Along with their ABC’s and multiplication tables, patent lawyers learn two basic principles. First, claims define the invention. Second, a court should not read limitations from a single embodiment into the claims, absent a demonstrated clear intention by the patentee to do so.
Don’t believe them.
When the Federal Circuit brings up the principle that one should not import the limitations of a single embodiment into a broader claim, expect the opinion to show how, under the particular, specifically limited facts of the present case, the inventor actually intended to limit the claims to the disclosed embodiment. The decision in Abbott Labs. v. Sandoz, Inc. provides an excellent example of the court’s reasoning. There, the specification described only a single embodiment, but the claims extended beyond the embodiment, but no issues of either prior art of enablement were present. The fact that the patent presented only a single example served as a starting point, after which the court was able to find “clear intent” to limit a broad claim term, “crystalline,” to a particular crystal.
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.
Justice Samuel Alito, authored the Limelight decision for a unanimous Court.
There are some who are questioning the wisdom and correctness of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, authored by Justice Alito for a unanimous Court, in Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. One particular point of criticism seems to be centered around the fact that the Supreme Court failed to take into consideration the existence of 35 U.S.C. § 271(f). Section 271(f) was enacted by Congress to overrule a 1972 Supreme Court decision that held that supplying parts to be assembled outside the United States could not result in infringement of a U.S. patented combination machine because the assembly occurred outside the territorial reach of the U.S., and therefore beyond the scope of the exclusive rights granted by a U.S. patent.
We recognize that certain Supreme Court patent decisions over the past several generations have legitimately raised questions about the Court’s familiarity with overall patent law concepts. Indeed, the Supreme Court has been criticized, including here on IPWatchdog.com, for muddying patent waters, failing to articulate clearly applicable standards and promulgating rulings that seem internally inconsistent, if not scientifically inaccurate. Any legitimate criticism of Supreme Court patent jurisprudence should, however, be on a case-by-case basis. Further, it is important to recognize that the Supreme Court does from time to time get a patent decision perfectly correct. See Diamond v. Chakrabarty, Diamond v. Diehr, Octane Fitness v. ICON Health & Fitness, Highmark v. Allcare, Gunn v. Minton, Bowman v. Monsanto, i4i v. Microsoft and Kappos v. Hyatt.
This current criticism swirling around Limelight seems misguided. Arguing that the Supreme Court erred by misinterpreting, or failing to apply, 271(f) misses the point entirely. The question presented in the appeal to the Supreme Court was whether there can be infringement under 271(b) if there is no direct infringement under 271(a). Infringement under 271(f)(1) was not at issue in the case, and 271(f)(1) was not relied upon by the Federal Circuit below.
Justice Alito began the decision with this summation:
“This case presents the question whether a defendant may be liable for inducing infringement of a patent under 35 U. S. C. §271(b) when no one has directly infringed thepatent under §271(a) or any other statutory provision. The statutory text and structure and our prior case law require that we answer this question in the negative. We accordingly reverse the Federal Circuit, which reached the opposite conclusion.”
At issue was the alleged infringement of U. S. Patent No. 6,108,703 (’703 patent), which claims a method of delivering electronic data using a “content delivery network,” or “CDN.” The ’703 patent also provides for the designation of certain components of a content provider’s website to be stored on Akamai servers. The process of determining which component to store on Akamai servers was known as “tagging.”
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Nautilis Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., which dealt with the appropriate standard for indefiniteness under 35 U.S.C. 112(b). It should be noted, however, if you read the case you will see mention of 35 U.S.C. 112, ¶ 2, which was the section of 112 at issue in the case. Congress has since relabeled section 112 to sections (a) through (f). In any event, the statute at issue reads as follows: “The specification shall conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the inventor or a joint inventor regards as the invention.” This is the section that defines the so-called definiteness requirement for patent claims.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Ginsburg for a unanimous court, the Federal Circuit was overruled, although it may wind up being much ado about nothing because it seems that the Supreme Court was concerned with the language used to articulate the indefiniteness standard, not specifically whether the claims at issue were indefinite.
The patent in dispute, U. S. Patent No. 5,337,753 (’753 patent), issued to Dr. Gregory Lekhtman in 1994 and assigned to respondent Biosig Instruments, Inc., concerns a heart-rate monitor for use during exercise. Claim 1 of the ’753 patent covers a heart monitor, and in two places uses the term “spaced relationship.”
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.