The en banc Federal Circuit on September 13, 2013, heard oral argument on whether to overrule its en banc decision in Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998), and hold that claim construction can involve issues of fact reviewable for clear error, and that it is not entirely an issue of law subject only to de novo review. Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Universal Lighting Technologies, Inc., Fed. Cir., No. 2012-1014, 3/15/2013.
Lighting Ballast Control LLC (LBC) owns a patent (5,436,529) on control and protection circuits for electronic lighting ballasts commonly used in fluorescent lighting. The patent includes the term “voltage source means” in the following context: “voltage source means providing a constant or variable magnitude DC voltage between the DC input terminals.” LBC sued Universal Lighting Technologies, Inc. (ULT).
District Court Decision
On appeal is the district court decision that a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim term “voltage source means” to correspond to a rectifier or other voltage supply device. It thus rejected ULT’s argument that the term invokes Section 112 ¶6 and that the claim is invalid for indefiniteness for lack of specific structure in the specification. A Federal Circuit panel reversed in a nonprecedential decision, concluding from a de novo review that “voltage source means” does invoke Section 112 ¶6 and that the claim is invalid for indefiniteness. That panel decision was vacated when the appellate court decided to consider the claim construction issue en banc.
The Supreme Court on June 24, 2013, called for the views of the Solicitor General on petitions to review the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision on joint infringement of process patents. That decision held that induced infringement of a process patent claim may be found even though no single entity performed all of the claimed steps as long as claim steps are performed collectively by multiple parties. In Akamai Technologies, Inc v. Limelight Networks, Inc., U.S., No. 12-960, 6/11/2013, the question presented is:
Whether a party may be liable for infringement under either 35 U.S.C. §271(a) or §271(b) where two or more entities join together to perform all of the steps of a process claim?
In Limelight Networks, Inc., v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., U.S., No. 12-786, 6/11/2013, the question presented is:
Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that a defendant may be held liable for inducing patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) even though no one has committed direct infringement under §271(a).
The Supreme Court on May 20, 2013, agreed to review a Federal Circuit decision that a patent licensee bears the burden of proof in its action for a declaratory judgment of noninfringement where the license remains in effect to preclude the defendant patentee’s infringement counterclaim. Medtronic Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., U.S., No. 12-1128, 5/20/2013.
The question presented in the petition for certiorari is as follows:
In Medlmmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 137 (2007), this Court ruled that a patent licensee that believes that its products do not infringe the patent and accordingly are not subject to royalty payments is “not required … to break or terminate its … license agreement before seeking a declaratory judgment in federal court that the underlying patent is … not infringed.”
The question presented is whether, in such a declaratory judgment action brought by a licensee under MedImmune, the licensee has the burden to prove that its products do not infringe the patent, or whether (as is the case in all other patent litigation, including other declaratory judgment actions), the patentee must prove infringement.
On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Jeffery Lewis, who is the President of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), sent a letter to Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In this letter Lewis, speaking on behalf of the AIPLA and its 15,000 members, challenged the legal interpretation of the budget cuts the Obama Administration says are required of the USPTO thanks to sequestration.
In the letter Lewis points out that the USPTO is at a critical point in the implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA), and this significant reduction in USPTO funding is based on an erroneous legal interpretation. Lewis also points out that the cut in funding to the USPTO is contrary to the promises made at the time the AIA was passed.
Those of us who followed the AIA debate and passage knew that it would only be a matter of time before the government reneged on its assurances that the USPTO would be allowed to keep 100% of the fees it collected. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) championed an amendment that ultimately failed, which would put into the Statute the requirement that 100% of fees collected be allowed to be used by the USPTO. That was rejected by Republican House leaders, who in turn promised in a letter that they would still provide 100% funding. A promise in a letter is, of course, worthless in Washington, DC.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet on March 14, 2013, heard from six witnesses that the business of “patent assertion entities” (PAEs) is inflicting severe harm on a broad range of technology users.
That business involves the enforcement of weak or invalid patent claims against initial and downstream users of devices that are remotely related to the patent claims for the sole purpose of extracting settlements in amounts much lower than the cost of litigating the rights. The witnesses at the hearing agreed that, when confronted PAE demand letters on frivolous claims, settlements by and large are economically unavoidable.
Committee Members Are Cautious
The Subcommittee had before it a particular bill (H.R. 845; the Shield Act) to create a limited loser-pays system. It would award full costs to the prevailing party unless the plaintiff is (1) the inventor, (2) the original assignee, (3) one who produced or sold items covered by the patent, or (4) a university or technology transfer organization.
Teresa Rea, soon to be Acting Director of the USPTO. Taken January 17, 2012.
Arlington, Virginia –On Saturday, February 2, during the AIPLA 2013 Mid-Winter Institute, in Tampa, FL, AIPLA will gather Heads of IP Offices from key countries around the world to provide perspective and advice on how to best utilize their IP systems when competing in the modern global economy.
The Heads of IP Offices in Brazil, Hong Kong, and Mexico will give their perspectives on:
(1) the current challenges their offices face;
(2) the role their office plays in the state of business and the economy of their country;
(3) how IP affects the economy in their country, both domestically and in the global economy; and
(4) how this affects US companies doing business in their country.
AIPLA is privileged to feature The Honorable Teresa Stanek Rea, in her first public presentation as Acting Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
On October 11, 2012, I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Barber and Jeff Lewis, who are respectively the soon to be outgoing and soon to be incoming Presidents of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). The interview was done in connection with my fall series profiling the AIPLA, AIPLA Executive Director Todd Dickinson and the AIPLA Annual Meeting. For all of the related articles please see AIPLA on IPWatchdog.
In Part I of the interview I spoke with Barber and Lewis about the AIPLA generally and how it manages to specifically accomplish its mission, which seems to be to voice an opinion of the membership on virtually every intellectual property issue both domestic and foreign. In Part II, which is the finale, we start off talking about the assault on intellectual property rights, particularly the erosion of patent rights.
QUINN: Well, let me ask you guys this since you guys are in the thick of these things and see what’s crossing over the AIPLA desk so to speak. It seems that what is going on across the board is an assault on intellectual property rights over and over and over again in multiple different forms, with respect to multiple different technologies, whether it be copyrights online, or whether it be with respect to patents. With patents I characterize it as the eroding value of a patent, particularly given that you’re not entitled to a permanent injunction and they’re getting harder and harder to get thanks to obviousness being tightened up. Do you see any movement at all in a pro IP owner area?
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