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.
A patent practitioner prosecuting an application would not normally worry about an issued patent having a much later filing date. The CAFC’s Hubbell decision shows, however, that such a patent can create a problem under the doctrine of obviousness-type double patenting, that prevents the earlier-filed application from issuing.
Hubbell is an inventor of U.S. Application 10/650,509. Hubbell appeals from the decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences affirming the Examiner’s final rejection of his claims for obviousness-type double patenting over U.S. Patent No. 7,601,685, which also names Hubbell as an inventor. The ‘509 application was filed on August 27, 2003, but claims benefit of a provisional application filed in 1997 when Hubbell was a professor at CalTech. Thus, the ‘509 application is assigned to CalTech.
Hubbell left CalTech and joined the faculty at Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich (“ETHZ”) in 1998. The application which issued as the ‘685 patent was filed on December 17, 2002 and is jointly assigned to ETHZ and Universitat Zurich. It is undisputed that the ‘509 application and the ‘605 patent do not have identical inventive entities, nor do they have common assignees. It is also undisputed that the ‘685 patent is not available as prior art under 35 USC §§ 102 or 103. The Patent Office concluded that the ‘685 patent claims “are a species of the instantly claimed invention and thus anticipate the claimed invention,” in making its obviousness-type double patenting rejection.
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.
Non-practicing entities (NPEs) are once again thrust into the Section 337 spotlight by way of the “domestic industry” requirement. Back in 2007, InterDigital LLC filed a complaint at the United States International Trade Commission (“the Commission”), with the intention of blocking Nokia’s import of mobile devices into the United States. InterDigital alleged that Nokia’s mobile devices infringed its U.S. patents relating to power control and high-speed data transmission in 3G wireless technologies. The Commission sided with Nokia and found no infringement. However, Nokia’s favorable decision turned sour when it was reversed by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“the Federal Circuit”). Nokia responded by petitioning the Federal Circuit for an en banc rehearing of the case. In its petition, Nokia focused specifically on the question of whether InterDigital’s patent licensing activities satisfied the “domestic industry” requirement. Recently the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, denied Nokia’s petition for rehearing. The Federal Circuit decision is nevertheless interesting for its treatment of Section 337’s “domestic industry” requirement as it is applied to NPEs.
Under 19 U.S.C. §1337(a)(2), relief at the Commission is predicated on the existence or establishment of an industry in the United States “relating to the articles protected by the patent.” This is commonly known as the “domestic industry” requirement. In turn, section 1337(a)(3) provides that an industry is considered to exist if there is in the United States, “with respect to the articles protected by the patent,” significant investment in plant or equipment, significant employment of labor or capital, or “substantial investment in [the patent’s] exploitation, including engineering, research and development, or licensing” (emphasis added).
Todd Dickinson (right) escorts Judge Newman off stage after receiving the AIPLA Excellence Award.
On Friday, October 26, 2012, at the Gala dinner event at the Annual Meeting of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), Judge Pauline Newman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit received the 2012 AIPLA Excellence Award.
The Program for the event explained that the Excellence Award was presented to Judge Newman “in recognition of extraordinary leadership and service to the Intellectual Property Community, which is representative of a distinguished career marked by intellect, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to the administration of justice.”
The AIPLA has honored a number of excellent and worthy winners in the past including Chief Judge Howard T. Markey, Chief Judge Paul Michel, Judge Rich and Donald Dunner to name but a few. Judge Pauline Newman is now a recipient of this top industry recognition, and if you ask me she is deserving of being on the Mount Rushmore of this exclusive club.
Litigation involving incorrect claims of small entity status is very rare. In the 1998 case of DH Technology, Inc. v. Synergystex International, Inc., the small entity issue fee was paid for the asserted patent, even though it was later discovered that the patentee had over 500 employees (i.e., was now a “large entity”) at the time this issue fee was paid. Even so, the Federal Circuit overturned a district court ruling that the asserted patent had lapsed and was therefore unenforceable because the patentee had “incorrectly paid the small entity issue fee and because the statutorily-permitted time for correcting the error had passed.” Instead, the Federal Circuit held that 37 CFR § 1.28(c) (allowing an erroneous claim of small entity status and the erroneous payment of the small entity issue fee to be excused by paying the deficiency owed) controlled so that the patentee could still rectify this error (and underpayment of the issue fee), even though well outside the 1 year and 3 month “after the date of the notice of allowance” period specified in 37 CFR § 1.317(c) for correcting a good-faith error in claiming small entity status, as well as making up the deficiency for incorrectly paying the small entity issue fee.
DH Technology is the “easy case” where small entity status is lost due to a change in size of the patentee. But small entity status under 37 CFR §§ 1.27(a)(1) (person) or 1.27(a)(2) (small business concern) may also be lost if the rights in the invention are assigned, granted, conveyed, or licensed (or are subject to an obligation under contract or law to assign, grant, convey, or license, any rights in the invention) to someone other than a small entity (e.g., an entity having more than 500 employees). That was the situation in the recent case of Outside The Box Innovations. L.L.C. v. Travel Caddy, Inc. where an agreement between the patentee (Travel Caddy) and its distributor/seller (The Rooster Group, a large entity of greater than 500 employees) of the patented tool cases was deemed by the district court to contain a patent license clause for the purposes of 37 CFR § 1.27(a)(2). Even worse, the district court held that Travel Caddy had “committed inequitable conduct by claiming small entity status and paying reduced PTO fees, and that this conduct rendered both the ‘992 and ‘104 patents permanently unenforceable.”
Some have said is seems bizarre that the panel decision in Mirror Worlds did not mention or cite Akamai, and while that is perhaps a fair point at first glance, the cases are quite different. It seems to me that people are putting to much emphasis and question where it doesn’t belong. At the end of the day in Mirror Worlds the panel simply agreed with the district court that the plaintiff did not offer evidence sufficient to allow a reasonably jury to find in their favor. While a passing reference to Akamai might have been nice, it seems to me as if it was hardly required given the procedurally dispositive issues associated with a JMOL due to failure to offer required proof. See Apple Operating System Does Not Infringe.
Did Chief Judge Rader mean to create a more strict disclosure requirement to support negative limitations in patent claims?
Last week the Federal Circuit decided the case of Santarus, Inc. v. Par Pharmaceutical, Inc., which dealt with whether a drug covered by an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) infringed the patents owned by that patent owner relative to the proton pump inhibitors (PPI) product omeprazole. The big issue in the case is what might at first glance seem to be a rather innocuous statement relative to the support necessary in a patent specification for a negative claim limitation. But after reading the Newman dissent (which joins in the other aspects of the Court’s decision) it starts to become clear that this could be a much larger issue of significant consequence.
The appeal came to the Federal Circuit from the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The plaintiff, Santarus, Inc., is the exclusive licensee of patents on specified formulations of benzimidazole PPI – a class of chemical compounds that inhibit gastric acid secretion and help prevent and treat stomach acid-related diseases and disorders. The patents are for the inventions of Dr. Jeffrey Phillips, and are assigned to the University of Missouri. Santarus provides the PPI product omeprazole in the formulations covered by the Phillips patents, with the brand name Zegerid®.
Although Judge Newman’s dissenting opinion came next in the en banc decision, I’m going to discuss Judge Linn’s dissenting opinion first. That Judge Linn was the author of this dissenting opinion is unsurprising, given that he had authored the now overruled BMC Resources opinion, as well as the panel opinion in McKesson Technologies. What is somewhat surprising is the strident tone that Judge Linn used to characterize the per curiam majority opinion: “this court assumes the mantle of policy maker.” Not satisfied with applying that moniker alone, Judge Linn also accused the per curiam majority of “effectively rewrite[ing]” 35 U.S.C § 271(a) and 35 U.S.C § 271(b). (In that regard, I think Judge Linn’s accusation goes a bit overboard).
In challenging the correctness of the per curiam majority ruling, Judge Linn’s dissenting opinion makes four points. Point No. 1 is that the per curiam majority’s approach “is contrary to both the Patent Act and the Supreme Court’s longstanding precedent that “if there is no direct infringement of a patent there can be no contributory infringement,” citing Aro Manufacturing and Deepsouth Packing, as well as the Federal Circuit’s Joy Technologies. But as discussed above, none these cases specifically holds that direct infringement of the claimed method for the purposes of liability for indirect infringement requires that all steps of the claimed method must be performed by a single actor. Judge Linn’s further assertion that, in enacting 35 U.S.C §§ 271(e)(2), (f), and (g), “Congress did not give the courts blanket authority to take it upon themselves to make further policy choices or to define ‘infringement’” still doesn’t address why direct infringement for the purposes of indirect infringement liability requires all infringing acts to be performed by a single actor. (As I discuss below, enactment of 35 U.S.C §§ 271 (f) and (g) also reflects Congress’ intent to close “loopholes” in the primary infringement statute, 35 U.S.C §§ 271 (a)). Judge Linn also makes the comment that Congress “removed joint-actor patent infringement liability from the discretion of the courts” in 1952, but cites to absolutely no legislative history to support this comment.
Five years ago today, on Monday, August 20, 2007, while many of us were otherwise preoccupied with the impending doom of the claims and continuations rules promulgated by the Patent Office, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit unceremoniously changed the law as it applies to the awarding of willful damages. Sitting en banc in In re Seagate Technology, LLC, the majority of the Court determined that the negligence standard for determining whether to award enhanced damages for willful infringement is not the appropriate standard, but rather that a reckless standard should be and now is the law of the land.
Curiously, the Federal Circuit announced this significant change to the law relating to willfulness in a case that related to a discovery dispute. Seagate Technology, LLC petitioned the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus directing the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to vacate Orders compelling disclosure of materials and testimony that Seagate claimed was covered by the attorney-client privilege and work product protection. The Court, per Judge Mayer, would say that this case requires confrontation “the willfulness scheme and its functional relationship to the attorney-client privilege and work product protection.”
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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