After the Federal Circuit issued its en banc decision on May 10, 2013 in CLS Bank v. Alice Corp, the patent owner Alice Corp must be feeling like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, bewildered and frightened by the fantastical situation in which they find themselves:
(1) “bewildered” because an equally divided Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that Alice’s claimed system to tangible machine components including a first party device, a data storage unit, a second party device, a computer, and a communications controller, programmed with specialized functions consistent with detailed algorithms disclosed in the patent, constitutes a patent ineligible “abstract idea;”
(2) “frightened” because, as Judge Moore puts it, “this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents” (Moore Op. at 2); and
In what can only fairly be characterized as utterly ridiculous, 5 of the 10 judges on the Federal Circuit to hear CLS Bank v. Alice Corporationen banc would find that claims that satisfy the machine-or-transformation test are not patentable. While I think it is inappropriate to find the systems claims patent ineligible that isn’t what makes the decision utterly ridiculous. The decision is an embarrassment because 5 other judges would have found the systems claims patent eligible. Thus, we have an even split of opinion at the Federal Circuit.
The Federal Circuit decision in CLS Bank v. Alice Corp. is now being horribly mischaracterized in the media, which will now only further complicate the matter in the court of public opinion. This decision offers no precedent whatsoever regarding systems claims because it was a tie. Alice Corporation loses the systems claims not because that is the law of the land announced by the Federal Circuit, but rather because a single district court judge determined that the systems claims were patent ineligible. Had that same district court judge found the systems claims patent eligible then Alice would have prevailed.
In other words, the Federal Circuit is essentially abdicating its authority relative to whether systems claims are patentable to the district courts and presumably also to the Patent Trial and Appeals Board at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Whatever the district court or PTAB does is just fine. Well, not quite.
Well, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sort of decided CLS Bank v. Alice Corporation earlier today. Truthfully, all the important questions that we thought might be answered remain completely and totally unanswered because there were only 10 judges who sat on the en banc tribunal and no more than 5 judges signed on to any one opinion.
The only thing we know is this — the Federal Circuit issued an extraordinarily brief per curiam decision, which stated:
Upon consideration en banc, a majority of the court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted method and computer-readable media claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. An equally divided court affirms the district court’s holding that the asserted system claims are not directed to eligible subject matter under that statute.
Thus, all of the asserted claims are not patent eligible. At the moment I am completely flabbergasted and don’t know what to say.
Judge Richard Linn, in chambers at the CAFC Feb. 8, 2012.
This final installment of my interview with Judge Linn of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In part I of the interviewwe discussed a number of general background issues, including how the Judge got into the field of patent law and became a Judge on the Federal Circuit. In part II of the interview we discussed the Inns of Court and the Richard Linn Inn Alliance, as well as civility (or lack thereof) in litigation.
In this final segment of the interview, which appears below, we move into the issues of the day: the changing patent laws and Supreme Court interest in patents. We also discuss Judge Linn’s decision to take senior status, the fact that he won’t be able to sit en banc unless he was on the original panel, and the Judge’s idea that only few cases really should be designated as precedential opinions.
Judge Richard Linn of the Federal Circuit, in chambers on Feb. 8, 2013.
On Friday, February 8, 2013, I had the honor to interview Judge Richard Linn of the Federal Circuit. We met in his chambers with the recording going for approximately 60 minutes. In Part I of the interview we discussed Judge Linn’s early interest in patent law and how he found himself appointed to replace the recently deceased Judge Giles Sutherland Rich. We then discussed engaging as a lawyer with civility while still zealously representing clients. That brought us to a topic near and dear to the Judge’s heart — the Inns of Court and the many patent focused Inns across the country that together make up the Richard Linn Inn Alliance.
In Part II of the interview, which appears below, we pick up with the discussion of the Inns of Court and further discuss civility and “Rambo style lawyering,” which Judge Linn explains was really the genesis behind the forming of the Inns of Court.
QUINN: I’m a member of the Pauline Newman Inn that meets at the Patent Office, and we’re members of the Linn Inn Alliance. I mean, first off how does that feel? How did it come about, I guess, maybe, first off. Second is how does that feel that the entire industries, the lawyers, are lining up in droves to join the Linn Inn Alliance? I would think that that is great evidence of what the industry does think of you and that this is really promulgated out of one Inn.
LINN: Well, I’ve been actively involved in the Inns of Court since I came onto the Court. The American Inns of Court is a unique organization. It plays a unique and important role in promoting ethics, civility and professionalism, and that’s what appeals to me. In 2000, I started attending meetings of the Giles Rich Inn, which meets here at the Federal Circuit every month. I’m lucky enough to fill the seat once occupied by Judge Rich. We’re sitting here in my chambers, which once were Judge Rich’s chambers. And when I first came on to the Court I felt a special responsibility to conduct myself in a way that would have made him proud, because he was always an icon in my eyes.
Judge Richard Linn, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Feb. 8, 2013.
On Friday, February 8, 2013, I had the honor to interview Judge Richard Linn of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Those in the industry know that Judge Linn is one of a small group of Judges who are patent attorneys. He is one of us in so many ways. He is a very real and genuine person, he is a great believer in the patent system, and he has long been a friend to patent groups and a mentor to many. Judge Linn started his a career as so many patent professionals have — as the newest patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We learn in the interview that his interest in patent law started well earlier, thanks to his Uncle who was a patent illustrator.
After leaving the Patent Office Judge Linn rose through the ranks to become a prominent patent attorney in Washington, DC. Ultimately, he was in the right place at the right time, and he was fortunate enough to be recognized by the right people. He was appointed to the Federal Circuit to replace the legendary Giles Sutherland Rich. Big shoes to fill no doubt, but in terms of influence on the Court and impact on the profession few can compare to Judge Linn. He has, and continues, to carve out his own legacy as one of the preeminent patent leaders in the United States.
We spent approximately 60 minutes on the record with my iPhone recorder on, meeting in his chambers at the Federal Circuit, which overlooks Lafayette Park. Judge Linn recently took senior status, and lives full-time in Florida. He returns approximately every other month, sometimes more frequent, to hear cases. He will soon be giving up this office once the President’s appointments to the Court are confirmed. Judge Linn assures me he will remain active with the Federal Circuit.
When I sit down to interview someone I sometimes have a sense where things may lead, but inevitably interesting topics arise, sometimes based off a seemingly innocuous question. In Part I, which is below, I asked a familiar question: Do you find that the harder you worked the luckier you got? Judge Linn used this to discuss the importance of practicing law with integrity while managing to be a zealous advocate and without sacrificing civility. This theme carriers over into Part II of the interview and should, in my opinion, be mandatory reading for law students and associates. In fact, it is a good reminder for more senior attorneys who sometimes might lose sight of the forest for the trees.
On January 25 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) issued its opinion in the case of Hall v. Bed Bath & Beyond, which was authored by Judge Newman who was joined by Judge Linn; Judge Lourie filed an opinion dissenting in part. The appeal arose from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The CAFC ultimately reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint counts for patent infringement, Lanham Act unfair competition, and New York unfair competition and misappropriation.
The patent in question — U.S. Design Patent No. D596,439 (the ’439 patent) — covers a Tote Towel which is essentially a large towel that has padding around the edges, and “zippered pockets at both ends, and an angled cloth loop in the middle.” Mr. Roger Hall (“Mr. Hall”) filed the patent application on November 17, 2008.
Mr. Hall contacted Bed Bath & Beyond (BB&B) in hopes of having them resell his Tote Towel in its stores nationwide. At the time of the meeting with BB&B, the patent application was pending and packaging on Mr. Hall’s Tote Towel reflected so. Instead of entering into a contractual relationship to resell the Tote Towel, BB&B which still had a prototype of Mr. Hall’s Tote Towel, decided to mass produce its own version manufactured in Pakistan.
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