US Inventor Backs SCOTUS Petition to Clarify Claim Construction Principles

By Eileen McDermott
January 21, 2021

“For a brief time at the Federal Circuit, ‘the name of the game [was] the claim.’ Now that is uncertain, and depends on random panel assignment.” – US Inventor amicus brief

Inventor advocacy group US Inventor has filed an amicus brief in support of a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices to clarify “[w]hether the Federal Circuit’s “heavy presumption” line of cases or its “holistic” line should govern claim construction.

An Unconstructive Conflict

https://depositphotos.com/133300380/stock-photo-u-s-supreme-court.htmlThe petition was filed in December by Akeva, LLC, owner of a portfolio of athletic footwear patents, and is an appeal from a July 2020 nonprecedential Federal Circuit decision, Akeva, LLC v. Nike, Inc. In that case, the Federal Circuit upheld a district court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement to a number of defendants—including Asics, Nike, adidas America, Inc., New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., and Puma North America, Inc.—finding in part that the district court had “correctly construed the claim term ‘rear sole secured’ to exclude conventional fixed rear soles.”

Claim 25 of Akeva’s U.S. Patent No. 5,560,126 reads:

  1. A shoe comprising: an upper having a heel region; a rear sole secured below the heel region of the upper; and a flexible plate having upper and lower surfaces and supported between at least a portion of the rear sole and at least a portion of the heel region of the upper, peripheral edges of the plate being restrained from movement relative to an interior portion of the plate in a direction substantially perpendicular to a major axis of the shoe so that the interior portion of the plate is deflectable relative to the peripheral edges in a direction substantially perpendicular to the major axis of the shoe.

All of the defendants argued that the term “rear sole secured…could not include a shoe with a conventional fixed rear sole,” and the Federal Circuit held that “numerous statements in the specification make it clear a conventional fixed rear sole is not within the scope of the invention.”

Akeva had argued that the specification “did not disclaim conventional fixed rear soles because, in its view, the specification discloses two distinct inventions that do not depend on each other: (1) rotatable and/or detachable rear soles and (2) a flexible plate in the midsole.”

Akeva’s petition to the High Court maintains that the decision underscores the Federal Circuit’s “wholly inconsistent” precedents and its “unpredictable” constructions that are based in two divergent sets of claim construction principles: the “Heavy Presumption” and “Holistic” principles.

The Heavy Presumption Principle applies a “’heavy presumption’ that a term carries its ordinary meaning, as understood by “ordinary artisans” in the field—and that permits the specification to affect that meaning “only” if it meets an ‘exacting’ standard and demonstrates (i) a ‘clear’ disclaimer of claim scope, or (ii) ‘clear’ lexicography.”

The Holistic Principle, which Akeva says was applied in its case, “allows the specification to affect claim meaning even when it does not demonstrate an ‘exacting’ disclaimer or lexicography—as when, e.g., the specification describes ‘the present invention’; ‘disparages’ prior art; describes embodiments as ‘consistently,’ ‘uniformly,’ or ‘repeatedly’ using features; or provides an ‘implied definition.’”

These conflicting approaches have caused significant confusion for patent stakeholders, says Akeva.

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Get Back to the Text

US Inventor’s brief summarizes its argument in support of Akeva as follows:

Just as textualism is now accepted as the way to interpret statutes, this Court should grant certiorari to resolve a split within the Federal Circuit whether textualism should also guide how courts interpret the claims in an issued patent.

The amicus brief characterizes the question presented as “the most sweeping and vexing inconsistency in patent law.”

In the Akeva case, “’Rear sole secured’ was held to mean ‘rear sole connected and rotatable.’ This was a radical and unpredictable departure from the unambiguous and clear text,” says the US Inventor brief, adding that the Court’s approach to claim construction should match its approach to statutory construction, which has moved toward textualism over the last several decades.

Likening the complex and compromise-heavy legislative process that results in statute to the patent examination process, which results in granted patent claims, the brief explains:

Just as uncertainty in statutory sources of meaning create unwarranted transaction costs in public behavior, so does claim construction methodology uncertainty among private parties. Petitioner Akeva’s saga exemplifies this. Had everyone agreed at the out-set that the word “secured” received the full scope of its meaning in a shoe sole context (regardless of details about the embodiments), the parties would never have spent the vast litigation resources they did, over nearly a decade, on the question of whether “secured” ought to mean a particular subtype of “secured” (i.e., fixed but rotatable).

If courts were forced to embrace textualism, matters would be kept out of litigation more often, industry actors would know better how to design around patent rights, and patentees will have more certainty about their own rights, says the brief.

The holistic approach, on the other hand, “creates wasteful uncertainty” such as in Akeva’s case, “where the panel divined the invention of the patented athletic shoe to require not just a fixed rear sole, but also a fixed rear sole that pivots (even though the pivot concept is not within any plain text of the claim).”

The brief concludes:

For a brief time at the Federal Circuit, “the name of the game [was] the claim.” Now that is uncertain, and depends on random panel assignment. The name of the game might be the claim, unless it is something else, like the written description examples, a stray remark disparaging some aspects of a claimed feature, or someone’s sense of justice in divining what ought to be (but was not written out as) the “actual invention”…. [T]his Court should grant certiorari to resolve that “textual” patent claim construction methodologies, not “holistic” ones, will govern the meaning of claim terms. (Citations omitted)

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Author: renaschild
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The Author

Eileen McDermott

Eileen McDermott is the Editor-in-Chief of IPWatchdog.com. Eileen is a veteran IP and legal journalist, and no stranger to the intellectual property world, having held editorial and managerial positions at several publications and industry organizations. She has acted as editorial consultant for the International Trademark Association (INTA), chiefly overseeing the editorial process for the Association’s twice-monthly newsletter, the INTA Bulletin. Eileen has also served as a freelance editor for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); as senior consulting editor for the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) from 2015 to 2017; as Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief at INTA from 2013 to 2016; and was Americas Editor for Managing Intellectual Property magazine from 2007 to 2013.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 7 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Anon January 21, 2021 6:10 pm

    The amicus brief characterizes the question presented as “the most sweeping and vexing inconsistency in patent law.”

    Not
    Even
    Close.

  2. Curious January 21, 2021 9:08 pm

    Not
    Even
    Close.

    LOL.

    I believe “a flexible plate having upper and lower surface” invokes Hooke’s law and all of the other limitations appear to be conventional and fail to integrate this abstract idea into a practical application. Consequently, I believe the Court should have held that this claim is directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 USC 101.

    Regardless, cert denied — a safe prediction as any when it comes to patent cases that go to the Supreme Court. Mind you, if a petition for cert involves a patent issue that may impact less than 0.5% of all possible patent litigations, then the possibility of the Supreme Court granting cert goes up. However, I don’t see that here.

  3. MaxDrei January 22, 2021 4:56 am

    To my mind, having a clear rule how to construe the language of the claim is even more important than having a clear and powerfully effective methodology for the obviousness enquiry. If all can see what the court will hold as the meaning of the claim, litigations will more likely settle before going to trial.

    Let’s use the UK Supreme Court test, recently developed, as a litmus test for the efficacy of other ways to settle upon a meaning for the claim. The test is: What was the inventor using the language of the claim to mean? With the UK test, absurd results, like in the Chef America case, do not occur. Absurd results make a laughing stock of the courts and the patent system, a result to be avoided at all costs.

    You will appreciate that I am against an excessively lawyerly and painstakingly textual approach. I see this as a “cop out” by courts lacking the nous and the bottle to allocate to the claim a meaning which delivers (as is mandatory already under the EPC) BOTH a fair scope of protection for the inventor AND, at the same time, a reasonable degree of legal certainty for the public.

  4. Anon January 22, 2021 7:09 am

    Your motherhood and apple pie mantra falls short, MaxDrei.

    “What the inventor meant” – nice.
    What the courts do – not so nice.

    You do realize that the undergirding issue on “what the courts do” is the original cause of Patent Profanity, right?

    That Patent Profanity is not limited to, but does include, BOTH eligibility (the posts above you) AND claim construction.

    You cannot even get to that state of Motherhood and Apple Pie unless you embrace the realization of the cause of the problem.

  5. Pro Say January 22, 2021 11:09 am

    “Whatever can be done or undone to whittle away the invention rights of innovators, we — hand-in-hand with our patent-hating, Congress-usurping SCOTUS buds — will do. Gladly.”

    — The CAFC

    (p.s. cert denied)

  6. Model 101 January 22, 2021 3:59 pm

    Too many crooks spoil the soup. Judges ignore claim construction to kill patents. Clsim construction can only help big tech.
    .not inventors

  7. Jeff G January 27, 2021 11:58 pm

    The article does not describe the term “conventional fixed rear soles” as would be known to those skilled in the art, so I find it hard to cast judgement on the Akeva claim without that knowledge. Since I am not a show expert I do not simply want to guess at the answer. This would, of course, come out in a Markman hearing.

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