Tag Archives: PGR

In re Aqua: Ambiguity in the Statute Means Deference to the PTO

In re Aqua (Fed. Cir. 2016)

In its newly filed brief in this pending en banc case, the USPTO sets forth the three statutory provisions of 35 U.S.C. § 316 that are related to amendment practice in an Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings: §§ 316(a)(9); (d)(1); and (e). [Aqua Products–PTO brief.] Taking them out of order: Section (d) allows for one motion to amend; Section (a)(9) gives the PTO broad regulatory authority to set the standards and procedures associated with the motion to amend; and finally Section (e) indicates that petitioner has the burden of proving unpatentability. The friction between these sections may not be inherent to the statute, but arose when the PTO created the rule that the patentee must prove patentability of any amended claim before the motion will be allowed. The patentee argues in Aqua that the PTO approach is contrary to § 316(e) while the PTO argues that its approach is allowed by the broad rule-making-authority granted by § 316(a)(9).

316(a) Regulations. —The Director shall prescribe regulations— (9) setting forth standards and procedures for allowing the patent owner to move to amend the patent under subsection (d).

316(d) Amendment of the Patent.— (1) In general.—During an [IPR], the patent owner may file 1 motion to amend the patent in 1 or more of the following ways:(A) Cancel any challenged patent claim; (B) For each challenged claim, propose a reasonable number of substitute claims.

316(e) Evidentiary Standards.— In an inter partes review instituted under this chapter, the petitioner shall have the burden of proving a proposition of unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence.

In its brief, the PTO explains that assigning burdens associated with the motion to amend is a “standard” expressly falling within its rulemaking authority and thus must be granted deference by the Federal Circuit on appeal. That portion of the argument appears clearly correct. The difficulty for the PTO comes into play in distinguishing Section 316(e) — its best and first argument is that the provision does not expressly discuss amendments: “For one thing, § 316(e) never mentions amended claims.” The PTO goes on to argue that 316(e)’s implicit focus is on burden’s associated with claims-at-issue and not proposed claims. “§ 316(e) speaks only to the petitioner’s burden of proving the unpatentability of existing claims; it does not specify who has the burden of proving the patentability of new, never-before-examined substitute claims.”

The brief also takes the interesting tack of walking through the amici filings and pointing out that none of them fully agree on the meaning of the supposedly unambiguous Section 316(e).  If the section is seen as ambiguous, then the PTO’s deference level kicks-in once again.

Any amicus brief supporting the USPTO petition will be due by November 2, 2016 with oral arguments set before the entire court on December 9, 2016.


More Reading:


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

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

The following are a few snippets from her speech:

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

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

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

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

We’ve also brought a broader range of services to support American innovators where and when needed, including: Through four regional offices across the country and over a dozen IP attaches across the globe. And, we’ve worked to provide you with more access to examiner interviews by training and promoting their benefits internally at the USPTO and externally, leading to an increase of 232% more interviewing hours in just eight years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


One Last Try: Is the Inter Partes Review system Unconstitutional?

Cooper v. Square is the final pending constitutional challenge to the inter partes and post grant review proceedings created by Congress in the America Invents Act of 2011 and briefing in the case is now complete.

In the final reply brief in the petition process, Cooper explains how this case is a good vehicle for the challenge:

This case is the only one left of three that raised a facial constitutional challenge to inter partes review (IPR). This Court relisted in Cooper v. Lee, No. 15-955, and MCM Portfolio v. HP, No. 15-1330, before denying cert on October 11, 2016. This case is distinct from both of those, and far more amenable to adjudication by this Court. This case does not have the vehicle problem identified by the federal respondent in Cooper v. Lee (since this case arises directly from an agency final decision, whereas Cooper v. Lee arose from a collateral proceeding). And this case does not seek the extreme constitutional remedies of the petitioner in MCM Portfolio (since this case seeks relief in the form of making IPR outcomes advisory, not in the form of annihilating an entire section of a federal agency).

In its responsive brief Square argued that Cooper waived his constitutional argument by not repeatedly raising the issue.  The Cooper brief does a nice job of explaining the errors in that conclusion.

Patent Academic Ray Mercado also took advantage of the request for a responsive brief to file an amicus brief. Mercado argues that patents should be seen as “private rights” and therefore cannot be administratively cancelled.  He writes: “Once the historical uniqueness of patent law is taken into account, it is clear that patents are ‘private rights’ for purposes of this Court’s separation of powers jurisprudence, and their validity must be decided by Article III courts.”

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

by Dennis Crouch

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

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

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

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

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


Samsung v. Apple: A view from inside the courtroom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patentlyo Bits and Bytes by Anthony McCain

Get a Job doing Patent Law                  

Lee v. Tam: Supreme Court Takes on the Slants

by Dennis Crouch

In its decision in this trademark registration case, the Federal Circuit found the statutory prohibition against registering “disparaging marks” an unconstitutional governmental regulation of speech in violation of the First Amendment. (En banc decision).  I noted in my December 2015 post that “there would be a good chance for Supreme Court review of the case if the government presses its position.”

The Supreme Court has now granted the USPTO’s petition for writ of certiorari asking:

Whether the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), which provides that no trademark shall be refused registration on account of its nature unless, inter alia, it “[c]onsists of . . . matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” is facially invalid under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

In the case, Simon Tam is seeking to register a mark on his band name “The Slants.” The USPTO refused after finding that the mark is disparaging toward individuals of Asian ancestry.

Tam’s responsive brief was unusual in that he agreed that Certiorari should be granted.  The brief also restated and expanded the question presented as follows:

1. Whether the disparagement clause bars the registration of respondent’s trademark.
2. Whether the disparagement clause is contrary to the First Amendment.
3. Whether the disparagement clause is unconstitutionally vague under the First and Fifth Amendments.

While the Federal Circuit majority opinion had agreed that the disparagement clause was contrary to the First Amendment, only a two-judge concurring opinion indicated that the clause is unconstitutionally vague.  Thus, the reframing of the question presented here appears an attempt to offer alternative reasons for affirmance.  The Supreme Court offered no indication as to which question is proper.

Congratulations to Ron Colemen for shepherding this case and Profs Volokh and Banner who apparently wrote the petition response.

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).



RMail: Is Eligibility a Proper Litigation Defense?

Thus far, the Federal Circuit has successfully ducked any direct holding on whether eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101 is a “condition of patentability” or a proper invalidity defenes.  Professor Hricik and I raised these issues in a number of posts back in 2012.

Following Hricik’s proposal, patentee and DJ Defendant RMail raised the issue in district court.  [LINK]  The district court followed tradition and held that ineligibility is a defense that can be raised in a district court challenge to patent infringement. After losing on the merits (summary judgment) the case is now on appeal and RMail again argues that “Ineligibility is not a litigation defense under §282(b).”  In its brief, RMail writes:

Patent defenses are statutory. If a patent defense is not denominated within the Patent Act, then the Court lacks jurisdiction to address it. See Aristocrat Tech. Section 282(b) . . . enumerates the defenses that may be raised in a patent infringement action. . . . [T]he
plain language of §282(b)(2) does not authorize ineligibility as a defense.

A stumbling block for the patentee here is the Versata decision which held that the PTAB has authority to decide Section 101 challenges in a CBM review.  The newly filed brief distinguishes that case, however, by arguing that “Versata relies on the legislative history of the AIA . . . not the legislative history of the 1952 Patent Act, which enacted §282(b)(2).”

In the end, I expect that history and tradition are strong enough to overcome the statutory gap, but it would be nice to see an explanation from the Court.

Read the brief: RMAIL 101 Challenge.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Citations omitted).

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

There’s a lot to unpack here.

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

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

Shame on us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.


Supreme Court Patent Cases: Malpractice, Obviousness, and Venue

by Dennis Crouch

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

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

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


Santa Clara – Duke Law Patent Quality Conference: Patent Quality – It’s Time

Guest Post from Professors Arti Rai and Colleen Chien.

“I know well the difficulty of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not.“ – Thomas Jefferson, 1813

Santa Clara –Duke Law Patent Quality Conference: Patent Quality – It’s Time

At 1 pm today, USPTO Director Michelle Lee will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee at a USPTO Oversight Hearing.  The hearing will focus on questions of patent quality raised by two recent GAO reports (here and here) as well as the issue of examiner reporting of time raised by a  report by the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General (here).

As we have discussed, the two of us are following closely the USPTO’s efforts to address issues of patent quality through its Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) – an urgent but also enduring challenge that one of our nation’s first patent examiners, Thomas Jefferson, struggled with.  Our institutions, the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy and the Santa Clara High Tech Law Institute, are also co-sponsoring two conferences on EPQI and other levers for improving patent quality.

On Friday, September 9, we held the first of these conferences at Santa Clara Law School.  The conference brought together Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality Valencia Martin-Wallace, Deputy Commissioner for Patents Andy Faile, former PTO Director David Kappos, EPO Director of Quality Support Alfred Spigarelli, GAO officials, industry representatives, and legal academics.  Here we provide a brief summary of the event.  Video and links to the presentations and related papers will be available here (a uncut version of the video is here). Several of the commentators will be publishing op-ed versions of their remarks with IPLaw360 from now until the December 13, 2016 conference, and the Berkeley Technology Law Journal has published short commentaries from a number of the speakers on their topics.

Valencia Martin-Wallace began by highlighting 6 aspects of the EPQI: case studies the USPTO is implementing in response to stakeholder requests; the Master Review Form (MRF), which is now being used as the exclusive review form by the Office of Patent Quality Assurance; other quality metrics; USPTO study of post-grant outcomes for purposes of improving ex ante patent examination, both in child applications of parents there are the subject of a post-grant review and more generally; a post-prosecution pilot; and a clarity of the record pilot.

Martin-Wallace’s comprehensive discussion of the MRF and quality metrics honed in on the difficult question of what quality means and how the PTO should measure it.  According to the USPTO, the MRF’s focus on clarity and correctness of the examination is a key aspect of how the agency measures product quality. The agency is also very interested in process quality, by which it means a focus on reducing rework and ensuring consistency.  The USPTO will also continue to monitor perceptions of quality through internal and external quality surveys. USPTO Case studies on 101 – the compliance of rejections with 35 U.S.C. 101 Official Guidance and the consistency of the application of 101 across art units/technology centers – will be issued on September 30 and December 9 respectively.  They will be followed by case studies on other types of rejections.

Martin-Wallace’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion of claim clarity and examination consistency.  Peter Menell discussed how claim clarity could be improved through a claim template [link] and the importance of putting all interactions with the examiner into the record.  Charles Duan also highlighted the importance of a clear prosecution record, particularly for purposes of allowing courts to find claim scope disavowal.  Jay Kesan focused on the lack of standardized claim language in software and suggested mechanisms for improving standardization.  Finally, Xavier Jaravel of Stanford presented his research with Josh Feng of Harvard showing that NPEs tend to purchase patents granted by lenient examiners that are incremental and vaguely worded; they estimate that a one-standard deviation change in the “examiner effect” could lower the rate of litigation and NPE purchased patents by 50%.

The conference then turned to issue of examiner time allocation, and in particular ensuring adequate time for search.  Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations Andy Faile outlined the count system and the time that examiners are given to achieve each count.  On the first round of examination, examiners receive 1.25 counts for the first office action; 0.25 counts for the final rejection in that round; 0.75 counts for an allowance disposal: and 0.5 counts for termination of the first round of examination (“abandonment”).  The time allocated to achieve each count is a function of the area of technology – for example, while 16.6 hours are allocated per disposal in fishing lures, examiners are given almost double that, 27.7 hours per satellite communications disposal. It is also a function of GS-level of the examiner – as in the EPO, senior examiners at the USPTO are expected to produce more work than junior examiners.

Assistant GAO director Robert Marek next discussed highlights from the agency’s studies of patent quality and prior art search.  These studies relied heavily on a survey that produced 2669 USPTO examiner respondents.  The survey found that 70% of examiners reported having insufficient time to examine applications; the majority reported wanting more time for prior art search; and the majority also reported encountering vague and indefinite claims.  Examiners also reported conducting only limited searches for non-patent literature (NPL).  On the issue of search, the GAO recommends that the PTO develop guidance of what constitutes a good prior art search; identify key sources of NPL; monitor search quality; and assess the time examiners need for search.  On claim clarity, GAO recommends the PTO consider requiring patent applicants to include term glossaries or claim charts.

The morning concluded with a panel discussion of prior art search and time.  Colleen Chien discussed the findings of a recently released study that suggests that the EPO is much more likely to cite NPL in its search reports than PTO examiners are to rely upon NPL in their examination, despite that the PTO’s examiners are more likely to receive NPL, through IDS’. The paper argues that that the greater amount of time that EPO examiners spend on search (8-12 hours per app, vs. 4-5 hours at the PTO), contributes to this difference. However, the PTAB, which intensely reviews challenged patents, appears to cite NPL even more than EPO examiners do. Michael Frakes and Melissa Wasserman then summarized their empirical research on 1.4 million utility patent applications initiated after March 2001 and disposed of by July 2012.  Their research suggests that tightening of examiner time constraints as they move up GS-levels appears to lead to more grants, less examiner citation of prior art, and fewer time-intensive non-obviousness rejections.  Their analysis, which follows examiners as they rise up GS-levels within art units, capitalizes on the essentially random assignment of applications within an art unit and employs an examiner fixed-effect design. Moderator Karen Wong called the After Final Consideration Pilot 2.0 one of the PTO’s best inventions, and Steven Reid and others noted that the Post-Prosecution Pilot (P3) examination was also a valuable option for achieving resolution without the need for a full request for continued examination (RCE).

Jay Kesan and Colleen Chien kicked off the afternoon with a discussion of the differences between EPO and USPTO processes (the former bifurcates search and examination, doesn’t allow for continuations (but does tolerate divisionals), and charges higher fees, earlier), perceptions of the two institutions (based on a recent survey of ~650 practitioners), and outcomes. Drawing upon matched pair analysis, Kesan’s research suggests that on average EPO patents have fewer claims, and the claims are longer and have greater pendency. Chien’s paper suggests that the lower EPO allowance rate isn’t driven by a higher rejection rate but more applicant withdrawals.

EPO Patent Quality Director Alfred Spigarelli’s presentation was titled: “Patent Quality: Get it Right the First Time.” He emphasized the human resources component of the patent quality equation, from the hiring standards the EPO applies (e.g. examiners must be able to actively work in three languages), to the training each EPO examiner receives, to the low turnover rate. Search is viewed as the cornerstone of the patent examination process, with 60% of time dedicated to search.

On the panel that followed (“Once and Done” and Differentiating Between Patents), Laura Sheridan outlined a proposal to increase quality and predictability by introducing greater finality into the patent application process.  Under Sheridan’s proposal, examination would terminate after a predetermined maximum number of office actions, and the application would be then adjudicated by a panel.  Steven Yelderman discussed the dynamic effects on RCE practice of recent changes to fees as well as mechanisms by which post-grant review could feed information back into initial patent examination. Sandy Swain discussed steps that could be taken by applicants now, without any policy changes, stressing the importance of open communication and clear documentation. Alan Marco presented a study in progress of litigated patents, suggesting that small entities are more likely to litigate and finding that (with the exception of continuations) applicant characteristics are more likely to be predictive of litigation than examination characteristics.

Studies have shown that delays in patent examination are detrimental to startup firms. For these firms, long pendency could be considered a sign of poor examination quality.  Building on this work, Arti Rai discussed her ongoing research on accelerated examination through the Track 1 program.  She finds that the program is in fact disproportionately used by small and micro entities. However, the top filers in the program are large entities, and she is studying whether their applications show signs of poor quality. Josh Makower, an investor, inventor, and entrepreneur in the biotechnology and medical device industry, said that all his startups used TrackOne, underscoring the importance of patents to them. According to Oskar Liivak’s interpretation, 35 USC 115 makes it a felony for a patent applicant to claim more broadly than the actual invention. Brian Love noted that the EPQI had two important gaps – already granted patents and the flexing of the USPTO’s fee-setting authority. He recommended raising maintenance fees to cull low-value, low-quality patents and decreasing PTAB fees.  Love’s proposals generated vigorous discussion.

Dave Kappos provided the final keynote of the day, noting that patent quality has been a focus for as long as we’ve had a patent commissioner. He noted that many efforts he oversaw during his administration to increase quality – giving examiner 2.5 more hours of time, redesigning the IT system, creating the Edison Scholar program, ensuring Examiner received training from industry experts, and many more. What didn’t work, he noted, was working with the AIPLA to devise a set of quality indicia for applicant filings that all agreed upon and that could be applied to applications. What he would work on, were he still in office, would include Track 3 (some version of deferred examination) and allocation of more time, not across the board, but as appropriate.

How will we know if the EPQI has been successful in two years? When this question was posed to them, closing panelists Faile, Martin-Wallace, and PTO Silicon Valley Director John Cabeca mentioned a few milestones: greater transparency and engagement of all members of the patent community, creative rethinking of the count system, more time for certain applications, and the leveraging of state of the art examination processes and resources.

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Arti Rai is the Elvin R. Latty Professor of Law at Duke Law School and co-Director, Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy.  Colleen Chien is Associate Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law.

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

By Jason Rantanen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Previewing the October Term 2016

by Dennis Crouch

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

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

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

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

It looks to be an interesting term.

The big list:


DuPont v. MacDermid Printing: The importance of a Patentee’s Pre-Filing Statements

by Dennis Crouch

A skilled patent attorney working with a qualified searcher could cobble together a colorable obviousness argument against the vast majority of issued patent claims.  Part of the difficulty for patentees stem from the the billions of prior art references available via increasingly effective search tools. Even when an invention results from a ‘flash of genius,’ patent law typically back-fills extensive knowledge for the obviousness analysis – even when that knowledge was not actually available at the time of the invention.  The larger difficulty though is likely the large number of hard-to-pin-down facts such as the motivations, common sense, and level of creativity of a person having ordinary skill in the art.

The “expansive and flexible” approach to nonobviousness is frustrating to many, but it is seen as a feature of the system fully supported by the Supreme Court.  In KSR, the court wrote:

Throughout this Court’s engagement with the question of obviousness, our cases have set forth an expansive and flexible approach. . . . Rigid preventive rules that deny fact finders recourse to common sense… are neither necessary under our case law nor consistent with it.

KSR v. Teleflex (2007) [04-1350].  Conventional wisdom post-1980 has been that the factual inquiry makes summary judgment of obviousness difficult for a patent challenger.  Rather, obviousness goes to the jury.  Since KSR, that attitude has shifted somewhat.  (The even newer model is that obviousness goes to the PTO in an IPR proceeding – save that for a different essay).

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Summary Judgment of Obviousness: In DuPont v. MacDermid Printing (Fed. Cir. 2016) [15-1777], the NJ district court granted summary judgment of obviousness against the patentee DuPont – holding that the asserted claims of DuPont’s U.S. Patent 6,773,859 invalid under 35 U.S.C. 103.   The ‘859 patent relates to the manufacture of  a flexo plate for digital printing — a plate used to print digital images on flexible materials.   The claimed advance involves heating-up the plate to remove unpolymerized material (rather than using a harsh solvent).

The obviousness case combines two prior art references: “Martens [a 3M patent] teaches a process for developing an analog plate using heat” and “Fan [DuPont patent] teaches developing a digital plate using solvents.”   The inventor (Roxy Fan) is also the first named inventor of DuPont’s ‘859 patent being challenged in this case. The Fan prior-art patent, however, was filed a decade prior.  Reviewing these two references, the court found that the ‘859 patent uses “the same technology and processes pertaining to digital imaging” previously disclosed by Fan and the same thermal development process disclosed in Martens.  In finding a motivation-to-combine these references, the district court walked through several factors.

  • Limited set of potential combinations: The prior art only had two imaging styles (digital and analog) and four development techniques (thermal, etc.) – this makes the ‘859 combination more likely obvious to try.
  • Benefits of Moving to Digital: The prior art taught benefits of switching to digital (thus suggesting the substitution), including an article published by DuPont
  • Market Incentive: DuPont marketing material suggest a “strong incentive” to combine the thermal process with digital plates.

The district court also rejected DuPont’s evidence of commercial success, longfelt need, and industry praise – finding them insufficient to overcome the “strong showing of obviousness.”

On appeal of this summary judgment finding, DuPont focused on the standard-of-review – noting that the district court had failed to “draw reasonable inferences” in its favor.  In the process, DuPont pointed to a long list of factual disputes between the parties where it would be reasonable to draw different conclusions from the evidences.

The Federal Circuit affirmed – finding that the strong undisputed evidence of prior art and motivation to combine fully supported the summary judgment finding.

[T]he record contains strong evidence that a skilled artisan would have had a reason to combine two known technologies and would have had a reasonable expectation of success in doing so. Indeed, DuPont itself promoted the digital and thermal technologies as technological breakthroughs in prior art publications. Thus, in view of the record as a whole, even drawing all justifiable inferences in favor of DuPont, the objective evidence is insufficient to preclude summary judgment on the ultimate legal conclusion of obviousness.

Doomed by Its Own Prior Statements: The obviousness case against DuPont here is interesting because (1) one of the core prior art references was a DuPont reference and (2) DuPont’s own statements regarding its prior inventions led to the motivation-to-combine finding.  DuPont’s private case study will likely walk through and consider whether it should have taken a different pathway regarding the public disclosures.

Caveat: Although the patentee’s pre-filing disclosures are important – it is also important to remember that the question of obviousness is an objective analysis focusing on the hypothetical mind of a person having ordinary skill in the art.  What this means is that the patentee’s disclosures are should not be treated as “party admissions” and given special treatment in the obviousness analysis.  Rather, the disclosures are simply added to the body of knowledge available to the artisan.  Here, the Federal Circuit came dangerously close to crossing the line into giving information actually available to and created by DuPont special weight in the obviousness analysis.


USPTO Launches Cancer Moonshot Challenge

The following was originally published on the USPTO Director’s Blog and is a guest post by USPTO Chief of Staff Vikrum Aiyer and Senior Advisor Thomas A. Beach

The USPTO is playing an important role in the National Cancer Moonshot, a Presidential initiative we blogged about earlier this summer, to speed up cancer advances, make more therapies available to more patients, and improve the ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. Today, we are launching the USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge to enlist the public’s help to leverage our intellectual property data, often an early indicator of meaningful research and development (R&D), and combine it with other economic and funding data (ie. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Food and Drug Administration reporting, National Science Foundation grants vs. philanthropic investments, venture capital funding, etc.). This comes on the heels of our Patents 4 Patients program, which was launched in July and aims to cut in half the time it takes to review patent applications in cancer therapy.

The USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge will conclude on September 12 and winners will be announced on September 26. Learn more about the prizes.

Participants will have the opportunity to leverage USPTO Cancer Moonshot patent data to reveal new insights into investments around cancer therapy research and treatments. Some questions to address include: What are the peaks and valleys in the landscape of cancer treatment technologies? What new insights can be revealed by correlating R&D spending/funding to breakthrough technologies? What would trace studies of commercially successful treatments from patent to product tell us? With the data sets released through the USPTO Developer Hub, users will be able to use analytic tools, processes and complimentary data sets to build rich visualizations of intellectual property data, which will help illuminate trend lines for new treatments. During the three week challenge, the USPTO will hold a USPTO Cancer Moonshot Workshop to assist participants, on Thursday August 25.

After the challenge has concluded, the USPTO, in tandem with other Moonshot Task Force partners, will look at further ways to use the findings. By bringing together cancer experts, policymakers, and data scientists, we can explore and identify how intellectual property data can be better leveraged and combined with other data sets to support cancer research and the development of new commercialized therapies. This will empower the federal government—as well as the medical, research, and data communities—to make more precise funding and policy decisions based on the commercialization lifecycle of the most promising treatments, and maximize U.S. competitiveness in cancer investments.

 We recognize that by enlisting the public’s assistance through our USPTO Cancer Moonshot Challenge, we can identify new and creative ways to fight cancer and work towards breakthroughs in treatment.  And by harnessing the power of patent data, and accelerating the process for protecting the intellectual property undergirding cancer immunotherapy breakthroughs, the USPTO is standing up and doing its part to help bring potentially life-saving treatments to patients, faster. Are you up to the challenge?

Law Professors Call for Patent Venue Reform

A group of 45 professors sent the following letter to Congress arguing for statutory reforms to limit venue in patent infringement cases.  One focus of this move is to direct intention toward a focused and limited action rather than another round of comprehensive patent reforms.  This type of limited reform could come as part of a late-session omnibus package.

– Dennis

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The undersigned patent law academics and economics experts write to express our support for patent venue reform.  Changes to the venue rules are necessary and urgent to address the significant problem of forum shopping in patent litigation cases.

As Colleen Chien and Michael Risch recently wrote for the Washington Post, “[t]he staggering concentration of patent cases in just a few federal district courts is bad for the patent system.”[1]  It is imperative that Congress address patent venue reform to return basic fairness, rationality, and balance to patent law.  Specifically, venue reform that treats plaintiffs and defendants equally by requiring a substantive connection to the venue on the part of at least one party is critical to ensure fairness and uniformity in patent law.

As a result of current venue rules, though there are 94 federal judicial districts, a single district is home to nearly half of all patent cases.  Of the 5,819 patent cases filed in 2015, nearly half— 2,541 cases—were filed in the Eastern District of Texas,[2] and 95% of those cases were filed by non-practicing entities (NPEs).[3]  And the Eastern District of Texas’s percentage of patent cases has been steadily increasing over the last several years, rising from 11% in 2008 to 44% in 2015.4  By comparison, the Northern District of California, home of Silicon Valley, saw only 228 patent cases filed in 2015.[4]

A single judge in the Eastern District of Texas had 1,686 patent cases filed assigned to his docket in 2015—in other words, a single judge handled two-thirds of the patent cases in that district, and nearly one-third of all patent cases nationwide.  If all of those cases were to go to trial, that single judge would have to complete 4 to 5 trials every day of the year (including weekends)—not counting any time for motions or other hearings.  The burden of this overwhelming number of cases leads, unsurprisingly, to a high reversal rate on appeal.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed only 39% of the decisions from the Eastern District in 2015.[5]

One reason for the disproportionate number of patent filings in the Eastern District of Texas is that the district employs procedural rules and practices that attract plaintiffs, including by delaying or denying the ability of defendants to obtain summary judgment to terminate meritless cases early.[6]  For example, the district requires parties seeking summary judgment in patent cases to first seek permission before filing any summary judgment motion, the effect of which is to delay and deter early resolution of cases.[7]

While parties can seek transfer out of the district, some NPEs have opened offices in the district simply for the purpose of bolstering their arguments to stay in their preferred venue.  The average grant of transfer in this venue took over a year (490 days), and the average denial of a transfer motion took 340 days, meaning that even cases that are ultimately transferred remain pending in the district for nearly a year.[8]  Local discovery rules permit discovery to go forward even while a motion for transfer is pending, so even successfully moving to transfer only partially relieves the expense of litigating in a distant venue and the burden on the court.

The disproportionate number of patent plaintiffs—and NPEs in particular—bringing cases in a single venue ultimately results in wasted judicial resources, as more of those cases are overturned on appeal.  For accused infringers, the costs of innovation are increased when they have little or no connection to the venue and are forced to litigate from a distance.  The harm caused by abuse of the system and the resulting loss of trust in the uniformity and justness of the U.S. patent law system is unmeasurable.

This type of dynamic is bad for patent law, and bad for United States innovation.  It is thus critical that Congress act now to pass targeted patent venue reform.

[Read the PDF Letter]

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[1] Colleen Chien and Michael Risch, A Patent Reform We Can All Agree On, Wash. Post, (June 3, 2016, 3:07pm).

[2] Data from Lex Machina (analysis as of June 7, 2016).

[3] Joe Mullin, Trolls made 2015 one of the biggest years ever for patent lawsuits, arstechnica (Jan. 5, 2015). DocketNavigator Analytics, New Patent Cases Report,  (report run June 2, 2016).

[4] Lex Machina, Patent Litigation Year in Review 2015, at 5 (Mar. 2016).

[5] Ryan Davis, EDTX Judges’ Love of Patent Trials Fuels High Reversal Rate, Law360.com (Mar. 8, 2016).

[6] Daniel Klerman and Greg Reilly, Forum Selling, 89 S. Cal. L. Rev. 241, 252-53 (Jan. 2016) (“Eastern District judges are particularly hostile to summary judgment in patent cases. Patent litigators, but not other litigants, are required to seek permission before filing summary judgment motions . . . and are prohibited from moving for summary judgment if permission is denied.”)

[7] See, e.g., Judge Rodney Gilstrap, Sample Docket Control Order—Patent.

[8] Lex Machina, Patent Litigation Year in Review 2015, 10 (Mar. 2016).