In August, the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Northern District of California charged a pioneer of self-driving car technology, Anthony Levandowski, with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google under 18 U.S.C. § 1832 of the Economic Espionage Act (EEA). According to the indictment, Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 files containing critical information about Google’s autonomous-vehicle research before leaving the company in 2016. The indictment alleged that Levandowski then made an unauthorized transfer of the files to his personal laptop. Some of the files that Levandowski allegedly took from Google included private schematics for proprietary circuit boards and designs for light sensor technology, known as Lidar, which are used in self-driving cars. Levandowski joined Uber in 2016 after leaving Google when Uber bought his new self-driving trucking start-up, “Otto.” Levandowski has repeatedly asserted that he never disclosed the download, nor made use of the information while he was at Uber.
An inter partes review (IPR) petitioner appeals the final written decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) as to claims upheld but is found to have no standing, as there is no present indication that the challenger would face a patent infringement suit in future. Under these circumstances, would the IPR statutory estoppel provision, 35 U.S.C. § 315(e), prevent the petitioner from asserting the challenges it brought against the upheld claims if the patent owner were to assert those claims against the petitioner in future? Note that under these circumstances, if estopped, the petitioner would have sought judicial review, but the merits of the challenges would not have been reviewed by an Article III court. This was one of the questions before the Federal Circuit in Avx Corporation v. Presidio Components, Inc. 2018-1106 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2019) (“Avx Corp.”). Although the court declined to answer the question, as there were no adversarial presentations on this question, it clarified that the operation of estoppel was not a foregone conclusion under these facts, which, the court indicated, may fall under one of the exceptions to issue preclusion.
The most effective way to protect an inventive business method is with a patent on a technical invention. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 Alice decision, the U.S. courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have consistently held that you can’t patent a business method by itself. The Alice decision overturned several related business method patents as being nothing more than an attempt to patent a fundamental economic process. Lower court decisions have since affirmed that “no matter how groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant” a business method might be, you still can’t patent it. The only way to use patents, therefore, to protect business method inventions, is to patent the technological inventions required to make the business methods work. These inventions will be patentable since they will “improve the functioning of the computer itself.” See Buysafe, Inc., v. Google, Inc. 765 F.3d 1350 (2014) citing Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2107, 2116, 186 L.Ed.2d 124 (2013).
The Federal Circuit recently vacated and remanded a decision by the Northern District of California granting a motion on the pleadings that claims related to “toolbars” on computers were ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Court, holding that the district court failed to address a claim construction dispute, was “hesitant to construe patent claims in the first instance on appeal” and remanded for further proceedings. Judge Lourie authored a dissent, finding the claims to be “clearly abstract, regardless of claim construction,” and opined that he would have affirmed the district court’s holding. See MyMail, Ltd. v. ooVoo, LLC, Nos. 2018-1758, 2018-1759, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 24430 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 16, 2019) (Before Lourie, O’Malley, and Reyna, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Reyna, Circuit Judge) (Dissenting opinion, Lourie, Circuit Judge).
Theranos was based on the promise that a charismatic 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes, had developed a revolutionary technology that could perform important diagnostic tests by using a drop or two of blood. Whatever the outcome of a planned three-month trial set to begin next August in San Jose federal court, there may never be a full accounting of the destructive power of a good story well-told. The attitudes that allowed Theranos and Holmes to operate undetected and for investors to be duped out of more than a half-billion dollars do not appear to have changed. “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” a documentary released by HBO earlier this year, effectively dramatizes an extraordinary narrative. Gibney’s eye-opening film is important on several levels. However, its suggestion that “faking it ‘til you make it” is what many innovative businesses and professional inventors (like Edison) typically do, is inaccurate and disrespectful.
In June 2019, five-years of legal proceedings between Microsoft and Zhytomyrgas PJSC in the Ukrainian courts came to an end. The parties began their battle in the context of criminal proceedings and ended the dispute in the economic court. Microsoft ultimately was successful. Ukraine has been among the countries on the U.S. Special 301 Report, prepared by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, for years due to its high rate of copyright violations. Ukrainian citizens, government agencies and enterprises are no exceptions. At the same time, Ukraine ranks second in Eastern Europe in the number of software developers and number one in the world in the number of developers per 1,000 inhabitants.
‘Substantially Equivalent’ Disclosure May Satisfy Written Description Requirement Under Certain Circumstances
The Federal Circuit recently affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court decision holding that Actavis Laboratories FL, Inc.’s (“Actavis’s”) generic Abbreviated New Drug Application (“ANDA”) product infringed claims of patents owned by Nalpropion Pharmaceuticals (“Nalpropion”) and that the asserted claims were not invalid. The Court found that the district court did not err in finding that Nalpropion’s U.S. Patent No. 8,916,195 (“the ’195 patent”) was not invalid for lack of written description, but that the district court did err in finding that the asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,375,111 (“the ’111 patent”) and 7,462,626 (“the ’626 patent”) were not obvious in view of the prior art.
Alice: Benevolent Despot or Tyrant? Analyzing Five Years of Case Law Since Alice v. CLS Bank: Part I
It’s been five years since the Supreme Court remade the law of patent eligibility in Alice Corp Pty Ltd v. CLS Bank Int’l. As we all know, in Alice the Supreme Court dictated that patent-eligible subject matter is determined based on a two-step test. The application of this test under Queen Alice’s reign has drastically altered the patent landscape. Over 1,000 patents have been invalidated by the federal courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), while over 60,000 patent applications have been abandoned before the USPTO following rejections for patent ineligible subject matter. Patents and portfolios in many fields – particularly software and biotechnology – have declined in value or simply become unsaleable at any price. Defenders of Queen Alice and her critics go back and forth endlessly, driven by differing permutations of ideology, technology, judicial philosophy and business goals. I have contributed my share to those discussions, no doubt. But today, let’s get down to data and see what has really happened under Queen Alice’s rule.
Our music copyright law is out of tune in several ways. The recent multi-million-dollar jury verdict this summer against Katy Perry and Capitol Records illustrates a lack of harmony between music creation and the copyright law that is designed to “protect” it. According to a California jury, Perry’s runaway smash hit “Dark Horse” infringed a Christian rap “Joyful Noise” by the rapper, Flame. The jury awarded Flame nearly $2.8 million in damages. If that verdict withstands an appeal, it will be a dark day for the music industry. I fear the clouds are already brewing. The verdict exposes some major structural problems with how our music copyright law works.
Have Federal Circuit Judges Summarily Affirmed Your Patent Appeal Without Explaining Why? Tell SCOTUS
SPIP Litigation Group, LLC v. Apple, Inc. and Cisco Systems, Inc., No. 19-253., concerns four patents that have been the subject of decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and the Federal Circuit. More than 25 lawyers have participated in the litigation. The briefs and evidence in the trial court covered more than 2,500 pages. My client, on appeal from an adverse summary judgment, did not contend that the factual record failed to support that result. My client raised only two legal issues when it appealed to the Federal Circuit from the district court’s decision that the patents were not infringed. The appeal briefs covered 202 pages. Three Federal Circuit judges heard oral argument and issued their decision 12 days later. It read: “AFFIRMED. See Fed. Cir. R. 36.” Did the judges understand the technology any better than I do? No one can tell. Did my client deserve some explanation, even if exceedingly concise, from the judges? The petition I have now filed with the Supreme Court claims that the Federal Circuit judges deprived my client of a constitutional right by declaring, “You lose, but we won’t tell you why.”
As the summer winds down, it is time again to focus on how to fix the U.S. patent system. In June, the Senate Judiciary’s IP Subcommittee held unprecedented hearings on patent eligibility. They are now back in closed door sessions with selected stakeholders to further consider language to amend Section 101, having received extensive feedback. My testimony in part addressed the unconstitutionality of the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases on patent eligibility, which have created judicial exceptions that arrogantly ignore the plain wording of Congress’ statute (“invention or discovery” in the disjunctive in Sections 100(a), (f) and (g) and Section 101) and its legislative history, and despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the sole power to create patent law. The doctrine of judicially-created non-statutory obviousness-type double patenting is the flip side of the coin of the patent eligibility issues. A rejection for “non-statutory obviousness-type” double patenting is based on a “judicially-created doctrine” grounded in public policy and which is primarily intended to prevent prolongation of the patent term by prohibiting claims in a second patent not patentably distinct from claims in a first patent. This is problematic for at least the following reasons.
With exponential growth in patent filings each year and expanding company portfolios, Patent Quality Assessment (PQA) has become a significant and crucial task. USPTO maintenance fees, which are required to be paid periodically to keep a patent alive for 20 years, further add to the importance of maintaining only quality patents. Patent professionals worldwide have developed a myriad of metrics to assess the quality of patent assets. Benchmarking tools include terms like “Qscore” and “Asset indexes” to quantify the qualitative attributes of a patent.
That an open government is inseparable from a free society is one of the basic tenets supporting American democracy. If people are to be ruled by laws, they have a fundamental right to access those laws. To that end, in 17 U.S.C. § 105, the U.S. Copyright Office makes clear that binding and official government edicts may not be copyrighted by the United States government. However, the Supreme Court has not addressed the issue as it pertains to state governments since a series of cases in the late 1800s. But are there limits to that access, or are there certain situations in which government edicts may, in fact, fall under the scope of copyright protection? The U.S. Supreme Court hopefully will provide some clarity on this issue when it hears the case Georgia, et al. v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc. in the upcoming term.
When the USPTO issued its 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance in January of this year, it seemed as if the patentability tides had finally shifted in favor of software applicants. Far less attention and fanfare, however, was afforded to the concurrently issued and unassuming Section 112 Guidelines on examination practice for computer-related and software claims. In particular, potential pitfalls awaiting software applicants may lie unforeseen in the requirement that “[f]or a computer-implemented 112(f) claim, the specification must disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed computer function, or else the claim is indefinite.”
Federal Circuit Agrees That Argument-Based Prosecution Estoppel Barred Amgen from Succeeding on Infringement Claim
The Federal Circuit issued an opinion on July 29 affirming the District Court for the District of Delaware’s dismissal of Amgen Inc. and Amgen Manufacturing Ltd.’s (collectively, “Amgen”) complaint alleging infringement of U.S. Patent 8,273,707 (the “’707 Patent”) for failure to state a claim. The district court held that prosecution history estoppel barred Amgen from succeeding on its infringement claim under the doctrine of equivalents. Amgen Inc. v. Coherus BioSciences, Inc., No. 18-1993 (Fed Cir. July 29, 2019) (Before Reyna, Hughes, and Stoll, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Stoll, Circuit Judge).