Draft legislation has emerged that ostensibly would boost rapid innovation to combat the coronavirus. Bottom line: The bill is a mixed bag with a lot of questions… The Facilitating Innovation to Fight Coronavirus Act appears to be an attempt to bring any and all viable medical inventions to bear, as quickly as possible, in our fight to defeat COVID-19, which is absolutely to be commended. Despite attempts to mitigate the harm that outright eminent domain on patent rights (vigorously advocated by some) would certainly cause, the legislation needs more work.
As an in-house IP attorney, you may take comfort in knowing that your patent marking program is thorough, well-established, and properly executed. You have standardized procedures to determine which patents cover which products. You monitor product release dates to ensure appropriate marking. You have set up a “virtual marking” website to take advantage of this form of marking established by the America Invents Act (AIA). You regularly update the virtual marking website to remove expired patents and add newly granted patents. Your patent marking program is a well-oiled machine. But what about your licensees’ patent marking programs? Do you know anything about your licensees’ patent marking programs? Do you even care about your licensees’ patent marking programs? Well, you should, and the Federal Circuit recently provided another opinion to remind patent licensors that a licensee’s failure to mark can be costly.
In recent years there has been a paradigmatic shift towards commercializing technology through startups. There is a universal understanding that university inventions are in early technology readiness level and need substantial development to be ready to go to market. Many universities have taken it upon themselves to fund some of the startups, sometimes co-funding alongside venture funds… The next frontier for this industry will likely be in the transformation of data-rich sectors using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies. One area largely accumulating data is the healthcare sector. Medical knowledge is doubling every 73 days, yet we are barely scratching the surface of utilizing this data. With our computing power today and the new era of AI we are at the cusp of a healthcare revolution. Academic institutions are sitting on massive amounts of valuable data that is vastly underutilized, and research institutions will soon begin to recognize and develop healthcare data into the next revolutionary asset.
Law firms are not at all immune to this pandemic since their clients aren’t. Most law firms have cut partner pay, and cut the pay of associates also. They are also firing and furloughing partners and associates. We all know that most of Society cares not that lawyers suffer, economically that is. But there is a class of lawyers, actually lawyers-to-be, that we should have sympathy and empathy for: incoming first year associates. The Class of 2020 will have a very tough time, even tougher than the Classes of the last downturn in 2008 and 2009. The associates that suffered then are likely partners now, and have more empathy.
Bad Spaniels Make Bad Law: Ninth Circuit Says Dog Toy is an Expressive Work Entitled to First Amendment Protection
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a squeaking dog toy resembling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey is an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection. VIP Prods. LLC v. Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc., No. 18-16012 (9th Cir. Mar. 31, 2020). The court reversed a bench trial verdict that the toy infringed and diluted the JACK DANIEL’S trade dress and remanded for further reconsideration by the district court. Before the district court may find that the toy infringed Jack Daniel’s famous trade dress, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court must first apply the Second Circuit’s Rogers test, which will require it to consider whether VIP’s use of the trade dress was artistically relevant to the toy’s expressive character, and whether VIP’s use of the trade dress explicitly misleads consumers as to the source of the toy. The Rogerstest, though, has only been applied to expressive works such as books, songs, video games and movies; it has never been applied to consumer products like handbags and perfume, even if those products were intended as parodies. The Ninth Circuit’s decision expands the scope of First Amendment protection far beyond traditionally expressive works, and risks exposing a wide variety of brand owners to infringements based on alleged parody.
Today, like so much of the rest of the world, the United States is faced with many shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic, including personal protective equipment, basic medical supplies, and qualified medical staff. Of course, the lack of treatments or vaccine is a huge problem. Another secular problem is the lack of a quick, inexpensive, reliable test for the virus. But a test for the virus is a diagnostic method, and that is a big problem for U.S. patent laws because diagnostic methods are simply not patent eligible in the United States. This is also a big problem for the world because ever since the veil of patent eligibility was lifted for the life sciences sector in 1981 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the U.S. has dominated the biotechnology sector, specifically, and life science sectors more generally speaking. In 1981, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates saying that what was created by man could be patented, and if it could be owned it could be invested in, and investors rushed in and the biotechnology industry that we know today was born. But what the Supreme Court gave they can, and ultimately did, take away.
Two matters currently pending before the United States Patent and Trademark Office illustrate the consequences of focusing upon details of a claim rather than upon the claimed subject matter as a whole. Looked at superficially, the decisions may be consistent with the law and supported by substantial evidence; but are they, really?
This week’s District Court filings were robust, with a dip in Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) filings–a big chunk of which were related to a dispute over robot vacuum cleaners. A few new (or renewed) assertion campaigns, a few small inter-company disputes, and a number of pharmaceutical disputes led the charge. I say Robot, you say vacuum: Call it the great robot vacuum wars of 2020: industry leader iRobot sued SharkNinja for infringement of three patents (as well as false advertising)—seeking a preliminary injunction of a competing product right before the lucrative holiday season. iRobot contended that SharkNinja had “brazenly ripped off” their Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners with their much less expensive IQ Robot competitor product. That bid failed, and the case continued; now SharkNinja has filed multiple IPRs seeking to invalidate the asserted patents.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently ruled on an appeal regarding a Pennsylvania district court’s decision to decline jurisdiction over a first filed declaratory judgment filed by Communications Test Design, Inc. (“CTDI”) in favor of a patent infringement suit filed six days later in a New York district court by Contec LLC (“Contec”). The Federal Circuit concluded that the Pennsylvania district court did not abuse its broad discretion under the Declaratory Judgment Act to departure from the typical first-to-file rule given the presence of equitable considerations.
In withdrawing the 2013 statement, the new 2019 guidance by the DOJ, NIST and the USPTO states the obvious, i.e. that there is no difference in the law between F/RAND assured standard essential patents and all other patents. While some would have perhaps liked to break the unitarity approach of the patent system so as to weaken remedies against the infringement of essential patents, a legal system that would apply a different standard to standard essential patents as opposed to other patents would violate U.S. trade obligations.
What Happens at The Board Does Not Stay at The Board: How Patent Owners Can Leverage IPR Proceedings in Litigation
Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) often occur in parallel to district court cases. Patent owners whose patent rights survive IPR may return to district court at a distinct advantage, not only by emerging with their patent rights intact, but also by capitalizing on events during the IPR and using them to their advantage in district court litigation. Real-party-in-interest disputes can be hotly contested before the Board. An order from the Northern District of Illinois shows that these disputes can have larger significance and impact petitioners in litigation. In that order, the Illinois federal court relied on the Board’s fact-finding from an IPR dispute over the petitioner’s identification of real-parties-in-interest to find that petitioner had waived the attorney-client privilege in the litigation. RTC Indus., Inc. v. Fasteners for Retail, Inc., No. 17-cv-03595, 2019 WL 5003681 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 8, 2019).
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Allen v. Cooper, which relates to photos and videos of the sunken remains of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the centuries-old ship once captained by the famed pirate Blackbeard. The plaintiff in that case claimed that North Carolina unlawfully used his copyrighted works. Only two months earlier, the Trump Administration also faced a copyright infringement imbroglio. Following the official Twitter unveiling of the seal for the newly created U.S. Space Force, critics noted that the seal bore a striking similarity to that of Starfleet, the scientific and military force in the fictional universe of the television and film property, Star Trek. While some pointed to the (fairly far-fetched) trademark implications of the Space Force logo, many voices on the Internet also alleged that the government infringed on the copyright for the Starfleet seal. These two cases have brought the issues of copyright infringement and sovereign immunity into the spotlight. To resolve them, one must first look to the tenets of copyright law.
An essential element of trade secret protection is that the owner has made “reasonable” efforts to keep the information a secret. But as the Uniform Trade Secrets Act tells us, those efforts must be reasonable “under the circumstances.” When circumstances change, as they have recently, we need to recalibrate. In fact, when things return to whatever normal turns out to be, this will be an excellent opportunity for every organization to revisit the way in which it approaches management of its most important information assets.
The Supreme Court in SAS (SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu) was quite clear that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) has to follow the statute when conducting Inter Partes Review (IPR). So, when Facebook sought to enter patent claims into their IPR against Windy City Innovations past the one-year deadline dictated by 35 USC § 315(b), the PTAB had conveniently written themselves an opinion that allowed Facebook to join Facebook to circumvent the deadline. The Board’s Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) used the language in USC § 315(c) and had written that the statutory use of the words “any person” allowed them to join a party to itself. See Proppant Express Invs., LLC v. Oren Techs., LLC, No. IPR2018-00914, Paper 21, at 4–6 (P.T.A.B. Nov. 8, 2018). After the CAFC’s Facebook v. Windy City decision, it’s clear that any PTAB Precedential Opinion Panel statutory interpretation is irrelevant. Practitioners should not accept any conclusions made by the Board about a statute, and petitioners should be more assured that a reasoned argument will prevail.
Patent Filings Roundup: Medtronic Hit with Seven IPRs, Huawei Fields Multiple District Court Complaints
In the age of electronic filing, working from home and sheltering in place appears to have accelerated—or at least not slowed down significantly—district court and Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) filings. This week saw a return to form, with 31 new PTAB petitions and 72 new district court complaints. Large district court assertions nearing the one-year bar drove up the PTAB filings; on the district court side, existing non-practicing entities (NPE) campaigns added a fair number of defendants, and a dispute between WSOU Investments, LLC d/b/a Brazos Licensing and Development and Huawei resulted in a half-dozen complaints.