As I was reading recent Federal Circuit decisions I initially skipped right past I/P Engine, Inc. v. AOL, Inc. (CAFC, August 15, 2014). After all, this decision was non-precedential, so how important could it really be? But the Federal Circuit seems to have a peculiar definition of “non-precedential” these days.
In this case the jury found that the asserted claims were infringed, the jury found that the asserted claims remained non-obvious because the defendants’ evidence did not establish obviousness with clear and convincing evidence, and the plaintiff won a verdict of over $30 million with an ongoing royalty rate of 3.5%. The district court judge reviewed the jury determinations, particularly with respect to obviousness, and found that the jury was correct. The Federal Circuit, in their infinite wisdom, disagreed and found the asserted claims obvious. To do so the majority provided no deference to the factual determinations of the jury.
Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in State of Vermont v. MPHJ Technology Investments, LLC. The decision, which was really not much of a decision because the Federal Circuit concluded they lacked jurisdiction, is interesting for at least several reasons.
While Vermont’s actions are undoubtably laudable, despite what some conclude I suspect that when challenged the legislation will fall because it pre-empts patent law, which is federal. For example, one of the factors that would suggest a bad faith patent enforcement under the Vermont statute is if there has previously been a lawsuit or threatened lawsuit based on the same or similar claim of patent infringement.
This is the third and final installment of my recent interview with former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel. In this installment of the interview we discuss the future of the Federal Circuit now that Judge Rader is a private citizen. We discuss the type of candidate that should be appointed to replace him, and the always concerning panel dependency.
QUINN: So now we still have one topic still to discuss. Perhaps, if you have the time, we could talk about the Federal Circuit. I don’t want to get into any of the touchy subjects, which some people are diving into. I’m more interesting in talking about moving forward, you know, Judge Rader is now a private citizen and he was clearly one of the champions of the patent system and a believer in the power and the importance of patents. And now he’s not on the Court any more. I wonder what that’s going to mean moving forward. I wonder— and then I can’t help but wonder about panel dependency, which is a problem that a lot of people talk about. And particularly in light of the fact that the Supreme Court has remanded Ultramercial to the Federal Circuit. And Judge Rader was on that panel. So you already have people talking about whether that outcome in what could be a very important case will become panel dependent.
MICHEL: Right. Well, first of all I think Judge Rader will continue to play a very constructive role as a vocal spokesman now in the private citizen realm. And in fact being a private citizen he can be much more frank and candid than he was able to be as a sitting judge. So his voice may get even more interesting and even louder as a part of the overall debate. His replacement will be very important. So just as people are focused on is Phil Johnson going to become the new patent director, will he get nominated, can he get confirmed, how will he do? All those interesting very important questions, people should also be asking who will replace Judge Rader? Who will get nominated, can that person get confirmed, can they get confirmed as fast as they need to get confirmed so the Court is at full strength?
In what can really only be characterized as a stunning development, earlier today Judge Randall Rader of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit announced that he is retiring effective June 30, 2014. This announcement comes only weeks after he stepped down as Chief Judge.
On May 23, 2014, then Chief Judge Rader announced that he would step down as Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit on May 30, 2014. At that time Rader also said that he would continue in active service on the Court, although the official announcement said that he will also undertake additional teaching, lecturing and travel. Given Rader’s statement that he would remain on the Court just weeks ago the announcement today is shocking. It is too early to know exactly why Judge Rader has made this decision, as news is just breaking, but the speed with which Rader has gone from Chief Judge, to Circuit Judge to private citizen is staggering.
By now much of the patent world likely already knows that Chief Judge Randall Rader has announced that he will step down as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit effective May 30, 2014. Many in the popular press are tying his decision to step down to his recent recusals, which were necessitated by an ill-advised email sent by Judge Rader praising a member of the patent bar that routinely appears before the Federal Circuit. On May 23, 2014, Judge Rader sent a letter to all of the other Judges on the Federal Circuit apologizing for his lapse in judgment and for the need to recuse himself. Given the timing of Judge Rader’s decision to step down and his apology letter it is easy to understand why many are speculating that the two are connected.
Given the anti-patent climate that has been created by major Silicon Valley technology companies, the Obama Administration and certain Members of Congress, the news that Judge Rader will step down as Chief Judge comes at a difficult time. As innovators celebrated the defeat of the latest round of patent legislation that would have weakened the patent system and patent rights generally, the industry is now face with losing Judge Rader, at least to some extent.
Judge Rader will stay on the Federal Circuit, he will continue to teach, lecture and travel, spreading the positive patent message that he delivers so uniquely well. Even though the Chief Judge is really only a leader among equals, there is no doubt that a bully pulpit is provided to a Chief Judge. Judge Rader was willing to talk about the virtues of the U.S. patent system generally, and continually raised issues relevant to businesses both small and large that innovate. His absence at this critical time will be missed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What appears below are the prepared remarks for “The Honorable Howard T. Markey Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Property Law,” given by Don Dunner at the John Marshall Law School on November 12, 2010. In light of the recent announcement that Chief Judge Rader will be stepping down as Chief Judge, Dunner granted us permission to publish this piece.
The title of my lecture today is “The Evolution of Patent Jurisprudence … from Giles Rich to Howard Markey to Randall Rader.” Why, you might ask, am I restricting myself to these three jurists if my subject is “The Evolution of Patent Jurisprudence”? Why not start at the beginning, for example, and talk of Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, or the first patent act in 1790, or the beginning of the patent examination system in 1836, or the patent writings of Judge Learned Hand.
Those of you who are familiar with my career will know the answer: My 55 year career in patent law spans almost exactly the judicial tenures of Judges Rich, Markey and Rader. I have been specially blessed with my extensive interactions with all three judges, not to mention numerous oral arguments that I have been privileged to make before them. And so it seemed to me appropriate to spend my time today sharing my recollections and thoughts about these three giants of the patent profession.
Chief Judge Randall R. Rader today announced that he will step down as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on May 30, 2014. Judge Rader will continue in active service on the Court, although the official announcement says that he will also undertake additional teaching, lecturing and travel.
This surprise announcement by Judge Rader, who turned 65 on April 29, 2014, means that Judge Sharon Prost will become the next Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit. Had Judge Rader served his entire term as Chief Judge succession rules would have meant that the title of Chief Judge would pass Judge Prost and go on to Judge Moore, who remains next in line after Judge Prost.
On Friday, May 9, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals upheld sanctions leveled against E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company and its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (collectively “DuPont”) by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. See Monsanto Co. v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Co.
DuPont had appealed from orders of the district court, which had imposed sanctions on DuPont by striking DuPont’s contract reformation defense and counterclaims and awarding Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology, LLC (collectively “Monsanto”) attorney fees. Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion the Federal Circuited affirmed the sanctions.
Monsanto developed a genetic modification in soybean seeds, marketed under the Roundup Ready® (“RR”) brand name and known as the 40-3-2 event (the “RR trait”), which enables soybean plants to tolerate the application of glyphosate herbicide that kills weeds. Monsanto obtained U.S. Patent RE 39,247E (the “’247 Patent”), which covers the RR trait, and granted Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (“Pioneer”) a nonexclusive license to produce and sell soybean seeds containing Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant traits. After Pioneer became a subsidiary of DuPont, Monsanto and Pioneer entered into an Amended and Restated Roundup Ready® Soybean License Agreement on April 1, 2002 (the “License”), which superseded the 1992 license.