Tag Archives: Federal Circuit

A few initial thoughts on Loper Bright and the end of Chevron Deference

by Dennis Crouch

This is just a first look at how overturning Chevron may impact patent practice. 

In the past, both the USPTO and patent attorneys have largely ignored the larger scope of administrative law, but in recent years USPTO operations have been under tighter control from the White House, and courts have increasingly asked whether the agency is following the rules.  Administrative patent law was truly launched with  the American Invents Act of 2011 and the resulting administrative patent trials by the PTAB — resulting in hundreds of appeals arguing that the USPTO’s procedural approach is an abuse of administrative power.  Importantly, the Supreme Court in Cuozzo Speed Techs. v. Com. for Intell. Prop., 579 U.S. 261 (2016) provided the patent office with Chevron deference for its determinations regarding AIA trials, including issues such as its approach to claim construction.  But Chevron has now been overruled, and many are wanting the Federal Circuit to revisit the USPTO approach.

Although I expect that the outcome (more…)

Texas Startup Must Litigate Apple in California because of Convenience to the Tech Giant

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit recently denied a petition for mandamus seeking to overturn a district court order transferring a patent case from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California. In re Haptic, Inc., No. 2024-121 (Fed. Cir. June 25, 2024). This case was filed in Austin and assigned to Judge Robert Pittman with Haptic alleging that Apple’s “Back Tap” feature on iPhones infringes U.S. Patent No. 9,996,738 relating to gesture detection systems. Haptic is headquartered in Austin at the home of its longtime CEO and listed inventor Jake Boshernitzan.  The company was part of Techstars Austin Accelerator as it developed its product known as Knocki that allows users to tap on ordinary surfaces to control various actions on phones and other devices. Knock on wood. The patent and Knocki product are designed to expand touch interfaces beyond traditional touchscreens, potentially opening up new modes of interaction with smart devices and appliances. The ‘738 patent particularly issue covers systems and methods for detecting tapping or knocking gestures on surfaces to control electronic devices.

Apple also has a major presence in Austin, with about 10,000 Austin employees and a billion-dollar second headquarters campus in the city. Nevertheless, Judge Pitman (more…)

Amarin v. Hikma: Federal Circuit reverses Inducement Dismissal in Skinny-Label Case

by Dennis Crouch

Amarin Pharma, Inc. v. Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., No. 2023-1169 (Fed. Cir. June 25, 2024).

This is another “skinny label” generic pharmaceutical patent case.  The basic setup involves a drug that has several different approved uses; with the branded manufacturer holding patents covering only some of the uses.  The generic company is then permitted to sell the drug, but is labelled only for non-patented uses. These labels are known as  carve-out or “skinny” labels under 21 U.S.C. § 355(j)(2)(A)(viii).

It is inevitable that people will purchase and use the generic drugs for the patented uses, and that the generic distributer will be accused accused of inducing  those infringing acts.  Although the generic typically makes a profit on these sales, it those profits pale in comparison to the profits lost by the branded company.

Amarin v. Hickma highlights some of the challenges that generics are facing when marketing drugs with these carved-out labels.  One difficulty is that the FDA severely limits what the generic can say about the drug and its uses, and the carve-out is generally based upon statements made by the patentee.  Here, the court follows a label-plus approach. The skinny label itself will not be enough to show inducement, but that evidence can be combined with other evidence (such as marketing) to prove liability. (more…)

Sitting By Designation, Judge Albright Pens First Federal Circuit Opinion Vacating PTAB Decision for Failing to Consider Petitioner’s Reply Brief Claim Construction Arguments

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s 2023 decision in Axonics, Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc. marked an important change in inter partes review procedure, ensuring petitioners have an opportunity to respond patentee’s newly proposed arguments, with the hope of discouraging patent owners from holding-back (“sandbagging”) at the institution stage.  Case-in-point is the Federal Circuit’s recent Apple v. Omni MedSci decision authored by Judge Alan D. Albright sitting by designation.

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Patentees Out of Luck Again: CAFed Sides with DraftKings that Remote Gambling Patent Ineligible

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit has affirmed a D.N.J. court’s dismissal of patentee Beteiro’s infringement complaints against DraftKings, et al., agreeing that the asserted claims are directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Beteiro, LLC v. DraftKings Inc., No. 2022-2275 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2024). The patents at issue were directed to methods of facilitating remote gambling activity using devises equipped with GPS.  (more…)

Trade Secret Misappropriation Preliminary Injunction Reversed

By Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit has reversed a preliminary injunction order in a trade secret misappropriation case, finding that the district court abused its discretion by failing to properly evaluate the likelihood of success on the merits and the balance of harms. Insulet Corp. v. EOFlow, Co., No. 2024-1137 (Fed. Cir. June 17, 2024). The appellate court held that the district court’s analysis was deficient in several key respects, including not addressing the statute of limitations defense, defining trade secrets too broadly, and not sufficiently assessing irreparable harm and the public interest.

This classic trade secret case involves former employees left to join a competitor.  As free humans, they are permitted to take their skill and wisdom to the new jobs, but are forbidden from misappropriating trade secret knowledge.  That line drawing is particularly difficult, and one reason why many employers moved toward contractual non-compete agreements. The case is also complicated because the defendant here admit to reverse engineering that apparently lead to some substantial similarities between the products.

The decision highlights a high bar for obtaining a preliminary injunction, even in trade secret cases involving competitors where we previously may have assumed irreparable harm.  The Federal Circuit here explained that lower courts are required to individually evaluate each of the four injunction factors – likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, balance of hardships, and public interest. Conclusory assertions of competitive harm are insufficient to show irreparable injury.  For trade secret claims in particular, the alleged trade secrets must be defined with specificity. But, this proof is often difficult at the preliminary injunction stage of a case when the particular knowledge used by the defendant has not been fully discovered.

The Federal Circuit has been seen as largely supporting strong trade secrecy rights. However, this decision may put a damper on forum shopping attempts. (more…)

Commenting on the USPTO’s Proposed Rule on Terminal Disclaimers

[I have substantially updated this post – correcting a couple of issues from the original and also added info from the letter from former USPTO leaders. – DC 6/1/24]

by Dennis Crouch

As I have previously discussed on Patently-O, the USPTO recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that could significantly impact patent practice, particularly in the realm of terminal disclaimers filed to overcome non-statutory double patenting rejections. Dennis Crouch, Major Proposed Changes to Terminal Disclaimer Practice (and You are Not Going to Like it), Patently-O (May 9, 2024).  Under the proposed rule, a terminal disclaimer will only be accepted by the USPTO if it includes an agreement that the patent will be unenforceable if tied (directly or indirectly) to another patent that has any claim invalidated or canceled based on prior art (anticipation or obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 103). This proposal has generated significant debate among patent practitioners, with many expressing concerns about its potential impact on innovation and patent rights.  It is a dramatic change in practice because the typical rule required by statute is that the validity of each patent claim must be separately adjudged. See 35 U.S.C. § 282(a).

The comment period is open until early July, but a number of comments have already been submitted. And I looked through them in order to get some early feedback.  You can read the comments here (more…)

The NYIPLA Brief: Advocating for Patent Term Adjustments

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s 2023 decision in In re Cellect, LLC, 81 F.4th 1216 (Fed. Cir. 2023) has set the stage for a potentially significant Supreme Court case on the interplay between the Patent Term Adjustment (PTA) statute, 35 U.S.C. § 154(b), and the judicially-created doctrine of obviousness-type double patenting (ODP). Cellect is now seeking certiorari, and the New York Intellectual Property Law Association (NYIPLA) has stepped in with an amicus brief supporting the petition, arguing that the case presents “questions of exceptional importance.” Brief for New York Intellectual Property Law Association as Amicus Curiae Supporting Petitioner at 23, Cellect, LLC v. Vidal, No. 23-1231 (U.S. May 28, 2024). (more…)

How Chestek Impacts USPTO’s Rulemaking Authority and the Push to Restore

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Chestek v. Vidal opened the door to extensive USPTO rulemaking that entirely avoids the notice and comment process required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In re Chestek PLLC, 92 F.4th 1105 (Fed. Cir. 2024).  Chestek has now filed her petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court asking: Whether the PTO is exempt from notice-and-comment requirements when exercising its rulemaking power under 35 U.S.C. § 2(b)(2).

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Federal Circuit Untangles Trademark Dispute

by Dennis Crouch

Araujo v. Framboise Holdings Inc., No. 23-1142 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 30, 2024).

In this appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision sustaining an opposition proceeding and refusing registration of the standard character mark #TODECACHO for hair combs. Procedural and Substantive: the Federal Circuit held that the TTAB properly allowed Framboise to extend its trial period; and that substantial evidence supported the TTAB’s finding that Framboise established prior use.  Opinion by Judge Lourie, joined by Judges Linn and Stoll.

In Brazilian Portuguese the colloquial phrase – “to de cacho” –  is often used to mean “I am angry.”  In the context of this case, however, it references difficult to control curly hair. (more…)

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Vanda’s Patent Obviousness Appeal

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court has denied Vanda Pharmaceuticals’ petition for certiorari, leaving in place a Federal Circuit decision that invalidated Vanda’s patents on methods of using the sleep disorder drug Hetlioz (tasimelteon) as obvious.

Vanda had argued in its cert petition that (more…)

Munsingwear Mootness in Sumitomo Pharma v. Vidal

by Dennis Crouch

Although non-precedential, the Federal Circuit’s new decision in Sumitomo Pharma v. Vidal offers the important conclusion that a patentee has no standing to appeal an invalidity holding once the patent expires, absent some showing of likely infringement during the prior six years.  Sumitomo Pharma Co. v. Vidal, No. 22-2276 (Fed. Cir. April 5, 2024).  The case is not so bad for the patentee because (more…)

In re Xencor: USPTO’s Inaction Following Federal Circuit Remand

by Dennis Crouch

On January 23, 2024, the Federal Circuit granted the USPTO’s request for a remand in the case of In re Xencor, Inc. The appeal focused on two important issues concerning written description requirements for means-plus-function (MPF) and Jepson claims in the context of antibody patents. The USPTO had indicated that it wanted to reconsider its approach to these issues and convene its newly established Appeals Review Panel (ARP) to clarify its position. (ARP is the new POP). As part of its justification for remand, the Federal Circuit noted its expectation “that proceedings will be conducted expeditiously.”

However, more than two months after the remand order, there has been no visible progress in the case. The USPTO has not docketed the case with the ARP, and no public announcement has been made regarding the composition of the panel that will review the case. Furthermore, the prosecution history of the application in question (USPTO Application Number 16/803,690) does not reflect any updates or changes since the remand.

This lack of action is particularly concerning given the significance of the issues at stake. The PTAB previously made two controversial rulings that were on appeal: (1) that under 35 U.S.C. 112(f) equivalents require explicit written description support and (2) that non-limiting Jepson claim preambles also require such support, even if they do not limit claim scope.

Meanwhile, the USPTO did recently issue examination guidance on examining means-plus-function claim limitations under 112(f).  The troubling aspect of the memo, however, is that it does not provide any guidance on the Xencor enablement issue.

Citations:
[1] https://patentlyo.com/patent/2023/12/motion-remand-xencor.html
[2] https://patentlyo.com/patent/2024/01/important-antibody-description.html
[3] https://cafc.uscourts.gov/01-23-2024-23-2048-in-re-xencor-inc-order-23-2048-order-1-23-2024_2257719/

Jury Instructions and Objective Indicia of Nonobviousness: Federal Circuit Grants New Trial in Inline Plastics v. Lacerta

In a recent decision, the Federal Circuit vacated a judgment of invalidity and remanded for a new trial, holding that the district court’s jury instruction on objective indicia of nonobviousness constituted prejudicial legal error. The case, Inline Plastics Corp. v. Lacerta Group, LLC, No. 2022-1954 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 27, 2024), involved patents relating to tamper-resistant and tamper-evident food containers.

(more…)

Assessing Judicial Fitness: Judge Newman’s Alleged Cognitive Decline

by Dennis Crouch

This week, the Federal Circuit disclosed further documents from a special committee established to evaluate the potential removal of Judge Pauline Newman from active duty due to a suspected mental or physical disability that could affect her judicial capabilities. The order, dated May 16, 2023, gives a more comprehensive discussion on concerns about Judge Newman’s performance, including signs of memory issues or confusion and diminished productivity. The document also outlines an investigation involving requested medical assessments and records, which Judge Newman has declined to provide.

The committee, formed on March 24, 2023, and comprising of Chief Judge Moore, Judge Prost, and Judge Taranto, is tasked to scrutinize the complaint, deliver their findings, and propose recommendations. Successive orders on April 7, April 17, and May 3, 2023, commanded Judge Newman to undertake a neurological evaluation and neuropsychological testing, backed unanimously by the council members based on noticeable changes in her mental sharpness.  Judge Newman opposed the mandated examinations, arguing that she should have the right to choose the medical professionals conducting them and that these examinations should have boundaries.

The May 16 order reiterates the need for these examinations in light of substantial evidence suggesting a possible disability that might inhibit Judge Newman’s judicial functions. The document then elaborates on the concerns expressed by court employees about Judge Newman’s competence. Reports from employees from various departments, including the Clerk’s Office, IT, HR, and Judge Newman’s chambers, highlight issues like memory lapses, confusion, paranoia, and inability to execute simple tasks. Notably, it details frequent accusations from Judge Newman about her email and computer being hacked, and her phones being bugged, as well as difficulty with everyday tasks such as logging into the court system, misplacing court documents, and forgetting information. The Judge has also shown confusion regarding court rules and struggled with mandatory security awareness training. These issues suggest significant cognitive impairment, according to the order, warranting a medical examination.

The document further mentions that “two out of five members of Judge Newman’s staff have recently resigned and have requested to have no further contact with Judge Newman.” It adds that “Judge Newman threatened to have a staff member arrested and removed from the building,” and another staff member “asserts her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination when asked about her role and responsibilities in the chambers, based on her lawyer’s advice.”

Judicial Disability and the “Great Dissenter”

Guest Post by Paul R. Gugliuzza, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

The judicial disability proceedings instituted against Federal Circuit Judge Pauline Newman have now spilled into litigation. As Dennis reported yesterday, Judge Newman filed a complaint in D.C. federal district court seeking, among other things, to enjoin and terminate the proceedings.

Judge Newman’s complaint contains previously unreported details about the events giving rise to the disability proceedings against her. For instance, the complaint discloses an allegation, which was previously redacted from an order written by Chief Judge Moore in the disability proceedings, that, in the summer of 2021, Judge Newman had a heart attack and underwent coronary stent surgery.

Judge Newman’s complaint responds to that allegation by stating that “[d]uring the period (June 2021 through September 2021) when Chief Judge Moore claims that Judge Newman suffered a heart attack, Judge Newman sat on ten panels and issued at least eight (including majority, concurring, and dissenting) opinions.” Chief Judge Moore’s order, for its part, noted that Judge Newman wrote many fewer majority opinions than her colleagues over the past few years.

This dispute over Judge Newman’s ability to perform her judicial duties is an unfortunate tarnish on Judge Newman’s reputation and on the image of the Federal Circuit. And, because many of the relevant events occurred behind closed doors, we might never know for sure what’s been happening.

Is Judge Newman slowing down at age 95? Quite possibly. But is she “unable to discharge all the duties of office”—the standard set by law for instituting disability proceedings?

For some insight into Judge Newman’s workload as compared to her colleagues, I used Jason Rantanen’s Compendium of Federal Circuit decisions to collect and analyze data on the number of opinions written by individual Federal Circuit judges from June 2021 (the time of Judge Newman’s alleged heart attack) through the end of 2022. Those numbers tell a complicated story.

First off, Judge Newman’s assertion in her complaint that she wrote eight opinions from June 2021 through September 2021 is pretty much accurate. Over that time period, Judge Newman wrote one majority opinion (in a veterans case) and six dissenting opinions (either partial or full). In the eighth and final case that I was able to find, Judge Newman concurred in the result but didn’t write an opinion.

How does Judge Newman’s rate of opinion writing compare to her colleagues? The table below reports the number of opinions (precedential or not) written by each Federal Circuit judge who was in active service for the entire time period of June 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022—ten judges in total.

Opinions by Federal Circuit Judges (June 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022)

As the table makes clear, Judge Newman is an outlier, having written only nine majority opinions over that 19-month period. The judge with the next lowest number of majority opinions, Judge Chen, wrote three times as many as Judge Newman. In a group of ten active court of appeals judges, we would expect that, on average, each judge would write roughly 10% of the majority opinions. Yet Judge Newman wrote barely 2% (9 of 387).

Looking at concurring and dissenting opinions complicates things though. From June 2021 through the end of 2022, Judge Newman wrote 23 of those separate opinions. (And she concurred or dissented without opinion in four additional cases.) The two judges with the next most separate opinions, Judges Reyna and Dyk, wrote roughly half as many (13 and 11, respectively).

Overall, then, Judge Newman wrote 32 opinions from the time of her supposed heart attack through the end of 2022. That’s on the low side for an active Federal Circuit judge, but it’s worth noting that Judge Chen actually wrote fewer total opinions (30) over that same period.

Is a judge who writes, on average, more than one dissent or concurrence a month “unable” to discharge her duties? Arguably not. But, then again, there are underlying questions about Judge Newman’s physical and mental health that we can’t possibly know the answers to at this point.

And nothing is helped by the often-salacious framing of these disability proceedings as, essentially, a personal dispute between a famously headstrong—and female—Chief Judge quarreling with another female judge who, regardless of recent events, is indisputably a titan of the patent bar.

Rather, Judge Moore is acting in her official capacity as chief judge of a federal court of appeals and is proceeding in accordance with the framework set by statute and by the rules governing judicial disability proceedings. Judge Newman, for her part, is contesting both the process and merits of those proceedings, as she has every right to do. It’s not a judicial “cat fight.” It’s a legal dispute among judges—including other judges on the Federal Circuit—who genuinely disagree about what’s best for the court and the litigants who appear before it.

Turning back to the opinion numbers, the nub the conflict might be Judge Newman’s propensity to dissent. Each one of her 23 separate opinions reported on the table above dissented, at least in part. Because a dissenting judge, by definition, can’t write the majority opinion, a judge who dissents a lot creates a lot more work for her colleagues. And judges are, in the end, just people. A judge who does less work on majority opinions and who regularly refuses to compromise is unlikely to win many friends. Nor is a judge who constantly dissents likely to respond well to colleagues who suggest she take senior status or retire. Even if none of the Federal Circuit’s judges say so, frustration with Judge Newman as the court’s “great dissenter” is probably at least part of the reason for this sad saga.

Attorney Fees on Undecided Inequitable Conduct Issues

by Dennis Crouch

United Cannabis Corp (UCANN) vs. Pure Hemp Collective, — F.4th — (Fed. Cir. 2023)

The UCANN vs. Pure Hemp patent case has come to a close with the Federal Circuit affirming the district court’s decision to deny attorney fees to Pure Hemp. The original infringement lawsuit was filed in 2018, with UCANN suing Pure Hemp for infringing US Patent No. 9,730,911, covering various high concentration cannabis and CBD extract formulations. During the litigation, UCANN filed for bankruptcy, causing the case to be stayed, and eventually, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the infringement claims with prejudice. However, the stipulated dismissal did not include any discussion of attorney fees — leading to the current appeal.

Following the dismissal, Pure Hemp moved for attorney fees and sanctions, arguing that UCANN’s counsel committed inequitable conduct during patent prosecution and that UCANN’s litigation counsel had a conflict of interest. The district court sided with UCANN and denied attorney fees, stating (1) that Pure Hemp was not the prevailing party and (2) that Pure Hemp did not prove that the case was exceptional. The Federal Circuit has now affirmed the decision, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the case unexceptional. Although district court the district court erred in not finding Pure Hemp to be the prevailing party, the error was harmless.

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Bringing Home the Bacon with Joint Inventorship

Guest Post by Jordan Duenckel.  Jordan is a second-year law student at the University of Missouri, head of our IP student association, and a registered patent agent.  He has an extensive background in chemistry and food science.

HIP, Inc., v. Hormel Foods Corp., 2022-1696, — F.4th — (Fed. Cir. May 2, 2023)

Joint inventorship requires a substantial contribution to the invention. In the decision HIP, Inc. vs. Hormel, Judge Lourie writes for a unanimous panel to reverse a district court’s determination of joint inventorship involving a new process for precooking bacon. US Patent 9,980,498 has four inventors that are employees of and assigned their interest to Hormel.  HIP sued Hormel, alleging that David Howard was either the sole inventor or a joint inventor of the ’498 patent. The district court determined that Howard was a joint inventor based solely on his alleged contribution to the infrared preheating concept in independent claim 5.  

Bacon is an interesting food with unique preservation and cooking properties. Being a cured product, for food safety reasons, no additional cooking of the bacon is needed when bought off the shelf in a refrigerated section. Of course, most people are not consuming the bacon without additional cooking and some companies will precook the product for consumer convenience. When precooking, Hormel is trying to avoid the loss of salt, and therefore flavor, through condensation and prevent the creation charred off flavors (as opposed to the desirable char on a steak).  

 In the process of viability testing the new method, prior to filing the application, the inventors consulted with David Howard of Unitherm, HIP’s predecessor, to discuss methods related to Unitherm’s cooking equipment to create a two-step process of preheating then a higher temperature step. After some difficulties, Hormel leased the equipment and returned to their own R&D lab. The method created, the subject matter of the ‘498 patent, involves a first step that allows the fat of the bacon to seal the surface of the bacon and prevent condensation. The charring was remedied by adjusting the heating method of the oven in the second step of high-temperature cooking. In Hormel’s product development, Hormel tried an infrared oven and a conventional spiral oven.

HIP argued that Howard contributed to the ‘498 patent in the preheating by hot air in claim 5 and/or preheating with an infrared oven in claim 5.  Claim Five reads in the relevant part:  

  1. A method of making precooked meat pieces using a hybrid cooking system, comprising: preheating meat pieces in a first cooking compartment using a preheating method selected from the group consisting of a microwave oven, an infrared oven, and hot air to a temperature of at least 140º F. to create preheated meat pieces…

On appeal, Hormel argues that Howard’s contribution is well-known in the art and insignificant when measured against the full invention. With inventorship being a question of law, and the issuance of a patent creating a presumption of inventorship, an alleged joint inventor must provide clear and convincing evidence to substantiate their claim. In evaluating whether a significant contribution was made by Howards, the parties apply the test from Pannu v. Iolab Corp., 155 F.3d 1344, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 1998). The test requires that the alleged joint inventor: 

(1) contributed in some significant manner to the conception of the invention; (2) made a contribution to the claimed invention that is not insignificant in quality, when that contribution is measured against the dimension of the full invention; and (3) did more than merely explain to the real inventors well-known concepts and/or the current state of the art. 

Analyzing the second Pannu factor, the Court found that the alleged contribution of preheating meat pieces using an infrared oven to be insignificant in quality because it was mentioned only once in the patent specification as an alternative heating method to a microwave oven and was recited only once in one Markush grouping in a single claim. In contrast, preheating with microwave ovens and microwave ovens themselves were prominently featured throughout the specification, claims, and figures. The examples and corresponding figures also employed procedures using preheating with a microwave oven, but not preheating with an infrared oven.  

Infrared heating seems to have been an afterthought in the creation of the two-step precooking method. Whatever discussions Howard might have had about the importance of the infrared, Hormel seems to have focused on microwave heating to solve the condensation problem. From one step further back, it seems absurd to permit joint ownership by a cooking equipment manufacturer when the significant discoveries and refinements of the methods were made in Hormel’s R&D facility without Howard present. The prevention of condensation and avoiding the char flavor were both made independent of Howard’s contributions. Considering the second Pannu factor, the reversal of inventorship seems appropriate.  

The Split on Pleading Scienter for Inequitable Conduct

by David Hricik, Mercer Law School

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) requires that fraud or mistake be pled with particularity.  The Federal Circuit has held that, although inequitable conduct is “broader than fraud” inequitable conduct must be pled with particularity in Exergen Corp. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 575 F.3d 1312, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2009).  (A digression:  I think this is wrong because the Supreme Court has held that Rule 9(b) is limited to “fraud” and “mistake” and it is improper to rely on judicial policies to expand the plain meaning of the rule.  See David Hricik, Wrong about Everything: The Application by the District Courts of Rule 9(b) to Inequitable Conduct, 86 Marquette Law Review  895 (2003) (here).)

One issue that has split the district courts is whether the “single most reasonable inference” standard for scienter applies at the pleading stage. The court in Deere & Co v. Kinze Mfg., Inc (No. 4:20-cv-00389-RGE-HC, C.D. Iowa May 1, 2023) collected the cases:

iLife Techs. Inc. v. AliphCom, No. 14-CV-03345-WHO, 2015 WL 890347, at *4 n.1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 19, 2015) (“I recognize that there is currently a dispute among courts as to the pleading requirements for an inequitable conduct counterclaim.”) (collecting cases); see also Wyeth Holdings Corp. v. Sandoz, Inc., CIV.A. No. 09-955-LPS-CJB, 2012 WL 600715, at *7 (D. Del. Feb. 3, 2012) (“Several district courts have recently confronted this question and have reached different conclusions.”) (collecting cases); Cutsforth, Inc. v. LEMM Liquidating Co., L.L.C., No. 12-cv-1200 (SRN/JSM), 2013 WL 2455979, at *4 (D. Minn. June 6, 2013) (“District courts are currently conflicted on the effect of the Federal Circuit’s holding in Therasense on the pleading requirements for the specific intent to deceive element.”) (collecting cases). More recent decisions, however, have acknowledged that a majority of courts do not view Therasense as requiring pleadings of inequitable conduct to satisfy the “single most reasonable inference” standard. See Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. v. Bentley Motors Ltd., No. 2:18cv320, 2021 WL 8086357, at *2 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2021) (“[T]he majority position among district courts is that even applying the Rule 9(b) standard requiring heightened specificity when pleading fraud, it is not necessary that intent to deceive be the ‘single most reasonable inference,’ at the pleading stage.” (quoting W.L. Gore & Assocs., Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 850 F. Supp. 2d 630, 633 (E.D. Va. 2012))); Front Row Techs., L.L.C. v. NBA Media Ventures, L.L.C., 163 F. Supp. 3d 938, 986 (D.N.M. 2016) (A “line of cases . . . hold[s] that the pleader ‘need only allege facts from which the Court could reasonably infer that the patent applicant made a deliberate decision to deceive the [US]PTO.’ . . . Th[is] . . . line of cases is now the majority position.” (quoting Wyeth Holdings, 2012 WL 600715, at *7)).

The John Deere court ultimately held pleadings showing only a reasonable inference of scienter was required, not the single most reasonable inference, reasoning in part:

Moreover, as multiple courts have noted, the Federal Circuit’s opinion in Delano Farms Co. v. California Table Grape Commission––decided after Therasense––affirmed the Exergen pleading standard on a motion to dismiss an inequitable conduct counterclaim alleging the withholding of material references. Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm’n, 655 F.3d 1337, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2011). The Delano Farms court stated the charge of inequitable conduct would survive “only if the plaintiff’s complaint recites facts from which the court may reasonably infer that a specific individual both knew of invalidating information that was withheld from the [US]PTO and withheld that information with a specific intent to deceive the [US]PTO.” Id. (emphasis added); see also Wyeth Holdings, 2012 WL 600715, *8 (citing Delano Farms, 655 F.3d 1337); Human Genome Scis., Inc., 2011 WL 7461786, at *3 (“Delano Farms, a post-Therasense case . . . also seems to indicate that the less rigorous standard applies.” (citing same)); accord Cutsforth, 2013 WL 2455979, at *4; Mentor Graphics Corp. v. EVE-USA, Inc., 13 F. Supp. 3d 1116, 1125–26 (D. Or. 2014); Illumina Inc. v. BGI Genomics Co., Ltd., No. 20-cv-01465-WHO, 2021 WL 428632, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2021); Jaguar Land Rover Ltd., 2021 WL 8086357, at *2; Front Row Techs., 163 F. Supp. 3d at 986; TiVo Inc. v. Verizon Commc’ns, Inc., No. 2:09-cv-257, 2011 WL 13134426, at *3 (E.D. Tex. Sept. 7, 2011); Graphic Packaging Int’l, Inc. v. C.W. Zumbiel Co., No. 3:10–cv–891–J–37JBT, 2011 WL 4862498, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 12, 2011).

It seems to me that it’s much too high a bar to require the single most reasonable inference at the pleading stage in part because the facts to establish scienter largely will be in the patentee’s possession and if pleading is denied, there won’t be any discovery since it is, largely, limited to information relevant to a pled claim or defense.

The Supreme Court and Patent Protection for Medical Diagnostics: A Closer Look at CareDx and Stanford U v. Eurofins

by Dennis Crouch

The recently filed petition for certiorari in CareDx and Stanford University v. Eurofins Viracor, Inc. (Supreme Court 2023) offers an opportunity to examine the patent eligibility doctrine in the context of an important health diagnostics innovation. The inventions at issue relate to early detection of organ transplant failure, which obviously hold significant potential to save lives and reduce reliance on invasive exploratory surgical procedures. The detection method involves identifying DNA fragments from the transplant within the bloodstream, a challenge that had stumped scientists for over a decade.  Although various scientists had proposed mechanisms for using this information, the evidence shows more than a decade of failed ideas, and at least one article reported that the process is “difficult and impractical.”  The breakthrough came when Stanford researchers successfully applied high-throughput multiplex sequencing (“shotgun sequencing”) to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) unique to donor organs.  Of potential importance, the Stanford researchers did not create these new sequencing techniques, but they were the first to take advantage of them in this particular context and, as the claim language below shows, the scientists focuses on creating thresholds as part of a method that particularly work in this situation.

Three patents are central to this case: U.S. Patent Nos. 8,703,652, 9,845,497, and 10,329,607. Claim 1 of the ‘607 patent exemplifies the claimed method, which includes the following steps:

  1. Providing a plasma sample from the recipient;
  2. extracting cell-free DNA from the sample;
  3. performing “selective amplification” of target DNA sequences, wherein that amplification “amplifies a plurality of genomic regions comprising at least 1,000 [SNPs]” using PCR;
  4. performing “high throughput sequencing” comprising a “sequencing-by-synthesis reaction” with an error rate of less than 1.5%;
  5. providing sequences comprising “at least 1,000 [SNPs]”; and
  6. quantifying the proportion of donor-derived DNA, using distinguishing biomarkers drawn from those at least 1,000 SNPs, and wherein the donor’s cell-free DNA comprises at least 0.03% of the total in the sample.

The Infringement Lawsuit: The Delaware District Court initially denied defendants’ motions to dismiss and for summary judgment of ineligibility. However, Chief Judge Connolly later reconsidered the summary judgment motion and ultimately ruled that the claims were ineligible under the two-step analysis set forth in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. 66 (2012). The Federal Circuit affirmed this decision.

The petition to the Supreme Court raises the following simple question: Is a new and useful method for measuring a natural phenomenon, which improves upon prior methods for measuring the same phenomenon, eligible for patent protection under Section 101? The petition emphasizes the importance of this case compared to Tropp and Interactive Wearables, and it underscores the need for the Supreme Court to review its application of eligibility exceptions to medical diagnostics.

This case has potentially significant implications for US patent law doctrine as well as potential impact on investment in medical diagnostics. We’ll be following the case closely and talking more about its potential effects.