As of now, ten states have legalized recreational cannabis. Twenty-one other states allow medicinal use of cannabis, many of which are expected to legalize recreational cannabis in the near future. Investors have sunk an estimated $10 billion into cannabis-related businesses in 2018, an amount that is expected to reach $16 billion this year. The fast spreading legalization of cannabis presents a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs, businesses and investors to get in on the “ground floor” of this growing market. California, as the largest single market for legalized Cannabis in North America, has attracted outsized attention from potential investors, who also see the state’s legalization as a trend setter for other states. However, would be investors in the California cannabis market often find themselves in a maze of complicated and changing licensing rules and regulations, banking challenges and uncertainties, choice of the appropriate business structure, and protection of potential intellectual property (IP).
You’re a patent prosecutor. You’ve just received an office action. The examiner has rejected your claims. You think the examiner got it wrong. On the technical issues, it looks like the examiner is off base, pointing out elements in the prior art that aren’t really there, and finding motivation based upon the flimsiest bases. Also troubling is that the examiner has based some of the rejections upon rules or precedent that you think are incorrect, both on their face and as applied to your claims. So, it’s time to prepare an office action response. Hopefully this will change the examiner’s mind and will allow your client to receive a patent. Your response may include some preliminary matters, perhaps some claim amendments and recitation of the prosecution history, and the status of various claims. Then you come to the arguments. You want to argue with the examiner’s decisions, to be sure, but that does not mean that you want to be disagreeable. Your job as an advocate is to help the examiner understand your client’s position. There are numerous techniques you can apply in order to argue your case in a more effective manner. Effective advocacy is not limited to legal documents filed in court or an administrative appeal. Even when you are arguing to an examiner, your arguments can be made more effective by the manner in which those arguments are presented.
Among the seven amicus curiae briefs filed Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court in InvestPic, LLC, v. SAP America, Inc., Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund’s brief argues that the case demands a hearing because the Federal Circuit has added yet another extra-statutory test to the already distorted patentability jurisprudence. In a decision of May 15, 2018 authored by Judge Taranto, the Federal Circuit found the patent claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,349,291 invalid because they were directed to an abstract idea and lacked an inventive concept necessary to save the invention under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In the course of its opinion, the Federal Circuit created a “physical realm” test, which is nowhere to be found in 35 U.S. Code Section 101, having been wholly conjured by judges.
Following our visit to the Supreme Court for Monday’s entertaining oral argument in Iancu v. Brunetti, we can report that the Court seems likely to strike down, on First Amendment grounds, the statutory restriction on federal registration of trademarks that are “immoral or scandalous.” It seems less likely that the case will generate a clear and ringing statement of First Amendment principles. Rather, the justices’ comments at argument seem to presage a limited, cautious opinion. The Court’s main legal concerns appear to be the facial overbreadth of the existing statute and its history of inconsistent application. Congress and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may therefore be left with room to try again, seeking a narrower and more predictable approach to limiting the federal registration of dirty words as trademarks (especially given the Court’s main practical concern of the loss of civility represented by the proliferation of such marks).
A company must be strategic in any business decision it makes in order to ensure that it takes the necessary measures to avoid liability for its actions. With respect to patent infringement, and specifically willful patent infringement, the different approaches to determining which measures to take and when to take such measures have been repeatedly challenged in light of a number of court decisions in recent years. To set the scene, the Federal Circuit held in Underwater Devices Inc. v. Morrison-Knudsen Co., 717 F.2d 1380 (1983) that a potential infringer has an affirmative duty to exercise due care to determine whether or not he or she is infringing. This placed the burden on the potential infringer to seek competent counsel and obtain either a non-infringement opinion or invalidity opinion prior to undertaking the possible infringing activities. This would prevent a finding of willful infringement and treble damages.
Athena Diagnostics filed a petition for en banc rehearing of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision in Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo on April 8, 2019. Amicus briefs are due April 22, 2019. The Athena decision continues to apply U.S. Supreme Court-created common law to the analysis of 35 U.S.C. §101. In its brief requesting rehearing, Athena argues that the decision is “precisely the evisceration of patent law against which the U.S. Supreme Court has long warned” and that the claims at issue were patent eligible, as they are “novel, man-made substances”, “do not preempt natural laws” and “serve a new and useful purpose of diagnosing serious diseases”. Knowles IP Strategies LLC (Sherry M. Knowles) and AddyHart (Meredith Addy) intend to file an amicus brief in support of neither party requesting that the Federal Circuit carry out its constitutional duty to apply strict statutory construction of the literal words of 35 U.S.C. §101 to decide the case (See, Unconstitutional Application of 35 U.S.C. § 101 by the U.S. Supreme Court; 18 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 144 (2018)).
With a “no-deal” Brexit set to take place this Friday and the Unitary Patent system set to take effect sometime this year, EU patent applicants who want protection in the UK should be aware of the many moving parts to consider. Patent applicants who wish to file for a European patent and receive patent protection in the United Kingdom (UK) should consider whether they want the European patent to have “unitary” effect and be mindful of the UK’s participation in the Unitary Patent system. The UK European Union membership referendum, known commonly as “Brexit,” took place on June 23, 2016. The referendum resulted in a majority of votes in favor of leaving the European Union (EU). A “no-deal” Brexit is set to occur on April 12, 2019 absent of a “new deal” between the UK and EU leaders or an extension.
Patents are often referred to as monopolies. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of how patents work to enhance competition. The truth is that a patent is a natural anti-monopoly. In a functioning patent system, inventions become investible assets when they are patented, and the value of the invention increases as market demand increases. Because of the direct relationship between market demand and patent value, a patented invention can attract enough investment to compete with entrenched incumbents in the market for the invention. This effect introduces new competitors into the market who are protected against incumbents for a long enough period that they can survive after the patent expires. Thus, patents act to increase competition by introducing new competitors into the market and thereby create competitive markets. But perhaps even more important, some inventions deliver a strong dose of creative destruction to monopolistic incumbents who did not innovate fast enough, causing those companies to fail and clearing the market of dead weight, thus opening the market to innovative new companies. Patents are the ultimate anti-monopoly in a free market. But for this to work, the market must function undisturbed by crony laws and regulations. A patent must be a presumed valid “exclusive Right.”
For life sciences industries and research organizations that utilize any biological resource from India for research, commercial or other purposes, awareness and regulatory compliance with India’s Biological Diversity (BD) Act, 2002 could mean the difference between success and failure. India became a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a multilateral treaty, in 1994. In order to comply with the CBD’s provisions on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity with fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from utilization of genetic resources, the country enacted the BD Act in 2002, and the corresponding Rules in 2004. In 2012, India ratified the Nagoya Protocol, a supplementary agreement to the CBD that mainly focused on strengthening the implementation of benefit sharing, and subsequently issued the Guidelines on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) in 2014.Under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the implementing system of the BD Act is three-tiered. The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is at the central level, the State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) are at the state level, and the Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) are at the local level, with each authority performing specified functions.
Text-based search engines, such as Google and Yahoo (remember Ask Jeeves?), were arguably the most important development leading to our now everyday reliance on the Internet. The concept is simple: type a word or string of words into that inviting text box and instruct your favorite search engine to scour the Internet. The search engine does its magic and quickly displays a list of results, typically hyperlinks to webpages containing information the search engine decided was most relevant to your search. As web technology has progressed, search engines have become smarter and more robust. All major search engines can now, in response to text input, spit out a combination of web pages, images, videos, new articles, and other types of files.Of course, IP owners and those interested in capitalizing on the IP rights of others have found many creative ways to leverage search engine technology to get their goods and services to the top of search engine result pages. These techniques have sparked an entire industry—search engine optimization—which has long been the subject of copyright and trademark litigation. Given that nearly all consumers now have camera-enabled mobile devices, search engine providers have invested heavily in “visual” search engine technology. Visual search engines run search queries on photograph or image input, instead of text input. For example, a tourist visiting the Washington Monument can snap a quick photo of the famous obelisk and upload it into the visual search engine. The visual search engine will then analyze (using, for example, AI or other complicated algorithms) various data points within the photograph to identify the target and then spit out relevant information such as the location, operating hours, history, nearby places of interest, and the like. Google (Google Lens), Microsoft (Bing Visual Search), and Pinterest are all leveraging this technology.Critically important for IP owners, visual search engines can be used by consumers to identify products and quickly comparison shop or identify related products. A golfer could snap a photograph of a golf shirt and ask the visual search engine to return results to find a better price on that shirt or to identify a matching hat or pair of pants. Similarly, a music listener could snap a photograph of an album cover and ask the visual search engine to return results for other music in the same genre that might be interesting to the listener. These are only a few examples of the powerful capabilities of visual search engine technology.
CAFC: Claim Construction That Misreads Plain Language of Claims and Specification Is Clearly Erroneous
The Federal Circuit recently vacated a district court decision which found a patent for the antipsychotic drug “Saphris,” belonging to Forest Laboratories (Forest), valid as nonobvious, but not infringed by ANDA filers Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (Alembic) and Breckenridge Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Breckenridge). See Forest Labs., LLC v. Sigmapharm Labs., LLC, Nos. 2017-2369, 2017-2370, 2017-2372, 2017-2373, 2017-2374, 2017-2375, 2017-2376, 2017-2389, 2017-2412, 2017-2436, 2017-2438, 2017-2440, 2017-2441, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7485 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 14, 2019) (Before Prost, Dyk, and Moore, J.) (Opinion for the court, Moore, J.). The Court highlighted an unanswered question that the district court skimmed over at trial and took issue with a claim construction. The Court vacated and remanded for further proceedings on this basis. Alembic and Breckenridge were among a number of drug manufacturers that filed Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA) to market generic versions of Saphris. Saphris is an antipsychotic containing asenapine maleate. Saphris is administered sublingually, meaning under the tongue. Forest sued the ANDA filers for patent infringement. At trial, the district court held that the relevant claims of asserted Patent No. 5,763,476 (“the ’476 patent”) were not invalid as obvious, and that Forest had not established infringement by Alembic or Breckenridge. Alembic and Breckenridge appealed the invalidity determination, and Forest cross-appealed the non-infringement decision as clearly erroneous. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded both the validity and infringement determinations for reconsideration under a correct claim construction of the term “excitation.”
Inequitable conduct remains the most powerful defense to patent infringement. In contrast to other defenses to patent infringement that require a claim-by-claim analysis, the defense of inequitable conduct is global. A finding of inequitable conduct renders the entire patent unenforceable. For this reason, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has referred to the defense of inequitable conduct as the “atom bomb of patent law” Aventis Pharma S.A. v. Amphastar Pharmaceutical, Inc., 525 F.3d 1334, 1349 (Fed.Cir.2008). Given the tremendous impact of the inequitable conduct defense, the Federal Circuit, in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co., 649 F. 3d 1276 (Fed. Cir., 2011), has significantly increased the burden on patent infringers who assert this defense. Rather than needing to prove materiality in the context of 37 C.F.R. § 1.56 and intent to deceive, Therasense now requires an infringer prove “but for” materiality and a specific intent to deceive—a much higher burden than before. To the disappointment of those who believed that Therasense would spell the demise of inequitable conduct, this defense to patent infringement remains alive and well, although less prevalent than before. See Energy Heating, LLC v. Heat On-The-Fly LLC, 889. F.3d 1291 (Fed. Cir. 2018). Moreover, the Federal Circuit, in Gilead Sciences, Inc. v. Merck & Co. 890 F.3d 1231(Fed. Cir 2018), now seems to recognize an equitable defense (“business misconduct”) separate from inequitable conduct to penalize patentees for unethical behavior committed outside of the confines of patent prosecution before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In ChargePoint Inc. v. SemaConnect, Inc., (2018-1739) the Federal Circuit inexplicably stated in its opinion that “[i]t is clear from the language of claim 1 that the claim involves an abstract idea—namely, the abstract idea of communicating requests to a remote server and receiving communications from that server, i.e., communication over a network.” The Court further stated, “[w]e therefore continue our analysis to determine whether the focus of claim 1, as a whole, is the abstract idea. As explained below, we conclude that it is.” In reaching this conclusion, the panel rationalized that “the broad claim language would cover any mechanism for implementing network communication on a charging station, thus preempting the entire industry’s ability to use networked charging stations. This confirms that claim 1 is indeed “directed to” the abstract idea of communication over a network to interact with network-attached devices.” As an electrical engineer and patent attorney, I am truly perplexed by this statement. Claim 1 recites numerous physical electrical components, a control device (on/off switch), transceiver to communicate with a remote server and a controller to activate the on/off switch based on communications from the server. The configuration of the components may be anticipated or obvious under the patent statute based on prior art, but they are anything but abstract and do not preempt all ways of charging a vehicle using a network. Congress specifically stated in 35 U.S.C. 101 that there are four statutory categories of patentable subject matter: process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. If claim 1 is not a machine, I don’t know what is.
On March 8, Foster Pepper filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, case number 18-1199, challenging the Federal Circuit’s emerging “physical realm” test as part of its Alice/Section 101 analysis. Amicus briefs in support of our cert petition are most welcome to assist the Court’s understanding of why it is important to grant cert and clarify the correct patent eligibility test for computer-implemented inventions. We are also seeking amicus brief writers for the many amici we have already secured. These efforts will help clear up the uncertainty innovators and patent holders face in cutting-edge fields of our modern economy and, as a result, help drive innovation forward.
Recent Cases Show Federal Circuit Is Concerned About ‘Over Abstracting’ Rejections of Method/ Process Patents
In one of its latest opinions attempting to parse precedent on the subject matter eligibility of software, method of use, and business method patents that arguably involve application of laws of nature or recitations of well-known, conventional methods and techniques, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that a patent directed to a method for administering a naturally occurring beta amino acid to cause an increase in the concentration of a naturally occurring amino acid combination in muscle and brain tissues was subject matter eligible for patent protection (Natural Alternatives Int’l, Inc. v. Creative Compounds, LLC, No. 18-1295, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7647 (Fed Cir. March 15, 2019). The panel’s 2-1 majority decision conceded that the claims at issue involved laws of nature and had similarities to claims the U.S. Supreme Court had found subject matter ineligible but found that the claims possessed sufficient inventiveness beyond natural phenomenon and conventional methods to make them subject matter eligible for patent protection. Since Alice, the Federal Circuit and the federal district courts have been striving to implement and apply the Alice test to methods of use, software, and business method inventions that arguably involve applications of laws of nature and conventional methods. The challenge for the court in these cases has been to determine whether the claims sufficiently go beyond applications of laws of nature and known conventions to qualify as subject matter eligible for patent protection under Section 101. The Federal Circuit has found an inventive concept in several such cases.