Tag Archives: Licenses

Guest Post: TC Heartland and Statutory Interpretation

By: Michael Risch, Professor of Law, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

After the certiorari grant in TC Heartland, Dennis solicited a blog post from anyone who thought the case was not a slam dunk. Always the contrarian, I took him up on the offer. In a prior blog post at my own blog, Written Description, I detail some of the history of the statute and highlight why I think that Fourco does not necessarily answer the question. Colleen Chien and I flesh out the history and interpretation a bit more in our article, which we’ve blogged about here in the past.

I should note that the outset that I favor TC Heartland’s position from a policy point of view. I’ve long said in a variety of venues (including comment threads on this very blog) that there are significant problems with any system in which so much rides on where the case is filed. And I think that’s true whether you think they are doing a great or terrible job in the Eastern District of Texas.

Now, on to the interpretive issues. In general, I favor the application of longstanding original norms of statutory interpretation unless there’s good reason to depart from them (see, e.g., my new paper on reasonable royalties). I think this is doubly true where no one ever challenged the original interpretation (see, e.g. the ridiculous claims that common law copyright grants a performance right to sound recordings, despite the fact that no one ever thought so in the history of common law copyright). But in this case, I don’t think one can simply rely on the fact that no one challenged VE Holdings for 25 years. After all, the Supreme Court just overturned our understanding of design patent damages despite a tacit understanding that was more than 100 years old. As I noted here, this bothered me a bit given my general views, but I also think it was the correct statutory interpretation.

But, as I noted in my prior blog post, I don’t think one can just say “Fourco controls.” As I noted there: “Stonite and Fourco were statutory interpretation problems…. [T]his is a statutory interpretation problem. But the statute in Fourco is different from the statute today and has been amended twice since. We cannot rely on a supposed ‘rule’ about a statute that no longer exists.”

Instead, we have to return to first principles. In Stonite, the court clearly held that the patent venue statute was a special statute, to be specially applied differently than the general venue statute.  After Stonite, the general venue statute was amended. But let’s look at the statutes of the time. Right out of Fourco:

Section 1400 is titled “Patents and copyrights,” and subsection (b) reads:

“(b) 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.”

Section 1391 is titled “Venue generally,” and subsection (c) reads:

“(c) A corporation may be sued in any judicial district in which it is incorporated or licensed to do business or is doing business, and such judicial district shall be regarded as the residence of such corporation for venue purposes.”

The court ruled that not enough changed since Stonite: we still had two separate venue tracks, and the patent statute was separate. The question now: is there a way for Congress to have changed this? could it have done so unintentionally? Let’s look at the 1988 change to 1391(c):

“For purposes of venue under this chapter, a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction at the time the action is commenced.”

There is a key change here: 1391(c) no longer talks about a “separate” track where corporations can be sued “for venue purposes.” Instead, it says that “for purposes of venue under this chapter…” the definition of resides has now been set (emphasis added). The question is whether the Fourco precedent means that Congress had to do more than this to change the meaning of 1400(b) (which is in the same chapter). In VE Holdings, the Federal Circuit said no, it didn’t – that the plain language modified 1400, and, essentially, that Congress had said there were no more tracks here.

And that, I think, is the core question here. This is not a Supreme Court policy. This is the Court interpreting the statute. What did Congress do? In Stonite and Fourco, the Court said that Congress intended two separate tracks. The Federal Circuit says that in 1988, Congress merged those tracks by changing the definition of “venue” “under this chapter.”

The only other information we have is that in 2011, more than 20 years after VE Holdings, Congress expanded 1391 again. Section 1391(a) says the section applies to all civil actions “except as otherwise provided by law” (and as we detail in our article, the legislative history is clear that this referred to a list of statutes compiled by the ALI, and 1400 is not among them.) Further, 1391(c) expanded from “under this chapter” to “all venue purposes.” In other words, knowing that the Federal Circuit had interpreted 1391(c) and 1400 to be in a single track, Congress further expanded 1391 even more broadly and did nothing to clarify that no, really, “resides” in 1400(b) was really intended to continue to have the narrow definition. We know from many other contexts, in patent law and otherwise, that Congress is fully capable of correcting erroneous court interpretations, and the agglomeration of cases in Texas was known in 2011. Indeed, the AIA was passed in close proximity, and it included special provisions to deal with filings in Texas, but never once attempted to clarify that VE Holdings interpretation was wrong. For Congress to have expanded the venue statute and pass the AIA without addressing this point is particularly salient.

I, frankly, have no idea how this statutory interpretation issue will or even should come out. I don’t think this is a statutory slam dunk either way. TC Heartland is represented by outstanding lawyers who make outstanding arguments to the contrary. And the Court even granting cert. says something. You could dismiss all I’ve written with a wave of the hand: Fourco stands for the proposition that 1400(b) is separate and the current 1391(c) is no different in structure than the 1391(c) that faced the court then. I am troubled by this argument, but I can see how others might reasonably embrace it.

The “Right” to Challenge a Patent

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court in Lear, Inc. v. Adkins (1969) held that a licensee can challenge a patent’s validity — overruling the prior presumption of licensee estoppel found by Automatic Radio Mfg. v. Hazeltine Research (1950).

In his recent article, Antitrust Economist (and lawyer) Erik Hovenkamp argues that the “right to challenge a patent” should also be an important consideration in antitrust analysis.  Hovenkamp defines these “challenge rights” as “the (statutory) rights of third parties to challenge patents as invalid or uninfringed.” Antitrust comes into play when a license or settlement agreement includes challenge restraints that would contractually prevent the exercise of the challenge rights.

There are obvious collateral problems with the way that Hovenkamp identifies the ability to challenge a patent as a “right” – especially if we call it a property right. However, for antitrust-contract consideration, forbearing the ability-to-challenge at least fits the definition of a legal detriment incurred by the promisee.

Although patent licenses are entitled to substantial safe harbor from antitrust regulations, Hovenkamp argues that challenge restraints should not be so entitled “but rather exist within antitrust’s domain” and barred when impermissible anticompetitive.

A problem with the argument is the way that Hovenkamp lumps-together validity and non-infringement challenges as roughly equivalent.  However, I see the two as substantially distinct.

Read the Paper: Challenge Restraints and the Scope of the Patent

The contractual waiver of challenge rights has risen in importance since the Supreme Court’s decision in MedImmune (2007) (licensee retains right to challenge patent without breaching) and creation of the Inter Partes Review system following enactment of the AIA (2011).  Prior to the availability of IPRs (and CBM/PRG), settlement of an infringement lawsuit would effectively preclude later validity challenges even without specific contractual terms. (Res Judicata).  However, those estoppel principles do not apply the same way in AIA proceedings.

JobDiva: Service Mark for Software

JobDivaby Dennis Crouch

Here, the Federal Circuit rejects the TTAB’s requirement for “something more” than selling software in order to protect a service mark. The court instead redirects the inquiry to ask whether provisioning of the software provides the indicated service. 

In re JobDiva (Fed. Cir. 2016) [JobDiva]

Service Mark: JobDiva holds two registrations for its name JobDiva for use in job placement services and computer services for facilitating job placement.

Tables Turned: After JobDiva brought an action to cancel its competitor’s JobVite mark, the Board turned the table and instead cancelled JobDiva’s marks — finding the marks abandoned because JobDiva had failed to prove use in connection with the appropriate classes.  Namely, although JobDiva did use its mark to identify its software — selling software is not providing a job placement service.

A term that only identifies a computer program does not become a service mark merely because the program is sold or licensed in commerce. . . . Such a mark does not serve to identify a service unless it is also used to identify and distinguish the service itself, as opposed to the [computer] program.

The Lanham Act provides for cancellation on grounds of abandonment. “Nonuse for 3 consecutive years shall be prima facie evidence of abandonment.”  Adding to this, the Federal Circuit has previously ruled that the abandonment question should focus on whether “the mark has not been used for the goods or services specified in the registration” during that time period. See On-Line Careline, Inc. v. Am. Online, Inc., 229 F.3d 1080 (Fed. Cir. 2000).

Software Service: On appeal here, the Federal Circuit has vacated the abandonment decision – holding that the Board asked the wrong question about JobDiva’s use.

The Board required JobDiva to prove that it used its marks on more than just software because its software sales alone could not, in the Board’s view, constitute personnel and recruitment services. We disagree with the Board’s approach. The proper question is whether JobDiva, through its software, performed personnel placement and recruitment services and whether consumers would associate JobDiva’s registered marks with personnel placement and recruitment services, regardless of whether the steps of the service were performed by software.

The decision here makes sense and takes a practical approach that fits with the ongoing trend of providing software as a service rather than a product.

No Common Interest Privilege in NY Without Anticipated Litigation

This case is going to cause some problems.

Normally, if Client A and Lawyer A have a confidential communication, disclosure of it to a third party waives any privilege.  However, if Client A and the third party have a “common interest,” there is no waiver.  So, for example, if a licensor communicates with patent prosecution counsel for the licensee about prosecution of a foreign counterpart of the licensed patent, there might be a privilege.

But not under New York law.  The Court of Appeals, inaptly named highest court of New York, held that only if there is pending or anticipated litigation is the common interest exception to waiver available.  Ambac Assurance Corp. v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., (June 9, 2016).

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.


TC Heartland Law Professor Amicus Brief

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

576  U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1920 (2015).

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

by Dennis Crouch

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

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

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

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

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


Samsung v. Apple: A view from inside the courtroom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Issues Several New Ethics Opinions

The Texas ethical rules have some bearing on federal court litigation in the Fifth Circuit, although they do not control. See In re American Airlines, Inc., 972 F.2d 605 (5th Cir. 1992).  Nonetheless, the Eastern District will consider the Texas rules as part of determining “national standards” of ethics in federal court.  (I practiced in Texas for a long time, and am still licensed there and advise lawyers there, and this “national standards” of ethics thing can be a real trap for unwary lawyers who think they can rely on the Texas rules, alone.)

So, a few brand new opinions from Texas are worth mentioning:

  • Opinion 662:  This is a fun one:  what can you do if a client writes a nasty on-line review of you that, you think, is untrue or unfair?  They use Avvo.com (or Yelp?) and say you’re terrible as a patent prosecutor.  What can you do?  There are handful of opinions and they’re coming out the same way as this one, more or less:  You can’t reveal confidential information and you should be “restrained.”
  • Opinion 644:  Basically concludes that a firm that hires a lawyer who, before he became a lawyer, worked for the adversary’s firm as a paralegal, is not disqualified so long as it screens the lawyer from the work.  (Texas does not generally permit screening of lawyers moving from one private practice job to another, but does permit screening of non-lawyers who migrate, so this opinion addresses the odd hybrid scenario.)
  • Opinion 658:  Basically concludes that a firm may not bill a client more than the actual expenses paid on behalf of the client to third party vendors (like Fed Ex, etc.), unless the client agrees to pay more and if the lawyer has an ownership interest in the  vendor, that must be disclosed and make other disclosures.
  • Opinion 661:  Basically concludes that a lawyer can use the name of some other lawyer in Google ads and the like, so that if a person searches for the other lawyer, this lawyer’s name will appear as a sponsored ad.  (Of course, various caveats about truthful advertising still apply.)  (Trademark issue, anyone? I don’t know.)

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).



Patent Venue at the Supreme Court: Correcting a 26 Year Old Legal Error

TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods (Supreme Court 2016) [Petition for Writ of Certioari]

Patent litigation continues to be concentrated in a small number of venues.  This case is potentially a big deal because it could eliminate this concentration — especially patent cases in the E.D.Texas.  Both the PTO and Congress appear in favor of venue reforms, but statutory reforms will likely wait until the Supreme Court decides TC Heartland.

Background: The scope of patent venue is codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) and limits venue to judicial districts “where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”  At first glance, this venue statute would seem to significantly limit venue — For instance, few patent infringement defendants actually reside or have a place of business in the E.D. Texas.  That narrowness was confirmed in the Supreme Court’s decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222 (1957).  The issue in Fourco Glass involved the parallel statute of 28 U.S.C. § 1391 (titled “Venue generally”) that broadly defined a corporation’s residence to include “any judicial district in which it is … licensed to do business or is doing business.” Despite the seeming broadening statutory definition, the Supreme Court held that the more general Section 1391(c) could not be used to expand venue beyond what was contemplated in Section 1400(b).  Rather, the court held that “where the defendant resides” in § 1400(b) is limited to “the state of incorporation only.” Fourco Glass.

We hold 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).


In 1988 Congress amended 1391(c) to expand the definition of residency “for all venue purposes” to include “any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction.” Based upon that change, the Federal Circuit determined in 1990 that Fourco Glass had been implicitly overruled and that the new provision of 1391(c) now does redefine and greatly expand Section 1400(b) even though the legislative history of the 1988 amendment did not discuss patent venue. VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co., 917 F.2d 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

The chart below from the cert petition shows the 1988 statutory change that the Federal Circuit found sufficient to indicate an overruling of Fourco Glass.


It is this 1990 combination of 1400(b)/1391(c) that is now the status quo – venue is proper in any any federal court that has personal jurisdiction over the accused infringer.*

TC Heartland challenges the VE Holding interpretation offering broad venue.  It writes:

The question in this case is thus precisely the same as the issue decided 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).

The Supreme Court previously decided patent venue in Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561 (1942) and also held that the specific patent venue provisions should prevail and remain unmodified by the general venue provisions.

I’ll be happy if TC Heartland wins because it will make it much easier for me to watch patent cases here in Missouri.

The new petition is filed by James Dabney and John Duffy who were the forces behind KSR v. Teleflex.

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* The one major caveat is that Congress again amended 1391(c) in 2011 and the associated legislative history suggests a Congressional recognition that “VE Holding is the prevailing law.”  Update and Correction – On suggestion from a reader, I followed chased down the above quote – it does not actually come from the Congressional Record but instead is Judge Moore’s conclusion found in the TC Heartland case.  The opinion states:

In fact, before and after these [recent] amendments, in the context of considering amending the patent venue statute, Congressional reports have repeatedly recognized that VE Holding is the prevailing law.

For its conclusion, the court cites several Congressional reports that I have not read: “See H.R. Rep. No. 110–314, at 39–40 (2007); S. Rep. No. 110–259, at 25 (2008); H.R. Rep. No. 114–235, at 34 (2015) (stating that “Congress must correct” our holding in VE Holding by amending § 1400); cf. Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination Act of 2016, S. 2733, 114th Cong. § 2(a) (2016).”  An important note with this is that the court did not identify any record contemporaneously with the 2011 report that suggests a conscious choice to keep VE Holding as the prevailing law.

Pending Supreme Court Eligibility Cases: Patenting Genetic Discovery

by Dennis Crouch

Three eligibility cases are pending before the Supreme Court.  Of these, the most interesting is likely Genetic Tech v. Merial.  [GeneticTechPetition]

The 1989 priority date of Genetic Tech’s patent reaches back to the heyday of gene discovery and the claims are directed to a technique of detecting gene alleles.  U.S. Patent No. 5,612,179. The claimed method is based upon the insight that genes are typically associated non-coding regions of DNA — i.e., based upon a the phenomenon known as “linkage disequilibrirum”, someone who inherits a particular gene from a parent is also likely to inherit the nearby non-coding DNA regions from the same parent.  Using that insight, the method amplifies DNA segments containing non-coding region associated with the gene and then checks the sequence of the associated coding section (the gene) that is incidentally amplified – looking for alleles of a known gene.

Genetic Tech explains this process in its petition:

Dr. Malcolm Simons discovered that, in the DNA of unrelated individuals, a polymorphism in a non-coding DNA region and a coding region allele could be inherited together. This natural phenomenon is known as “linkage disequilibrium.” The discovery prompted Dr. Simons to invent a new and useful process for detecting a coding region allele of a multi-allelic genetic locus by interrogating a non-coding DNA sequence that is in linkage disequilibrium with that multi-allelic genetic locus. Dr. Simons’ invention, as reflected in claim 1 of the ‘179 patent, was advantageous for a number of reasons, including that it was more reliable and quicker than prior art identification processes that used direct identification of allelic variants.

A number of companies have licensed the patent, but Merial and Bristol-Myers refused.  In the resulting litigation, the district court dismissed the case on the pleadings — finding that the claimed invention lacks eligibility as an unpatentable law of nature under Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1289 (2012).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed — holding that the relationship between coding and non-coding sequences was a naturally occurring phenomenon and that the additionally claimed laboratory techniques were used in a routine and conventional manner known at the time.  Petitioner argues that patentability can be established by the fact that no one was “using the non-coding sequence as a surrogate marker for the coding region allele …” This novel feature survived both the original examination as well as reexamination.

Questions Presented:

  1. Whether the Federal Circuit properly concluded – in conflict with other decisions of the Federal Circuit and this Court – that the definition of a patent-ineligible concept under the Mayo/Alice framework may include both a natural phenomenon and an inventor’s ingenuity in applying that natural phenomenon to a new and useful purpose?
  2. Whether a Rule 12(b)(6) motion may be properly granted based on patent-ineligibility – as the Federal Circuit determined below in conflict with other Federal Circuit decisions – when the record plausibly demonstrates that the claimed process inventively applies a natural phenomenon for a new and useful purpose, the claimed process does not improperly preempt the natural phenomenon, and the claimed process is not routine and conventional?

The defendants in this case (Merial and Bristol-Myers) waived their right to respond to the petition.  That non-response has accelerated the case with a conference set for September 26.  If the case is to move forward, we could expect the court to call for a response (CFR).

I’ll pause here to write a moment about the call-for-response system.  The respondent to a Supreme Court petition for certiorari is not required to file a response but can instead waive her right to respond.  At that point, the Supreme Court may request that a response be filed.  Although the CFR comes from the Court, it is generally known that a single Justice can request the CFR – and that request is often triggered by questions raised by a single clerk.  CFRs almost always issue prior to the conference.  Bringing this back to the eligibility issue: We perhaps didn’t get the message from the Mayo/Alice Opinions and the Sequenom Denial. If it turns out that not even a single Justice (or Clerk) seeks a response in this case, we should understand that the Supreme Court believes it has sufficiently spoken on the issue of eligibility.

= = = =

The two additional eligibility cases pending are Jericho Systems Corporation v. Axiomatics, Inc., et al., No. 15-1502 (Eligibility of Patent No. 8,560,836 under Section 101) and Essociate, Inc. v. Clickbooth.com, LLC, et al., No. 16-195 (please clarify the meaning of ‘abstract idea’ and ‘inventive process’).


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).

Federal Circuit: District Courts Must Exercise their Discretion and in Deciding Whether to Enhance Infringement Damages

by Dennis Crouch

Halo Electronics v. Pulse Electronics (Fed. Cir. 2016)

On remand from the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit has shifted its holding on enhanced damages (as required by the Supreme Court) and remanded for reconsideration:

Because the district court applied the Seagate test in declining to enhance damages . . . we vacate its unenhanced damages award with respect to products that were delivered in the United States, and remand for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion on enhanced damages.

The only remaining in the case is that of enhanced damages under 35 U.S.C. § 284.  In its Halo decision, the Supreme Court held that the provision “gives district courts the discretion to award enhanced damages . . . in egregious cases of misconduct beyond typical infringement.”  The court rejected the Federal Circuit’s prior test under Seagate, noting that it was both “unduly rigid” and “impermissibly encumbers the statutory grant of discretion to district courts.” (quoting Octane Fitness).

According to the evidence previously presented,

“Pulse allegedly knew of the Halo patents as early as 1998. In 2002, Halo sent Pulse two letters offering licenses to its patents, but did not accuse Pulse of infringement in those letters. The president of Pulse contacted a Pulse engineer, who spent about two hours reviewing the Halo patents and concluded that they were invalid in view of prior Pulse products. Pulse did not seek an opinion of counsel on the validity of the Halo patents at that time and continued to sell its surface mount electronic package products. A Pulse witness later testified that she was “not aware of anyone in the company . . . that made a conscious decision” that “it was permissible to continue selling” those products.”

Hearing this evidence, the jury found that “it [was] highly probable that Pulse’s infringement was willful.”  However, the district court held that it could not find willfulness under Seagate because the obviousness defense was not objectively baseless.

On remand, the district court must now “exercise its discretion and to decide whether, taking into consideration the jury’s unchallenged subjective willfulness finding as one factor in its analysis, an enhancement of the damages award is warranted.”  The statement from the Federal Circuit here is interesting and important in its focus on the question of enhancement rather than willfulness. Notably, the court does not suggest that the district court first determine whether Pulse was a willful infringer and then determine whether to enhance damages.  Rather, the Federal Circuit indicates that the discretion for enhanced damages is a full bundle of discretion and willfulness only “one factor in [the] analysis.”  This approach matches with the statutory language of Section 284 that does not mention willfulness but rather simply indicates that “the court may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.”

florence-nightingale-1[1]At the Time of the Infringement: Of course, as the Supreme Court wrote, the discretion is not limited. In considering Pulse’s culpability, the Federal Circuit also noted the Supreme Court’s statement that “culpability is generally measured against the knowledge of the actor at the time of the challenged conduct.”   Thus, an important question on will be the level of culpability at the time of infringement. There will also be a question of who-knew-what and the extent that the court will follow Florence Nightengale’s opinion that the person ‘in charge’ must “not only to carry out the proper measures yourself but to see that every one else does so too; to see that no one either willfully or ignorantly thwarts or prevents such measures.”

License Arbitration Clause Ineffective Because it Excluded Issues of Patent Scope

Illumina v. Ariosa (Fed. Cir. 2016)

Under the Federal Arbitration Act arbitration agreements are binding.  However, arbitration agreements are typically limited in scope, and a court will only order arbitration of disputes covered by the agreement.

Here, the Federal Circui has affirmed a lower court finding that the arbitration agreement does not cover the Ariosa’s breach-of-contract counterclaim despite the contract language mandating arbitration of claim “arising out of or relating to the breach . . . of this Agreement.”  The problem, according to the court, is that the contract includes a major exception – that  “no arbitration shall resolve, disputes relating to issues of scope, infringement, validity and/or enforceability of any Intellectual Property Rights.”  And, the breach-of-contract claim arose from (and will be resolved by) Illumina’s original allegations of patent infringement.

The essence of the conflict is whether Illumina’s U.S. Patent No. 7,955,794 is covered by the “Core IP Rights” licensed as part of a 2012 supply agreement.  Illumina argues that ‘794 patent was not licensed and, when Ariosa refused to pay a license fee, sued Ariosa for patent infringement.  Ariosa’s counterclaim of breach of contract and other covenants stem directly from the infringement allegations.

Although it took a few steps to get there, the walked though how the breach-of-conflict claim relates to issues of patent “scope [and] infringement” and is therefore not arbitrable.  The question of “does the license cover the patent” would normally be thought of as one of license interpretation – and thus arbitrable under the contract.  Here, however, the license scope is defined as IP rights “that pertain to the Goods” being supplied. As such, the courts found that in this case an interpretation of patent scope is necessary to discover the answer.

The lesson here relates to patent license agreements — if licensed patents are defined by their scope or technology coverage (rather than by a listing of patent numbers for example), then a determination of that scope will almost necessarily be a part of any dispute over which patents are licensed.  Excluding patent scope questions from the arbitration clause will end up excluding those licensing questions as well. 


Choice of Law Compared to Subject Matter Jurisdiction

One thing I have to deal with a lot when advising lawyers — whether practitioners for prosecution matters or litigators in patent case (or other stuff) — is the difference between subject matter jurisdiction and choice of law.

First, I cannot tell you how important this issue can be. For example, under some state rules public information is confidential; it’s not under the USPTO rules.  If state rules apply, I may have to ask a client for permission before I disclose a prior art patent to the Office.  That sounds like a silly example, and it is, but you’d be surprised what “experts” I’ve testified against say sometimes…

So let me give a simple walk through.

Ordinarily, a state bar is going to be able to discipline a lawyer for conduct occurring in representing clients in a state even if the practice is entirely federal and even if the lawyer is not licensed in a state.  So, if Bob is a patent lawyer licensed only in Minnesota and is prosecuting an application for an Iowan, the Iowa authorities (whether it’s disciplinary counsel or the court, I don’t know) are going to be able to subject him to discipline.  Likewise, more obviously, the OED can discipline him.

What rules apply?  The goal of modern choice of law principles in legal ethics is to make it so that one set of rules applies and we can easily figure that out.  Where a matter is pending before a tribunal, the tribunal’s rules will generally apply.  So, if Bob files the application and misses a deadline, the USPTO’s rule about neglect, or competence, should be applied by both the Iowa bar and the OED.

Here is the USPTO Rule on subject matter jurisdiction, which is unique to the Office, but notice how it defines its reach — to practice before the office:

All practitioners engaged in practice before the Office… are subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Office….. A person not registered or recognized to practice before the Office is also subject to the disciplinary authority of the Office if the person provides or offers to provide any legal services before the Office.

“Proceeding before the Office” is itself defined:  “Proceeding before the Office means an application for patent, an application for reissue, a reexamination, a protest, a public use matter, an inter partes patent matter, correction of a patent, correction of inventorship, an application to register a trademark, an inter partes trademark matter, an appeal, a petition, and any other matter that is pending before the Office.”

So, plainly Bob is involved in a proceeding before the Office and the OED could discipline him.  Can the OED apply Iowa’s Rules to his conduct?  Do they apply? Before we get there, let’s see if the OED could discipline Bob because Bob had violated an Iowa rule — without Iowa already having done so.

Another subsection of that same USPTO regulation in title 37 of the CFR identifies what is a basis for OED discipline:

The following, whether done individually by a practitioner or in concert with any other person or persons and whether or not done in the course of providing legal services to a client, or in a matter pending before the Office, constitute grounds for discipline or grounds for transfer to disability inactive status.

(1) Grounds for discipline include:

(i) Conviction of a serious crime;

(ii) Discipline on ethical grounds imposed in another jurisdiction or disciplinary disqualification from participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency;

(iii) Failure to comply with any order of a Court disciplining a practitioner, or any final decision of the USPTO Director in a disciplinary matter;

(iv) Violation of any USPTO Rule of Professional Conduct; or

(v) Violation of the oath or declaration taken by the practitioner. See § 11.8.

So, unless some other agency or court has disciplined a practitioner, or one of the other specific acts has occurred, the OED has to find that a practitioner violated a USPTO Rule.  So, the OED has to find that Bob violated the USPTO Rules.

Now for Iowa.  (I used to speak there every year!  Why haven’t they invited me back in a couple years?).  Let’s do it in reverse order.  What rules would Iowa apply to Bob’s conduct?  Luckily, it’s the USPTO rules, as Iowa Rule 32:805(b) makes clear:

(b) Choice of Law. In any exercise of the disciplinary authority of Iowa, the rules of professional conduct to be applied shall be as follows:

(1) for conduct in connection with a matter pending before a tribunal, the rules of the jurisdiction in which the tribunal sits, unless the rules of the tribunal provide otherwise; and

(2) for any other conduct, the rules of the jurisdiction in which the lawyer’s conduct occurred or, if the predominant effect of the conduct is in a different jurisdiction, the rules of that jurisdiction shall be applied to the conduct. A lawyer shall not be subject to discipline if the lawyer’s conduct conforms to the rules of a jurisdiction in which the lawyer reasonably believes the predominant effect of the lawyer’s conduct will occur.

The USPTO is a “tribunal.”  It defines itself as one!  See 37 C.F.R. 11.1 (“Tribunal means the Office…”). So, the Iowa Rules won’t apply to Bob’s conduct; even if Iowa tried to discipline Bob, it would apply the USPTO Rules.

Warning:  not every state has the same version of Rule 8.5, and some have weird carve outs (e.g., D.C.).

Now, if Iowa wanted to discipline Bob, does it have subject matter jurisdiction to do so?  It does!  Here is the rest of Iowa’s rule 8.5:

(a) Disciplinary Authority. A lawyer admitted to practice in Iowa is subject to the disciplinary authority of Iowa, regardless of where the lawyer’s conduct occurs. A lawyer not admitted in Iowa is also subject to the disciplinary authority of Iowa if the lawyer provides or offers to provide any legal services in Iowa. A lawyer may be subject to the disciplinary authority of both Iowa and another jurisdiction for the same conduct.

(Remember, Bob’s licensed only in Minnesota.)  So, we end up with a nice good, predictable approach.  A recent case analyzing the subject matter jurisdiction issues, but not the choice of law issue, is York v. W. Va. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 744 S.E.2d 293 (2013).  According to this opinion, (scroll down to top of page 26), in an unreported later decision, Mr. York was disciplined.

(By the way, Minnesota could also discipline Bob, and it would also apply the USPTO rules in doing so.  Whew!)

Here, unless the facts are weird, Bob’s conduct would violate both Iowa and the USPTO rules, and Minnesota’s for that matter, so who cares?

Like I said at the start, there are critical differences between the USPTO rules and many state rules and often those differences tell us whether Bob keeps his license, or not. More often, choice of law becomes an issue in disqualification motions and in legal malpractice cases.  Ethical rules like state bar rules and then USPTO rules are are applied in disqualification and malpractice cases.  If something is ethical under the USPTO rules, but unethical under state law, choice of law may provide the answer to what’s right — whether a client has a malpractice claim, or a lawyer is subject to disqualification.

Where it gets even more interesting is if the conduct occurs before the application is filed, and so there is no matter before a tribunal (yet).  Some choice of law rules state that that apply to matters that going to be before a tribunal, but many don’t.  Others say that the cover only the lawyer who appears before the tribunal, so what about a lawyer who does work in the office on an application but whose name doesn’t appear on the filing?  What rules apply?  What if it’s an assignment that’s incompetently drafted (probably won’t matter but you see my point)?  What if…

Finally, if state law somehow does apply to conduct before the office, then it may be that a preemption analysis is required, because the USPTO rules do narrowly preempt state law to the contrary.

Supreme Court Calls for Views of the Solicitor General

The no-change decision in Cuozzo was the biggest immediate patent law news from June 20, 2016.  However, two other actions by the court that day may end up having a greater long term impact.  Namely, that same day the court called for the views of the US Solicitor General (CVSG) in both Impression Products v. Lexmark and Sandoz v. Amgen.

Standing alone, a CVSG order significantly increases the odds that a particular case will be granted certiorari.  Those odds would then be significantly increased again if the SG supports certiorari. These cases are largely ancillary to patent prosecutors because they focus on how a patent is used.  Yet, their impact could shape the business model of patents licenses as property.

NY Ethics Opinion: New York Lawyers May Partner With Japanese Benrishi (“Patent Agents”)

Benrishi are authorized under Japanese law to practice patent law, but need not be lawyers.  Generally, under U.S. ethical rules, lawyers may not be partners with non-lawyers. Instead, much like US patent agents, they need not sit for the general bar but must pass a patent registration examination.  Unlike US patent agents, they may in some circumstances represent clients in patent matters in certain courts.  Nonetheless, a New York ethics committee reasoned that, under some circumstances, US lawyers may form partnerships with Japanese Benrishi.

The opinion by the New York State Bar Association on Professional Ethics, Op. No. 1072 (2015), is here.  The conditions include ensuring that the educational and ethical requirements are similar to other New York laws regulating partnerships with other foreign-licensed professionals.

On a related note, under some circumstances, of course, patent attorneys may form partnerships with patent agents, but that requires, like this, extreme care.

Digital Trademark and Design Patent Infringement

Guest post by Lucas S. Osborn, Associate Professor of Law at Campbell University School of Law. He will be visiting at Denver University School of Law for 2016-17.

Digital technology continues its collision with intellectual property law, this time in BMW’s lawsuit against the online virtual modeling company TurboSquid. TurboSquid sells digital 3D models of various items for use by game developers, architects, visual effects studios, etc.

This case is paradigmatic of a project Mark McKenna and I are working on, which analyzes trademarks in the context of digital goods. BMW complains that TurboSquid’s “marketing of 3-D virtual models” of BMW vehicles infringes BMW’s trademarks, trade dress, and design patents. Specifically, it complains that TurboSquid “markets and tags BMW-trademarked 3-D virtual models of BMW vehicles as suitable for games.”

Interestingly, although some of BMW’s registrations cover “miniature toy vehicles,” “interactive game programs,” and “scale model vehicles,” none of the registrations covers virtual models of vehicles. BMW also alleges that it “licenses its trademarks and patented designs for use in 3-D virtual models for computer games.”

BMW’s claims of infringement raise conceptual difficulties. Does selling a virtual object directly infringe a trademark or design patent that contemplates, or is in fact limited to, a physical good?

In thinking about trademark infringement, the core analysis focuses on whether the digital file is a good about which there is confusion as to source, sponsorship, or the like.  Confusion might arise from at least three mechanisms. First, TurboSquid might create a website environment that looks as if it is a BMW-sanctioned website, such as by using a domain name like BMW.net or by designing the webpage to suggest that it is affiliated with BMW. The TurboSquid website does not do this.

Second, TurboSquid might cause confusion through the external labels attached to each file. If the file name/description read, “BMW authorized model of BMW X3,”  TurboSquid would falsely suggest an affiliation or source. But its external file labels read simply, “BMW X3” and the like. BMW will doubtless argue that this external file labeling provides an indication of source or affiliation, but is this so? Arguably the external description is nominative or descriptive because it merely describes what the file is, i.e., a model of a BMW car. Of course, TurboSquid could change all the external file descriptions to eliminate the potential confusion (i.e., “unauthorized model of BMW X3”), but courts should balance the burden on TurboSquid and the effects on user search costs against any evidence of the extent of actual or potential confusion.

Deciding whether the external file description creates confusion or instead is nominative bleeds into the third potential argument for confusion, which is that the content of the digital file itself causes the confusion. That is, BMW will argue that since the content of the digital file displays a BMW logo on the car, the purchaser will be confused as to source or sponsorship. The Supreme Court, however, seemingly foreclosed this argument in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003). Dastar directs that a court should not use the content of the digital file to inform the confusion analysis.

Dastar copied footage from Fox’s Crusade in Europe television series and reused portions of that footage in its own videos without attribution to Fox. Id. at 26-27. Fox alleged Dastar committed reverse passing off in violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act by representing Fox’s content as its own. Id. at 27. The Supreme Court rejected Dastar’s claim, holding that “origin of goods” refers only to the “producer of the tangible goods that are offered for sale, and not to the author of any idea, concept, or communication embodied in those goods. Id. at 37.

The Court was concerned that allowing claims for reverse passing off in the context of copyrightable works “would create a species of mutant copyright law” that would conflict with the Federal copyright regime. Id. at 34. Dastar’s concern about conflicts between copyright and trademark law channels courts away from finding confusion based on the content of expressive works. See generally Mark P. McKenna, Dastar’s Next Stand, 19 J. Intell. Prop. L. 357 (2012). Thus, the content of TurboSquid’s files cannot form the basis of the confusion. The content of the files is protected, if at all, by some other form of intellectual property law, such as copyright.

Even assuming there is no point-of-sale confusion with the purchase of the digital file, TurboSquid cannot drive away freely just yet; it must contend with post-sale confusion. Post-sale confusion protects trademark owners when there is no point-of-sale confusion because the purchaser of the good knows it is fake. Courts have found that confusion can arise after a sale when the individual wears the infringing good in public, causing observers to see the branded item and become confused about whether it is genuine or not.

TurboSquid’s purchasers obviously will not wear the digital files in public. Nevertheless, they will use the files in downstream productions such as video games, and thus BMW also alleged there will be post-sale confusion. However, use of the models in expressive works like games and other video productions will not likely lead to an actionable trademark claim because the First Amendment protections provided to expressive works would likely trump any trademark claim.  See, e.g., Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989); E.S.S. Entm’t 2000, Inc. v. Rock Star Videos, Inc., 547 F.3d 1095 (9th Cir. 2008). Moreover, once again Dastar suggests that any potential confusion generated from the content of the video game or other expressive work is irrelevant under the Lanham Act.

Trademark law arose in a world of physical goods to protect manufacturers and prevent consumer confusion as to who manufactured the goods. In a digital world, manufacturing will increasingly be done, if at all, by individuals with 3D printers. Other digital models, such as TurboSquid’s BMW models, will never exist as physical objects.  Where consumers care about the quality of a digital file, trademark law can protect consumers from being deceived by indicia external to the file. But if purchasers are not confused about the source of the digital file based on external indicia, courts should channel any other potential claims (if any) to other areas of intellectual property law.