CAFC Holding in Campbell Soup Design Patent Case Addresses Standard for Establishing Proper Primary References
The Federal Circuit recently held in Campbell Soup Company v. Gamon Plus, Inc. (September 26, 2019) that a prior art reference lacking one of only two features shown in solid line was similar enough to the claimed design to constitute a proper primary reference. Campbell Soup et al. appealed the final written decisions of the PTAB holding that they had not demonstrated that the claimed designs of U.S. Patent Nos USD612646 Gamon and USD621645 Gamon were obvious over the asserted prior art of U.S. Patent No. D405622 (USD405622 Linz) and GB Patent Application No. 2,303,624 (Samways GB2303624A). In their holding, the Board found that neither Linz nor Samways constituted proper primary prior art references. The Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, vacated-in-part and remanded.
Beyoncé is more than just one of the music industry’s most recognizable stars. She has built a business empire that extends into entertainment production, fashion, major product endorsements and even streaming music distribution through the Tidal platform with her husband, Jay-Z. Forbes named Beyoncé its Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment on two occasions, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. With such a track record of success, it should come as no surprise that Beyoncé is extremely savvy about the importance and value of personal branding and intellectual property. Through her BGK Trademark Holdings, LLC, the singer owns a number of trademarks related to various products and services, ranging from clothing and accessories to cosmetics and charitable services. Case in point: Beyoncé is engaged in a fierce trademark battle with the owner of a Massachusetts wedding planning business over “Blue Ivy”—the name shared by the wedding event business and the singer’s young daughter.
On Thursday, October 17, the USPTO issued new patent eligibility guidance. The new guidance discusses and elaborates on the 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance (PEG) that was issued on January 7, 2019. The new guidance begins by stating that “all USPTO personnel are expected to follow the [PEG].” This statement is somewhat helpful given that some eligibility rejections still do not apply the PEG. After making the statement above, the guidance begins clarifying certain items from the PEG. In terms of Step 2A, Prong One regarding whether a claim “recites” a judicial exception, the guidance notes that a claim can recite more than one judicial exception. The judicial exceptions may be distinct in that there might be separate judicial exceptions in different claim elements. In other instances, there might be two judicial exceptions at play throughout the claim, in which case the examiner should identify the claim as reciting both and make the analysis clear on the record.
In my previous post, I explored how times have changed for photographers who once appeared to have the upper hand in copyright infringement disputes with appropriation artists and others. As discussed there, the high-water mark for photographers may have been several years ago, when the Associated Press used its leverage to reach a settlement with Richard Fairey regarding his Obama Hope poster. However, since then, photographers have suffered a series of losses, beginning in 2013 with Cariou v. Prince and continuing in 2018 with Rentmeester v. Nike, Inc. The most recent case to strike a blow against photographers is The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith (S.D.N.Y. 2019).
Were the Wright Brothers Patent Trolls? One View of R Street Institute’s Capitol Hill Panel on Patents
On Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion on the National Security Implications of Patents along with my siblings, Madeline and Gideon Malone, and we were informed that inventors like the Wright brothers pose a threat to innovation. We were joined by approximately 50 attendees at the Capitol event moderated by Charles Duan from R Street Institute, along with panelists Abby Rives from Engine, Daniel Takash from Niskanen Center, and Ian Wallace from New America. They argued that patents harm innovation, and government subsidies are a better alternative to incentivize innovation. In order for R Street (a free-market think tank) to justify these blatantly anti-free-market claims, they focused on the problems with “bad patents” and how patent monopolies prevent competition. To top it all off, their example of a “bad patent” was the one granted to the Wright brothers, which the panelists felt unreasonably excluded their competitors from making improved versions of their airplane.
On September 24, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered its decision in case C-507/17, Google v. CNIL regarding the territorial scope of the “right to be forgotten”. Google Inc. had filed an appeal with the French Council of State (FCS), the Highest Administrative Court in France, requesting the annulment of a decision by the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), which imposed a penalty of EUR 100,000 (approximately USD 110,300) on Google. The case arises from a request to Google by a natural person for deletion of certain links from the list of results displayed following a search of his name (“request for de-referencing”). In response, Google refused to remove certain content from all versions of the domain name of its search engine (i.e., worldwide), leading to the penalty imposed by the CNIL. The FCS then made a request for preliminary reference to the CJEU for guidance on the interpretation of the “right of de-referencing”, popularly known as the “right to be forgotten”.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. When photographers take pictures of individuals, there are substantial questions regarding the elements that should be attributed to the photographer’s creativity so that the work has the requisite originality for protection. Typically, the photographer’s choices regarding composition, lighting, focus, depth of field, and filtering, among many other elements, provide a sufficient basis to extend copyright protection to almost any photograph. Thus, when artists reproduce or use a photographer’s image in their pieces without permission, the photographer has a legitimate basis to complain.
The Federal Circuit’s decision in In re HTC Corp., 889 F.3d 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2018), considered whether the TC Heartland decision extended to foreign defendants to afford them the protections of the special patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b). By finding that no such protections existed, the Federal Circuit reaffirmed the longstanding rule that suits against foreign (alien) defendants “are wholly outside the operation of all the federal venue laws, general and special.” HTC, 889 F.3d at 1354 (citing Brunette Machine Works, Ltd. v. Kockum Industries, Inc., 406 U.S. 706, 714 (1972)). While foreign defendants can still try to persuade a district court judge to transfer a case to a new venue on the basis of the parties’ convenience, the venue laws otherwise offer no protection for foreign defendants.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California recently issued a decision in the closely watched Patagonia, Inc. v. Anheuser-Busch, LLC, 19-CV-02702 case. Here, the clothing company Patagonia sued the beer company Anheuser-Busch for trademark infringement, unfair competition, dilution of a famous mark, and cancellation of Anheuser-Busch’s various PATAGONIA trademark registrations. Anheuser-Busch moved to dismiss certain claims, including the dilution claim, for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The court issued a decision finding that Patagonia had adequately pled its dilution claim. The case provides trademark practitioners with insight into early case strategies when asserting and defending against a trademark dilution claim.
Insurance is a highly regulated field. New approaches to innovation are sorely needed. The need for innovation itself is undeniable as the tech world runs head long into the world of insurance. For example, the regulation of insurance is hundreds of years in the making and steeped in arcane regulation. However, the patent system—ostensibly an engine of innovation—has been notably hostile to insurance innovations, especially since the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice Corp. Pty Ltd. v. CLS Bank Intern. Indeed, the USPTO’s latest guidance on applying Alice specifically lists insurance as a type of fundamental economic practice that should be treated as unpatentable. While the federal patent system may be restricting the protection available for insurance innovations, there are other ways of supporting innovation, and Kentucky is leading the way with its recently passed regulatory sandbox for insurance innovation.
Experts agree that public health issues in the United States are not being solved despite an abundance of highly trained personnel, remarkable facilities, and access to the newest drugs and technologies. Instead, health care costs keep rising as the technology advances. A significant part of the problem is that governments are more likely to grant patents to drugs, devices, and treatments over nutrition innovations, making treatments more financially rewarding than prevention and increasing the disease burden and health care costs. Though there is no restriction against nutritional inventions in most patent laws, in practice the patent system favors drugs, devices, and treatments over nutritional solutions. Further, when nutritional patents are granted, they are severely restricted, such as to a narrow formulation or to fortification of foods with certain nutrients for certain use.
Re-examining the USPTO’s Bid for Adjudicatory Chevron Deference—a Response to One Analysis of Facebook v. Windy City
Last week, Professor Andrew Michaels published an article with IPWatchdog commenting on Facebook v. Windy City and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s claim for Chevron deference for precedential decisions of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). While I agree with his ultimate conclusion, “the PTAB cannot speak with the force of law through adjudication even on issues where it has the authority to do so through regulation,” I disagree with the path he took to get there. I’ve written extensively on the topic (see the bibliography is at the bottom of this article). Of my articles, the most relevant is The PTAB Is Not an Article III Court, Part 3: Precedential and Informative Opinions. More recently, I filed an amicus brief in Facebook. In my view, PTAB precedential decisions can be eligible for Chevron deference in only the rarest of circumstances: the PTAB is the wrong entity in the USPTO to engage in rulemaking, the PTAB doesn’t follow the procedures required by statute and executive order for rulemaking, and the PTAB doesn’t have access to the personnel within the USPTO that are necessary for rulemaking.
Recently, IPWatchdog published an excellent article by Wen Xie outlining the legal inconsistencies of the Chamberlain v. Techtronic Industries opinion, penned by Judge Chen. Unfortunately, describing the latest inconsistencies in the garbage pile of contradictions that is the Federal Circuit’s Alice/Mayo doctrine provides no surprise to anyone. The Alice/Mayo decisions issued by the CAFC are self-contradictory and cannot be reconciled with the Constitution, 35 U.S.C. §§ 102, 103, and 112, and at least a dozen Supreme Court cases. Indeed, the only surprises from the Federal Circuit these days come in the form of the odd holding for patent eligibility. However, Wen Xie’s article did cause me to realize that I’d overlooked Judge Chen’s distortions of fact. “Distortions,” however, is too mild a term for the outrageous misrepresentations made in Chamberlain.
Intellectual property litigators are often required to assess and pursue insurance coverage that may be available for policyholders they represent in ongoing litigation. More than assuring prompt notice of a potentially covered claim is required to meet these responsibilities. There are five issues intellectual property defense counsel need to focus on in assuring that insurance coverage opportunities are properly vetted.
As I noted in part one of my talk at the IPWatchdog Patent Masters Symposium, the validity statistics for SEPs do not look very good at first glance. Thus, according to a 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers study, plaintiffs in U.S. courts (ignoring patent type) have on average a 33% chance of success—only a 27% chance in the case of telecommunications patents. This chance of success is probably overstated for Standard Essential Patents (SEPs), based on the easy availability of prior art. Indeed, according to RPX’s 2014 study, in the United States, SEPs are likely to be less than half as successful as non-SEPs.In my talk, I pointed to the high invalidation rates in Europe to buttress my point that, at first glance, SEPs seem particularly vulnerable to validity challenges. Thus, in Germany, a supposed nirvana for patent assertion, the authors of the study “Patent Paper Tigers” reviewed the case law of the German Federal Patent Court and the German Federal Court of Justice in nullity matters in the period from 2010 to 2013 and found that: The nullification rate of all Senates of the German Federal Patent Court is 79.08% in total; and the nullification rate at the German Federal Patent Court regarding Software and Telecom patents which are (currently) of particular relevance from an economic point of view is 88.11%. Returning to the point made in the first part of my talk, having noted that most SEP nullification comes from obviousness, and not novelty, there should be no public interest exception to my argument that: unprovoked—that is, without first having made a FRAND offer or counteroffer—serial nullification of SEPs is contrary to the duty to negotiate in good faith and should remove a party’s defense against an injunction to SEPs.
Now, there is a flaw in this theory, and that is that, in the past few years, third parties have emerged that will—for their members or other contracted entities—kill patents.