented design (or colorable imitation thereof) to an article of manufacture, “shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit.”  Up to now, courts have repeatedly held that the “profits” are profits associated with the product (i.e., the article of manufacture) being sold, but Samsung is asking that the profits be limited only to components of the product closely associated with the patented design.  Although Apple’s position is supported by both the text and history and is the approach easiest to calculate, I expect that many on the Court will be drawn to the potential unjust outcomes of that approach.  Apple wins in a 4-4 split.  Oral arguments are set for October 11, 2016.

The court has granted certiorari in two other cases for this October 2016 term with briefing ongoing. In Life Tech v. Promega, the court again takes up the issue of exporting components of a patented invention and the extraterritorial application of US law.  35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(2). The question here is whether export of one component can legally constitute the “substantial portion of the components” required by statute for liability to attach.  In the case, the component (Taq) is a commodity but is also an admitted critical aspect of the invention. In SCA Hygiene v. First Quality, the Court asks whether the equitable defense of laches applies in patent cases.  The case is a follow-on to the Supreme Court’s 2014 holding in Petrella v. MGM that laches does not apply in copyright cases.  In its decision, the Federal Circuit distinguished Petrella based both upon statutory and policy arguments. Oral arguments in SCA are set for November 1, 2016.

The three pending petitions most likely to be granted certiorari are Impression Products (exhaustion); Amgen (BPCIA); and GlaxoSmithKline (antitrust reverse payments)   However, these cases are awaiting views of the Solicitor General — which likely will not be filed until well after the presidential election.

A substantial number of cases are set for the Supreme Court’s September 26 conference.  These include the constitutional challenges to IPR coming in MCM and Carl Cooper as well as the interesting eligibility case of Genetic Tech v. Merial.

It looks to be an interesting term.

The big list:


Claiming: Special Care with Terms of Degree

LibertyPatentedAmmoby Dennis Crouch

Liberty Ammo v. US (Fed. Cir. 2016)

The U.S. Government has waived its sovereign immunity against allegations of patent infringement. However, the infringement charges are not brought via Civil Action under the infringement definition of 35 U.S.C. 271.  Rather, 28 U.S.C. § 1498 spells out that the infringement claim against the U.S. must be brought in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) and that the remedy is limited to the “reasonable and entire compensation for [the Govt’s] use and manufacture.”  The CFC does not allow for a jury nor will it award injunctive relief against the U.S.

Liberty sued the U.S. alleging that the ammunition rounds manufactured for and used by the Army are covered by Liberty’s U.S. Patent No. 7,748,325.  In the 1990s and 2000s, the U.S. military became concerned that lead-based ammunition might be a form of harmful pollution – the patented ammunition here follows that lead by eliminating lead from the round while remaining lethal to soft-tissue targets (such as humans).  According to the patent, the projectile (shown in the image above) separates into three portions upon striking a target.  The projectile also includes a reduced-size jacket that limits barrel heat build-up.

In 2005, Liberty provided the Army with a set of 50 prototype rounds for testing (subject to a NDA).  The Army decided not to take a license or purchase those rounds from Liberty, but did begin using substantially similar rounds.  In the subsequent CFC infringement case, the court sided with Liberty – finding the asserted claims infringed and enforceable. The court then awarded $15 million in damages to Liberty with an ongoing royalty of 1.4¢ per round.

Claim Construction a Loser: On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed – finding that the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the claim term “reduced area of contact.”  The debate over the unstated reference point – reduced from what? The CFC used the reference of “traditional jacketed lead bullet of calibers .17 through .50 BMG” based upon the specification statement that the invention is designed for “all calibers generally ranging from .17 through .50.”  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit found that the reference for the accused 5.56 mm should – in particular – be traditional M855 rounds – since that is “the specification’s only mention of a specific conventional projectile” and was the standard-issue round for the Army at the time.  This modification to the construction is important because the traditional M855 projectiles already had a rather small area of contact and the accused projectiles have an increased contact area — thus no infringement.

Almost Indefinite: “Reduced area of contact” is a problematic claim term because it is a term of degree that calls for comparison against some unstated baseline.  Reflecting that sentiment, the court here writes that “Terms of degree are problematic if their baseline is unclear to those of ordinary skill in the art.”  Although not ‘inherently indefinite’, terms of degree will be found indefinite if they fail to provide some ‘objective boundaries.’  In talking through this, the Federal Circuit wrote that the lower court’s construction would have left the claim as indefinite because there would be multiple ‘traditional’ bullets that could be used as the baseline.

Claim 1 would not be definite had the trial court’s construction been correct because there would not be a sufficient objective boundary around the term of degree “reduced area of contact.” It is true that the trial court did objectively limit the claim language by including the “.17 through .50 BMG caliber” guidepost in its construction. This standard is objective in the sense that it defines a set range of calibers from which the baseline projectile may be drawn. Yet, even after limiting the field of baseline projectiles according to the trial court’s construction, a multitude of candidates for the conventional baseline projectile would remain for each caliber within that range, making the claim indefinite under Interval.

Here, the Federal Circuit goes on to suggest that the difficulty in proving infringement may be indicative of indefiniteness. “[A] term of degree cannot be definite when construed in a manner that lends itself to this sort of scattershot infringement analysis.”

The Background of the Invention section first narrows the ambiguity by disclosing that the patent’s proposed projectile has “a reduced contact area as compared to conventional projectiles.”

NDA Not Enforceable against the Army: Although the patent portion of the case is most relevant for Patently-O readers, the most important business element may be the court’s disregard of the non disclosure agreement signed by Lt. Col. Glenn Dean.  When the inventor of the ‘325 patent approached the army, he was directed to the Chief of Small Arms for the army’s Infantry Combat Directorate (DCD), Lt. Col. Dean.  Prior to discussing the ammunition, Dean signed a non disclosure agreement (NDA).

The courts, however refused to enforce the agreement – finding that Lt. Col. Dean “did not have the requisite authority to enter the NDA on the Government’s behalf.”  In traditional contract law, an agent’s “apparent authority” can be sufficient to bind a principal.  However, several cases have held that the U.S. Government “is immune to actions of its agents who merely possess apparent authority.”  See CACI, Inc. v. Stone, 990 F.2d 1233, 1236 (Fed. Cir. 1993).