Tag Archives: obviousness

In my view, Obviousness is the most fundamental of patent law doctrines, and certainly much of the work of patent attorneys is to convince patent examiners that the claims are not obvious.

Power Integrations v. Fairchild Semiconductor

By Jason Rantanen

Power Integrations, Inc. v. Fairchild Semiconductor International, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2016) 15-1329.Opinion.12-8-2016.1
Panel: Prost, Schall, Chen (author)

This appeal is the latest in a long-running patent saga between Power Integrations and Fairchild.  Each asserted patents against the other; each won as to liability against the other. The most interesting aspect of this opinion is its discussion of inducement, in which the court rejects a jury instruction on inducement that expressly stated that the third party’s direct infringement “need not have been actually caused by the [accused inducer’s] actions.”

Background:  The complexity of this appeal is illustrated by the opinion’s 8 bullet-point summary of its holdings.   The jury found that Power Integrations’ Patent Nos. 6,107,851 and 6,249,876 were not anticipated and were directly and indirectly infringed by Fairchild and that Fairchild’s Patent No. 7,259,972 was not obvious and was infringed by Power Integrations under the doctrine of equivalents (but was not literally infringed or indirectly infringed by Power Integrations).  The jury also found Power Integrations’ Patent No. 7,834,605 neither anticipated nor obvious.  Following trial, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law that Fairchild directly infringed this patent.  The district court granted a permanent injunction against Fairchild and declined to grant an inunction against Power Integrations.

Fairchild appealed and Power Integrations cross-appealed.

Inducement: The indirect infringement issue involved 35 U.S.C. § 271(b), a one sentence provision at the heart of several significant opinions over the last few years.  Section 271(b) reads “[w]hoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer.”  Basic elements of an inducement claim include some type of action by the alleged inducer to encourage acts by a third party, an awareness that the third party’s acts would infringe a patent, and actual direct infringement by a third party.

The full jury instruction takes up almost a page and a half of the opinion.  The critical passage on appeal reads:

In order to establish active inducement of infringement, it is not sufficient that others directly infringe the claim. Nor is it sufficient that the party accused of infringement was aware of the acts by others that directly infringe. Rather, in order to find inducement, you must find that the party accused of infringement intended others to use its products in at least some ways that would infringe the asserted claims of the patent. However, that infringement need not have been actually caused by the party’s actions. All that is required is that the party took steps to encourage or assist that infringement, regardless of whether that encouragement succeeded, or was even received.

Slip Op. at 22 (emphasis in opinion).  The problem, in the court’s words, was that “[t]his instruction left the jury with the incorrect understanding that a party may be liable for induced infringement even where it does not successfully communicate with and induce a third-party direct infringer.”  Id. at 23.  Rather, inducement “requires successful communication between the alleged inducer and the third-party direct infringer.”  Id.  Quoting from Dynacore Holdings Corp. v. U.S. Philips Corp., 363, F.3d 1263, 1274 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the court observed “[w]e have further held that “[t]o prevail under a theory of indirect infringement, [plaintiff] must first prove that the defendants’ actions led to direct infringement of the [patent-in-suit].”  Id. at 24.  Thus, “a finding of induced infringement requires actual inducement.”  Id.  In terms of doctrine, the court situates this inquiry in the requirement of inducement itself.

Although the court does not come right out and say it, this is fundamentally a theory of causality in inducement.  In other words, it is not enough that the alleged inducer engage in acts intended to result in direct infringement by a third party and that the third party directly infringes.  At a minimum, there must be a successful communication between the two.  Attempted inducement is not enough; there must be “actual inducement.”  This interpretation  is further bolstered by the court’s rejection of the language in the jury instruction stating that “infringement need not have been actually caused by the party’s actions.”   That said, despite the invitation to address causality presented by the jury instruction, the court conspicuously avoids describing its holding in those terms.  Nowhere outside of the jury instruction and a few unrelated places does a permutation of “caus” appear.

Even as it recognized a requirement that there be some link between the acts of the alleged inducer and the directly infringing acts,  however, the Federal Circuit was not willing to go so far as to say that Fairchild did not induce infringement  as a matter of law.  After rejecting Fairchild’s argument on the lack of sufficiency of the evidence generally, the Federal Circuit dismissed its argument on nexus between Fairchild’s acts and the ultimate direct infringement.  Fairchild contended

that Power Integrations introduced evidence of only three acts of direct infringement—sales of an HP printer, Acer notebook computer, and Samsung notebook computer containing infringing Fairchild controller chips—and that Power Integrations was required to present evidence that Fairchild specifically induced HP, Acer, Samsung, or the retailers from which Power Integrations purchased the infringing products to incorporate the infringing controller chips into products bound for the United States.

Id. at 30.  The Federal Circuit rejected the argument that such specificity was required in the nexus.  “While none of [Power Integrations’  evidence can be directly linked to the particular HP printer, Acer notebook computer, or Samsung notebook computer Power Integrations
introduced at trial as representative acts of direct infringement, it was sufficient to allow the jury to find that Fairchild had induced its customers (including HP, Acer, and Samsung) to infringe as a class. This is all that we require.”  Id. at 31.  “Indeed, we have affirmed induced infringement verdicts based on circumstantial evidence of inducement (e.g., advertisements, user manuals) directed to a class of direct infringers (e.g., customers, end users) without
requiring hard proof that any individual third-party direct infringer was actually persuaded to infringe by that material.”  Id.

Thus, although some evidence of a link between inducer’s acts and the directly infringing acts is required, it need not be with the level of specificity that might need to be shown in other contexts.  Absolute precision of proof as to the machine in the courtroom is not necessary.  And yet, some proof of a link must be present.  Here, the court concluded, there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that necessary link.

At this point you might be asking why all of this mattered, given that Fairchild did not appeal the jury verdict that it directly infringed the patents.  The reason is because the finding of inducement greatly expanded the scope of Fairchild’s liability beyond its direct infringement in the United States.  Based on its decision on inducement, the Federal Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of Power Integrations’ motion for a permanent injunction against Fairchild.  Of course, given that these issues are being remanded to the district court, it is conceivable that the outcomes of both could ultimately be the same.

Practice commentary: The opinion contains a simple articulation of the requirements of an inducement claim that rearranges the conventional elements.  Near the beginning of its discussion of the jury verdict, the court describes the elements as follows:

In other words, Power Integrations was required to prove that: (1) a third party directly infringed the asserted claims of the ’851 and ’876 patents; (2) Fairchild induced those infringing acts; and (3) Fairchild knew the acts it induced constituted infringement.

In my view, this version is much easier to understand than the usual way inducement is articulated.

Anticipation: The court’s review on anticipation of the ‘605 patent is also interesting as an example of a jury verdict of no anticipation being overturned on appeal.   Here, Fairchild bore a double-burden on Power Integrations ‘605 patent: not only did it bear the burden of proving that the presumptively-valid claims were anticipated, but it also had to convince the Federal Circuit on appeal that the jury’s finding to the contrary was unsupported by substantial evidence.  Fairchild was helped on appeal by the relative narrowness of the disputed evidentiary issue.  On that particular issue, the court concluded that Power Integrations’ own expert had testified that the critical element required by the claims was disclosed by the prior art reference.

Doctrine of equivalents: The main point here is Power Integrations’ successful claim vitiation argument.

Edit: Added the opinion itself.

Lemley-Oliver-Richardson: Patent Purchases and Litigation Outcomes

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

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

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

Read the ArticleLemley.2016.PatentMarket

Prior Patently-O Patent L.J. Articles:

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

What it takes to Prove a Motivation to Combine

by Dennis Crouch

In re NuVasive (Fed. Cir. 2016)

In an important obviousness decision, the Federal Circuit has reversed the PTAB IPR decision – holding that the PTAB failed to sufficiently explain its ruling that a person having ordinary skill in the art (PHOSITA) would have been motivated to combine the prior art teachings to create the patented invention.  Although expressing its intent to follow KSR, the court here comes closer to trodding upon that (oft maligned) precedent.

The case involves an Inter Partes Review (IPR) challenge of NuVasive’s spinal fusion implant patent (U.S. Patent No. 8,361,156).  The claims require that the implants include, inter alia, radiopaque markers on the medial plane. The PTAB found the claims invalid as obvious based upon a collection of prior art references related to spinal fusion.

Doctrine of Obviousness: A claim is invalid if the differences between the prior art and the claim (considered “as a whole”) would have been obvious to PHOSITA considering the issue at the time the invention was made.  35 U.S.C. § 103.

Motivation to Combine: In many US obviousness cases, each of the claim limitations are found in some form within the body of prior art imputed to PHOSITA and the obviousness question becomes whether it would have been obvious to combine those references to form the claimed invention. In KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007), the Supreme Court held that the motivation to combine references need not be found expressly in the prior art itself but may be explained by the fact finder using common sense.  Still, the KSR Court wrote that it “can be important to identify a reason that would have prompted [PHOSITA] to combine the elements in the way the claimed new invention does.”  Extending that decion, the Federal Circuit ruled that the PTAB must (1) “articulate a reason why a PHOSITA would combine the prior art references”; (2) have an adequate evidentiary basis for that finding; and (3) provide a “satisfactory explanation” for the motivation finding that includes an express and “rational” connection with the evidence presented.  See, In re Lee (conclusory statements are insufficient); Cutsforth v. MotivePower (must positively explain motivation – not just reject arguments against motivation); and Arendi v. Apple (PTAB “cannot rely solely on common knowledge or common sense to support its findings” of motivation).

Here, the basic question is whether it would have been obvious to combine prior art teaching the spinal fusion implant with references showing the use and importance of radiopaque markers in implants.  However, according to the appellate panel, “the PTAB failed to explain the reason why a PHOSITA would have been motivated to modify [the prior art], to place radiopaque markers ‘proximate to said medial plane'” as required by the challenged claims.

After discrediting the PTAB decision, the court also looked at the evidence presented by the challenger Medtronic.  Medtronic’s expert had explained that the motivation for adding the additional markers would be to provide surgens with “additional information” and that it would have been common sense to add the additional markers.

Medtronic’s arguments amount to nothing more than conclusory statements that a PHOSITA would have been motivated to combine the prior art references to obtain additional information.  According to the court, these “arguments amount to nothing more than conclusory statements” and thus should not be credited.  One key reference did explain that the medial markers were beneficial during the alignment process.  However, the Federal Circuit rejected that reference because it was published after the patent-in-question’s priority date and not cited in the prior art references.  Because they came after the priority date, the court found that the motivation “could not have been obtained . . . at the time of the invention.”

Microsoft v. Enfish: Turns Out the Claims Are Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[PTAB Final Decision].

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


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

Is it Obvious to Combine Five References?

by Dennis Crouch

On his (great) blog, Bill Vobach considers whether it is time to revisit In re Gorman, 933 F.2d 982 (Fed. Cir. 1991).   Gorman involved an obviousness rejection based upon a combination of thirteen references. The Federal Circuit rejected Gorman’s argument that the combination of a large number of references to support a rejection for obviousness “of itself weighs against a holding of obviousness.” See also, In re Troiel, 274 F.2d 94 (CCPA 1960) (rejecting appellant’s argument that combining a large number of references to show obviousness was “farfetched and illogical”).  The USPTO has regularized this holding within its Manual of Patent Examination Practice (MPEP) Section 707.07(f) (“reliance on a large number of references in a rejection does not, without more, weigh against the obviousness of the claimed invention”).  Of course, when Gorman was decided, the court also required some express motivation in order to combine references — that requirement was eliminated ten years ago by the Supreme Court in KSR v. Teleflex (2007).

I cannot recall any obviousness decision coming out of a district court that combines four or more references.  Neither Judges nor Juries will stand for that level of complexity.  The PTAB judges are so well trained in the complexity of technology and patent law that they are open to these poly-reference arguments in the AIA trial context.

Vobach, who reviews almost all of the Federal Circuit oral argument audio clips, reports that various judges have commented recently on the large number of references being relied upon in obviousness rejections.  Judge Moore most pointedly noting that “four or greater . . . that’s a lot of references!”

Two approaches for moving forward on the issue: (1) preserve the appeal and request en banc hearing; (2) argue that Gorman was reset by KSR.  An unlikely third approach might push Congress to move toward an European approach that begins the analysis with the closest single prior art reference and builds from there.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Circuit Orders PTO to limit business method review trials (CBM) to “financial products or services” since that is the law

by Dennis Crouch

In Unwired Planet v. Google, the Federal Circuit has vacated a PTAB covered business method decision – holding that the PTO’s definition of a “covered business method” was unduly broad.

The America Invents Act created a powerful set of post-issuance administrative review procedures known generally as AIA trials, including the covered business method (CBM) review. CBM is designed as a transitional proceeding that will sunset in the year 2020 barring congressional action. The most popular form of AIA trial is inter partes review (IPR) that allows for review of any issued patent but is limited to only novelty and obviousness challenges based upon prior art.  CBM review applies to a much narrower set of patents – only “covered business methods” – but those patents can be challenged on almost any patentability ground, including eligibility.  Here, the Board found the challenged claims unpatentable subject matter under section 101.

The term covered business method is particularly defined to include any patent “that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.” AIA § 18(d)(1).  In its implementing rules, the PTO did not further define or explain the CBM definition within its official rules – although the PTO did propose the “incidental” or “complementary” language in its official responses to comments on its proposed rules.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has rejected the more expansive definition as contrary to the statute.

Here Unwired’s Patent No. 7,203,752 claims a method of using privacy preferences to configure when various applications are permitted to access a wireless device’s location information.  PTAB found CBM claims by noting that businesses may want “to know a wireless device is in its area so relevant advertising may be transmitted.” The PTAB’s finding here was not conjecture but instead came from the patent’s written description.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit found the required “financial product or service” link too tenuous.  The court explains:

The Board’s application of the “incidental to” and “complementary to” language from the PTO policy statement instead of the statutory definition renders superfluous the limits Congress placed on the definition of a CBM patent.

The court then provides a few analogies:

The patent for a novel lightbulb that is found to work particularly well in bank vaults does not become a CBM patent because of its incidental or complementary use in banks. Likewise, it cannot be the case that a patent covering a method and corresponding apparatuses becomes a CBM patent because its practice could involve a potential sale of a good or service. All patents, at some level, relate to potential sale of a good or service. Take, for example, a patent for an apparatus for digging ditches. Does the sale of the dirt that results from use of the ditch digger render the patent a CBM patent? No, because the claims of the ditch-digging method or apparatus are not directed to “performing data processing or other operations” or “used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service,” as required by the statute. It is not enough that a sale has occurred or may occur, or even that the specification speculates such a potential sale might occur.

The decision here thus appears to eliminate any chance that the patent will be considered a CBM and thus the Section 101 decision by the PTAB goes away.

No Appeal? Like IPR proceedings, CBM proceedings begin with an initiation decision followed by a trial decision.  And, like IPR proceedings, the decision to initiate a CBM is not appealable.  In Versata, however, the Federal Circuit held that the initiation question of whether a patent is a CBM patent may be reviewed on appeal.  Despite the statutory language and the intervening Supreme Court decision in Cuozzo, the court here held that it still has jurisdiction to review the CBM initiation question on appeal.

Deference: In reviewing the PTAB determination, the court gave no deference to the Board’s interpretation of the law. “We review the Board’s statutory interpretation de novo.”  The Court also gave no deference to the PTO’s “policy statement” made in its notice of final rules.  The court does implicitly suggest – as it did in Versata – that implementation of a more thorough definition in the CFR rules would be given deference. However, the PTO has not taken that approach.

I do not know yet whether Google will push this case to the Supreme Court.  The strongest argument is that Cuozzo implicitly overruled Versata. That is the holding suggested by Alito’s dissenting interpretation of the Cuozzo majority.


Happy Thanksgiving and Moving Forward in a Pluralistic America

by Dennis Crouch

Although many of us will retreat to our families for this week’s thanksgiving holiday – the American tradition is to use the time to build cross cultural ties with our neighbors.

I am a great admirer of WilmerHale’s top IP Litigator Bill Lee.  Lee is an amazing lawyer and delivers for his clients while maintaining the highest ethical standards for himself and his co-counsel.   This past week’s AmLaw Daily helps bring home to me the disturbing American cultural and racial trends that are directed more at division than unity. Susan Beck writes:

On a Tuesday night in August, Lee stopped at a gas station near his home outside Boston in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to fill up his Mercedes-Benz SUV. Lee—a graduate of Harvard College and one of the nation’s most accomplished intellectual property litigators—was wearing a suit and tie, having finished a long day at work.

As Lee tells it, a man wearing a “Wellesley Hockey Parent” shirt walked up to him.

“Where does a guy like you get a car like that?” the man said to Lee, looking at the litigator’s vehicle.

Lee, whose parents came to this country from China in 1948, tried to defuse the situation. “From Herb Chambers,” he said, referring to a local car dealer.

“Why don’t you go back to your own country,” the man said, according to Lee.

“I don’t understand you,” Lee said.

“You mean, you don’t understand English,” the man said.

“I don’t understand ignorance,” Lee replied.

The Wilmer partner drove away, but the man followed in his car. When Lee pulled into a nearby police station, the man vanished.

“In the bluest of Blue States, Massachusetts, a mile from Wellesley College, if someone tells you to go back to your own country, this can happen anywhere,” Lee said. “If this can happen to the managing partner of an Am Law 200 firm, what’s happening to the rest of the country?”

Lee said he hadn’t heard a comment like this for 40 years. He attributes the encounter to the political environment that has encouraged hostility to immigrants. “He felt he could say it,” Lee said. . . . “I grew up in the fifties when we were the only Chinese family in our school district,” Lee recalled. “It was not a great time to be Asian. In many ways this brought back things that I thought we had put behind us.”

As leading lawyers we obviously play an important role in ensuring that racism and some kind of white-nationalism does not again become acceptable and normal.  One of my friends who is openly gay here in Missouri was leaving his house last week and a passenger in a passing vehicle yelled-out “faggot” and targeted him with an open soda bottle.  As with Bill Lee, T____ noted that he had not experienced this type of open vitriol for decades.  These incidents are These incidents are not supposed to happen here, but they are happening.  As Dan Rather writes “now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted. . . . I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ski at Snowmass: January 4-8, 2017 (and Talk Law)

I’m looking forward to speaking again at the National CLE Conference (SKI CLE) – this year in Snowmass Colorado, January 4-8 2017. [http://nationalcleconference.com/]. Obviously, the skiing is great, but the I am looking forward to the conference itself and the fireside patent law conversations.

The IP program is chaired by Scott Alter (Lathrop & Gage) and David Bernstein (Debevoise).  Speakers include Judges Kimberly Moore and Kara Stoll, Professor Rochelle Dreyfuss (NYU), Donald Dunner (Finnegan), Suzanne Munck (Primary Author of the FTC Patent Troll Report).   Hot topics include patent exhaustion and cyber law. I will be doing the Patent Law year-in-review and prospective Republican Agenda.

One nice aspect of the event is that it involves eight different conferences running in parallel. Topics include: Bankruptcy ■ Civil Litigation ■ Employee Benefits ■ Environmental Law, Land Use, Energy and Litigation ■ Family ■ Health ■ Intellectual Property ■ Labor & Employment.

DISCOUNT CODE: Let me know if you are coming.  If you register, use PATENTLY-O as a discount code ($100 off).

[Disclosure: Although I am not making any money directly from this post, National CLE is paying for a portion of my expenses as an academic speaker at the event.]


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.


Federal Circuit’s Internal Debate of Eligibility Continues

Amdocs v. Openet (Fed. Cir. 2016)

In the end, I don’t know how important Amdocs will be, but it offers an interesting split decision on the eligibility of software patent claims.  Senior Judge Plager and Judge Newman were in the majority — finding the claims eligible — with Judge Reyna in dissent.  One takeaway is that the Federal Circuit continues to be divided on the issues.  By luck-of-the-panel in this case, the minority on the court as a whole were the majority on the panel (pushing against Alice & Mayo).  Going forward, the split can be reconciled by another Supreme Court opinion, a forceful Federal Circuit en banc decision, or perhaps by future judicial appointments by President Trump.  I expect 2-3 vacancies on the court during Trump’s first term.

In a 2014 post I described the Amdocs district court decision invalidating the claims.  The four patents at issue all stem from the same original application relating to a software and network structure for computing the bill for network communications usage.   One benefit imparted by the invention is associated with its physically distributed architecture that “minimizes the impact on network and system resources” by allowing “data to reside close to the information sources.” According to the majority opinion, “each patent explains that this is an advantage over prior art systems that stored information in one location, which made it difficult to keep up with massive record flows from the network devices and which required huge databases.”  The nexus with the tated benefit is difficult to find in many of the claims themselve.  See Claim 1 below, which was taken as representative of the asserted claims of Amdocs ‘065 patent:

1. A computer program product embodied on a computer readable storage medium for processing network accounting information comprising:

computer code for receiving from a first source a first network accounting record;

computer code for correlating the first network accounting record with accounting information available from a second source; and

computer code for using the accounting information with which the first network accounting record is correlated to enhance the first network accounting record.

You’ll note that the claim is an almost pure software claim — requiring “computer code” “embodied on a computer readable storage medium.”  The code has three functions: (1) receiving a network accounting record; (2) correlating the record with additional accounting information; and (3) using the accounting information to “enhance” the original network accounting record.  The claim term “enhance” is construed narrowly than you might imagine as the addition of one or more fields to the record.  An example of an added field would be a user’s name that might be added to the accounting record that previously used a numeric identifier.   The court also found that the term “enhance” should be interpreted as requiring that – and doing so in a “a distributed fashion … close to their sources” rather than at a centralized location.  This narrow interpretation of the term “enhance” do not flow naturally from the claim language, but do turn out to be crucial to the outcome.

In reviewing the claim, the court noted that “somewhat facially-similar claims” have been alternatively invalidated as abstract ideas and found eligible.  Compare, for example, Digitech with Enfish and DDR.   Here, the court wrote that the claims are “much closer” to the ones found eligible.  I might rewrite their opinion to say that the judges in the majority prefer the decisions finding eligibility over those invalidating software patent claims.

The two recent Supreme Court cases of Alice and Mayo spell out the court’s two-step framework for determining whether a patent is improperly directed to one of the excluded categories of abstract ideas, natural phenomena, and laws of nature.  Briefly, the court first determines whether “the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts.”  If so, the decision-maker must then determine whether any particular elements in the claim “transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application.”  This second step requires consideration of additional elements both individually and in combination in search for an “inventive concept . . . sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the [ineligible concept] itself.” [Quoting Mayo and Alice throughout].

In making its eligibility conclusion in Amdocs, the appellate majority focused on the claim requirement (as construed) that processing be done in a distributed fashion.  According to the court, “enhancing data in a distributed fashion” is “an unconventional technological solution . . . to a technological problem (massive record flows which previously required massive databases).”  Remember here though that we are not talking about patenting a distributed system, but rather patenting a “computer program product embodied on a computer readable storage medium” used to implement the features.

Rather than taking Alice/Mayo steps in turn, the majority accepted “for argument’s sake” that the claims were directed to abstract ideas. However, the claim adds “something more” beyond an abstract idea.  Here, the court notes that the claims require “distributed architecture—an architecture providing a technological solution to a technological problem. This provides the requisite ‘something more’ than the performance of “well-understood, routine, [and] conventional activities previously known to the industry.”

Despite being the stated “unconventional” idea of using a distributed architecture, the court noted that the patent may still fail on anticipation or obviousnesss grounds.

Writing in dissent, Judge Reyna offered several different arguments. First, Reyna argue that the court’s skipping of Alice/Mayo Step 1 helped lead to an incorrect result. If you do not define the abstract idea at issue, how do you know whether the claim includes something more?  Reyna also argued that the “distribution architecture … is insufficient to satisfy Alice step two” because the limitation is not actually found in the claims and, even as interpreted provide only a functional result.  Reyna does note that the specification provides sufficient description of a distributed architecture, but that the claims themselves lack the requisite detail.

The specifications disclose a distributed system architecture comprising special-purpose components configured to cooperate with one another according to defined protocols in a user-configurable manner for the purpose of deriving useful accounting records in a more scalable and efficient manner than previously possible. The disclosed system improves upon prior art systems by creating a specific “distributed filtering and aggregation system . . . [that] eliminates capacity bottlenecks” through distributed processing. ’ The disclosed system is patent eligible. But the inquiry is not whether the specifications disclose a patent-eligible system, but whether the claims are directed to a patent ineligible concept.

[Read the opinion here]

There’s No Such Thing as a Content Based Unconstitutional Condition

I asked my former student Zachary Kasnetz to write this post on his forthcoming article explaining the Federal Circuit’s errors in its en banc Tam decision. A draft version of his article is available online: ssrn.com/abstract=2864016. – DC

By Zachary Kasnetz

I would like to thank Professor Crouch for this opportunity to share my views on the Federal Circuit’s decision in In re Tam, 808 F.3d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc), in advance of the Missouri Law Review’s publication of my article.  This post discusses some of the arguments I make as to why the court erred in holding Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act facially unconstitutional.

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act prohibits registration of any mark that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute.”  15 U.S.C. 1052(a).  It has long been controversial and commentators have largely  agreed that it is unconstitutional.  See In re Tam, 808 F.3d at 1334 n.4 (citing commentary).  Tam held: (1) Section 2(a) was a content-based and view-point based restriction on speech; (2) it regulated the expressive, not commercial aspects of Tam’s mark; (3) it actually regulated speech; (4) registration was not a subsidy or government speech; and (4) could not pass strict or intermediate scrutiny.  The holding and reasoning are flawed regarding the numbers 1, 2, and 4.[1]

First, the Court reasoned backwards.  First, the court should have decided whether Section 2(a) actually regulated speech at all and then whether it was a government speech or a subsidy.  If the answer to that question was no, then whether Section 2(a) was content and viewpoint-based and whether it impacted the commercial or expressive aspects of Tam’s mark would have been irrelevant.  Government speech and subsidies are not “exempt” from First Amendment scrutiny as the majority claims: they don’t implicate the First Amendment at all because they do not abridge any speech.  See Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, 193 (1991); Pleasant Grove v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460, 467 (2008).

Second, Section 2(a) only impacts the commercial aspects of Tam’s speech because a trademark is “a form of commercial speech and nothing more.”  In re Tam, 808 F.3d at 1376 (Reyna, J., dissenting) (quoting Friedman v. Rogers, 440 U.S. 1 (1979)).  All benefits of registration are commercial in nature, i.e., they make it easier to enforce the mark.  Registration has no impact on Tam’s ability to express any ideas or messages.  Cf. Author’s League of Am. v. Oman, 790 F.2d 220, 223 (2d Cir. 1986).  As Judge Reyna dryly pointed, the majority held that “Mr. Tam’s speech, which disparages those of Asian descent, is valuable political speech that the government may not regulate except to ban its use in commerce by everyone but Mr. Tam.”  Id. at 1378.  There is no First Amendment right to government assistance in preventing others from expressing ideas or views.  Cf. Davenport v. Wash. Educ. Ass’n, 551 U.S. 177, 188-90 (2008).

Therefore, the only basis for the majority’s opinion is the unconstitutional conditions doctrine, under which the government may not condition an important benefit on the surrender of an important constitutional right, even if it could withhold the benefit entirely.  The doctrine is notoriously incoherent and inconsistent in its application.  Tam’s basic holding is that Section 2(a) is an unconstitutional condition because it is a content and viewpoint based regulation/restriction/burden on speech.  But there’s no such thing as a content-based unconstitutional condition.

A condition’s constitutional permissibility turns on the relationship between the condition and the government program at issue.  See, e.g., USAID v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2321, 2329 (2013).  The more “germane”, i.e., reasonably related to the goals of program, a condition is, the more likely it is to be constitutional.  See Sullivan, Unconstitutional Conditions, 102 Harv. L. Rev. 1413, 1420-21 (1989).  Any condition on a government benefit or participation in a government program implicating the First Amendment necessarily draws content-based distinctions: the question is whether that distinction is reasonably related to the program’s goals.  According to the majority, the goals of federal trademark law are (1) protecting the rights of mark holders and (2) preventing consumer deception and confusion.  If we accept that this is correct, the constitutionality of Section 2(a) turns on its relation to those goals.  The majority believes it is “completely untethered” those purposes.  In re Tam, 808 F.3d at 1354.  I disagree.

Trademarks allow consumers to quickly identify the source and quality of goods or services.  Therefore, trademark law conditions registration on a mark meeting certain requirements, including that it not be disparaging.  Certain kinds of marks are better at this than others, lying across the spectrum of distinctiveness from arbitrary or fanciful to generic.  Given the massive amount of information bombarding consumers, I argue that marks communicating other information or messages are less effective.  The government has an interest in ensuring that “the stream of commercial information flows cleanly as well as freely.”  Va. Bd. of Pharmacy v. Va. Citizen’s Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 758, 771–72 (1976)).  Disparaging marks, by definition, communicate more than the source and quality the good or service they attach to.  By denying the benefits of federal registration, Section 2(a) mildly incentivizes the selection of more effective marks.  Thus, it is reasonably related to trademark law’s goals.  Moreover, it only likely affects the choice of marks: it is not trying to “leverage [a government benefit] to regulate speech outside of the program itself.”  USAID v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l, Inc., 133 S. Ct. at 2329 (2013).

Trademark law draws many distinctions between different marks based on their content.  As a far as I know, the constitutionality of the ban on registering trademarks containing “the flag or coat of arms of the United States, or of any State or municipality, or of any foreign nation,” 15 U.S.C. § 1052(b), has never been questioned.  Nor has the ban on those containing “a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual . . , or the name, signature, or portrait of a deceased President of the United States during the life of his widow, . .”  Id. at § 1052(c).  The government has never been required to show that such marks would actually be confusing or insufficiently distinctive despite the fact that this provision obviously singles out a category of potential trademarks based solely on their content.

Does Section 2(a) Actually Impact Speech?

I am also extremely skeptical that denying registration to disparaging marks actually has a chilling effect on speech.  The majority fears that Section 2(a) chills potential selection of disparaging marks, but the real issue isn’t whether trademark choice is being affected, but whether “ideas or viewpoints” will be suppressed.  Simon & Schuster v. Members of N.Y. State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 116 (1991).  But trademarks are “commercial speech and nothing more.”  Friedman v. Rogers, 447 U.S. at 562.  Consider Tam.  If he had known that there was a real possibility that he would have been unable to register THE SLANTS because it was disparaging he would have chosen not to create his music or would not have made music intended to express pride in his Asian heritage?  I doubt it and I have not seen any evidence to support such a claim.  Perhaps he would have chosen a different name for his band, but again I’m skeptical.  Thus, Section 2(a) is “exceedingly unlikely” to suppress or chill expression of any ideas and viewpoints.  See Lyng v. Int’l Union, UAW, 485 U.S. 360, 365 (1988).

= = = = =

The author is an Associate at Growe Eisen Karlen Eilerts in St. Louis.  He earned his J.D. from the University of Missouri in May 2016 and his B.A. from the University of Maryland in 2012.

[1] Assuming arguendo, that I am wrong about numbers 1, 2, and 4, I agree that Section 2(a) could not pass strict or intermediate scrutiny.  I also agree that placement on the register does not turn Tam’s purportedly disparaging message into government speech.

In re Aqua: Amending Claims Post Grant in an IPR

The only pending en banc patent case before the Federal Circuit is In re Aqua Products (Appeal No. 15-1177) involving claim amendments during inter partes review.  The Patent Statute contemplates claim amendments as a possibility but not a right — notably, 35 U.S.C. 316(d) states that “the patent owner may file 1 motion to amend the patent” with additional motions to amend permitted in limited situations.  The scope of amendment is also limited to (A) cancelling challenged claims and (B) proposing “a reasonable number of substitute claims” that do not “enlarge the scope of the claims of the patent or introduce new matter.”

In its implementation regulations, the USPTO interpreted the right to a motion as something much less than a right to amend and required, inter alia, that the patentee provide evidence that any proposed substitute claims be patentable over the known prior art. See Idle Free Sys., Inc. v. Bergstrom, Inc., IPR2012–00027, 2013 WL 5947697 (PTAB June 11, 2013).


The short panel opinion in Aqua the Federal Circuit reaffirmed the USPTO’s tightly restrictive approach – following its own prior holdings. See, for example, Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., 789 F.3d 1292, 1307−08 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

The underlying case involves a self-propelled robotic swimming pool cleaner that uses an internal pump both as a vacuum cleaner and as the propulsion system.   U.S. Patent No. 8,273,183.  After the IPR was initiated, Aqua moved to amend three of the claims to include the limitations found in the claims that had not been challenged. In particular, the patentee asked to substitute claims 1, 8, and 20 with claims 22-24 respectively.  The new claims included a set of new limitations, including a propulsion “vector limitation” that required a jet stream configured to create a downward vector force rear of the front wheels.  This appeared to be a reasonable request that would move the case toward conclusion, and the PTAB agreed that these new claims satisfied the formal requirements of Section 316(d).   However, the PTAB refused to allow the amendment – holding that the patentee had failed to show that the amended claims were sufficiently beyond the prior art.

In rejecting the amendment motion, the PTAB did not conduct a fully obviousness analysis, but instead focused on the new elements and considered whether the patentee had shown those elements to render the claim valid over the prior art.  Defending that approach on appeal, the Agency has defiantly argued that its rules regarding amendments and its application of those rules are both reasonable and entitled to substantial deference from the Court of Appeals.

Thus, the pending en banc questions focus on this stance:

1) In an IPR, when the patent owner moves to amend claims under 35 U.S.C. § 316(d), may the USPTO require the patent owner to bear the burden of persuasion, or a burden of production, regarding patentability of the amended claims?

2) When the petitioner in an IPR does not challenge the patentability of proposed amended claims or the Board finds the challenge inadequate, may the Board raise a patentability challenge on its own, and if so, where would the burdens lie?

Although prior Federal Circuit cases have supported the PTAB approach, the September 2016 decision in Veritas Tech v. Veeam Software (Fed. Cir. 2016) reversed that trend.  In that case, the court held that the PTAB had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by denying the patentee’s motion to amend its challenged claims after failing to discuss each added feature separately.

The top-side briefs have been filed in the case with Amicus support for petitioner:

  • [AquaRehearingBriefPatentee]
  • [AquaRehearingBriefPhRMA] [AquaRehearingBriefCWRU] [AquaRehearingBriefAmiciTop]
  • IPO (Section 316(e) applies here and places the burden of proving a proposition of unpatentability onto the petitioner, not the patentee.)
  • AIPLA (The current amendment practice “does not provide patent owners with the fair and meaningful opportunity to amend claims that Congress envisioned”.)
  • PhRMA (Amendments are very important to patentees)
  • BIO (PTO may not impose any burden of proving patentability in an IPR process. Rather, the focus is on unpatentability – and that burden is upon the petitioner.)
  • Case Western Law Clinic (Although the PTO has rulemaking authority in this area, it exceeds that authority by ceding authority to the administrative patent judges.)
  • Houston IP Law Ass’n (The very small number of successful motions to amend reveals a problem.)

The PTO Brief along with any amicus in support are due over the next two weeks.


Maria Pallante Out as Chief of Copyright Office: New Calls for Unified US Intellectual Property Office

In some interesting news – On Friday Oct 21st, Maria Pallante was apparently removed today from her post as Register of Copyright within the Library of Congress and Karyn Temple Claggett moved up as Acting Register.  According to reports, newly installed Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden ordered the change that involved Pallante being locked-out of her computer Friday morning.

An oddity – the US Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress and thus under direct administration of Congress rather than the President (and Congress is not very good at running administrative agencies).  Under the current structure, the Register position is quite weak.  That said, Congress has recently relied upon the Copyright Office to make increasingly important market determinations.  However, the structure means that the President and Executive Agencies cannot rely upon the US Copyright Office for advice about copyright law or rely upon the agency to shape its policy.

In a 2012 post, I suggested creation of a United States Intellectual Property Organization (USIPO) akin to the UK IPO, Canadian IPO, and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  The structure would essentially be an expansion of the USPTO under presidential control although obviously still required to follow law set by Congress.  In 2012 I wrote that:

From a theoretical standpoint, it is unclear whether the [current] fractured administrative structure leads to rights that are either too strong or too weak.  What we can tell is that the [current] structure leads to a lack of coordination in administration of the various IP systems within the US.

A big problem with the fractured administration is that many operating businesses relying upon intellectual property (IP) rights typically do not focus on a single form of IP rights but instead take a layered approach that includes some combination of patent, trademark, copyright, contractual, employment, trade secret, and design rights, for instance. Each form of protection has weak points and overlapping coverage provides a greater level of certainty.  That overlapping nature also creates difficulties for users that hope to rely upon the public domain and fair use.  The overlapping approach suggests the need for a more unified administration approach to help ensure that IP rights serve their policy goals.

In her role as Register of Copyrights, Pallante had advocated transforming the Copyright Office into an executive agency.  It is unclear, however, whether those statements relate to her recent removal.


Dissenting on Obviousness

In re Efthymiopoulos (Fed. Cir. 2016)

In a split opinion, the Federal Circuit has affirmed the PTAB’s determination of obviousness.  Biota’s patent claims influenza treatment through oral inhalation of zanamivir while the prior art teaches the identical treatment by nasal inhalation.   A second prior art reference also suggests that similar compound can be taken via “inhalation” (without the nasal or oral modifier).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed that the general inhalation disclosure “is reasonably understood to disclose inhalation by either the nose alone, mouth alone, or both.”

Judge Newman writes in dissent:

The PTAB and now this court rule that it was obvious to administer this drug by oral inhalation, although there is no reference, no prior art, no suggestion, proposing that this mode of application might succeed, or that it should be tried. There was evidence of skepticism even as oral inhalation was evaluated. There was no contrary evidence. The evidence on which the Board and now this court rely is the evidence in the patent application itself, describing oral inhalation, its benefits, and its effectiveness. Upon learning this information from this inventor’s disclosure, the Board found that it was obvious, and my colleagues agree that it is obvious to them.



In its brief, the PTO wrote:

Efthymiopoulos seeks to capture as his exclusive property right a particular (but not particularly new) way of delivering an old compound to treat a well-known disease. Specifically, Efthymiopoulos claims a method for treating influenza, an infectious disease of the respiratory tract caused by influenza (flu) viruses, by administering zanamivir, a compound known in the prior art as an inhibitor of influenza virus production, by inhalation of zanamivir through the mouth alone. Efthymiopoulos contends that his contribution to the art is the route of inhalation – treating influenza solely by oral inhalation.
But the evidence of record shows that oral inhalation would have been obvious. Specifically, as of the effective filing date, skilled artisans understood inhalation to mean oral, nasal, or both. The prior art was replete with available oral inhaler devices for use with well-known micronized dry powder formulations. Skilled artisans also knew that oral inhalation delivers more drug to the lungs and that nasal inhalation delivers more drug to the nasal cavity. Skilled artisans further knew that some strains of influenza infect the lungs, and that young children are more susceptible to lung infections.

The case here is an example of the difficulty with the flexible obviousness analysis — it allows for well supported arguments on both sides.

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.


Does the Patent Statute Cabin-in the Abstract Idea Exception? (Yes)

by Dennis Crouch

In a new Supreme Court petition, Trading Technologies (TT) has again challenged USPTO and Federal Circuit eligibility determinations.

TT v. Lee asks the following question:

Given that 35 U.S.C. § 100(b) sets forth that a patent eligible “process” includes a “new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material,” did the Federal Circuit err by holding that an indisputably new and non-obvious use (i.e., game steps) of an existing manufacture (i.e., playing cards) was patent ineligible under Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014)?

The underlying appellate decision In re Smith involves a patent application claiming a new method of playing Blackjack. The new approach offered by offers ability to bet on the occurrence of “natural 0” hands as well as other potential side bets.  Claim 1 in particular requires a deck of ‘physical playing cards” that are shuffled and then dealt according to a defined pattern.  Bets are then taken with the potential of more dealing and eventually all wagers are resolved.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB/Examiner determinations that the claimed method of playing cards constitutes an unpatentable abstract idea. As I previously wrote:

The court held that a wagering game is roughly identical to fundamental economic practices that the Supreme Court held to be abstract ideas in Alice and Bilski. . . . Following the Board’s lead, the appellate court then found that the “purely conventional steps” associated with the physical act of playing cards do not “supply a sufficiently inventive concept.”

Important for this case, the court noted that some card games are patent eligible, but that universe appears to be limited only to patents claiming “a new or original deck of cards.”  Of course, the patent statute expressly states that processes are patent eligible – and that set of eligible processes “includes a new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material.”  35 U.S.C. 100(b).

Above the Statute?: An important fundamental question is whether the eligibility exceptions of Alice and Mayo supersede the statute.  Some argue that their origins are Constitutional – embedded in the “discoveries” limitation and thus control the law regardless of the statutory text.  But the Supreme Court has repeatedly indicated that the abstract idea and law of nature exceptions are grounded in the 35 U. S. C. §101 (despite the absence of express language).  Under a plain language interpretation, these atextual exceptions should not be extended so far as to conflict with the statute — especially the express definitions of §100(b). Thus, TT writes:

Under the statute, new processes that use conventional equipment or materials are clearly patent eligible subject matter. 35 U.S.C. § 100(b) (patent eligible processes include “a new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material.”). This Court has never abrogated § 100(b). And Alice did nothing to change this. Indeed, to fail the first step of the Alice test, a claim needs to tie up an “abstract idea,” which for purposes of this test was defined to be a preexisting practice that serves as a fundamental “building block of human ingenuity,” such as a “longstanding” and “prevalent” economic practice. . . . The Federal Circuit has improperly extended Alice step one to claims that indisputably recite a new set of game steps that was not preexisting, let alone “fundamental.”

My own take is that the Constitutional intellectual property clause probably does have some teeth and – as an extreme example – would not empower Congress to authorize patents covering abstract ideas as such.  That said, Congressional power certainly extends to authorizing the grant of patents covering the types of inventions being identified as abstract ideas under Alice Corp such as the blackjack game at issue here.

[In re TT – Petition]

DISCLOSURES – The petition was filed by my friends and former colleagues Leif Sigmund and Jennifer Kurcz at the MBHB firm and the firm is a paid sponsor of Patently-O.  I also represented TT in other matters up until 2007.  That said, I have not discussed this particular case or my here with TT/MBHB other than to request a copy of the petition after I noted its filing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Not Eligible: Supreme Court Denies All Pending Subject Matter Eligibility Petitions

The Supreme Court has greatly simplified the patent docket by denying certiorari in 10+ cases.  Gone are GEA Process (IPR termination decision), Amphastar (scope of 271.e safe harbor) , Commil (appellate disregard of factual evidence), MacDermid (obvious combination), Jericho (Abstract Idea) , Trading Technologies (mandamus challenging CBM initiation), Tobinick (interference), Neev (arbitrator autonomy), Genetic Tech (eligibility), Essociate (eligibility), Dreissen, and Pactiv (ex parte reexamination procedure).   Notably, all of the eligibility petitions have been denied.

The constitutional challenges of MCM and Cooper are the only cases that particularly survived the Court’s latest culling. Those cases have been relisted for consideration at the next conference (October 7). However, there is some chance that the court is simply waiting for Square’s responsive brief due October 12.  Meanwhile, on October 11, the court will hear oral arguments in Samsung v. Apple.

First Amendment Finally Reaches Patent Law

The big news from Intellectual Ventures v. Symantec (Fed. Cir. 2016) is not that the court found IV’s content identification system patents invalid as claiming ineligible subject matter.  (Although that did happen). Rather, the big event is Judge Mayer’s concurring opinion that makes “make two points: (1) patents constricting the essential channels of online communication run afoul of the First Amendment; and (2) claims directed to software implemented on a generic computer are categorically not eligible for patent.”

Read Judge Mayer’s opinion in full:

MAYER, Circuit Judge, concurring.

I agree that all claims on appeal fall outside of 35 U.S.C. § 101. I write separately, however, to make two points: (1) patents constricting the essential channels of online communication run afoul of the First Amendment; and (2) claims directed to software implemented on a generic computer are categorically not eligible for patent.