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CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)5/6/2022 5:19:00 PM
Document Security Systems, Inc. (“The Respondent”) owns a U.S patent with the number 7,524,087 (“The Patent”). The patent is on an optical device with a light-emitting diode die.
The device is used in a display panel and consists LED die mounted to a plastic housing. The LEDs are encapsulated in the housing for protection from the environment.
The patent has 19 claims, which Nichia Corporation (“The Appellant”) petitioned for inter partes review. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“The Board”) heard the petition.
The Appellant contended that the 19 claims of the Respondent were unpatentable over its three art references (“Takenaka, Kyowa, and Okazaki”). However, the Board only found the Respondent’s claims 1 and 6 to 8 unpatentable over the Appellant’s Takenaka combined with Kyowa.
The Board determined that claims 1 and 6 to 14 were unpatentable because of Okazaki and Kyowa by reliance on an expert’s testimony. The Board further found that the Appellant did not demonstrate claims 2 to 5 and 9 to 19 unpatentable under any grounds.
Additionally, the Board found that the Appellant did not identify any disclosure in Takenaka under claim 15. Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed the Board’s decision before the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (“The Federal Circuit”).
The Appellant’s premised its appeal on two issues. The first issue was that the Board erred when it held that the Appellant failed to show that claims 1 and 6 to 14 were unpatentable over Okazaki given Kyowa.
The second issue was that the Board erred in finding that claims 9 to 19 were unpatentable over Takenaka in view of Kyowa. The Appellant argued against the Board’s finding that Okazaki does not disclose a device with two pockets on the first issue.
The Appellant then argued that the claims require a reflector housing having two pockets. The Appellant and the Respondent disagreed whether the tubular vessel bisected by lead frames in Okazaki requires two pockets.
The Federal Circuit adopted the Respondent’s expert (“Mr. Credelle”) evidence that a person of ordinary skill in the arts would understand what a tubular vessel is. Mr. Credelle said a tubular vessel is a through-hole or tube rather than two pockets.
The Federal Circuit rejected the Appellant’s expert (“Dr. Shealy”) testimony that a person of ordinary skill in arts would have understood the lead frames to bisect the tubular vessels into pockets. Therefore, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s finding that claims 1 and 6 to 14 were not shown to be unpatentable.
On the second issue, the Appellant argued that the Board erred in its construction of claim 9. The Appellant further argued that the Board and the Federal Circuit should construe claim 9 should serve as a preamble rather than a limitation.
The Federal Circuit stated that a preamble is an issue of law that should be reviewed de novo. The Federal Circuit said a preamble is a general description of all elements or steps of the claimed combination.
The preamble has a transitional phase which is the display comprising claim 9.
The Federal Circuit thus affirmed the Board’s decision on the issue in favor of the Respondent. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit only reversed claim 15 and remanded claims 16 to 19 for further proceedings.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)4/29/2022 4:56:42 PM
An Apple from the Apple TreeMore
Zipit Wireless Inc., (“The Respondent”), a Delaware corporation, is the owner of two US patents (Nos. 7,292,870 and 7,894,837), both (the “Patents-in-suit”). The Patents-in-suit are generally directed to wireless instant messaging devices that send and receive messages over Wi-Fi.
Apple Inc. (“The Appellant”) petitioned for inter partes review (“IPR”) of the Patents-in-suit before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent and Appeal Board (“The Board”).
The Appellant challenged the Patents-in-suits, maintaining the position that it does not need a license to the Patents-in-suit because it does not practice any claims of the Patents-in-suit, and thus, the claims are invalid. However, the Board held that the Respondent’s claim of the Patents-in-suit was patentable.
Following a series of exchanges between the parties, which took up to three years (2013-2016), in June 2020, the Respondent sued the Appellant in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia (the “District Court”), accusing the Appellant of infringing the Patents-in-suit.
Two weeks later, the Respondent voluntarily dismissed the suit without prejudice. However, a few days later, the Appellant filed a complaint for a declaratory judgement of non-infringement of the Patents-in-suit. The Respondent sought to dismiss the Appellant’s complaint, citing a lack of personal jurisdiction under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) as its basis.
In February 2021, the District Court granted the Respondent’s motion as it held that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over the Respondent. Although, the District Court concluded that the Appellant had established the requisite minimum contacts, which made the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over the Respondent “presumably reasonable”. However, the District Court, in analyzing whether the Respondent has established a “compelling case” that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable, following an analysis of each of the factors outlined in Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, concluded that the Respondent had not done so. Specifically, the District Court observed that jurisdiction over the Respondent would not be unreasonable based on the weight of majority of the reasonableness factors.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the District Court then dismissed the Appellant’s declaratory judgement suit for lack of jurisdiction on two grounds. One, the Respondent’s lack of binding obligations tying it to California and two, the Respondent’s contacts with California all related to the attempted resolution of the status of the Patents-in-suit.
The Appellant appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “Federal Circuit). Before the Federal Circuit was a sole issue regarding whether the district court erred in dismissing Apple’s declaratory judgment action for lack of specific personal jurisdiction over the Respondent. In determining this issue, the Federal Circuit resolved a fundamental inquiry, i.e., whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction comported with due process, alongside the facts in the case and held that the district court erred in dismissing the Appellant’s claim for declaratory judgement. Thereby upholding the appeal.
Following the US Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit considered the three factors relevant to determining whether the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction is appropriate in this case. It held that the Respondent purposefully directed their activities at California and that it did not make a compelling case that the presence of some other considerations would render jurisdiction unreasonable.
Although, the Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court that adjudication in California would create some burden for the Respondent, considering its ties to South Carolina. However, it was not convinced that the general allegations adduced by the Respondent would be so unreasonably burdensome as to be unconstitutional.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)4/22/2022 4:44:26 PM
IGEN International, Inc. (“IGEN”) owned patents for an electrochemiluminescence technology (ECL), the ownership of which later became that of Bioveris Corporation (“Bioveris”). In 1992, IGEN entered a license agreement to sell, develop and manufacture ECL instruments with Boehringer Mannheim GmbH (“Boehringer”).
Roche Diagnostics Corporation (“The 1st Appellant”) purchased Boehringer in 1998. Thereby becoming the licensee under the 1992 license agreement.
At the same time, IGEN’s CEO’s son was researching multi-array methodologies in Meso Scale Technologies (“MST”). In 1995, IGEN and MST signed a joint venture agreement, forming Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC (“The Respondent”).
In 2003, IGEN executed a new license agreement with the 1st Appellant, giving it a non-exclusive license to its technologies in specific fields. Also, IGEN’s patent and ownership interest in the Respondent’s joint venture was transferred to Bioveris.
In 2007, the 1st Appellant acquired Bioveris and its over 100 patents. In 2010, the Respondent instituted an action against the Appellant at the Delaware Court of Chancery (“The Court of Chancery”).
The Court of Chancery held that since the Respondent consented to the 2003 license agreement, it could not enforce such. In addition, only Bioveris could enforce the 2003 license agreement against the Appellant for sales outside the specific fields.
In 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s decision. In 2017, the Appellant filed an action at the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (“The District Court”).
The Appellant sought a declaration confirming that it did not infringe the Respondent’s licensing rights in the patented diagnostics detection technology, ECL. The Respondent counterclaimed that there was a patent infringement and breach of the 1995 license between it and IGEN.
The District Court found that the Respondent has an exclusive license to the asserted patent claims. Therefore, the Appellant was said to have directly infringed on claim 33 of U.S Patent No.6,808,939.
The District Court found the infringement willful and awarded the sum of $137,500,000 against the Appellant as infringement damages. However, the Respondent’s motion for enhanced damages was denied, among several other motions.
Both parties appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (“The Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit affirmed the decision in part, reversed and vacated it in part and remanded it.
According to the majority opinion of the Federal Circuit, the decision of the District Court that the Appellant directly infringed the Respondent’s patent was affirmed. However, the Federal Circuit reversed the Appellant’s liability for induced infringement because there was no intent and inducing act.
The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the Appellant’s liability for damages as held by the District Court. However, the Federal Court opined that a new damages trial should be conducted since the Appellant was not liable for induced infringement.
On the Respondent’s cross-appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded that a new trial should be conducted on the three patents the Respondent did not assert compulsory counterclaims.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)4/8/2022 4:51:08 PM
In 1998, Mr. Nguyen filed a patent application and obtained a patent number U.S Patent No.6,219, 730 (the “730 Patent”) in 2001. The 730 patent disclosed technology for combining data streams conceived when developing a voice mouse for computer resources.
In February 2017, Genuine Enabling Technology LLC (“The Appellant”) instituted an action at the United States District Court for the District of Delaware against Nintendo Co Ltd and Nintendo of America Inc. (collectively “The Respondent”) for infringement on the 730 patent.
The Appellant alleged that five products of the Respondent infringed upon the 730 patent. The suit was later transferred to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (“The District Court”).
After submitting issues before the District Court, the Respondent moved for summary judgment for non-infringement. The motion was predicated on the District Court’s acceptance of the Respondent’s claim construction of input signal.
The Respondent argued therein that its accused controllers produce slow-varying signals. The signals are the type that Mr. Nguyen (on the Appellant’s behalf) disclaimed when distinguishing his inventions from the Yollin reference.
The District Court issued an order granting the Respondent’s summary judgment motion for non-infringement. The aggrieved Appellant appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (“The Federal Circuit”).
The Federal Circuit disagreed and upturned the decision of the District Court. The basis being that the District Court placed too much reliance on an expert’s opinion as part of its claim construction analysis.
The Federal Circuit said an expert testimony, which is extrinsic evidence, might be helpful in claim construction. Mainly to provide background on the technology at issue and explain how the invention works.
However, expert testimony should not be used to diverge significantly from an intrinsic record. Therefore, reliance on expert evidence regarding claim construction is permissible where it is consistent with the intrinsic evidence.
The Federal Circuit held that the District Court applied a threshold, 500Hz, which was based solely on an expert opinion. The expert opinion was said to be extrinsic evidence, which was not part of the intrinsic record but extrinsic sources.
As a result, the Respondent’s claim construction on the input signal was disregarded for being too narrow. Instead, the claim construction was that the maximum frequency of signals from physiological sensors is at least 500Hz.
The Federal Circuit said that the proper construction of the input signal is a signal having audio or higher frequency. This was in accordance with the Appellant’s claim construction at the District Court.
Flowing from above, it is evident that the Federal Circuit reversed and modified the construction by the District Court. First, the Federal Circuit applied the principle regarding the extrinsic nature of expert testimony.
Since extrinsic evidence inconsistent with an intrinsic record could not be relied upon, the decision of the District Court was overruled. This was because the District Court heavily relied on extrinsic expert evidence.
CIONCA IP TEAM (BS)4/1/2022 5:05:16 PM
VDPP LLC owns US Patent Nos. 9,699,444; 9,9448,922; and 10,021,380, all of which have one or more claims disputed as indefinite by Vizio, Inc. The case went to court, and a previous decision from the United States District Court for the Central District of California backed Vizio’s statement that the claims are indefinite and therefore, invalid. “The district court’s judgment was based on its determination that certain claim limitations are drafted in means-plus-function format under § 112(f), and they have no disclosed corresponding structures.” VDPP appealed the decision, and the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction.
VDPP owns the ’444, ’922, and ’380 patents (“the patents-in-suit”). The patents-in-suit are related to an apparatus that appears to create an “illusion of continuous movement.” For example, the apparatus can use two alternating images in its presentation to the viewer plus a third, “dissimilar bridging picture” to “create the optical illusion of a door forever cracking open.” “In one embodiment, the apparatus includes a processor and storage.” This appeal primarily revolves around one facet of the claimed invention: whether the limitations “processor” and “storage,” as recited in the claims, are drafted in means-plus-function format under § 112(f).
On January 7, 2020, VDPP sued Vizio, Inc., a company that manufactures and sells television sets. In its complaint, VDPP stated that Vizio’s “P-series” television sets infringe claims 1 and 27 of the ’444 patent, claim 2 of the ’922 patent, and claim 6 of the ’380 patent. In response, Vizio declared an affirmative defense of invalidity. “According to Vizio, the limitations “storage” and “processor” are drafted in means-plus-function format under § 112(f), and the specifications do not disclose structures that correspond to the recited functions of those limitations.”
The previous court ruled VDPP’s stated claims to be invalid as indefinite and “determined that the limitations “processor” and “storage” are subject to § 112(f) because the “asserted claims do not describe how [they] carry out the recited functions—only that they do.”
“A § 112(f) analysis consists of two steps. See Dyfan, LLC v. Target Corp., No. 2021-1725, — F.4th —, slip op. at 7 (Fed. Cir. 2022). At step one, we determine whether, as a threshold matter, § 112(f) applies to the claim limitation. See id. In making that determination, we have “long recognized the importance of the presence or absence of the word ‘means.’” Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1348. In the absence of the word means, we presume that a claim limitation is not subject to § 112(f). Id. To overcome that presumption, a challenger must “demonstrate that the [limitation] fails to ‘recite sufficiently definite structure.’”
“We have also recognized, however, that ‘the essential inquiry is not merely the presence or absence of the word ‘means’” but rather, whether the skilled artisan would Case: 21-2040 Document: 45 Page: 5 Filed: 03/25/2022 6 VDPP LLC v. VIZIO, INC. understand the limitation to “have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure.’” VDPP makes a point that, because the disputed limitations lack the word “means,” there is a rebuttable presumption that they are not subject to § 112(f).
The U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals was not persuaded by Vizio’s arguments that “the specifications fail to disclose structures capable of performing the claimed functions” and “because the limitations “processor” and “storage” inherently connote function, they are necessarily subject to § 112(f).” The Federal Court disagreed.
The Federal Court of Appeals observed that “[T]he mere fact that the disputed limitations incorporate functional language does not automatically convert [them] into means for performing such functions.” Zeroclick, 891 F.3d at 1008. “Many devices take their names from the functions they perform. Examples are innumerable, such as ‘filter,’ ‘brake,’ ‘clamp,’ ‘screwdriver,’ or ‘lock.’” Id. (quoting Greenberg v. Ethicon Endo–Surgery, Inc., 91 F.3d 1580, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, that the disputed limitations incorporate functional language— “processing” and “storing”—does not necessarily render them subject to § 112(f). Additionally, in the aforementioned case Dyfan, LLC v. Target Corp, though the district court determined that “the limitations “code” and “application” were subject to 112(f),” the Federal Court held that the defendant failed to show “that persons of ordinary skill in the art would not have understood the ‘code’/‘application’ limitations to connote structure in light of the claim as a whole.” The Federal Court observed that the same reasoning applied in VDPP LLC v. Vizio.
The Federal Court reversed the district court’s decision that the asserted claims are invalid as indefinite and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Full VDPP LLC v. Vizio, Inc. decision can be read here: https://cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions-orders/21-2040.OPINION.3-25-2022_1926745.pdf
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)3/25/2022 4:58:23 PM
Internet Protocol AddressesMore
MPH Technologies (“The Respondent”) owned three patents on forwarding messages from one computer to another, particularly using a secured intermediate computer network without extra encapsulation overhead.
Apple Inc. (“The Appellant”) petitioned for inter partes review (“IPR”) of the Respondent’s patents before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent and Appeal Board (“The Board”).
The Appellant relied on a combination of the Request for Comments 3104 (“RFC3104”) and a US Patent (“Grabelsky”) to challenge the claims in the three patents. In addition, a series of claim construction disputes were raised during the proceedings.
The Board held that the Appellant failed to show that several dependent claims of each of the three patents would have been obvious. Especially given the combination.
The Appellant appealed before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“The Federal Circuit”). The Appellant raised four claim construction disputes based on the Board’s decision, as follows:
First, the Appellant argued that the Board erred in finding that the claim limitation information field requires two or more field. Second, the Board erred in the interpretation of the message sent from the mobile computer directly to the first address. The third claim was that the Board erred in construing the term “substitute” in the claim limitation and the fourth claim was that RFC3104 taught the claim limitation “modify the translation table entry address fields”, because the claim limitation was merely functional and covered any embodiments resulting from the table. Specifically, embodiments with different address fields, including new address fields.
In its decision, the Federal Circuit rejected the Appellant’s arguments on all the four claim construction disputes. The Federal Circuit explained that common English usage presumed that plural term refers to two or more items, on the first claim. Therefore, the term “information fields” was plural and required more than one field. Also, nothing in the claim language suggested otherwise. On the second claim, the Federal Circuit held that plain language established direct sending of the message from the mobile computer to the first address.
On the third claim, the Federal Circuit found that the written description disparaged the prior art solution of tunneling. Thus, the Board was correct in construing the term “substitute” in the claim limitation, considering that adding a new header did not satisfy the substitution required by the claims. On the fourth claim, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision that modifying required having an existing address in the table to modify. Also, modification occurred only when the mobile computer changed its address.
Moreover, this would make the intermediate computer know the mobile phone's address changed. Therefore, suggesting the existence of an address prior to the modification.
The Federal Circuit gave reasons for rejection of all the Appellant’s four claim construction argument. Thus, the Board’s decision on the challenged claims of the Respondent’s three patents was affirmed because the challenged claims of the three patents would not have been evident over the combination of RFC3104 and Grabelsky.
CIONCA IP TEAM (BS)3/16/2022 5:00:54 PM
We TINK It Should Be ProtectedMore
United Trademark Holdings, Inc., appealed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (TTAB) decision to deny its use of TINKER BELL and TEEN TINK to advertise its line of dolls. The U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction.
Disney opposed the registration of United’s TEEN TINK mark under the Lanham Act on the grounds of Disney’s priority and the likelihood of confusion with approximately 30 Disney registered marks, including Registration No. 3,636,910 for TINKER BELL. Disney did the same for United’s TEEN TINKER BELL mark.
United stated that the Tinker Bell name was already in the public domain but did not contend that Disney’s Tinker Bell character was in the public domain.
In 2013, United released its Fairy Tale High collection of dolls, illustrating “public domain characters from well-known fairy tales, including Snow White, Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Tinker Bell and Cinderella” as teenagers. United stated that, for the Tinker Bell dolls and others, it included some important defining characteristics of the public domain character but added details to change the traditional presentation such as new colored streaks in the dolls’ hair, fashion leggings, artful makeup, and fashion-forward accessories. United stated that it has “created its own version of J.M. Barrie’s character, much as Disney did decades ago.”
In response to the evidence of commercial strength, United cited the Board’s finding that Disney had not proven its TINKER BELL mark to be famous for dolls specifically. The federal court replied that it need not decide whether a focus on dolls specifically for the fame-strength analysis is appropriate. The court stated that, “…it is sufficient here that a mark does not have to be famous to be commercially strong.”
As the Board noted, United provided no evidentiary support for its theory that Disney’s TINKER BELL mark brings up for consumers the public domain Tinker Bell character, instead of the version identified with Disney for decades. As a result, it was reasonable for the Board to conclude that both United’s and Disney’s marks would express Disney’s version of the Tinker Bell character, with United’s mark showing Disney’s Tinker Bell character specifically in her adolescent years. The Board “found TINKER BELL a commercially strong source identifier for Disney.”
United argued that the Federal Court should be wary of “ruling for Disney in this case,” as it equaled letting Disney “prolong its copyrights in a fictional, public domain character” through trademark law, and in turn, prevents United from using the public domain to create its own version of the Tinker Bell character.
The Federal Court felt that “United has not shown that Disney’s trademark protection in this particular matter constitutes a ‘misuse or overextension’ of trademark and related protections into areas traditionally occupied…by copyright.” The Court also did not feel it should reverse the decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and so affirmed the Board’s decision to deny United the trademarks of TINKER BELL and TEEN TINK.
Full United Trademark Holdings, Inc. v. Disney Enterprises, Inc. decision can be read here: 21-1056.OPINION.2-24-2022_1913329.pdf (uscourts.gov).
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)3/4/2022 4:54:18 PM
In 1939, Disney Enterprises, Inc. (“The Respondent”) acquired exclusive rights to make, reproduce and exhibit animated cartoons. The exclusive rights applied to a trademark named TINKER BELL.
In 2013, United Trademark Holdings, Inc. (“The Appellant”) applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) to register its trademarks. The first trademark was TEEN TINKER BELL, registered in standard characters, while the other trademark TEEN TINK was registered in stylized characters.
The Appellant brought the trademark application under section 1(a) of the Lanham Act and 15 U.S.C section 1051(a). Consequently, the PTO approved the trademark for publication on its principal register.
In 2015, the Respondent opposed the registration of the Appellant’s trademarks. The ground of the opposition is that there would be confusion with approximately 30 of the Respondent’s trademarks.
The dispute was referred to the PTO, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“The Board”). The Board issued a decision in favour of the Respondent on the ground that there was a likelihood of confusion.
The Appellant appealed to the United States Court of Appeal (“The Federal Circuit”). The Appellant challenged the Board’s analysis regarding the several DuPont factors in support of its findings. Particularly, the strength and the attendant scope of protection of the Respondent’s trademark. The Appellant also challenged the similarity between the Respondent’s and the Appellant’s trademarks.
The Federal Circuit concluded that substantial evidence supported the Board’s findings on the contested factors. Accordingly, on this basis, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s conclusion on the contested findings and the likelihood of confusion.
On the strength of the Respondent’s trademark, the Appellant argued that the Respondent’s trademark was substantially weak. However, the Federal Circuit held that the Respondent’s trademark was inherently distinctive and depicted a character. Hence, the Respondent’s trademark was entitled to an ordinary scope of protection. Moreover, the Respondent’s commercial strength overwhelmed the conceptual weakness.
On the issue of similarity and dissimilarity, the Federal Circuit held that the Board was right to hold that there was a similarity between the sound and appearance of the trademarks. The Federal Circuit gave reasons for upholding the Board’s decision on the similarity of the Trademarks.
The Federal Circuit stated that the mere addition of TEEN by the Appellant did not distinguish it from the Respondent’s trademark. The appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression were taken into consideration.
The Federal Circuit further stated that the contraction of the Respondent’s TINKER BELL to the Appellant’s TINK did not have any material effect, as TINK had often been the common nickname used for the Respondent’s TINKER BELL.
Therefore, the Appellant’s trademarks did not provide a different result. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit also addressed the Appellant’s copyright-rooted argument. It stated that the Appellant failed to explain how its copyright-rooted argument could disrupt the Board’s decision. The reason being that the Appellant asserted no counterclaims, as the only issue in contest was the Board’s rejection of the Appellant’s trademark.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)2/25/2022 5:01:34 PM
MLC Intellectual Property, LLC (“The Appellant”) instituted an action against Micron Technology, Inc. (“The Respondent”) on patent infringement. The Appellant brought the suit before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (“The District Court”).
The alleged patent infringement was in respect of computer memory. Particularly memory chips that could store more than one bit of memory per cell. The patent’s claim was an apparatus for programming an electrical alterable non-volatile memory cell with more than two predetermined memory states. The Appellant relied on an expert (“Mr. Milani”) to provide a damages opinion.
Mr. Milani relied primarily on license agreements between the Appellant’s predecessor and third parties (including Hynix and Toshiba). Accordingly, the Respondent filed three motions in limine concerning Mr. Milani’s expert opinion.
The first motion sought to preclude Mr. Milani from providing an opinion on Hynix and Toshiba’s agreement reflecting a 0.25% royalty rate, while the second motion was to strike out a particular portion of Mr. Milani’s expert report on the licenses’ documents. Finally, the third motion sought to preclude Mr. Milani from offering any opinion concerning reasonable royalty because Mr. Milani failed to apportion out the value of non-patented features.
The District Court granted all the three motions of the Respondent. Then, proceeded to certifying the three damages orders for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C section 1292(b).
The Respondent brought an interlocutory appeal before the United States Court of Appeal (“The Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit granted the petition for an interlocutory appeal and affirmed the District Court’s ruling.
The Federal Circuit found that Mr. Milani’s opinion relating to the 0.25% royalty rate rested on an inference. The inference was from the most favored customer clause that went beyond what the whole clause implied and untethered evidence presented. The Federal Circuit relied on existing decisions regarding lump sum payment and unsupported conversions to royalty rates.
The Federal Circuit stated that Mr. Milani’s opinion would have been proper if he merely asserted the considered royalty rate. Accordingly, the royalty rate in favored customer provision reflects a relevant consideration for evaluating reasonable royalty.
However, the Federal Circuit pinpointed that Mr. Milani crossed the line when he stated that he understood the 0.25% rate applied to Hynix’s sales worldwide. Thus, Mr. Milani’s characterization of the agreements rendered his opinion unreliable.
In addition, the Federal Circuit addressed the District Court’s exclusion of information under Rule 37(c)(1) of the District Court Rules. It also rejected the Appellant’s argument that it was not required to disclose specific facts and documents (particularly facts and documents that supported the Appellant’s damages theory during fact discovery) because the facts and documents were ultimately disclosed during expert discovery.
The Federal Circuit noted that the District Court was afforded broad discretion in applying Rule 37(c)(1) to exclude the “failed to be provided” principle in Rule 26. The District Court was found to have acted well within the discretion by rejecting Mr. Milani’s opinion.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)2/18/2022 4:22:47 PM
Machine or TransformationMore
Bilski (“The Appellant”) filed a patent application pertaining to an explanation on how commodities buyers and sellers in the energy market can protect, manage or hedge against the risk of price changes before the Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).
The USPTO rejected the application on the ground that the claimed invention was not implemented on a specific apparatus. In addition, the USPTO stated that the claimed invention merely manipulated an abstract idea that solved a purely mathematic problem.
The Appellant brought the claims before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (the “Appeal Board”), which affirmed and agreed to the decision of USPTO hook, line and sinker. The Appellant further appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“The Federal Circuit”) and then the United States Supreme Court (“The Supreme Court”), both of which further affirmed the decision of the USPTO and the Appeal Board.
In affirming the decision of the Appeal Board, the Federal Circuit relied on the Patent Act and previous decisions of the United States Supreme Court. In addition, the Federal Circuit reiterated that for an invention to be patentable, it must be tied to a particular machine or apparatus and must transfer a particular article into a different state or thing. Thus, the Appellant’s patent failed this test and was not a patentable subject matter.
Upon further appeal, two significant issues were couched for determination before the Supreme Court. The first issue was whether the Federal Circuit erred in using the machine test to determine the patentable subject matter. The other issue was whether the machine test could prevent patent protection for many business methods, thus contracting the intent of the Patent Act.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Federal Circuit and held that the Appellant’s invention was said not to be patent-eligible. Justice Kennedy delivered the leading judgment, wherein the Supreme Court believed that the Federal Circuit did not err in using the machine test.
Although, in contrast to the Federal Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the machine test was not the only criteria in determining patent eligibility. In giving his opinion, Justice Kennedy thoroughly considered the four categories stated for patent eligibility in section 101 of the Patent Act. The categories are as follows: process (es), machine (s), manufacture (s) and composition (s).
Justice Kennedy further stated that the eligibility enquiry was on a threshold. Hence, even if an invention falls under any category, it must satisfy the conditions and requirements of the title. Finally, Justice Kennedy said three exceptions were provided for section 101 by the Supreme Court: laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas. Chief Justice Robert, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito joined the opinion of Justice Kennedy in totality, while Justice Scalia joined the concurring opinion of Justice Breyer.
Although Justice Stevens gave a concurring judgment, he disagreed with the court’s case disposition. In his view, the general method of engaging in business transactions is not a patentable “process” within the meaning of section 101 of the Patent Act and even any series of steps that is not itself an abstract idea or law of nature might constitute processes provided for under section 101 of the Patent Act.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)2/11/2022 4:52:28 PM
Air Force 1More
Nike Inc ("The Respondent") designs, manufactures and sells athletic footwear. In 1982, it sold a line of shoes called Air Force 1s. The shoe was said to have a distinctive appearance. The Respondent registered multiple federal trademarks on the Air Force 1 design.
In July 2009, the Respondent instituted an action at the US District Court ("The District Court") against Already LLC ("The Appellant") on the ground that there was a confusing similarity between the shoe sold by the Appellant and Air Force 1. The Appellant denied the allegation and filed a counterclaim challenging the validity of the Respondent's trademark.
While the suit was pending, the Respondent issued a covenant not to sue. Thereby, promising not to raise any trademark or unfair competition claims against the Appellant. This promise extended to the Appellant's products, both current and future. The Respondent then dismissed their claims with prejudice and sought to dismiss the Appellant's counterclaim "without prejudice” because the covenant had extinguished the case or controversy.
The Appellant opposed the dismissal of its counterclaim because the Respondent did not establish the covenant not to sue. In the affidavit supporting the opposition, the Appellant stated that they intended to create new products if the trademark office invalidated the Respondent's trademark.
The District Court dismissed the Appellant's counterclaim, by concluding that it was no longer a justiciable controversy.
Dissatisfied, the Appellant appealed to the United States Court of Appeals ("The Second Circuit"). The Second Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court and held that the counterclaim did not create a case or controversy. Therefore, the District Court could not have subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Thus, the Appellant further appealed to the Supreme Court.
At the Supreme Court, the issue for determination was whether the Appellant's counterclaim was sufficient to allow the District Court jurisdiction. The Supreme Court gave a unanimous opinion led by Chief Justice Robert.
The Supreme Court stated that the Respondent had met the burden that it could not be reasonably expected to resume the trademark's action. Thus, the Respondent's covenant not to sue was valid and made the case moot. The Supreme further stated that the language of the covenant was broad enough. As a result, 'shoe' could not be conceived to fall outside the covenant's scope.
The Supreme Court rejected the Appellant's assertion that dismissing the case would give room for enforcement of the Respondent's invalid trademark. In the Supreme Court's opinion, the Respondent did not intend such.
Moreover, the Supreme Court held that allowing many competitors to use the Respondent's trademark would lessen its strength. Therefore, the Respondent's trademark was valid. Justice Kennedy, in his opinion, emphasized the Respondent's covenant not to sue. However, he said covenant not to sue should not be the first reaction to trademark litigation.
Justice Kennedy concluded that courts should be wary of large companies intentionally burdening smaller ones and later promising not to sue. Hence, a covenant not to sue should only terminate litigation where it meets the high burden required, as done in this case.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)1/14/2022 4:52:22 PM
Fees and more Fees?More
Allcare Health Management Systems (“The Respondent”) owned a patent with number 105, which covered a health management system. The purpose was to facilitate interactions among patients, physicians, and others. The patent also covered methods of determining medical review for patient treatment.
Highmark Inc. (“The Petitioner”) was a non-profit Blue Cross Blue Shield Plan insurance provider. In 2002, the Respondent notified the Petitioner that their transactions infringed its patent.
The Petitioner instituted an action against the Respondent at the Federal District Court (“the District Court”). The Petitioner sought summary judgment for the non-infringement of the Respondent’s patent. On the other hand, the Respondent counterclaimed against the Petitioner, alleging that it infringed upon two sections of its patent.
The District Court granted the Petitioner’s summary judgment. The District Court also held that the Respondent had willfully pursued frivolous claims against the Petitioner and ordered the Respondent to pay the Petitioner attorney’s fees over 4 million dollars. Additionally, the District awarded over 200,000 Dollars in expenses against the Respondent.
Furthermore, the District Court invoked its inherent powers to impose sanctions and awarded an additional 375,400.05 Dollars in costs for the Petitioner.
Subsequently, the District Court denied all motions moved by the Respondent to reconsider the exceptional case finding and awards. Accordingly, the Respondent appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“the Federal Circuit”).
The Federal Circuit considered only the issue of exceptional case finding. Thus, stated the ingredients for there to be an exceptional case. The Federal Circuit held that the first ingredient was that there must be subjective bad faith. The other element was that there must be an objectively baseless claim.
Therefore, the Federal Circuit independently reviewed the District Court’s decision and affirmed same in part and reversed the other part.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, there was a unanimous decision. Justice Sotomayor read the leading opinion. The Supreme Court held that the District Court was best to determine the lawsuit as objectively baseless. Hence, entitled to deterrence on appeal.
The Supreme Court found the Federal Circuit too strict in its application standard. Particularly on its independent review, which should have been reserved for questions of law. The Supreme Court remanded the proceedings. In addition, it instructed the Federal Circuit to examine the District Court’s findings for abuse of discretion.
The Supreme Court determined the proper amount of deterrence that the District Court should apply regarding the exceptional case finding ability in awarding attorney’s fees under section 285 of the Patent Act.
The case has many implications for the future of patent litigation. First, from a policy standpoint, the case restricts the ability of non-practicing entities or patent trolls to demand payment of fees. Specifically, fees for patents they hold but never utilize or incorporate into their products. However, the Supreme Court’s decision remains the law.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)12/17/2021 4:51:21 PM
Royalty or LowbornMore
In 1990, Stephen Kimble (the Petitioner) obtained a patent on a spider-man toy, to expire in 2010. The spider-man toy allowed children and adults to shoot webs from the palms of their hands.
The Petitioner met with the president of Marvel Enterprises, Inc, the predecessor of Marvel Entertainment, LLC (the Respondent). The Petitioner discussed the idea of the spider-man toy and its patent with the Respondent.
At that time, the Respondent was a manufacturer and marketer of products featuring spider-man. The Respondent promised to compensate the Petitioner for the use of its ideas.
The Respondent proceeded in manufacturing products (“Web Blaster”) similar in functions with the Petitioner’s spider-man. Although there was no formal agreement, the Respondent did not compensate the Petitioner.
In 1997, the Petitioner sued the Respondent for patent infringement. The parties settled in 2001, with an agreement to purchase the patent for 500,000 dollars.
The Respondent said he would pay 3 per cent royalty on future sales to the Petitioner without an expiration date. As a result, the case was dismissed.
In 2006, the Respondent entered a licensing agreement with Hasbro Inc. Thus; the Respondent gave the right to produce the spider-man toy to the Hasbro Inc.
The Respondent failed to pay royalty, and the Petitioner claimed the original patent would be infringed upon without payment. The Petitioner sued at Arizona State Court, which was later removed to the Federal District Court.
The Respondent argued that a purchaser is not obligated to pay royalty after the patent’s expiration date. The Federal District Court upheld the argument and granted summary judgement in favour of the Respondent.
On appeal to the United States Court of Appeal (the “Ninth Circuit”), the decision of the Federal District Court was affirmed. The Petitioner further appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issue for determination was whether the rule in Brulotte v. Thys Co. (“the rule”) relied upon by the Ninth Circuit should be overturned. Out of the nine justices, six gave the majority opinion supporting the rule, while three dissented.
Justice Kagan delivered the leading majority opinion. The rule was that a patentee could not receive royalty payments after the patent had expired.
Justice Kagan said there was no sufficient reason to overturn the rule. Since no subsequent legal development has overturned the rule, it remained workable.
The court further stated that Congress had ample opportunity to enact a statute foreclosing the rule. However, Congress did not. Hence the rule as applied by the Ninth Circuit could not be overturned.
Justice Alito led the dissenting opinion, supported by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. Justice Alito opined that the rule has no weight and should be overturned.
He said the rule impermissibly interfered with parties’ abilities to negotiate licensing agreements, especially licensing agreements that reflected the true value of the product patented.
Although, the decision of the Ninth Circuit was upheld by the Supreme Court. The decision was a poor representation of the Patent Act.
As said by Justice Alito, it promoted economic inefficiency. Thus, it lacked the support of legal standing and public policy.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)12/10/2021 5:06:54 PM
Short-Range Wireless NetworksMore
Commil USA, LLC (“The Petitioner”) was a holder of patents on methods of implementation of short-range wireless networks. The Petitioner instituted an action against Cisco Systems, Inc (“The Respondent”), a maker and seller of wireless networking equipment.
The Petitioner claimed the Respondent infringed upon the patents on its networking equipment, and by so doing, the Respondent induced other companies to infringe upon the Petitioner’s patents. As a result, the Petitioner brought the suit before the Federal District Court.
At the trial, the Respondent argued that the Petitioner’s patent was invalid for indefiniteness, especially considering the patent’s non-enablement and lack of written description.
After two trials, the District Court held the Respondent liable for direct and induced infringement of the Petitioner’s patent. On the induced infringement, the Respondent raised the defence of good faith belief, stating that it believed in good faith that the Petitioner’s patent was invalid. However, the District Court found the Respondent’s evidence to support this argument inadmissible.
Thus, the District Court awarded $70,000,000 (seventy million dollars) in damages against the Respondent. Dissatisfied, the Respondent appealed to the United States Court of Appeal (the “Federal Circuit”).
Before the Federal Circuit, the Respondent argued that the District Court erroneously instructed the jury, which led to the preclusion of evidence on the belief of good faith regarding the Petitioner’s patent. The Respondent also argued that the District Court erred in holding that the standard for inducement was negligence. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s judgement in part and vacated it in part.
The Federal Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision and held that the standard for induced infringement was actual knowledge or willful blindness. Hence, the Respondent’s good faith belief was a plausible defence to the patent’s invalidity.
The Petitioner then appealed to the Supreme Court. At the Supreme Court, six out of nine Justices had the majority opinion, and two dissented while the last one failed to give his opinion. Justice Kennedy led the majority opinion. The Supreme Court held that even though precedent required knowledge for induced infringement, infringement and validity were separate matters. Hence, the knowledge requirement did not apply to the patent’s validity or otherwise.
Also, the Supreme Court stated that the defence of good faith belief would not apply because allowing the defence of good faith would burden the Supreme Court regarding the patent’s invalidity.
Justice Scalia led the dissenting opinion. He opined that good faith belief in a patent’s invalidity was a defence to induced infringement as that knowledge of infringement was a requirement for induced infringement liability. Therefore, there could not be an infringement of an invalid patent without knowledge.
From the nine Justices that sat on the case, only Justice Breyer failed to give his opinion on the issues for determination.
Flowing from above, the Supreme Court declared that belief in patent validity could not be a valid defence to an induced infringement claim. The Supreme Court expressly relied on 35 USA section 271 (b) in giving its decision.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)12/3/2021 4:58:39 PM
TIGHT or TITEMore
B&B Hardware Inc (“The Petitioner”) sells fasteners used in aerospace. The Petitioner registered with the trademark- ‘SEALTIGHT’ in 1993. On the other hand, Hargis Industries (“The Respondent”) sells self-drilling screws used in the construction industry. In 1996, the Respondent tried to register its trademark, ‘SEALTITE’, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The Petitioner opposed the registration and sued the Respondent for infringement, claiming SEALTITE is too similar to its trademark, SEALTIGHT, thus, capable of confusing customers.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) heard the case, determined that there was confusion between the two marks, and denied the Respondent’s application.
The Respondent later brought an infringement suit before a District Court. The Petitioner argued that the Respondent was precluded from contesting the likelihood of confusion decided by TTAB. The District Court disagreed and held that TTAB was not an Article III court. As a result, it needed not to give deference to TTAB’s decision.
The District Court refused to admit the decision of TTAB into evidence. Therefore, the jury found in favour of the Respondent. The Petitioner appealed the decision before the United States Court of Appeals (the “Eighth Circuit”). The Eighth Circuit affirmed and upheld the decision of the District Court. The affirmation was by using a likelihood of confusion test slightly different from that of TTAB. The Petitioner further appealed to the Supreme Court.
At the Supreme Court, the question for determination was whether a finding of the likelihood of confusion by TTAB could be re-litigated. Out of 9 Justices, 7 gave the majority opinion, while 2 dissented.
The Supreme Court held that preclusion often applied where a court or administrative agency has a single issue for determination. Therefore, parties must have had adequate opportunity to litigate the issue of facts. Also, the administrative agency must determine the issue properly and in a judicial capacity.
Unless the law or Congress stated otherwise, re-litigation stood precluded. The Supreme Court noted that TTAB’s decision met the standards of trademark preclusion. As a result, the issue ought not to be re-litigated at the District Court. Justice Ginsburg concurred entirely to this decision.
The Supreme Court found that although TTAB could determine only trademark registration issues. Nevertheless, the likelihood of confusion standards for registration and infringement were the same.
The Supreme Court also found that although parties could seek judicial review of agencies’ decisions, nothing in the federal trademark laws prohibited issue preclusion.
Justice Thomas gave the leading dissenting opinion. He opined that administrative agencies’ decisions should not qualify for issue preclusion. He said Congress authorized TTAB to determine rights from trademark registration only. TTAB did not have the power to decide questions of infringement.
Justice Thomas held that Congress allowed provision for judicial review. Thus, issue preclusion was not the intendment of the lawmakers.
The Supreme Court submitted that there was no reason to doubt TTAB’s procedures as the procedure involved fairness, quality, and extensiveness.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)11/19/2021 4:57:10 PM
TAG Your It!More
In 1990, two professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) began research techniques on stable internet services for high traffics. The two professors founded Akamai Technologies, Inc. to capitalize on their research.
Akamai Technologies, Inc. (“The Petitioner”) had a patent license on methods of delivering electronic data using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). The patent covered methods for storing and tagging content on servers to facilitate access for users.
Limelight Networks (“The Respondent”) operated a CDN that used tagged content. However, it did not perform tagging operations; instead, it gave users a guide on tagging content.
The Petitioner sued the Respondent at the District Court for patent infringement under the United States laws. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury awarded the Petitioner 41.5 million dollars’ verdict.
After a series of post-trial motions, the District Court later ruled in favor of the Respondent. It held that although the Petitioner’s patent was violated. However, much of the violation occurred when the Respondent’s customers took steps to infringe the patent. Thus, even though the Petitioner allowed it, it could not control the actions of its customers.
The Petitioner appealed to the United States Court of Appeal (the “Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit affirmed and held that the Respondent did not infringe on the Petitioner’s patent personally. On review en banc, the Federal Circuit relied on the provisions of 15 USC section 271 (b). Accordingly, it held that the Respondent was liable for inducing patent infringement, as it encouraged its customers’ involvement.
On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit’s decision was reversed. It was held that the Respondent could not possibly be liable for inducing patent infringement.
The Supreme Court stated that there was no direct infringement under section 271(a) USC. Hence, there was no inducement to infringe by the Respondent under section 271(b). The Supreme Court reasoned that section 271(f)1 of USC separated inducement liability from direct one. The Supreme Court stated that there would be an inducement to infringe only where a person supplies the components of a patent invention, based on the section. The purpose of which must be to actively induce conducts outside the United States.
All the Petitioner’s arguments before the Supreme Court were discountenanced. The first argument was that the Respondent should be held liable for the acts of its users or jointly. The second argument was rejected because it was based on aiding and abetting, recognized only in criminal law and not patent law.
The last argument of the Petitioner was rejected because there could not be inducement without direct infringement. Therefore, the fact that a person divided the steps of patent infringement with third parties could not justify inducement liability.
The Supreme Court’s decision, in this case, stands as the law in the United States. Which means, for there to be a joint infringement, there must be cooperation between entities. Thus, since there was no cooperation between the Respondent and its users, the Respondent could not be jointly or directly liable for patent infringement or inducement.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)11/12/2021 4:56:57 PM
Teva Pharmaceuticals and its related firms (“The Petitioners” or “Teva”) are the owners of a patent on a manufacturing method for a drug known as Copaxone, used for treating multiple sclerosis (the “drug”).
Sandoz Inc. and other firms (“The Respondents”) submitted Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs) on the drug. The application was brought before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to produce and market generic versions of Copaxone.
On getting to know about the Respondents’ application, Teva sued the Respondents for patent infringement. Teva relied on two claims before the District Court.
At the District Court, Teva’s claims centered on using different molecular weight methods to distinguish between polymer samples. However, the District Court failed to distinguish between the different methods. Instead, it held that the claims were not indefinite, as argued by the Respondents. Hence, it held that the patent claims were sufficiently definite and valid, amounting to patent infringement by the Respondents.
Dissatisfied, the Respondents appealed to the United States Court of Appeals ( the “Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit found the molecule weight term indefinite and the patent invalid. In arriving at its decision, the Federal Circuit reviewed all aspects of the claim construction issue de novo, including the determination of subsidiary facts.
Teva sought further review before the Supreme Court. One of the issues for determination at the Supreme Court was whether a District Court’s finding of fact on a patent claim could be reviewed de novo for the first time as done by the Federal Circuit.
In a majority opinion of 7-2 led by Justice Breyer, it was held that a federal appellate court could only overturn the lower court’s finding of fact if it is clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court majority relied on the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6).
It was further held that the construction of a patent claim is essentially a factual determination. Thus, it should be governed by well-established standards as laid down in the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court also found that the Federal Circuit did not accept Teva expert’s explanation while reviewing de novo. Thus, it also failed to see whether the District Court’s decision was clearly erroneous.
On this note, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Federal Circuit with an order that the Federal Circuit should apply the correct legal standards. It also ordered that the proper legal measures be used to determine whether the claims were definite or otherwise.
In the leading dissenting opinion, the Supreme Court held that patent construction claims were a question of law. Thus, the Federal Rule of Procedure was not the controlling standard. Instead, the rule of procedure applied only to questions of fact. As a result, he held that the Federal Circuit was right to have used the de novo standard of review.
Justice Thomas, who wrote the leading dissenting opinion, explained further that a District Court’s determination was factual if it dealt with the historical fact of the case. It was legal if it had applicable rules.
As in this case, patent construction claims should be considered a question of law.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)11/5/2021 4:40:14 PM
In August 2010, the United States Army (“the Army”) had a license agreement with Authentic Apparel Group LLC (“Authentic”). Authentic was a brand management company that sold licensed merchandise.
The Army granted Authentic a non-exclusive license to manufacture and sell clothing bearing its trademarks in exchange for royalties to the Army. Under the License Agreement (the “Agreement”), the Army had absolute discretion to approve any product and materials having its trademarks or not. The Agreement also contained an exculpatory clause excluding the Army from liability if the Army exercises its discretion to deny approval of Authentic’s products and marketing materials.
Between 2011 and 2014, Authentic had sent up to 500 (five hundred) products for approval. The Army disapproved only 41 requests. However, in 2014, after frequent delays and instances of unpaid royalties, Authentic sent a notice to the Army that it would stop paying royalties.
In 2015, the Army terminated the Agreement. As a result, authentic and Ron Reuben (“Reuben”) filed a suit against the Army. Reuben was the chairman of the Authentic Apparel Group.
The suit was brought before the United States Court of Federal Claims ( the “claims court”). The action bothered on breach of contract by the Army. Authentic claimed denial of their right to goodwill on the Army’s trademark and refusal to permit them to advertise their contribution to the Army’s recreation activities. They also claimed the Army’s denial of using its trademark for advertising. Particularly the advertisement featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The claims court dismissed Reuben as a party of interest as it found that he lacked the standing to institute an action against the United States on contract claims since he is not in privity of contract with the government. The claims court also granted a summary judgment in favor of the Army. It found that the Army abided by the trademark licensing agreement, and the Army’s discretion of approval was in tandem with the Trademarks law.
Authentic appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit ( the “Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit upheld the dismissal of Reuben as a party holding that Reuben was undisputedly not in privity of contract with the United States as he was not a party to the Agreement. He was also unable to show convincing proof that the Agreement had a specific advantage that was intended to flow directly to him.
The Federal Circuit also upheld the grant of summary judgment by the claims court on the ground that Authentic failed to prove the Army’s liability. Instead, Authentic to have benefited from the goodwill associated with the Army’s trademarks.
It was further found that the Army ensured quality control in the exercise of its discretion. Hence, the Army had fulfilled its duty not to grant a naked trademark license.
The Federal Circuit was quick to take notice of Authentic’s argument, which was on the academic nature of trademark’s purposes. However, the argument was disposed of because it was based on the outdated source theory of trademark law. Overall, the Federal Circuit found Authentic’s arguments for dismissing the claim’s court decision unpersuasive and rightly upheld same.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)10/29/2021 4:49:28 PM
In 1915, Girl Scouts of the United States of America (“GSUSA”) was incorporated as a non-profit organization. It recruited and offered programs for girls in grades K-12. GSUSA licensed the “GIRL SCOUTS” among other trademarks. Therefore, it had exclusive use of “the GIRL SCOUTS” and related brands. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (the “PTO”) recognized the protections afforded GSUSA, according to the 36 United States Code.
Boy Scouts of America (“the defendant” or “BSA) was a national organization for youth development. BSA carried out its activities and programs under the trademark “BOY SCOUTS” because its core programs targeted boys. Although the defendant had provided limited programs for girls on previous occasions, it never offered any girls’ programming under the trademarks “SCOUT” or “SCOUTING”.
In 2017, the defendant officially announced it would allow girls in their programs. In addition, an advertisement campaign promoting co-ed scouting “Scout Me In” was unveiled a year later. The following year, the defendant made another important announcement. Afterward, BSA changed its scouting program to “Scouts BSA” in 2019 to include girls’ programs.
BSA applied for federal trademark registration before the PTO to obtain protection for its rebranding efforts on “SCOUTS BSA” and “SCOUT LIFE”. However, GSUSA opposed the application before the PTO. Therefore, a hearing was brought before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
During the pendency of the hearing, GSUSA instituted an action against BSA at the United States District Court, alleging the use of “Scouting” and “Scouts” by BSA as trademark infringement, among other things.
GSUSA claimed the rebrand by BSA violated its trademark rights. It also claimed that there had been marginalization and confusion among families, schools, and communities due to the rebrand. Therefore, a joint motion under Trademark Rule 2.117(a) for suspension of proceeding was requested by both parties. The motion was granted.
Before the District Court, BSA contended that the lawsuit was an effort by GSUSA to restrain competition. It also claimed that the pressure from GSUSA was an attempt to preserve its perceived monopoly over girl scouting. Counsel to GSUSA responded that GSUSA was not trying to restrain BSA from offering services to girls. However, GSUSA only wanted to stop BSA from confusing the innocent public.
The presiding Judge, Hellerstein, expressed concern that GSUSA cannot prevent BSA from becoming co-ed. However, he continued that GSUSA’s effort was only to control language to avoid another competitor. Based on the temporary finding of the Judge, he said he planned to rule in favor of BSA. However, the ruling as stated would be premised on the motion for summary judgment brought by BSA.
The Judge said he found that BSA can use the general word “Scouting” to describe its co-ed programs as it would not cause any confusion with the “Girl Scouts”.
It is noteworthy that the suit brought before the District Court was to challenge BSA’s removal of gender-specific language. GSUSA said such an act violated the congregational charter that governed the organizations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)10/22/2021 4:10:03 PM
Free Speech and TrademarksMore
In 1990, Erik Brunetti (“the respondent or “Brunetti”), an artist and entrepreneur, founded and owned a clothing brand. The brand had a trademark “FUCT”, which stands for “Friends U Can’t Trust”.
In 2011, Brunetti sought an official registration for the trademark. However, the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) examined the application and determined the proposed brand as “a total vulgar” on the ground that it had “decisively negative sexual connotations”. Therefore, it constituted an “immoral or scandalous matter”. The PTO relied on section 1052(a) of the Lanham Act. Notably, section 2(a) of the Act was considered. Thus, PTO refused to register the trademark.
Brunetti brought the decision before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”). The board also characterized the brand “FUCT” as offensive and vulgar because it related to “fuck”. Therefore, falling under the “immoral or scandalous” trademarks prohibited by the Lanham Act.
Dissatisfied, Brunetti appealed to the US Court of Appeals (the “Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit overturned the board’s decision. The Federal Circuit’s decision was premised on the First Amendment Rights (“FAR”), as preventing Brunetti from using “FUCT” violated his FAR.
Dissatisfied, Iancu appealed to the US Supreme Court (the “Supreme Court”)on behalf of PTO. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal on January 4, 2019. The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision by six majority opinions and three dissents.
The Supreme Court held that the Lanham Act violated the FAR. Specifically, provisions on the prohibition of the immoral or scandalous trademark. In penning the majority opinion, Justice Kagan relied on the FAR. She held that “immoral or scandalous” was substantially overboard. She further stated that there are many great immoral and scandalous ideas in the world. Therefore, the Lanham Act covering them violated the FAR.
Concurring with the majority opinion, Justice Alito held that the Lanham Act was discriminatory as it violated the free speech clause in the FAR. He further stated that the Lanham Act discriminated against subjects based on viewpoint. Therefore, it could not be fixed without rewriting the statute.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer concurred and dissented in part. However, the Chief Justice dissented on the free speech clause in the FAR. Instead, he said there was merely a denial of certain benefits from the refusal of the trademark’s registration. Therefore, it could not fall under the free speech clause as there was no speech restricted or anyone punished.
Justice Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, considered the degree of harm to the first amendment interest. According to him, there was not much harm to FAR due to the bar of vulgar trademarks. Also, it would result in the use of words of other trademarks’ owners.
On the strength of the majority opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision, holding that the denial of trademarks under the Lanham Act was unconstitutionally discriminatory.
Therefore, such bar on immoral or scandalous matters in the Act contradicted the FAR. Moreover, the prohibition was considered to be independently and particularly offensive.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)10/15/2021 4:55:32 PM
DNA of PatentsMore
In 1996, Doctors Dennis Lo and James Waincoats discovered cell-free fetal DNA, particularly in maternal plasma and serum. Previous researchers had earlier discarded this portion of maternal blood samples as a waste. They applied and obtained a patent in 2001. The patent claimed paternity inherited in pregnancy.
In 2015, the United States’ court held the patent to be invalid in law as it was a matter that was naturally occurring under 35 USC 101. However, the present case involved two patents that were unrelated to those that the court invalidated.
The claim had priority in the European patent. The application of which was filed in 2003. The patents were labelled “751” and “931”. However, unlike the earlier patent, both were related. They also had essentially identical specifications. The patents also brought problems subject to further research.
They showed that pregnant woman extracellular fetal DNA were present in maternal circulation. Thus, it could be detected in maternal circulation.
Illumina instituted an action at the northern district court of California against Ariosa Diagnostics and two other companies, alleging infringement on their patents “751” and “931”. One of the defendants applied for summary judgment, alleging that the patents were invalid under 35 USC 101. The application was granted as the district court invalidated the patents. Therefore, the claims were said to be an ineligible subject matter.
The judgement was held in favour of the defendants. This led to an appeal before the US Court of Appeal of the Federal Circuit of the Court of Appeal reversed the district court by a panel majority. Although, a panel member dissented. The court further held the patents eligible.
One of the defendants subsequently filed a combined petition before the Federal Circuit for rehearing before the panel and en banc. In 2020, panel rehearing was granted but the full court denied rehearing en banc.
In the original opinion, Illumina’s patents were held as specific process steps. Therefore, not a natural phenomenon that was invalid. However, in the modified opinion, the panel’s majority decision remained the same but emphasized parameters indicating non-natural phenomenal.
Roche’s argument was rejected in the original and modified opinions as it did not fall under the Ariosa case of 2015. The panel’s majority stated that the claims were not patent-ineligible concepts because analyzing fetal chromosomal aberrations were not a natural phenomenon.
Unlike Judge Lourie and Moore, Judge Reyna dissented in both original and modified opinions.
In his original opinion, he said there were only mere changes to the natural phenomenon. Thus, the claims were patent ineligible.
In his modified opinion, he added that the process did not alter the natural phenomenon. He proceeded that the processes involved were naturally occurring. Judge Reyna criticized the panel’s majority as they failed to address the claimed advanced inquiry subsequently.
The full court denied hearing en banc subsequent to the issuance of the panel rehearing. Quite strangely, none of the Judges stated reasons for denial of hearing en banc.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)10/8/2021 5:02:03 PM
In 1993, Rose Stores, Inc. started using the trademark “The Backyard” on its products. The brand was registered in 1994. It applied to retail store services, lawn and garden equipment.
Variety Stores (“Variety”) purchased Rose’s business. After the purchase, the trademark was maintained. It was further extended to grills and grilling equipment. The company used different variations such as; “Backyard” and “Backyard BBQ”.
In 2010, Walmart Stores sought to adopt these variations. As a result, Walmart filed its trademark application before the US Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in 2011. Variety opposed before the Trademark Tribunal and Appeal Board (the “Tribunal”).
In 2014, Variety Stores instituted an action before the District Court of California (the “court”) after being granted a stay of proceedings at the Tribunal.
Before the court, Variety claimed trademark infringement, unfair and deceptive trade practices. The claims were brought under the Lanham Act and other state laws. As a result, the company applied for summary judgement.
The court partially granted the summary judgement. First, the jury stated that Walmart had willfully infringed Variety’s trademark and then refrained from using the “Backyard Grill” brand because it created confusion with Variety’s trademark.
Walmart followed the court’s decision. First, it stopped using the “Backyard Grill” trademark on its new product and then filed an interlocutory appeal before the Fourth Circuit of the US Court of Appeal (the “Fourth Circuit”).
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment based on a misapprehension of the summary judgment standard. In October 2018, proceedings continued before the court. Walmart’s motion for trademark infringement and willfulness was denied.
The court found Walmart guilty of infringement of Variety’s trademark. However, it denied Variety’s contention of limited voir dire. Variety was then awarded 95.5 million dollars in damages.
Walmart appealed, and Variety cross-appealed. The Fourth Circuit considered if there was actual infringement and held Variety’s trademark to be commercially weak.
The basis was that “Backyard” is widely used in the grilling industry. Accordingly, the court’s partial judgement was reassessed. It was held there was a genuine dispute to warrant the summary judgement as Variety’s trademark has commercial strength.
The Fourth Circuit also found that there was a likelihood of confusion because both marks had certain similarities.
Both had a similar linguistic design and also had descriptive words following “Backyard”. The trademarks also had similar colour schemes. Therefore, a reasonable jury would find this favorable to Variety’s Store.
The intention of Walmart as regards to the infringement was also considered. Knowledge of the earlier Variety’s trademark was not considered alone. Walmart’s bad faith was also inferred from its failure to carry out further investigations. Thus, the trial court’s decision was affirmed.
Another issue before the Fourth Circuit was that of willfulness. Walmart argued that the district court erred regarding this. However, the district court’s denial of Walmart’s motion was affirmed because Walmart failed to further investigate Variety’s trademark.
The appeal before the Fourth Circuit had previously been brought on different issues. However, in the previous instances, the decision of the district court was vacated. But this time, it was affirmed.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)10/1/2021 4:58:25 PM
Take a seat and read about seatsMore
Trade dress is protection available for specific source-identifying products. Therefore, it falls among rights that enjoy trademark protection. However, this right is only limited to non-functional products to prevent monopolizing functional designs by sellers. Thus, patents are used for functional designs rather than trademarks. Utilitarian functionality and aesthetic functionality are the tests of functionality.
The Blumenthal case identified the differences between these functionalities. It also provided the necessary guidance for future trademark protection.
In 2013, Herman Miller (“HM”) sued Blumenthal Distribution (“OSP”) for infringement of their trademark. The basis of the suit was on the unauthorized replica of its Eames and Aeron chairs.
HM claimed trade dress rights on the overall appearances of the chairs. This came after HM sent a cease and desist letter to OSP. The district court held that there was an infringement on the registered and unregistered Eames chair. It resulted in an injunction against OSP for willingly infringing and diluting those rights.
The court held OSP liable for infringing the trade dress rights and awarded over 6 million dollars against OSP in damages. The trial jury found the Aeron trade dress rights to be functional. Thus, invalid and unprotected by the US Trademark Registration. This led to filing an appeal by both parties against the decision of the district court. The appeal was brought before the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals (the “Ninth Circuit”).
The Ninth Circuit first distinguished between the utilitarian functionality and the aesthetic functionality. In distinguishing between the two functionalities, the Ninth Circuit stated that the former deals with how the product works while the latter is on how it looks.
The court further stated that functionality would estop a product design from being protected by the trademark law. Thus, it is only when it is non-functional that it can be protected.
With regards to the Eames chair, the trial court’s decision was upheld. This is because it is only where a product appearance is functional that it would not be protected. Abundant evidence brought by HM showed the product to be a non-functional design. Thus, there was trademark infringement on the Eames chair.
However, on the Aeron chair, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision and remanded for a new trial on the ground that the district judge erred in its instruction to the jury. The instruction was that a design product is functional if there is the actual benefit for the consumer after purchase. The court stated thus to be contrary to existing case laws.
The Ninth Circuit then held that this should not be a basis of proof that a product has a functional design feature. Thus, the instruction failed the utilitarian functionality test.
The decision of the Ninth Circuit in this case clarified the principle of functionality. Thus, it is easier to determine in trademark where the principle is applicable.
Another issue raised in court was that of fame on the cause of action for dilution. The court reversed this issue against HM. Although, there was a majority decision in favor of HM, Judge Friedland dissented on the claim for dilution and opined there was sufficient evidence in favor of HM.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)9/24/2021 5:15:50 PM
Let's take a ride on the Segway!More
In May 2016, Segway INC filed a complaint before the International Trade Commission (“ITC” or “the Commission”) against Swagway LLC. They alleged violations and infringement of six patents and two trademarks’ rights. Segway INC.’s contention was about Swagway’s self-balancing hoverboard products. Particularly, SWAGWAY X1, X2 and SWAGTRON T1, T3 infringing Segway’s trademarks.
On 16 August 2016, Segway filed another complaint before the commission against additional respondents. Both complaints were consolidated and assigned to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Thus, only two patents and trademarks infringement remained when the complaint reached the ALJ.
In March 2017, Swagway moved a motion for partial termination due to a proposed consent order.
In the ALJ’s decision, the respondents were found not to have infringed on the patents. Swagway was found only to have infringed on Segway’s trademark. That is the trademark on SWAGWAY X1 and X2, excluding SWAGTRON T1 and T3. The ALJ further held that any pending motion not adjudicated was denied. Thus, Swagway’s consent order motion got rejected.
Nevertheless, the ITC modified, reviewed and adopted the ALJ’s final decision. Although, the commission did not comment on the denial of the motion. Dissatisfied, Swagway appealed to the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (the “Federal Circuit”).
Their significant ground of appeal was that the commission placed the wrong weight on the actual confusion. If not, it would have arrived at a different decision. Swagway brought two arguments before the Federal Circuit. The first was that ITC erred when it decided there was an infringement of the trademark. The second was that the failure to enter the proposed consent order was incorrect.
Swagway argued that the Federal Circuit should give no preclusive effect to the commission’s trademark decision as it would affect a pending case before a district court. Then, they would withdraw their argument concerning the consent order motion.
On 9 May 2017, the Federal Circuit affirmed ALJ’s findings. However, it gave no preclusive effect to the final decision of the commission. As a result, Segway filed petitions for the rehearing of the case. The Federal Circuit granted the petitions.
On 14 August 2019, the Federal Circuit reviewed and reissued its previous decision after rehearing the suit. The Federal Circuit held that the commission did not err on the weight placed on the confusion factor. Therefore, it upheld the final decision of the commission on trademark infringement.
The Federal Circuit vacated its earlier position that the ITC’s decision would have no preclusive effect. The premise of its decision was on section 337 of the Tariff Act, 1990.
Swagway’s consent order motion was also denied in the rehearing. Thus, Swagway was not entitled to any relief concerning the denial.
The consent order motion sought by Swagway was the pre-trial hearing of trademark issues, placing reliance on the Administrative Procedure Act. The Federal Circuit affirmed the commission’s decision on this because the motion was brought too late.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)9/17/2021 4:57:53 PM
An Apple off the Apple TreeMore
Apple Corps Limited and Subafilm's Limited collectively owned trademarks for popular English rock band The Beatles. In their lawsuit, Apple Corps Limited claimed that the defendants Lockalita.com infringed on their trademarks by selling Beatles merchandise, which contained "Beatles" logos and "Yellow Submarine" imagery.
The lawsuit named nearly eighty different entities. It claimed that these sellers were counterfeiting, infringing, promoting items that consumer's believed were authentic, unfairly competing, and breaking joint trademark infringement. They were doing this by selling unauthorized Beatles merchandise.
The 77 entities that sold Beatles merchandise on Lockalita.com, however, never responded to the lawsuit. Because they failed to respond, Apple Corps asked for the court to provide a final judgment while also limiting the seller's actions in the future. Providing damages for the profit, Apple lost due to the counterfeit goods.
Apple Corps had several demands for the defendants that never appeared in court, including:
- For Lockalita.com to stop producing and selling Beatles merchandise that infringed on Apple Corp's trademarks.
- That the court cancel or transfer the domain name Lockalita.com to Apple Corps.
- For the listings and images containing trademark infringing property to be removed from the website.
- That Lockalita.com surrender the infringing goods to Apple Corps.
- To receive statutory damages, which would pay for the loss of profits Apple incurred for Lockalita infringing on the trademarks and counterfeiting the items.
In return, the district court accepted all of Apple Corp's requests. This ruling came under the condition that they could prove that they held trademarks to the Beatles' property and that Lockalita had infringed on those rights.
As a result, Apple Corps was able to demonstrate the following points and win the case:
- That they suffered injury that couldn't be repaired by actions from Lockalita.com.
- That the law had no remedy for the actions taken by Lockalita.com which negatively impacted Apple Corps.
- Because of the actions of Lockalita.com, Apple Corps needed an appropriate solution from the court.
- And finally, that preventing Lockalita.com from selling the infringing property would benefit the public, who may have thought they were purchasing authentic Beatles merchandise.
The court found that Apple Corps' arguments showed that the actions of Lockalita.com could confuse the general public and consumers. They also felt that a monetary award would not remedy the total damage Lockalita.com caused to Apple Corp's reputation and goodwill. Because the court believed that Apple Coups would continue losing sales and experience a loss of reputation, Lockalita.com was not allowed to continue its actions.
In addition to all the actions taken by the court to prevent Lockalita.com from continuing to infringe on Apple Corp's trademarks, they also provided a monetary award to Apple. The Lanham Act allows the court to award damages up to $2,000,000 per counterfeit mark whenever someone willingly counterfeits products.
Even though Lockalita and the 77 defendants never responded to the suit, the court felt it could award statutory damages without an evidentiary hearing based on Apple Corp's evidence. As a result, the court awarded damages of $1 million against each defendant, therefore bringing this case to a close.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)9/10/2021 4:59:08 PM
VROOM VROOM VROOMMore
Technology has been a significant part of our lives for as long as we can remember. Most people don't realize how much technology is involved in many aspects of their lives; from the clothes they wear to the cars they drive. One aspect of life that is affected by technology is patent law. In this blog post, we will look at a Supreme Court case called KSR International Co. v Teleflex Inc., which explains what it means to have an idea and protect it with patents or copyrights.
KSR International Co. v Teleflex Inc. is a case involving when a patent has been infringed. Teleflex had multiple patents on adjustable pedals, a form of car control that causes a car to accelerate. In a lawsuit against KSR, Teleflex made claims that several KSR products and patents infringed on Teleflex's vehicle control patents.
In this case, KSR International cited that when they obtained their patent, it was for an "integral dual-diaphragm check valve." The invention converts pressure into forwarding movement when someone presses on the vehicle pedal in layman's terms. KSR also held that Teleflex had violated their patent by making and selling parts for vehicles that contained infringing designs (products whose main objective is to repair or maintain vehicle roadworthiness).
Teleflex responded, saying that KSR International did not disclose enough information about the dual diaphragm check valve, so they could not infringe on any patents. They also claimed that KSR's device was not the same as described in the patent and therefore did not infringe on it.
The district court sided with KSR, but the Court of Appeals reversed their decision and ruled in Teleflex's favor because there were several differences between how each company designed its pedals. Essentially, KSR argued that the decision to connect a pedal to an electronic throttle was so evident that the combination of elements could not be patented.
The decision from the Court of Appeals angered KSR International who said that even though they had made changes to improve previous designs, every change still fell under the scope of protection given by a patent. After this ruling, both companies appealed to higher courts about whether they violated claims by one another.
In a unanimous opinion from the Supreme Court, KSR was correct that Teleflex's patents would constrict the use of transparent acceleration processes in a vehicle.
In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling from the Federal Circuit that said Teleflex's patent application was ineligible for patent protection because it could not be both "substantially new" and "useful." The Supreme Court agreed that the decision to connect a pedal to an electronic throttle was too obvious to patent.
The court found insufficient distinctions in what the invention did to qualify as substantially new or valuable, and therefore Teleflex lost the court case. It just shows that some things cannot be patented, even if a company tries to protect its inventions or solutions.Top of Form
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)9/3/2021 4:56:24 PM
On Copyrights of Annotations.More
The state of Georgia has an official code known as the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA). This single code is the state’s only code under its authority. The OCGA contains annotations, case notions, commentaries, excerpt from law review articles, opinions of state bars among others. Georgia law states that annotations in the OCGA do not have the force of law.
The OCGA was sent to Mathew Bender & Co., an operating division of LexisNexis Group, a private legal research company (the “Company”). An agreement was reached between the company and the state of Georgia. The agreement entails that the company should have exclusive copyrights to sell, distribute and publish the OCGA. The limitation to the rights was that only unofficial copies would be published online. This online copy would be available to the public at a limited price.
In 2013, Public resources organization (a non-profit organization), purchased and digitized a copy of the OCGA. The major aim of the organization is to promote public access to government records and legal materials. As agreed by LexisNexis and the state of Georgia, some numbers of unannotated copies of the OCGA were to be made available to some states and public institutions. Thus, Public resources uploaded and made the OCGA available to the public.
In 2015, the state of Georgia filed a suit against Public resources claiming direct and indirect infringement of copyrights. This was after several cease-and-desist letters had been sent to Public resources. On the contrary, Public resources counterclaimed that the document was already available in the public domain. The state of Georgia was represented by its commission that revised the code.
At the Federal District Court, Public resources admitted to the dissemination and publication of the OCGA. But they contested the claim that the state of Georgia's copyrights is enforceable on the code. The Court ruled in favour of the commission. This led to an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeal. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court. This was because the constructive authorship of the code belonged to the public.
On further appeal to the US Supreme Court, the commission was found as the statutory author of the OCGA. This was despite that LexisNexis subsequently authored the annotations in accordance with the Copyrights Act’s provision concerning authorship in the case of work-for-hire agreements.
The argument made by the state of Georgia that the annotations lacked the force of law, was non-binding and non-authoritative for copyrights protection was upheld by the Apex court.
The reasoning of the Supreme Court is clear. That is, the commission was an arm, created, funded and staffed by Georgia's legislature. Thus, materials produced by the commission is deemed public material. Therefore, could not be copyrighted by any individual if produced by the commission.
The doctrine of government edicts was applied. That is, documents from the Official duties of public officials could not be copyrighted. It has the force of law. This is unlike other documents that could be copyrighted when produced.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)8/27/2021 4:55:40 PM
Rejecting Trademark ContractsMore
Tempnology LLC owned intellectual properties over made specialized products. These products included socks, headbands, towels, and other related accessories. These products were particularly designed to adapt to low temperatures. Even, when used during exercise. Tempnology had a significant intellectual portfolio. This portfolio included patents and trademarks. It consisted of two issued and four pending patents, research studies and series of pending and already registered trademarks. Sometime in November 2012, a company named Mission Products Limited (petitioner) entered a co-marketing and distribution with Tempnology. The agreement involves three core categories of rights.
First, Mission Product Limited distribution rights over certain manufactured products of Tempnology within the United States. The respondent was also granted non-exclusive rights over Tempnology's intellectual property. Second, Mission Products Limited granted a license to use Tempnology’s logo and trademark to sell the products. Although, either party were permitted to end the agreement without cause. In 2014, Mission (petitioner) went into Wind-Down Period. Particularly on July 22 of the same year, the respondent issued an immediate notice of termination. The basis for the cause was that the petitioner hired the respondent's former president, which was contrary to the agreement's restrictive covenant.
A suit ensued in line with the terms of the agreement between the parties. The cause was brought before an arbitrator. The arbitrator gave an arbitral award. In the arbitral award, it was determined that Tempnology had waived any grounds under the restrictive covenant. As a result, they were prevented from immediate termination of the agreement. Therefore, Mission Products Limited’s rights of distribution and trademark over Tempnology’s intellectual property subsisted. Also, Mission could retain the trademark license until the end of the Wind-Down Period. Tempnology proceeded to the Bankruptcy Court. At the court, they relied on section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code to exercise their rejection of trademark licence. Tempnology had victory. At the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, the decisions of the Bankruptcy Court were reversed. Thus, leading to an appeal by Tempnology before the Court of Appeals. The panel's decisions were rejected on appeal. The grounds for rejection were that a special feature of trademark law is against licensee withholding trademark's right after rejection.
Afterwards was the decision of 8-1 by the Supreme Court in 2019. The decision marked a victory for the trademark licensee.
This decision cements a licensee's trademark even after the rejection of the agreement. Mission Products Holdings had to hold the trademark licence because a debtor’s (Tempnology) rejection of licensing trademark is a breach of section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code.
The case of Mission Products Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC is relevant today. It redefined the rights of licensees. This is with regards to retaining trademark's rights in bankruptcy cases. Now, negotiating leverage of licenses in bankruptcy are now enhanced. Thus, difficult for debtors to reorganize. According to the Supreme Court, the rejection of executory contracts has changed. Under Bankruptcy Law, it will not constitute termination of the contracts.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)8/20/2021 4:42:46 PM
It's a Bratz Girl, in a Barbie World (Pt. 2)More
In part one of It's a Bratz Girl, in a Barbie World, we discussed Mattel v. MGA Entertainment, a fascinating case involving the businesses that own rights to the American culture icon Barbie and the body positive multicultural Bratz.
We left off at the first district court case between these two titans, with Mattel winning the entire Bratz doll trademark portfolio from MGA. However, when the case went to the court of appeals, Mattel was in for a real surprise. There are two reasons why.
First, the jury did not believe that MGA infringed on Mattel's rights by producing Bratz dolls. Second, the jury found that Mattel was the party giving away MGA's trade secrets.
But how exactly did we go from one extreme, where Mattel won trademarks from MGA to Mattel now being found to have infringed on MGA's trade secrets? Well, in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, MGA and Mattel argued several main points, including these three things:
- Whether Carter Bryant's Employee Confidential and Inventions Agreement required Bryant to share his "ideas" with Mattel.
- Whether Bryant's early Bratz doll sketches were like the first and subsequent Bratz doll generations that MGA sold, which would be copyright infringement.
- Whether MGA misappropriated trade secrets, it learned from Mattel.
After a debate from both Mattel and MGA, the Ninth Circuit felt that Mattel's work agreement with Bryant did not apply to ideas, and therefore Mattel did not claim the "idea" of Bratz dolls. Mattel did not dispute this claim.
When the Ninth Circuit used an intrinsic and extrinsic test to compare sketches with the Bratz dolls, they concluded that several things were unprotected by trademark law, such as a doll's high cheekbones, slim arms, and long legs.
However, they agreed that non-functional doll clothing, such as a specific doll accessory, is protectable. Similarly, the placement of elements, such as the shape and size, to express a unique style can infringe on copyright. The problem with the district court case was they the jury failed to recognize all the elements of Bryant's sketches which were unprotectable.
Therefore, the court also felt that only the first generation of Bratz dolls, like Bryant's sketches and early sculpts, was infringing copyright. Except for two, all other beauties from the second generation onward did not use any elements from Mattel's copyright.
The final issue was Mattel's claim in 2006, alleging that MGA stole its trade secrets, and a second claim later in 2010, where MGA also filed a suit that Mattel gave away its trade secrets. The court heard both arguments and decided that neither party had any claim because doll concepts and doll names cannot be trade secrets.
Overall, Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment is an interesting court case between trademark owners from two well-known brands. This dynamic case shows what occurs when jurors on district courts make mistakes that significantly impact a business. It also explains how to identify things that cannot be protected by trademark while reminding us to review our employee contract continually.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)8/13/2021 4:57:49 PM
Patent law typically provides protections for people who invent or discover new processes. However, the Court makes exceptions to this rule by providing exceptions for those who try and patent "laws of nature." One court case involving Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. explores the limits of patentable inventions and processes and has severe implications for pending and future Federal Circuit cases. Let's discuss what happened in this case.
The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, affiliated with a nonprofit academic medical center called the Mayo Clinic, operates a for-profit testing lab called Mayo Collaborative Services.
At the testing lab, Mayo Collaborative Services bought medical tests from Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. to help improve patient outcomes will administering medications.
Essentially, the treatment of autoimmune diseases requires the use of thiopurine drugs. Yet, there's a challenge with administering thiopurines. Every individual's body metabolizes this class of drugs differently. Therefore, safe, and effective administration of thiopurines requires doctors to run diagnostic tests to ensure patients are prescribed the correct dose. Too high of a dose leads to adverse side effects, while too low and the thiopurines become ineffective at treating disease.
Scientists at the Hospital Sainte-Justine in Montreal were the first to discover the threshold of efficacy while treating some autoimmune diseases by testing a patient's blood. After making this discovery, these scientists filed a patent on methods that use the threshold level to determine the correct dosage for patients.
Prometheus Laboratories, a corporation owned by Nestlé, creates diagnostic testing kits and operates a testing lab to obtain information about a patient that helps diagnose and treat disease. They were the party to license two patents from the Hospital Sainte-Justine to build tests that help doctors discover the correct medication dosage.
Mayo Collaborative Services used diagnostic kits from Prometheus Laboratories until 2004. Afterward, Mayo created its diagnostic equipment, which it planned to operate within its testing lab, while also selling it to other medical centers. After announcing that Mayo would produce and sell their diagnostic kits to identify the proper dosage of thiopurines for fighting autoimmune disease, Prometheus sued Mayo for patent infringement.
The case went to District Court, the Federal Circuit Court twice, and finally, the Supreme Court. The District Court found that to use the test required three steps:
- A doctor must administer a thiopurine-containing drug to a patient.
- The medical professional performs a test to determine the metabolite levels in the patient's blood.
- From testing, the doctor determines whether there should be a change in the dosage of the thiopurine medications.
During the case, the third point became a point of dispute between both parties. Although Prometheus felt that the whole process was patentable, the Court decided otherwise, believing that the inventors were observing the relationship of a natural process rather than creating a new process itself. Therefore, Prometheus held patents to a "law of nature," which shouldn't be patent-eligible.
In the higher courts, there was much back and forth between both corporations about the earlier rulings. However, in 2012, there was a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court that supported the initial findings of the District Court. The Justice argued that companies could not patent a product that identifies the connection between naturally produced chemicals within the body and the efficacy of a medication.
This ruling brought support and opposition to the Supreme Court by those in the biotech industry, law schools, and medical associations. After one day of the verdict, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a memorandum that explained how to determine whether new patents were valid per the Supreme Court ruling.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)8/6/2021 4:39:04 PM
It's a Bratz Girl, in a Barbie WorldMore
Unless you've somehow been on a remote island for the last several decades, you're likely familiar with Barbie and Bratz dolls, two top-rated children's toys. Barbie is a Mattel brand that first appeared in 1959. Since then, it has become the most famous doll in the world by sales volume. But there was a time where Barbie felt threatened by the competition and nearly ended up with complete ownership of their rival's brand. Here's the fascinating case of Mattel v. MGA Entertainment.
Carter Bryant, an employee for Mattel, had an idea for a line of dolls. At the time, he was building Barbie Collectables. Barbie Collectables, unlike typical Barbie products in retail stores, were more like investments than toys. Individuals would add these items to their collections, rather than giving them as children's presents. In this department, Bryant spent his time designing fashions and hairstyles for high-end Barbie products.
Instead of going to Mattel with his ideas for a line of dolls, Bryant met with a couple of MGA Entertainment employees. After the initial pitch, Bryant had a meeting with Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment. During this meeting, Bryant discussed his ideas for what would eventually become Bratz dolls. He even brought preliminary sketches and a dummy with thrown-away Mattel Barbie parts. Many of the drawings eventually became popular first-generation Bratz dolls.
So, as you would expect after a successful product pitch, Bryant had a lot of work to do. He became a consultant for MGA on the same day he put in his two weeks' notice at Mattel. For several weeks Bryant worked with both companies, developing Bratz while also creating Barbie products. On the day that Bryant put in his two-week notice, Mattel executives were unaware of Bryant's involvement with MGA. But once Mattel became aware of Bryant's participation in the project, it led to several significant lawsuits.
There were several reasons why Mattel felt a reason to sue MGA Entertainment.
First, Bryant signed an employment agreement in 1999 that assigned his inventions to Mattel. His "inventions" could include discoveries, designs, improvements, even if they're unpatentable.
Second, Bryant's initial sketches involved two doll designs for Bratz and Jade. Mattel argued that since Bryant came up with these ideas during his tenure, he should have disclosed and assigned those works to Mattel. Instead, he went to MGA, who had no rightful ownership rights for Bryant's creative output and sold the ideas. Thus, Mattel believed that MGA was benefitting from stolen work.
Finally, as Bryant took sketches and sculpts to MGA during his pitches with employees and the CEO, Bratz dolls were infringing on Mattel's property.
The case between Mattel and MGA Entertainment began in district court, where a jury awarded Mattel $10 million in damages. Yet, that was only about 1% of the damages Mattel sought. But then, things got interesting.
After providing an award, the court also transferred Bratz's complete trademark portfolio to Mattel and prevented MGA from marketing or producing Bratz in the future.
However, the court of appeals had a very different outlook on the jury's findings. Instead of favoring Mattel like the previous court, the court of appeals reversed several decisions, which we'll discuss in Mattel v. MGA Entertainment part two.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)7/31/2021 3:21:56 AM
Ice Cream, You ScreamMore
The United States Supreme Court Case Dairy Queen v. Wood is relatively straightforward, even though the language in articles describing the issue is difficult to read. Let's break it down into simple to understand terms, which will also improve your legal understanding.
This case involved two parties in 1962. On one side is the fear of all milk cows, giant fast-food chain Dairy Queen. On the other is McCullough, a party that owns the trademark to the phrase "Dairy Queen" in Pennsylvania.
Dairy Queen, Inc. can afford to pay for exclusive rights to use their nationally recognized business name in the state. Its revenue from franchises in the area should well exceed the price to use the trademark. However, the corporation likely didn't realize how costly the deal would later become. But we're jumping ahead of ourselves. Let's discuss what happened next.
Dairy Queen entered a contract with McCullough, agreeing to pay $150,000 for the exclusive right to use the trademark "Dairy Queen" throughout Pennsylvania. However, after making this agreement, Dairy Queen, Inc. decided not to complete its contract.
Instead of sending payments on their agreed trademark licensing fee to McCullough, Dairy Queen stopped making payments. So, McCullough sent the corporation a letter that canceled their right to use the trademark in Pennsylvania.
It was at this time that the ice cream fast food retailer had a decision to make. The corporation could either try to resolve the contract, change their branding in the state of Pennsylvania, or ignore the issue until it led to legal consequences. But the problem was that Dairy Queen felt that an oral agreement both parties made in January 1955 modified their original contract, thus meaning that there was not a break of assurance on their behalf.
As you can guess, with a dispute between two parties on breach of contract, DQ didn't make any changes to the branding of their fast-food restaurants in the state. However, they also did not resolve the issue with McCullough. Instead, the corporation continued breaching the contract and ended up in the Federal District Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Here's what happened next.
In the trademark suit, McCullough sought three resolutions for the breach of contract.
- For Dairy Queen, Inc. to stop using the trademark in Pennsylvania permanently.
- An accounting that outlines how much money McCullough should receive from Dairy Queen, Inc. for using the trademark after a contract breach.
- For Dairy Queen, Inc. to give up their earnings from fast-food restaurants in the areas in which McCullough owns the trademark of the term "Dairy Queen."
Then, what happened had a significant impact on proceeding court cases. Dairy Queen, Inc. responded to this suit, requesting a trial by jury. The District Court did not approve this request. Next, the Court of Appeals denied a Dairy Queen, Inc. request to receive a trial by jury. Finally, the case made it to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had a different stance on the case than the two proceeding courts. Justice Hugo L. Black felt that Dairy Queen, Inc.'s request to receive trial by jury was appropriate. Because McCullough wanted damages, Dairy Queen, Inc. had a right to trial by jury. However, both courts deprived Dairy Queen of their seventh amendment right. Therefore, the case could not continue, as the legal process failed to provide Dairy Queen, Inc. rights in their court cases.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)7/23/2021 4:12:50 PM
If you enjoy breakfast foods, you're likely familiar with a popular cereal known as shredded wheat. In 2021, Kellogg's brands like Kashi, Special K, and Frosted Mini-Wheats all include some form of shredded wheat, whether coated with cinnamon, frosted with powdered sugar or plain to their cereal blends.
However, it wasn't always clear whether Kellogg's had a legal right to produce and sell shredded wheat. Let's discuss what happened during a court case in 1938, titled Kellogg Company v National Biscuit Company, where there was a dispute over none other than shredded wheat cereal.
In 1938, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard a case involving two cereal manufacturers. National Biscuit Company, which acquired the first commercially successful company to produce shredded wheat, argued that Kellogg Company was participating in unfair competition by manufacturing and selling shredded wheat.
National Biscuit Company felt that two of Kellogg's actions, specifically the use of the name shredded wheat and the shape of the cereal, made competition between the two companies unfair.
National Biscuit Company originally received their process for creating shredded wheat from Henry D. Perky, nicknamed the Shredded Wheat King, who invented the ready-to-eat cereal.
When Perky introduced the breakfast cereal in 1893, several companies began making and marketing this product. By 1901, the Natural Food Company had some commercial success selling shredded wheat and built a large production factory for the breakfast food at Niagara Falls, New York.
After Perky died in 1908, Natural Food Company changed its corporate name to The Shredded Wheat Company, which was later acquired in 1930 by National Biscuit Company.
However, before National Biscuit Company acquired The Shredded Wheat Company, Kellogg's had already been manufacturing breakfast cereals.
Kellogg Company was organized in 1905 and began producing a product like shredded wheat in 1912. Yet, in 1919, this product was discontinued until a complete return to manufacturing the product in 1927.
Although Kellogg's and the National Biscuit Company's shredded wheat products were similar, both companies used different manufacturing processes to produce the breakfast cereals. Yet, National Biscuit Company still felt that Kellogg's manufacturing of shredded wheat was still unfair and brought a suit to District Court in 1935.
Several court cases involving the Kellogg Company and the National Biscuit Company were determining whether Kellogg's had a right to manufacture and market shredded wheat cereal.
During the final Circuit Court of Appeals case on May 5. 1938, the court agreed that the name 'Shredded Wheat' is not a trade name and instead is a generic term known by the public that represents wheat biscuits in pillow-shaped form.
Additionally, the court agreed that Kellogg's and other cereal manufacturing companies could produce shredded wheat. Although the National Biscuit Company had a patent outlining the process for manufacturing shredded wheat, that patent expired on October 15, 1912, and became part of the public domain. Therefore, it was within Kellogg's legal right to manufacture this form of breakfast cereal while also having the right to call it by the name 'Shredded Wheat,' which is how consumers identify the product.
There are some cases where companies enter unfair competition by stealing their competitors' processes and product names. However, when the public knows a product by a generic term, and the manufacturing process for that product is in the public domain, it's within any company's right to produce that good. Without this ruling, we'd have fewer delicious cereals to enjoy for breakfast, and this case would forever be remembered as the cereal killer case. Unfortunately for National Biscuit Company, they justified manufacturing shredded wheat was legally sound and followed all competition laws.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)7/16/2021 5:00:45 PM
Buy me a ring, darlingMore
Tiffany & Co. v. Costco Wholesale Corp is a unique trademark infringement case with two surprising verdicts in a New York district court and the Second Circuit court of appeals. Let’s discuss this fascinating legal battle and explain the implications on trademark and counterfeit law. Here’s the case background and legal arguments that make this case unique.
Tiffany & Co. is a famous luxury jewelry company that specializes in silver and diamond products. The legal team that represents Tiffany’s felt that popular wholesale retailer Costco was infringing on the jewelry company’s trademark by posting point-of-sale signs.
Costco’s jewelry point-of-sale signs contained the word “Tiffany,” while promoting diamond rings, which Tiffany & Co. argued in district court was an act of infringement on their brand. Similarly, Tiffany & Co. convinced the courts that using a point-of-sale sign containing Tiffany’s trademarked name in connection with diamond rings for sale was also a form of counterfeiting.
As a result, Tiffany & Co. was granted over $21 million, which covered sales from Costco’s “Tiffany” diamond rings. However, matters became more complex when this case went to the court of appeals. Instead of agreeing with the validity of Tiffany’s award, the court decided that the district court’s decision was inappropriate, without hearing more about Costco’s question of whether they could in fact infringe and counterfeit goods that they believed were not likely to confuse with consumers.
While Costco was aware of Tiffany’s trademark for the name, company attorneys believed that the use of the word “Tiffany” in their point-of-sale signs was not done in a way that would infringe on the jewelry company. Instead, Costco argued one central point: the word “Tiffany” in the marketing material was not alluding to the famous jewelry brand. Instead, Tiffany referred to a diamond ring style, which is recognized by both consumers and sellers of diamond products.
Although Costco’s attorneys were unable to convince the district court that their use of the word “Tiffany” was fair because of the Lanham Act, they successfully argued their point in the court of appeals. During this time, they were able to convince the court that as the word Tiffany is widely known by those who are familiar with diamond ring cuts, there is no way that a consumer could confuse Costco’s offerings with Tiffany’s. The court agreed with Costco and undid the first ruling that Costco had to pay Tiffany & Co. $21 million, a massive win for the popular retailer.
In conclusion, this court case is fascinating because it covers one company trying to protect their copyright by filing a lawsuit against a company that was not infringing on its brand. Although the word Tiffany appeared in the marketing material, it referred to what typical consumers would understand as a specific diamond and ring set. This judgment will likely influence other brand owners and prevent them from bringing lawsuits against other companies or individuals that use trademarked words in a way that is fair use.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)7/7/2021 2:52:33 PM
Offensiveness vs Free Speech in Trademark LawMore
How much control should the government have over commercial speech? That’s precisely the question we’re answering today by looking at a significant U.S. Supreme Court case from 2017. In this case, known as Matal v. Tam, Supreme Court Justices made a unanimous decision that the Disparagement Clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Here’s the background of this case and information on how the Justices reached their decision.
Simon Tam wanted to register a trademark of his band name, The Slants, with the U.S. Trademark Office. The term “slants” is often seen as derogatory toward those of Asian descent. Regardless, Tam sought to defuse the word by using it as a band name. Yet, the Patent and Trademark Office did not approve Tam’s trademark application, believing that the mark would be too disparaging.
Upon reading several definitions of slants in the dictionary that confirmed that the term contained slurs, the PTO examiner rejected the trademark registration under the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act. As a result, Tam appealed the decision in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision stating that it infringed on Tam’s First Amendment rights. Afterward, the government took the case to the Supreme Court to make the final say on seemingly offensive trademarks.
In 1946, Congress enacted the Lanham Act, which explains federal trademark law and how individuals and corporations can register trademarks. The Lanham Act contains a Disparagement Clause, which is supposed to protect “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols” from disparagement. However, during Matal v. Tam, both The U.S. Court of Appeals and The Supreme Court found that the Disparagement Clause violated First Amendment rights.
So, how did the U.S. Supreme Court Justices come to their conclusions? Essentially, it came down to a few facts about this case and several in the past.
First, Justice Alito explained that the government could not reject a trademark solely because the expression is offensive. Society finding something offensive is not a justification for prohibiting expression under the First Amendment. Justice Alito referenced Texas v. Johnson, a flag-burning decision, to explain that it is not within the government’s right to limit free speech.
Second, Justice Alito clarified whether federal trademarks were government speech. While the government must communicate its viewpoints without violating the First Amendment, it is not valid for private entities. Similarly, by approving a trademark, the government is not displaying a government message and instead simply registering a name or term for another entity. Therefore, trademarks are private speech and must allow for First Amendment rights.
In conclusion, Matal v. Tam answered several questions about the government’s role in trademark registration. Because denying trademarks and even copyrights could be a form of government censorship, the Justices felt it is essential to protect commercial speech and First Amendment freedom of speech rights. They are also deregulating commercial speech doctrine through their actions, which helps companies register intellectual property, regardless of whether a portion of the population finds their trademarks offensive.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)6/25/2021 4:45:12 PM
Woof Woof - Trademark LawMore
While the Supreme Court of the United States often makes significant decisions that impact our political and healthcare systems, not all cases are severe. In an upcoming Supreme Court case, Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc. will argue that one dog toy manufacturer is using humor to avoid trademark laws. And the questions in this court case are ones attorneys often argue because humorous copyright infringement occurs frequently. Here’s what you should know about the upcoming Supreme Court case between Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP products LLC.
VIP products LLC owns a famous dog toy website in operation for several years called mydogtoy.com. One toy sold online and in stores, caught the attention of Jack Daniels because it featured the same shape and a similar design as a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle. The trade dress was identical, replacing the brand name “Jack Daniel’s” with “Bad Spaniels.” VIP also included several instances of bathroom humor by substituting “40% ALC BY VOL” with “43% POO BY VOL” and “100% SMELLY.”
Similar to this example, VIP products LLC creates different dog toys that use the trade dress of popular company product designs while often adding a level of humor for dogs and humans. Funny as it may be, some businesses, including Jack Daniels, are not laughing. Jack Daniels believes that infringement on trademarks and trade dress by VIP products LLC can confuse consumers and diminish and infringed businesses’ brand reputation. It already occurred with VIP Products and Budweiser beer when VIP created a parody dog toy in the trade dress of a Budweiser called “Buttwiper.”
First, when a business creates a humorous product, what’s the likelihood that it will cause confusion between customers? Do funny products have different first amendment protection from trademark infringement claims or are they held to the same standard as other products under trademark law?
Second, whether a commercial product uses humor makes it a noncommercial product under false designations of origin law. Essentially, noncommercial use of a mark is fair use, but does that apply whenever a business uses trademarks creatively or humorously?
While a district court ruled that noncommercial trademark laws didn’t apply in this case, since VIP Product’s used a physical Jack Daniel’s bottle to designate their dog toy design, the appeals court didn’t come to the same conclusion. Instead, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit surprisingly ruled in favor of the dog toy producer. Their justification was that Jack Daniel’s parody dog toy incorporated poop humor into Jack Daniel’s trademark, making the identity noncommercial and unable to dilute the identity of the trademarked brand.
We might have to put a leash on this conclusion when the Supreme Court weighs in on the case since several rulings from both district and appeals courts go against previous rulings in landmark trademark cases. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but we’ll have better clarity about using a company trademark to highlight a humorous message.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)6/18/2021 5:29:44 PM
Forum Selection 101More
The New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc v. SG Gaming, Inc. case is an interesting Federal Court case with several implications about due process in the trial system. Sometimes, conflicts of interest arise with government services where individuals who establish rules and procedures receive a financial benefit from their decisions.
In this example, New Vision Gaming felt that a potentially corrupt decision made by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) meant that the company could not receive its right to due process. Here is what you should know about New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc. v. SG Gaming, Inc.
New Vision and SG Gaming, Inc. entered into a patent license agreement that outlined what would occur if there was ever a patent dispute in the future. In this agreement, there was a forum-selection clause, where both parties would argue their case in a federal or state court within the state of Nevada. Both parties agreed to the terms for the patent license agreement, which was the beginning of events that led to this unique court case.
So, when a dispute did arise, New Vision filed their suit using a federal district court in Nevada, but SG Gaming, Inc went against the agreement. Instead of filing an appeal in a federal or state court in Nevada, SG Gaming, Inc went against the deal by taking their intellectual property rights petition to the PTAB, not a state or federal court system.
Even with this apparent conflict, the PTAB refused to honor the forum selection agreement and instead made two final written patent decisions that New Vision believed were invalid. Both written findings from the PTAB invalidated two of New Vision’s patents, which the company was quick to appeal because of the court case Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc.
Although Arthrex, Inc. was an active case during the disagreement between New Vision and SG Gaming, Inc, the court system issued a resolution to that case before the PTAB provided their written decisions about New Vision’s patents. Therefore, New Vision was allowed to appeal their case, even as SG Gaming and PTAB directors argued that due to a decision in Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LLP, a decision by the PTAB could not be overturned, even if they rejected the choice of the forum that was previously agreed to by both parties.
New Vision argued in court that the PTAB’s intellectual property rights decisions were invalid, as both parties in the suit have already agreed upon a forum for solving disputes by using the Nevada court system. Judges Moore and Taranto felt that the PTAB should have decision power over the patents but avoided the forum selection clause in their decisions.
Judge Newman, however, argued that the forum selection needed to be resolved before creating a new PTAB proceeding while also stating that New Vision is owed due process regardless of the Thryv case since the board’s decision to agree on an institutional forum disregarded a previous agreement between both parties.
To further complicate matters more, New Vision believes that fees and compensation that the PTAB makes it impossible to receive due process for their trial since administrative patent judges who make decisions on behalf of the PTAB also receive salaries and bonuses from board proceedings. This fact may explain why the PTAB chooses not to honor the forum selection agreement between both parties, as sending the case to a federal or state court in Nevada would mean a loss of income for the judges.
Overall, there is a lot to discuss in this case, which goes well beyond disagreements on resolving patent disputes between two parties. Fortunately, two court cases may solve the question of whether parties must use their agreed-upon forum, which may resolve the issue in New Visions favor for the future.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)6/11/2021 4:23:58 PM
Willful v InnocentMore
Sometimes to get ahead, business owners feel the need to copy others. One way business owners do this is by committing trademark infringement. Whenever an individual or business uses a trademark or service mark of a competing company without authorization, they infringe on another entity's brand.
However, not all trademark infringement is done knowingly. For example, some innocently are not aware when a company has rights to a specific service or trademark. And when someone has no reason to believe that using a work constitutes infringement, they might feel that they can dispute copyright infringement charges.
Yet, it does not matter whether someone uses trademarked assets unknowingly, as even unintentional misuse qualifies as trademark infringement. Although most individuals who unintentionally infringe on the rights of others rarely pay penalties on ill-gotten gains, there’s always a risk that the trademark owner can recover damages for their stolen property.
With copyright law, when someone infringes on the copyright of another person, it doesn’t matter if they do it out of negligence or intent to harm. Therefore, a copyright holder can impose liability on an infringer without proving negligence. Instead, a claimant can prove that another party infringes on their copyright and recover damages from a defendant. And there are strict penalties for those that wrongfully or innocently use someone else's property to profit financially.
It is essential to be aware of the penalties for trademark infringing since it can happen innocently yet put individuals' and companies' finances at risk. In addition, even if a service or trademark is not identical to the plaintiff's mark, it can still infringe upon the owners' rights if the similarities confuse the average consumer. Thus, those creating new trade or service marks should be aware of federally registered trademarks using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System.
Traditionally, whenever a defendant's infringement causes confusion and weakens the plaintiff's trademark, defendants have their profits taken from them and given to the trademark holder. The process occurs whenever a court determines that a plaintiff must repay ill-gotten gains, with interest and penalties.
Trademark infringement claims typically go through the federal court system, although business owners can file suits with state courts. While it's difficult to determine the complete total of damages the trademark owner suffers, they're still able to receive profit awards that rid those who infringe of their unjust gains.
In the past, some courts determined whether there was intent before awarding damages, while others wanted proof of willfulness before considering the awarding damages as a remedy. However, in April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved whether there is a difference between willful vs. innocent use of a trademarked property. In a case named Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., the Court finally resolved a split on the issue.
After that historic ruling, trademark owners can now recover profits from innocent trademark infringement. The court system no longer needs to determine whether someone's willfulness to infringe on a registered trademark or service mark gives the trademark holder rights to the infringer's profits.
Although this is an exciting ruling that solves longstanding questions about willful vs. innocent service and trademark copyright infringement, there is some debate on the effectiveness of this ruling. Whereas willful infringers usually pay significant penalties, ignorant misuse of trademarks rarely leads to trademark owners being awarded profits. With that in mind, it is nice to understand that the legal system is solving longstanding questions about trademark law.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)5/17/2021 2:38:30 PM
Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LPMore
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)4/23/2021 5:34:02 PM
Oracle Patent ProblemsMore
For over a decade, there has been a battle between two technology titans in the United States court system. In one corner is internet product and service provider Google. And in the other is database and enterprise software company Oracle. Their battle—over Google's use of nearly 12,000 lines of code from computer platform Java SE, which Oracle owns. On April 5th, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case's verdict. Here's what you should know about this landmark case.
In 2005, Google acquired software company Android, hoping to build the Android Platform, which now powers millions of phones worldwide. To create this platform, Google enlisted the help of programmers worldwide. These programmers knew the Java programming language, which Google also used to develop the Android platform. Google then decided to copy code from another company's Application Programming Interface (API) tool, which would later be the cause of the decade-long legal battle.
Instead of developing unique code for essential computer functions, Google copied about 11,500 lines from the Java SE program, which Oracle owns. This code helped developers access computing tasks through an API, which connects code for two or more programs together. This use of Oracle's API code sped up programming development time for those working on the Android Platform. Oracle argued that their use of 11,500 lines of code was a violation of copyright law.
Patent and copyright law in the United States is important because it can affect how all businesses operate in the future. Building a legal precedent for a company's actions has profound effects and can change how society perceives actions in potentially morally grey areas. Yet, this is only one reason the Google V. Oracle case is an important ruling on patient and copyright laws.
The Google V. Oracle case also matters because of the companies involved. Google is one of the most well-known organizations globally, and millions of people use their products and services daily. Oracle has also impacted the world through its technology, and for this reason, takes an aggressive approach against copyright infringement.
Additionally, Oracle has a record of auditing the use of their intellectual property and collecting licensing fees for unlicensed use of their Java SE platform. If the courts determined that Java SE's code was protected under copyright and that Google's use of the API code was not an application of the "fair use" doctrine, Google would be liable to Oracle for billions of dollars.
Google V. Oracle was argued up to the United States Supreme Court after several disagreements over copyright and fair use in the Federal Circuit courts. The Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that Google's unlicensed use of copyrighted material in the Java SE platform allowed for innovation and transformation, thus being an application of fair use. Therefore, it was a favorable outcome for Google, and potentially, an opening for other businesses to use specific code from Oracle and other companies.
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)4/5/2021 5:38:23 PM
Blockchain and the Expanding US Patent LandscapeMore
The Bitcoin blockchain revolutionizes how we think about currency. Its underlying technology both assigns title rights and verifies transactions. More importantly, individuals and companies can use open-source bitcoin code to create their own inventions. For this reason, intellectual property rights are important, especially as blockchain protocols become more popular with corporations. Here are some relevant US patents from major companies that you should know about.
Innovation is important to Bank of America. One way to tell is by looking at any of its 3,900 patents. As of 2019, Bank of America was awarded 32 blockchain patents relating, with nearly the same amount pending. Contrast that with J.P. Morgan’s six blockchain patents as of 2019 and you can see just how far ahead BOA is. Their goal—to future-proof traditional banking systems if blockchain connectivity becomes popular. Although they have not yet made sweeping changes using their blockchain patents, it does make you wonder when they will act on their extensive list of blockchain intellectual properties.
Two of the most interesting patents improve ATM machines and enhance digital wallet security. The first filing announced in 2018 uses blockchain technology to facilitate ATM transactions. Instead of using an ATM connected to your respective bank, a blockchain ATM allows for "multi-tenant" use. A blockchain ATM connects several banks in one software system. The blockchain ATM also provides branding and marketing opportunities for partner banks that share the ATM network. Overall, it is a fascinating patent that would connect competing banks together and improve the process of making cash ATM deposits.
The second patent improves security of digital wallets. Bank of America’s application for “Multi-Tiered Digital Wallet Security” lets wallet users hold cryptocurrencies in storage compartments. Each compartment, which Bank of America calls a tier, holds cryptocurrency, and has its own unique password. It is a way of protecting digital assets if someone accesses your private keys or you lose them. It also provides a reason to transfer digital assets away from third parties to protect your assets from hackers while gaining full control of your currencies.
Banks are not the only corporations that are serious about patenting their blockchain intellectual properties. In fact, Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba has even more US patents filed than Bank of America. With over 190 US patents as of 2019, and 2,300 around the world, it is easy to see that some foreign companies take cryptocurrency very seriously.
With that in mind, how is Alibaba utilizing blockchain patents to improve their business? Alibaba’s patents are widespread and look to tackle common problems with supply chain management. For example, they have patents that make it more difficult to sell counterfeit goods, record shipping information, and improve the healthcare system.
The fascinating thing is that Alibaba, like Bank of America, downplays the role of cryptocurrencies on their industry. Although these are the companies with the most blockchain patents, there seems to be hesitancy to role out their technologies quickly. Yet, with many corporations entering the cryptocurrency investing space, we’ll likely see mass adoption soon. If patents are any sign of things to come, companies will have no option but to use the blockchain to improve their services both internally for employees and externally for customers.
CIONCA IP TEAM (MC)3/24/2021 2:19:11 PM
Invention and Art AnalogyMore
Invention and Art Analogy
For a patent attorney, working with a patent examiner to prove to the examiner that an invention created by an inventor is patentable. the challenge is, in a sense, similar to a challenge an artist often faces.
For example, when looking at a rough rock, a layperson may see just that, a rough rock; however, an artist sees past the rough edges of the rock; he sees a beautiful sculpture lying inside that rock.
Similarly, when a patent examiner sees an invention as being, for example, a simple and obvious assembly of known parts, it is the challenge, and duty, of the patent attorney to help the patent examiner see the beautiful invention that lies inside, the spark of genius, the discovery that led the inventor to that invention, and therefore, of course, why the inventor should be rewarded with a patent.
CIONCA IP TEAM (BR)1/19/2021 4:57:54 PM
QuikTrip West, Inc. v. Weigel Stores, Inc.More
On January 7, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in QuikTrip West, Inc. v. Weigel Stores, Inc. Opposer QuikTrip West, Inc. (“QuikTrip”) and Applicant Weigel Stores, Inc. (“Weigel”) both operate gasoline chains, wherein food products and other convenience items are also sold. QuikTrip has used their logo mark—“The mark consists of the letters "QT" in white on a red square background; the word "KITCHENS" in black and underlined in black; and a chef-style hat outlined in black located at the top left corner of the red square” (US Trademark Reg. No. 4,118,738)—to sell food items in their stores. Weigel’s started to sell their own food products as well, using their stylized mark W KITCHENS, which prompted QuikTrip to send a cease-and-desist to the competitor claiming similarity in their marks. After applying alterations to their logo mark, Weigel’s submitted an application for their new mark, which “consists of a white "W" justified to the right and inside of a red circle. To the right of the "W" in the circle is "Weigel's" above "Kitchen" in large black font. To the right of the "Weigel's" and "Kitchen" is "Now" above "Open" in diagonal, stylized, black font (US Serial No. 87324199). QuikTrip subsequently opposed the Weigel mark’s registration, again claiming that the mark has strong similarity to their own and would likely confuse consumers. The Board, however, concluded that the two marks are dissimilar enough and dismissed QuikTrip’s opposition. QuikTrip appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
The Federal Circuit first examined the similarity of the two marks. QuikTrip raises that the Board did not properly consider the use of the term KITCHEN(S) in both marks. However, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board in that the term KITCHEN(S) is merely highly suggestive, if not descriptive. Moreover, the Federal Circuit also supported the Board’s review of the marks as a whole, rather than only considering their literal elements. As such, Weigel’s encircled W and QuikTrip’s QT in a square are distinct differences that are enough to make the marks dissimilar.
In terms of linguistics, the Federal Circuit also affirmed the Board’s notation that the marks are not even phonetically similar: “W WEIGEL’S KITCHEN NOW OPEN” does not sound similar to “QT KITCHENS”. Their semantics also prompt differing meanings: “Weigel’s Kitchen” suggests a single kitchen owned by an individual named Weigel, while “QT Kitchens” suggests “a string of kitchens with chefs run by QT” (7).
Finally, the Federal Circuit addressed QuikTrip’s claim that Weigel acted in bad faith, with the intent to deceive. QuikTrip mentions that Weigel had photographed their mark and its use with the intent to copy and confuse. However, the Federal Circuit supports that Weigel substantially modified their mark in order to accommodate QuikTrip’s mark, which in and of itself actually demonstrates a lack of bad faith.
For the above reasons, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision.
While two marks may seem similar, if both are considered in whole, the marks may be dissimilar enough to avoid likelihood of confusion. As such, while it is always best to develop a mark that is highly unique, registration of two slightly similar marks in the same space is still possible if all elements—both literal and design—are considered carefully.
Full QuikTrip West, Inc. v. Weigel Stores, Inc. decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/20-1304.OPINION.1-7-2021_1713761.pdf.
CIONCA IP TEAM (AP)12/7/2020 4:06:28 PM
St Jude Medical LLC v Snyders Heart Valve LLCMore
On October 15, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in St. Jude Medical, LLC v. Snyders Heart Valve LLC. Snyders Heart Valve LLC is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 6,540,782 (“the ‘782 patent”), titled “Article of Footwear Having a Textile Upper.”
The ‘782 patent relates “to valve implants, and more particularly to artificial heart valves for repairing damaged heart valves.” St. Jude Medical, LLC appeals the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) in the previously petitioned two “inter partes review of claims 1, 2, 4–8, 10–13, 17–19, 21, 22, and 25–30 of the ’782 patent (the challenged claims).” In the first inter partes review, “IPR2018-00105 (IPR-105), the Board ultimately ruled that St. Jude had failed to establish unpatentability of any of the challenged claims.” While in the second inter partes review, “IPR2018-00106 (IPR-106), the Board found claims 1, 2, 6, and 8 anticipated by the Bessler patent, but it rejected St. Jude’s contentions as to all other claims.” The key prior art for IPR-105 is U.S. Patent No. 5,957,949 (Leonhardt), while the key prior art for IPR-106 is U.S. Patent No. 5,855,601 (Bessler).
Per the standard, the Federal Circuit “review[ed] the Board’s final written decision under the Administrative Procedure Act” for both IPR-105 and IPR-106. Regarding the initial two inter partes reviews, the Federal Circuit reviewed both Leonhardt and Bessler.
Initially, St. Jude argued that “Leonhardt anticipated claims 1, 2, 4–8, 10–13, 17–19, 21, 22, and 25–30 of the ’782 patent,” for IPR-105. While in IPR-106 St. Jude argued that “the same claims were anticipated by Bessler, as well as unpatentable for obviousness over Bessler, Johnson, and Imachi.” For IPR-105, the Board rejected St. Jude’s argument because the Board found that St. Jude did not prove that Leonhardt disclosed” a component of the heart valve. The Board then reviewed the St. Jude’s arguments in regard to Bessler for IPR-106 and “determined that St. Jude did not prove that Bessler discloses” a different component of the heart valve. The Board also rejected their obvious arguments.
During the review, the Federal Circuit determined in regard to IPR-105 “St. Jude’s basis for its argument … does not address … defining terms of the claim construction.” Thus, the Federal Circuit rejects the challenge to the IPR-105 decision and “affirm the Board’s decision in IPR-105.” Furthermore, in regard to IPR-106, “St. Jude has not demonstrated the unreasonableness of the Board’s determination that St. Jude did not adequately or persuasively establish the motivation to make the particular combination it proposed in arguing obviousness.” Thus, the Federal Circuit “affirm[s] the Board’s obviousness determination in IPR-106.” However, the Federal Circuit did “conclude that Bessler does not meet this limitation and therefore cannot anticipate claims 1, 2, 6, and 8,” thus “hold[ing] that claims 1, 2, 6, and 8 are not anticipated by Bessler, and … revers[ing] the Board’s contrary determination.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s judgement.
This decision determines that when considering broadest reasonable interpretation of claims, said claims must be considered with regard to the specification.
Full St. Jude Medical, LLC v. Snyders Heart Valve LLC decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-2108.OPINION.10-15-2020_1669672.pdf
CIONCA IP TEAM (SE)12/1/2020 5:07:58 PM
Allen v. Cooper, Governor of North CarolinaMore
Allen sued the state for copyright infringement, and the state moved to excuse on the grounds of sovereign invulnerability under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Allen contended that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) — which characterizes likely infringers of copyright to incorporate "any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any official of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in their official limit"— annuls state sovereign invulnerability for copyright infringement claims.
The local court denied the movement to excuse, finding enticing Allen's contentions with respect to the CRCA's annulment of sovereign resistance. The Fourth Circuit switched, finding that Congress needed position to annul state sovereign invulnerability by means of the CRCA.
In 1996, a private specialist recruited applicant Frederick Allen and his organization, Nautilus Productions, LLC, to record the as of late found wreck of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, which steered into the rocks at Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1718. Allen recorded the wreck for almost twenty years in photos and recordings and enrolled his works with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Eventually before October 2013, the province of North Carolina posted online different of the copyrighted works of Allen without his consent. In October 2013, the state and other included gatherings went into a settlement concurrence with Allen and his organization paying him for the infringement of his works and making a deal to avoid encroaching the works going ahead. At that point, the state eliminated its encroaching works, however without further ado subsequently; it again posted and distributed Allen's works. The state at that point passed "Blackbeard's Law," which purportedly changed over Allen's into "openly available report" materials that the state could utilize uninhibitedly.
Did Congress truly annul state sovereign insusceptibility through the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act, which permits creators of unique articulation to sue states who encroach their government copyrights?
Congress did not have the position to revoke state sovereign invulnerability from copyright infringement suits. Equity Elena Kagan created the sentiment for the Court consistent in the judgment. To start with, the Court thought about whether, in the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act, Congress had authorized "unequivocal legal language" annulling the states' insusceptibility from claims. The Court presumed that it had. Next, the Court thought about whether Congress had position to do as such.
The constitution approved the activity of that power, yet the Court dismissed that hypothesis in Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. School Savings Board, 527 U.S. 627 (1999), and stare decisis requires following that point of reference except if there is a "extraordinary defense" to topple it. Neither section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to annul state sovereign invulnerability from copyright infringement suits. For Congress' activity to fall inside its Section 5 authority "there must be a coinciding and proportionality between the injury to be forestalled and the methods embraced keeping that in mind." without any proof of this nature, the CRCA bombs this test. Consequently, Congress needed position to repeal state sovereign insusceptibility in that Act.
Read the full Supreme Court opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-877_dc8f.pdf
CIONCA IP TEAM (JM)10/8/2020 2:57:24 PM
Royal Crown Company Inc., Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc., v The Coca-Cola CompanyMore
Royal Crown Inc., Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc., (“Royal Crown”) appealed from a decision made by the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (“Board”) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The decision made dismissed Royal Crown’s consolidated opposition of sixteen trademarks proposed by competitor The Coca-Cola Company (“Coca-Cola”). Coca-Cola filed to use a ZERO branding on sixteen of its products. Royal Crown claimed that each of the ZERO marks Coca-Cola proposed are generic or descriptive of the zero calories attributes of the beverage. In their consolidated opposition, Royal Crown argued that each registration must be denied “absent the entry of a disclaimer of the term zero”.
The Board dismissed Royal Crown’s opposition, stating that Royal Crown did not provide enough evidence that ZERO is generic in soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks. While Coca-Cola has proven the term ZERO has acquired distinctiveness in soft drinks and sports drinks, they had not proven acquired distinctiveness for energy drinks. Therefore, the Board has held that Coca-Cola’s applications can register even in the absence of a disclaimer of the term ZERO.
Royal Crown appealed to The Federal Circuit (“Circuit”). The Circuit vacated the Board’s decision due to the incorrect legal standard of generic-ness in the term ZERO, and for failing to make a finding on the term’s descriptiveness before addressing acquired distinctiveness. The Circuit remanded the case to the Board to fix the matters that were brought forth.
Coca-Cola filed a motion to amend each of their applications to disclaim the term ZERO. Royal Crown argued the motion and stated it was improper and not case dispositive. The Board noted that the relief was given to Royal Crown as requested, and The Board decided to move forward with Coca-Cola. The Board entered a disclaimer for each application and dismissed Royal Crown’s opposition. Royal Crown filed an appeal, and the USPTO filed a motion to intervene which was granted by the Board.
Royal Crown raised three challenges to the Board decision.
1. Royal Crown claimed that “granting Coca-Cola’s post-trial, unconsented-to motion was procedurally improper and thus arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” (p5)
2. Royal Crown argued that, “by simply entering Coca-Cola’s disclaimer, the Board shirked its obligation to render a reasoned decision under the APA and deprived Royal Crown and this court of a decision on the merits.” (p5)
3. “Royal Crown denies that Coca-Cola’s disclaimer mooted this appeal because Coca-Cola may file new applications for ZERO-inclusive marks or assert such scope for the instant proposed marks in future litigation.” (p5)
Coca-Cola responded that in fact the appeal is moot because of the Board’s entry of Coca-Cola’s disclaimers. This granted Royal Crown the relief they requested and stated the Board can grant an uncontested motion to amend an application “under 37 C.F.R. § 2.133(a)” (p.6). Royal Crown did not oppose registration of the mark per se, rather it opposed the marks being used without a disclaimer. Therefore, Royal Crown has received all the relief they initially requested.
The Federal Circuit agreed with Coca-Cola. The Board did not abuse their discretion in granting Coca-Cola’s motion.
Royal Crown attempted to show that the Board had interrupted regulation to forbid an uncontested motions after trial by citing “§ 2.133(a) does not allow amendments or disclaimers ‘except with the consent of the other party or parties and the approval of the [Board], or upon motion granted by the Board.’” (p.6) In conclusion, Royal Crown’s claim that the Board is powerless to grant a motion to enter a disclaimer and to give all relief requested by an opposer did not stand.
Coca-Cola’s disclaimer granted what Royal Crown originally wanted. Coca-Cola was able to use the ZERO mark if there was a disclaimer following it. Royal Crown did not argue for Coca-Cola to not use the mark in general, therefore, Royal Crown has already received what they requested from the Board.
In conclusion, Royal Crown has obtained what it wanted from the court which was a disclaimer for the term ZERO in each application at issue. Accordingly, there is no controversy for this court to decide. The Federal Circuit has considered Royal Crown’s argument and has considered it unpersuasive, so the Court dismisses Royal Crown’s appeal.
From this case, we can see how important it is to study details. As we see from the decision, Royal Crown technically obtained what they wanted, which was Coca-Cola using a disclaimer for the ZERO brand. In contrast, we also see Royal Crown’s appeal failed due to lack of persuasiveness. When it came to the arguing if Coca-Cola could amend their claims, we saw that Royal Crown could not provide a persuasive argument. One should always proceed with caution when making decisions based on minutia details and ensure that they are prepared to defend any possible stance.
Full Royal Crown Company Inc. v Coca-Cola Company decision can be read here:
CIONCA IP TEAM (SG)10/6/2020 2:42:35 PM
Apple, Inc., v. Voip-Pal.com, Inc.: Sanction Orders and ObviousnessMore
On September 25, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in Apple, Inc., v. Voip-Pal.com, Inc. In February 2016, Voip-Pal.com, Inc. (“Voip-Pal”) sued appellant Apple, Inc. (“Apple”) for infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,542,815 and 9,179,005 (collectively, the “Asserted Patents”), owned by Voip-Pal. The Asserted Patents generally describe and claim methods and apparatus for routing communications between public and private networks. In June 2016, Apple filed a petition to initiate inter partes review (“IPR”) against several claims of the Asserted Patents in two separate proceedings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”). In the IPR petitions, Apple argued that the claims in question were obvious over a combination of U.S. Patent No. 7, 486,684B2 (“Chu ‘684”) and U.S. Patent No. 8,036,366 (“Chu ‘366”), relying on the combined teachings of call classifying, infrastructure, call routing, and dialed digit reformatting. Subsequently, the Board instituted the requested inter partes reviews. During both IPR proceedings, Voip-Pal’s former Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Thomas E. Sawyer, sent six letters to various parties, including administrative patent judges at the Board. Dr. Sawyer did not copy or send Apple the letters. The letters criticized the IPR system and requested judgment in favor of Voip-Pal. On decision on November 20, 2017, the Board found that Apple failed to demonstrate that all claims were unpatentable as obvious over Chu ‘864 and Chu ‘366. Apple subsequently moved for sanctions against Voip-Pal based on Dr. Sawyer’s letters and timely appealed the Board’s final written decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit affirms in part, and vacates and remands in part the Board’s determination.
Naturally, the Federal Circuit performed an analysis of all the Board’s final determinations, as described below:
1. Suggestion of Mootness. In the move for sanctions against Voip-Pal, Apple argued that Voip-Pal’s ex parte communications violated its due process rights and the Administrative Procedures Act. Apple requested that the Board either sanction Voip-Pal by entering adverse judgment against Voip-Pal, or by vacating the final written decisions and assigning a new panel (“Final Panel”) to preside over new proceedings. The Federal Circuit stayed the appeals and remanded the cases for the limited purpose of allowing the Board to consider Apple’s sanctions motions. The Final Panel rejected Apple’s request for a directed judgment and Apple’s alternative request
for new proceedings. Apple then moved the Federal Circuit to lift the limited stay. The Federal Circuit lifted the stay and proceeded to briefing and oral argument.
a. Overlapping Claims. On June 8, 2020, prior to oral argument, Apple filed a post-briefing document in both appeals in which Apple contended that the Federal Circuit’s recent ineligibility determination in Voip-Pal.com, Inc. v. Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”) renders the instant appeals moot, and that the Federal Circuit must therefore vacate the Board’s underlying final written decisions and sanctions orders. In Twitter, the Federal Circuit affirmed the California district court’s finding that two representative claims were patent ineligible. At oral argument, Apple argued that the appeals are moot as to nineteen “overlapping claims” at issue in the underlying IPR proceedings and in Twitter. The Federal Circuit agrees that these overlapping claims are rendered moot in these appeals in light of Twitter. Thus, the Federal Circuit vacates-in-part the Board’s final decisions only as to the overlapping claims and directs the Board to dismiss Apple’s petitions as to these claims.
b. Nonoverlapping Claims. The Federal Circuit then made decision regarding whether the appeals are moot as to the “nonoverlapping claims,” which pertain to the fifteen remaining claims at issue in the underlying IPR proceedings. Apple argues that the question of obviousness regarding the nonoverlapping claims appears to be moot in light of Twitter because Apple faces no liability for infringing these claims. According to Apple, Voip-Pal cannot assert the fifteen nonoverlapping claims against Apple because they are “essentially the same” as the claims held patent ineligible in Twitter. The Federal Circuit disagrees with Apple’s assertion of claim preclusion (res judicata).
Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, “a judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving the same parties bars a second suit based on the same cause of action.” Apple acknowledges that any res judicata effect of a first proceeding/suit can only be resolved by a future court. Thus, any preclusive effects that Twitter could have against the same or other parties must be decided in any subsequent action brought by Voip-Pal. The Federal Circuit concludes that the question of obviousness as to the nonoverlapping claims is thus not moot. The Federal Circuit therefore denies Apple’s request that the Board’s sanctions order be vacated as moot.
2. Merits of the Appeals
a. APA and Due Process. In the appeals before the Federal Circuit, Apple argues that the Board violated the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) and its due process rights when the Board imposed non-enumerated sanctions for Voip-Pal’s letters. Apple argues
that the Board, upon determining that Voip-Pal’s letters were sanctionable, violated the APA when the Board exceeded its authority by issuing a sanction not explicitly provided under 37 CFR 42.12(b). The Federal Circuit rejects such an argument. The Federal Circuit notes that Section 42.12(b) uses the term “include,” which signifies an open-ended list of sanctions. Thus, contrary to Apple’s argument, Section 42.12(b) does not limit the Board to the eight listed sanctions. The Federal Circuit therefore holds that the Board did not commit an APA violation when it issued a sanction not explicitly stated under Section 42.12.
Apple also argues that the Board violated Apple’s due process rights by refusing to order a de novo proceeding before a new panel. The Federal Circuit does not find Apple’s arguments persuasive. The Federal Circuit points out that Apple did not identify any property interests in the course of its due process arguments, and that the property interests identified for the first time on appeal are therefore waived. The Board introduced Voip-Pal’s letters into the record and gave Apple an opportunity to respond to those letters, an opportunity Apple chose not to take. Thus, because Apple failed to raise these arguments before appeal, the Federal Circuit holds that the Board did not commit a due process violation.
b. Non-Obviousness. In the appeals before the Federal Circuit, Apple also argues that the Board wrongly concluded that the challenged claims were not invalid as obvious. Apple specifically argues that the Board erred in its determination that Apple failed to establish a motivation to combine Chu ‘684 with Chu ‘366. Apple posits that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have viewed the network interface in Chu ‘684 as less “intuitive” and less “user-friendly” than that of Chu ‘366, and thus would be motivated to improve Chu ‘684’s system. Apple faults the Board for rejecting its expert testimony that Chu ‘684’s teachings were deficient for failure to provide evidence suggesting that Chu ‘684’s teachings are deficient. Voip-Pal’s expert, Dr. Mangione-Smith, explained that Chu ‘684’s operation was not “inadequate or unintuitive.” The Federal Circuit thus supports the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of Voip-Pal’s expert over Apple’s.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms in part the Board’s non-obviousness determinations and the Board’s sanctions order. The Federal Circuit vacates and remands in part to the Board to dismiss the appeals pertaining to the “overlapping claims” as moot.
It is important to realize and understand the implications of the decision made in Apple, Inc., v. Voip-Pal.com, Inc. As evidenced by the outcome, there are numerous considerations to be made when dealing with the topics of threshold jurisdictional issues and sanction orders. As discussed above, Apple attempted to render the instant appeals moot based on the Federal Circuit’s recent determination in a previous case (Twitter) involving the same party (i.e., Voip-Pal). While the overlapping claims involved in the instant appeals and Twitter were found to be moot based on the patent ineligibility determination in Twitter, the nonoverlapping claims, i.e., the remaining claims at issue in the instant appeals, were not found to be moot. Apple attempted to rely on principles of claim preclusion (res judicata), positing that the overlapping claims are essentially the same as the nonoverlapping claims. However, as the Federal Circuit stated, any res judicata effect of a first proceeding is only an issue that a future court can resolve. Thus, the determination in Twitter is advisory in nature and is therefore not controlling in the current case. Regarding sanction orders, the Board may impose a sanction against a party for misconduct, which in this case involved Voip-Pal’s ex parte communications. 37 CFR 42.12 lists eight possible sanctions; however, Section 42.12(b) uses the term “include,” which signifies a non-exhaustive list. Thus, as concluded by the Federal Circuit, the plain reading of Section 42.12(b) provides the Board with discretion to issue sanctions not explicitly listed under Section 42.12.
Full Apple, Inc., v. Voip-Pal.com, Inc. decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/18-1456.OPINION.9-25-2020_1659104.pdf
CIONCA IP Team (SE)9/16/2020 4:21:45 PM
CIONCA IP Launches New Online Patent WebsiteMore
A patent generally refers to inventions or technology, which is regarded as the intellectual and proprietary property of an individual or an organization. This exclusive ownership is usually for a certain period, which is 20 years in the United States. Legally a patented item cannot be used by any other entity apart from the organization or individuals who own it. The owner, however, has the right to either license or lend the patent for use by other companies or individuals through contracts and agreements. These patents are applied and issued by specific government agencies depending on the country. In instances where the patent will be used across international borders, the country of origin patent laws or certain special international laws apply. In the United States, the government agency in charge of patent issues is the USPTO (UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE). This government agency is in charge of issues about patents such as claims, infringement, and registrations. In the US, this process is usually very complicated and involves several steps.
patents.cioncaip.com is a website that was built to accelerate and simplify this complicated process of applying for patents in the United States. There are particular problems which this website is designed to eliminate. The most important feature of patents.cioncaip.com and which makes it better than the traditional process, is that it is entirely online. Normally applying for a patent involved the individual traveling to and from USPTO offices around the country. This is to get the necessary paperwork and then when returning after filling in the application details. In line with this, patents.cioncaip.com also eliminates the amount of paperwork involved. The online process eliminates the physical use of papers and documents in the application process. Given the importance and technicality of this process, there was a whole load of paperwork required when applying. Another aspect of this website is that it involves professional legal assistance and aid. To help people understand the technical legal terminology used in the paperwork, individuals used to pay huge consultancy fees to attorneys. This website, however, also solves this problem. The web pages in the website are created with the assistance of professional trademark and patent law attorneys with years of experience. This helps ensure that the online application is of superior or at least of similar quality to the traditional in-person application process.
This website is highly efficient and more convenient in comparison to the traditional patent application process. One major benefit is that it saves huge amounts of time. The online application can be carried out in just a few minutes. On the other hand, the traditional process would take many hours and days to file a patent claim effectively. Another significant advantage is that this website is very cost-effective. Some of the costs saved through online application of patents through the website involve attorney fees and also the travel cost to and from USPTO offices.
CIONCA IP Team9/15/2020 5:11:49 PM
Comparing Apples to Apples: TTAB on In re Horizon Group USA, Inc.More
Comparing Apples to Apples: TTAB on In re Horizon Group USA, Inc.
On September 1, 2020, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) made a decision in In re Horizon Group USA, Inc. Horizon Group USA, Inc. (“Applicant”) seeks registration on the Principal Register for the word mark SUGAR BOMBS for “Bath bombs” in International Class 3. Registration was refused under Section 2(d) on the grounds of Likelihood of Confusion with registered mark SUGARBOMB for “cosmetics” in International Class 3. Applicant appealed and requested reconsideration from the Trademark Examining Attorney, who maintained the refusal. The appeal resumed, and TTAB had jurisdiction.
Applicant attempted to submit evidentiary support of its stance, but due to timeliness and improper formatting, the Examining Attorney objected Applicant’s submission, which was sustained by TTAB.
Further, TTAB made a determination on likelihood of confusion with the consideration of “each DuPont factor for which there is evidence and argument” (4). It should be noted that, “When analyzing these factors, the overriding concerns are not only to prevent buyer confusion as to the source of the goods, but also to protect the registrant from adverse commercial impact due to use of a similar mark by a newcomer” (4).
Regarding similarity of the marks, appearance, sound, connotation, and commercial impression are considered, any of which single similarity may be enough to find marks confusingly similar. As Applicant’s desired SUGAR BOMBS mark is merely a compounded and pluralized version of Registrant’s SUGARBOMB mark, the marks are considered identical. Minute details—such as the spacing and pluralization—are unimportant, since the marks’ overall impressions are very similar, and thus, likely to cause confusion.
Regarding the goods, the Trademark Examining Attorney posed that Applicant’s goods (“Bath bombs”) and Registrant’s goods (“cosmetics”) are related, since these goods may emanate from the same single source, which TTAB sustains. Therefore, even though the goods are not interchangeable, they are considered related as it would not be uncommon to find both goods manufactured by the same entity.
In addition, regarding Conditions of Purchase, because bath bombs and cosmetics are “relatively low-priced and subject to impulse buying, the risk of likelihood of confusion is increased because purchasers of such products are held to a lesser standard of purchasing care” (16).
And finally, Applicant also attempted to argue that there are other “similar” pairings found on the Principal Register, such as: BEAUTY TREAT and TREATS; DIVA and LA DIVA; RAINBOW and NAKED RAINBOW; and MAGNETIC and MAGNETIC PERSONALITY. However, simply based on the faces of these registrations, TTAB concluded that the USPTO allowed such registrations due to the marks’ dissimilarities, which contrast with the similarities between the identical marks in this appeal.
For the above reasons, TTAB affirms the Section 2(d) refusal of Applicant’s SUGAR BOMBS mark.
It is important to carefully consider one’s mark prior to filing an application for registration, and it is just as important to consider one’s goods when adopting a mark. Minute details in a mark are likely not enough to obtain a registration. Furthermore, if one is aware of a party with a similar mark, but seemingly different goods, one should still proceed with caution. Although the competitor’s goods might appear to be different from the potential applicant’s, they may still be considered related, especially if it’s possible for both sets of goods to be purchased from one source. If possible, doing one’s due diligence prior to obtaining registration could be beneficial, as it would provide the potential applicant with insight on any potentially similar marks, with any potentially related goods.
Full In re Horizon Group USA, Inc. decision can be read here: https://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/ttabvue-87901706-EXA-19.pdf.
CIONCA IP Team9/3/2020 4:30:41 PM
D2 Holdings v. House of CardsMore
Massachusetts-based company, D2 Holdings (plaintiff) recently filed a claim against MRC 11 Distribution Company, the brand behind the Netflix hit political thriller House of Cards. According to the plaintiff, D2 has held the trademark for House of Cards for “entertainment goods and services” since 2009, and it is licensed to a gaming radio show distributed by Granary Media. One the side of the defendant, MRC II Distribution company filed for a trademark for the phrase “House of Cards” several times for the show which premiered in 2013 and has now been renewed for a fifth season. D2 Holding filed a lawsuit for infringement of its trademark phrase by MRC. According to D2 Holding, it is likely that MRC was aware that D2 hold the trademark for house of cards based on their repeated failure to obtain trademark for the phrase through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The verdict of the lawsuit is pending.
According to the evidence presented by H2 Holdings, it has not authorized or licensed MRC II Distribution Company the “House of Cards” trademark, and thus it is suing it for trademark infringement and dilution and unfair competition. Netflix, purchased the trademark but is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
D2 Holdings’ attorney William C. Saturley stated that, “Despite MRC's repeated failure to obtain a trademark registration for the HOUSE OF CARDS mark because of the prior existing registration of the HOUSE OF CARDS Mark, MRC has purportedly licensed the HOUSE OF CARDS mark to other entities, thus infringing upon Plaintiff's rights in the HOUSE OF CARDS Mark.” In the lawsuit, several infringements by MRC were listed including run-of-the-mill merchandise such as hats and t-shirts, and house of Cards slot machines made by International Games Technology, also a defendant in the lawsuit. D2 Holding alleges that House of Cards trademark is licensed to one company, Granary Way Media.
The lawsuit is pending ruling. The verdict of the lawsuit will be based on the law on infringement of intellectual property. Intellectual property infringement happens if there is any breach of intellectual property rights. Common intellectual property rights include patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyrights, and trade secrets. The “House of Cards” phrase falls under the trademark rights. Under the intellectual property law, a party cannot claim infringement if it has not licensed its intellectual property. In this lawsuit, if D2 Holding proves ownership of the trademark, then it is its responsibility to prove that MRC violated the infringement rights by sharing the trademark with other entities without a license or authorization by D2 Holdings.
If the court finds sufficient evidence that MRC violated infringement rights by sharing licensed trademark “House of Cards” with other entities, and rules in favor of D2 Holdings, compensation for damages could be huge. D2 Holding filed a lawsuit for actual damages, which would be trebled since it is a trademark claim, and the punitive damages of an amount to be determined by the trail court.
CIONCA IP Team8/31/2020 12:09:17 PM
Blackbird Tech LLC, DBA Blackbird Technologies, v. Fitbit, Inc., Wahoo Fitness LLC: ObviousnessMore
On August 6, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in Blackbird Tech LLC, DBA Blackbird Technologies, v. Fitbit, Inc., Wahoo Fitness LLC. In August 2017, Fitbit, Inc. (“Fitbit”) filed a petition to initiate inter partes review against U.S. Patent No. 6,434,212 (“the ‘212 patent”) owned by Blackbird Tech LLC, DBA Blackbird Technologies (“Blackbird”), asserting that claims 2, 5, and 6 (“the claims”) were unpatentable as obvious over U.S. Patent No. 6,241,684 (“Amano”) in view of U.S. Patent No. 5,033,013 (“Kato”). In December 2017, Wahoo Fitness LLC (“Wahoo”) also filed a petition to initiate inter partes review of the claims relying on the same grounds as Fitbit. Subsequently, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”) instituted the requested inter partes reviews and consolidated the proceedings. The ‘212 patent generally describes and claims a device that counts a user’s steps and, based on the number and rate of the steps, provides the user with information like distance traveled and speed. Upon review in March 2019, the Board found that Fitbit failed to demonstrate that claims 2 and 5 were unpatentable as obvious but determined that Fitbit had proven claim 6 unpatentable as obvious over a combination of Kato and Amano. Blackbird timely appealed the Board’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s determination.
Naturally, the Federal Circuit performed an analysis of all the Board’s final determinations, as described below:
1. Prior Art Teachings. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Blackbird argues that the Board erred in its obviousness conclusions that Kato discloses a key limitation in claim 6. The limitation in questions is “a data processor programmed to calculate a distance traveled by multiplying a number of steps counted by a stride length.” Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reviewed the Board’s finding as to Kato’s teachings and what they would have suggested to a person of ordinary skill in the art.
Kato discloses a processing means that uses a user’s stride length, along with the user’s “pitch,” to determine the user’s speed. The “pitch” as defined by Kato is the number of steps per selected time unit, i.e., the user’s step rate. A detector notifies the processing means each time the user’s foot contacts the ground, such that the processing means can obtain the user’s pitch. Kato explains that obtaining the user’s pitch allows the processing means to then calculate the user’s stride length, or “stride” as Kato defines it. Such a step is expressed in Kato by the equation SP = ST × PI, where SP is the speed, ST is the stride, and PI is the pitch per unit of time. Kato also discloses that the distance traveled by the user can be obtained by multiplying the calculated speed (SP) by a given period of time. From such disclosure, a simple equation can be derived to calculate the distance traveled: D = ST × PI × T, where T is the period of time.
Based on such teachings in Kato, the Federal Circuit agrees with the Board’s finding that a person of ordinary skill in the art would interpret the prior art as teaching a “data processor programmed to calculate a distance traveled by multiplying a number of steps counted by a stride length,” as set forth in claim 6. As can be concluded from the above equations, the time-dependency of the pitch (PI) cancels out with the period of time (T), such that the distance traveled is simply D = ST × steps, as claimed in claim 6.
2. Level of Ordinary Skill in the Art. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Blackbird argues that the Board failed to explain why a person of ordinary skill in the art would have expressed pitch (PI) as “steps/time” to thus cancel out any time variables when calculating distance. Blackbird argues that the Board worked backward with knowledge of the claimed invention to modify the Kato reference as needed to reject claim 6. However, the Board’s conclusion of unpatentability did not rely on a modification of Kato’s equation, but on a finding that a person of ordinary skill in the art would interpret Kato’s equation as teaching claim 6’s limitation. In this case, the Board determined that a person of ordinary skill would be an engineer with either a master’s degree or multiple years of experience in the field. As such, the Board could readily conclude that such an engineer would be able to take the elementary process steps of unit cancellation given Kato’s teachings.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s determination pertaining to the obviousness of claim 6’s data processor limitation over Kato. The Federal Circuit concludes that the Board had a sufficient basis to determine that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have interpreted Kato’s method for calculating distance traveled to be identical to claim 6’s limitation
It is important to realize and understand the implications of the decision made in Blackbird Tech LLC, DBA Blackbird Technologies, v. Fitbit, Inc., Wahoo Fitness LLC. As evidenced by the outcome, there are numerous considerations to be made when dealing with the question of obviousness. The question of obviousness not only involves the literal teachings of the prior art, but also the conclusions and interpretations that can be drawn from those teachings. The level of skill of a person of ordinary skill in the art, though such a phrase can be vague, must also be established in any obviousness inquiry. As evidenced in this case, the level of skill established provides a basis from which conclusions about prior art teachings can be drawn to support an obviousness rejection. As described above, the prior art method relied upon in Kato would have clearly suggested the claim limitation on appeal to an engineer having multiple years of work experience. As such, the examiner/Board/Federal Circuit need not explain why such a person of ordinary skill would have taken specific steps or made certain modifications. Rather, the prior art teachings are interpreted through the eyes of the person of ordinary skill, and thus the conclusions that that person would draw as a whole need only be explained.
Full Blackbird Tech LLC, DBA Blackbird Technologies v. Fitbit, Inc., Wahoo Fitness LLC decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-1879.OPINION.8-6-2020_1632064.pdf
CIONCA IP Team8/11/2020 11:56:24 AM
Adidas AG v. Nike INC.More
On June 25, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Adidas AG v. Nike INC. Nike INC (“Nike”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,814,598 (“the ‘598 patent”) and f U.S. Patent No. 8,266,749 (“the ‘749 patent”), both titled “Article of Footwear Having a Textile Upper.”
The ‘598 patent and the ‘749 patent relate “to footwear… more particularly, an article of footwear incorporating an upper that is at least partially formed from a textile material.” Adidas AG appeals the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) in the previously petitioned “inter partes review of claims 1-13 of the ‘598 patent and claims 1-9, 11-19, and 21 of the ‘749 patent,” in which “the Board held that Adidas had not demonstrated that the challenged claims are unpatentable as obvious”.
Per the standard, the Federal Circuit needed to confirm the standing of this appeal. “Nike contends that Adidas cannot establish an ‘injury in fact,’ and therefore lacks standing to bring this appeal;” however, the Federal Circuit disagrees with this argument. It is known that Adidas and Nike are direct competitors and “Nike has refused to grant Adidas a covenant not to sue’” thus the Federal Circuit “conclude[s] that Adidas has Article III standing to bring this appeal.” In regard to obviousness, “[the Federal Circuit] review[ed] the Board’s legal determinations de novo and its factual findings for substantial evidence.”
Adidas presented two combinations of prior art to “demonstrate that the challenged claims are unpatentable as obvious.” Adidas “challenged the claims as obvious in view of (1) the combination of U.S. Patent Nos. 3,985,003 (Reed) and 5,345,638 (Nishida) and (2) the combination of Nishida and U.S. Patent Nos. 4,038,840 (Castello) and 6,330,814 (Fujiwara),” which was reviewed by the Federal Circuit for this appeal.
First, Adidas argued that the combination of Reed and Nishida is obvious; however, “the obviousness inquiry does not merely ask whether a skilled artisan could combine the references, but instead asks whether “they would have been motivated to do so.” With this in consideration, Adidas did not provide any further evidence to prove such motivation. The Federal Circuit “conclude[s] that substantial evidence supports the Board’s motivation to combine findings with respect to the Base Claims.”
Second, Adidas argued that the combination of Castello, Fujiwara, and Nishida is obvious; however, “Adidas failed to identify which reference or combination of references it was relying on to disclose each limitation of the challenged claims.” Adidas “contends that “preseamed versus unseamed garment portions have no bearing” on the proposed,” but “the Board properly considered these fundamental differences in seaming techniques as part of its motivation to combine inquiry.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s judgement.
This decision determines that when appealing a decision, substantial evidence supporting the argument must be provided along with how the original decision is not supported by evidence.
Full Adidas AG v. Nike INC decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-1787.OPINION.6-25-2020_1609483.pdf
CIONCA IP Team7/20/2020 7:40:21 PM
Fitbit Inc. v. Valencell Inc.: Joint Parties in IPR ProceedingMore
On July 8th 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Fitbit Inc. v. Valencell Inc. Valencell Inc. (“Valencell”) is the owner of U.S Patent No. 8,923,941 (“the ‘941 patent”) titled “Methods and Apparatus for Generating Data Output Containing Physiological and Motion-Related Information”.
The ‘941 patent “concerns systems for obtaining and monitoring information such as blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and physical activity.” Previously, Apple Inc. (“Apple”) petitioned for an inter partes review (“IPR”) of Claims 1-13 of the ‘941 patent with the U.S Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”), which was granted in part, instituting a review of Claims 1, 2, and 6-13. Fitbit Inc. (“Fitbit”) then filed their own IPR petition for Claims 1, 2, and 6-13. This action prompted Fitbit to move for a joinder with Apple’s IPR. The Board granted Fitbit’s petition as well as granting the motion for the joinder. After the Board’s decision, before the Final Written Decision, there was a Supreme Court decision in SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu, 138 S Ct. 1348 (2018), which concluded that the America Invents Act required that all patent claims challenged in a IPR petition must be reviewed by the Board if the petition is granted. This Supreme Court decision was a deciding factor on the Board’s reinstitution of the Apple/Fitbit IPR to add Claims 3-5 of the ‘941 patent.
The Board conducted further proceedings as to Claims 3–5 and issued a Final Written Decision that held Claims 1, 2, and 6–13 unpatentable, and held Claims 3–5 not unpatentable. Following the decision, Apple withdrew from the proceeding. Fitbit appealed the Board’s decision on Claims 3–5. The Federal Circuit had jurisdiction.
To begin, the validity of the joinder appeal was questioned. Valencell argued that Fitbit had no room to appeal because the IPR joinder with Apple did not request Claims 3-5. Valencell also stated that Fitbit did not change their petition after the court ruling, and Fitbit did not submit separate brief for Claims 3-5. Fitbit countered by agreeing that they did not change their petition, but Valencell did not object to the new petition. Fitbit also defended their petition by citing that due to the single IPR with Apple, Fitbit did not need to submit a brief about Claims 3-5. The Federal Circuit agreed with Fitbit, and that the situation and circumstances do not override Fitbit’s statutory right of appeal. Valencell countered by stating that the petition came over a year after Valencell filed their suit, therefore claiming Fitbit was outside of the conformity of statute. The Federal Circuit concluded that Fitbit’s rights as a joined party applies to the entirety of the proceeding and includes the right of appeal.
Second, we review the appeal for Claims 3-5. In this appeal, Fitbit argues “‘API’ is recognized in this field as an acronym for ‘application programming interface’—as experts for both sides agreed. Fitbit argues that the well-known meaning of ‘API’ and its consistent usage accompanying ‘application-specific interface’ in the ’941 patent demonstrate the patentee’s intended broadermeaning of ‘application programming interface” (6). Valencell disagreed, stating that Claim 3 is narrower and more precise, and therefore, not unpatentable. “The Board concluded that regarding Claim 3, the Claim is narrower as stated, and the claim construction is correct. The Board cites their reasoning as ‘application-specific interface (API)’ is directed to a ‘particular application,’ rather than broadly to different applications” (9). The Federal Circuit sustains the Board’s decision on claim construction but notes that the Board did not review the patentability of Claim 3 on grounds of obviousness. Due to this oversee, Fitbit criticized the Board for holding Claim 3 as not unpatentable but neglecting to view Claim 3 on grounds of obviousness before the Final Written Decision. The Federal Circuit “affirm[s] the Board’s claim construction, vacate[s] the Board’s decision that claim 3 is not unpatentable, and remand[s] for determination of patentability in light of the cited references” (11).
The IPR petition also challenged the validity of Claims 4-5 on grounds of obviousness. “The Board held Claims 4 and 5 not unpatentable in its Final Written Decision, on the ground that the Board could not determine the meaning of the Claims because the term ‘the application’ lacked antecedent basis” (10). The Board did not cite prior art references due to it being “speculative” (12). The Board initially ruled that Fitbit did not prove obviousness for Claims 4-5, therefore deeming them not unpatentable. Herein lies an error that both Fitbit and Valencell acknowledge. The error exists due to the Claims being renumbered after the removal of Claim 2 from Valencell’s patent. “Fitbit summarizes; ‘As originally drafted, claim 5 (which is now claim 4) recited that it depended from claim 4 (which is now claim 3). Appx262–263 (original claim listing). As explain[ed] . . . Valencell inadvertently changed claim 4’s dependency to ‘claim 1’ when it amended other Claims of the patent application” (13). The Federal Circuit “concluded that the Agency’s treatment of this error as the basis of a Final Written Decision of patentability is not a reasonable resolution and does not comport with the Agency’s assignment to resolve patentability issues. The Board’s Final Witten Decision on the ground of ‘absence of antecedent’ basis is vacated. On remand the Board shall determine patentability of corrected Claims 4 and 5 on the asserted grounds of obviousness” (14).
The Federal Circuit settled that Fitbit as a joinder had the right to appeal the Board’s decision on Claims 3-5. The Federal Circuit concludes that the Board erred in its ruling of Claims 3-5. The Federal Circuit vacates the decision that Claims 3-5 are not unpatentable and remand for determination of the merits of patentability on the grounds of evidence presented in the petition.
This decision determines that a joint party does have the right to appeal the Board’s decision, regardless of the joint party’s IPR petition. Furthermore, the accuracy of each claim as presented is crucial in determining the patentability of an invention.
Full Fitbit Inc. v Valencell Inc. decision can be read here: www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-1048.OPINION.7-8-2020_1615429.pdf
CIONCA IP Team7/14/2020 7:51:31 PM
CIONCA IP Launches New Online Trademark WebsiteMore
CIONCA IP Launches New Online Trademark Website
Trademark applications are a major headache for most business organizations and entrepreneurs in the United States. Most small business organizations find it difficult to assemble all the requirements for obtaining the trademark. CIONCA IP has proved to be valuable to business organizations and entrepreneurs that are interested in obtaining trademarks using online tools. CIONCA IP provides online on the new site step-by-step guidance to trademark applicants on the information needed to prepare a trademark application. CIONCA IP allows trademark applicants to complete a trademark questionnaire online and submit payments online as well, to complete a trademark application. If the applicant has all the required documentation ready, it only takes the applicant a few minutes to fill out the online trademark application and submit payment on the website. Upon receipt of the online trademark questionnaire answers and payment, the answers are reviewed by a trademark attorney and his qualified staff having the requisite skills and experience to determine the consistencies and completeness of the answers. Once the review process is complete, the trademark attorney and staff solicits clarifications that allow the trademark owner to comply with the United States laws on trademarks.
The online trademark application, which can be found at https://trademarks.cioncaip.com provides the trademark owner with many conveniences because for example there is no need to meet the attorney. Besides, the trademark applicant is not required to visit any physical office because every activity is carried out online. When the attorney finds out the need for further clarification or information, the CIONCA IP team member will reach out to the applicant via phone or email for a follow-up to ensure that all the information provided is accurate. Upon receiving the necessary information required for the online trademark application, CIONCA IP will proceed and file the application with the USPTO. In this way, the applicant is protected from the challenges associated with self-help applications, such as increased chances of registration refusal. This online trademark application process is also less time consuming and is more affordable because the applicant is required to fill the questionnaire online in easy bite sized steps, and the cost is discounted by $100.
Once all the information is filed with USPTO,by CIONCA IP team, the applicant is provided with the trademark's serial number and filing receipt to confirm that the trademark filing was successful. Again, all the application processes are carried out online, and it takes only approximately between 5 and 7 days to complete the process. The online trademark application is one step in the typical trademark clearing and registration process. The typical process entails five steps: trademark clearing search, trademark registration application, trademark prosecution, application examination, and registration certificate.
Visit our new online trademark application website
CIONCA IP 5/19/2020 7:36:30 PM
Uber Technologies, Inc. v. X One, Inc.: “Obvious to Try” RationaleMore
On May 5, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in Uber Technologies, Inc. v. X One, Inc. Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) filed a petition to initiate inter partes review against U.S. Patent No. 8,798,593 (“the ‘593 patent”) owned by X One, Inc. (“X One”), asserting that claims 1, 2, 5, 9, and 19 (“the claims”) were unpatentable as obvious. Uber posited that the claims were obvious over Japanese Patent Application Publication No. 2002-10321 (“Okubo”) in view of Japanese Patent Application Publication No. 2002-352388 (“Konishi”), in further view of U.S. Patent No. 6,636,803 (“Hartz”). The ‘593 patent generally relates to exchanging location information between mobile devices, allowing users to share their locations with other users. The cited prior art also generally relates to the transmission of location information between mobile devices, including plotting of such locations on a map. Upon review in October 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) found that Uber failed to demonstrate that the independent claim 1 was unpatentable as obvious, and thus decided that all challenged claims were not unpatentable. Particularly, the Board concluded that the combination of references failed to make obvious “software… to transmit the map with plotted locations to the first individual.” Uber timely appealed the Board’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”). The Federal Circuit reverses the Board’s determination and remands to the Board for further evaluation.
Naturally, the Federal Circuit performed an analysis of all the Board’s final determinations, as described below:
1. “Obvious to Try” Rationale. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Uber argues that the Board’s conclusions were made in legal error, that the Board misapplied the law of obviousness under KSR. Under KSR the Supreme Court has laid out an expansive approach to the question of obviousness, particularly the discussion of design choices and predictable variations. As stated, “If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, 35 U.S.C. 103 likely bars its patentability. Moreover, when there is a design need … to solve a problem and there are a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, a person of ordinary skill has good reason to pursue the known options within his or her technical grasp.” As explained by Uber, the ‘593 patent, Okubo, and Konishi all attempt to solve the same problem of “helping one user view and track the location of other users.” The record reflects only two possible methods of sharing locations and displaying locations on a map: server-side plotting and terminal-side plotting. Konishi expressly discloses server-side plotting and Okubo discloses terminal-side plotting, which together represent a finite number of identified, predictable solutions.
The specification of the ‘593 patent does not specify the type of plotting, and instead states that any existing platforms and infrastructure may be utilized, suggesting that a person of ordinary skill in the art would be more than capable of selecting between the two known methods. As such, the Federal Circuit holds that the Board erred in its determination that a person of ordinary skill would not have been motivated to combine Okubo with Konishi. As the Federal Circuit states, the combination is obvious because it would have been a “predictable variation” of Okubo’s system, using a technique that was known at the time.
The Federal Circuit is also not persuaded by X One’s technical argument attempting to distinguish that Okubo uses a GPS-based system and Konishi uses a cellular network-based system. Ultimately, it is not necessary that the prior art be physically combinable to render the claimed invention obvious. Rather, the question is “whether the claimed inventions are rendered obvious by the teachings of the prior art as a whole.”
2. Motivation to Combine. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Uber argues that the Board committed legal error by refusing to consider Okubo in combination with the other prior art references on the basis that Okubo was “successful” in and of itself. Because the Federal Circuit concluded that the limitation in question is in fact obvious (as discussed above), the Federal Circuit shall not consider Uber’s alternative argument.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit reverses the Board’s determination pertaining to the obviousness of the limitation “software … to transmit the map with plotted locations to the first individual” in view of Okubo and Konishi. The Federal Circuit therefore remands for the Board to evaluate the remaining limitations of the claims challenged in Uber’s petition.
It is important to realize and understand the implications of the decision made in Uber Technologies, Inc. v. X One, Inc. As evidenced by the outcome, there are numerous considerations to be made when dealing with the question of obviousness. Particularly, and of notable interest, the “obvious to try” rationale, as illustrated by the above case, can be difficult to overcome. X One’s ‘593 patent relied on a specific software limitation to distinguish over the prior art, as illustrated by the Board’s original determination. However, on appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s findings and determined that the specific software limitation was obvious, particularly because there are two known methods in the art that could satisfy that limitation. Given that the two known methods represent a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, the Federal Circuit determined that the software limitation was obvious, since a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to try one of the two solutions. As shown by X One’s response, it is important, when arguing in defense of a claim limitation subject to such a rejection, to not simply present an argument on the ability to physically modify the reference. Prior art references need not physically be combinable for the combined teachings to make a claimed invention obvious.
Full Uber Technologies, Inc. v. X One, Inc. decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-1164.Opinion.5-5-2020_1582497.pdf
Marin Cionca4/15/2020 4:41:43 PM
The Day After COVID-19 Pandemic – Hope or Fear?More
The Day After COVID-19 Pandemic – Hope or Fear?
There is a lot of talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and what its effects will be on our businesses, the economy, and the society as a whole. Expert and non-expert opinions span over a wide range. Simply categorized, these opinions are either pessimistic or optimistic. In a sense, they are similar to the opinions regarding the stock market. There are always the bulls and the bears. Which lead should you follow? I heard for example that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that due to the Corona virus crisis, the global economy will go through a recession in 2020 of a magnitude not seen in 100 years. As an example of the bull view, I heard Mark Cuban saying that the United States has an opportunity to develop America 2.0 after the COVID-19 crisis. I for one am with the optimistic crowd. Here is why.
From my vantage point of a small business owner of a boutique IP law practice, I see first-hand the American ingenuity promptly and steadily at work. I see inventors developing new products and technologies related to COVID-19. They range from consumer products to prevent the spread of the virus or keep our food safe, to diagnostic or treatment methods for COVID-19 virus. We are already writing and filing patent applications for such inventions. I can only imagine the magnitude of these efforts on a national scale. New testing devices and methods are announced weekly by various biotechnology companies. New vaccine and therapeutics are in the works. Clinical trials are in progress.
Furthermore, switching to another technical field, I am certain that many new technologies are being developed related to work-from-home (WFH). I and my team, as I am sure so did you, too often experienced slow speed Internet due to everybody working from home at the same time, while the networks in the neighborhood are not capable of handling the high network traffic. I was told by my Internet service provider that the network infrastructure in the neighborhood was simply not built for the current network traffic. If the working-from-home will continue after the crisis, which I think it will, networks will have to be upgraded to be faster, leaner and more secure. So, naturally, this will lead to new technologies in the field of Internet speed, security and reliability. I can imagine for example a powerful work from home system and supporting network infrastructure that will make online meetings and collaborations very closely mimicking in person meetings and collaborations. For example, a multi-camera system instead of a single-camera system that will be capable of making participants almost feel that they are in the same room. Obviously, a very robust Internet connection will be needed to support such an improved WFH system.
Many other technologies are likely to be born out of this crisis. While some sectors of the economy will be negatively affected, overall, because of new technologies that are being developed, I believe the economy is likely to come out better and stronger. For example, I dare to predict that office space prices and rents will go down at least in short-run because the working-from-home will say with us long after the COVID-19 crisis is over. That is because more and more businesses that were forced by the crisis to experience the working from home will take a second look at WFH. They will learn about pros and cons and some will adopt the system, at least in part, for the long-run. Have you noticed how understanding and accommodating clients are when you tell them you are working from home? This acceptability is likely to have lasting effects. This will lead forward-looking businesses to invest in more reliable, more efficient and more secure WFH technologies.
To conclude, any crisis provides a set of challenges and opportunities. It always matters how we respond. What’s after the crisis depends on how we react. We have an opportunity to develop new technologies that will keep us safer, more prepared to respond quickly to a similar crisis, implement technologies in our businesses that would help us be more efficient and also better prepared for similar crises . I think that we are on track to do just that, so, there is hope!
CIONCA IP4/13/2020 9:33:36 PM
Two of a Kind: TTAB on Shannon DeVivo v. Celeste OrtizMore
On March 11, 2020, TTAB issued a decision in Shannon DeVivo v. Celeste Ortiz. Celeste Ortiz, (“Applicant”) filed a trademark application on November 18, 2017 for the word mark ENGIRLNEER for the following: Cups, coffee cups, tea cups and mugs in Class 021, Lanyards for holding badges; Lanyards for holding keys in Class 22, and Hoodies; Shirts; Sweatshirts in Class 25. Shannon DeVivo (“Opposer”) opposed Applicant’s application, asserting use of the mark since at least October 23, 2017 for information services, a website featuring educational services, and online educational information, and, at least since November 11, 2017, books. Applicant denied the likelihood of confusion alleged by Opposer. The parties submitted a (Proposed) Agreement for Accelerated Case Resolution, which was approved on May 3, 2019, and the opposition was brought to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).
While evidence was accepted, Applicant did not submit evidence but submitted a brief. Opposer submitted Internet evidence and proof of ownership of two trademark applications that were suspended due to Applicant’s application. It was determined that Opposer demonstrated a “real interest” in the proceeding, and thus, had good standing, as she had “a reasonable basis for her belief of damage from registration of Applicant’s mark…” (5).
TTAB also determined that Opposer established priority of use of the mark. Opposer states that she’d been using the mark since June 2017, through the registration of engirlneer.com, where she started publishing information in September 2017. She’d since published a book of fictional “engirlneer” characters and had been speaking at public events. TTAB found that Opposer’s maintenance of her webpage and book, along with its characters, associated her services with the ENGIRLNEER mark prior to Applicant’s filing date of November 18, 2017
The Dupont factors were considered in determining likelihood of confusion. The factors of similarity of the mark and similarity of goods/services were especially significant in this decision.
Opposer’s design mark is considered identical to Applicant’s standard character mark, since Applicant’s mark would not be limited to font style, size or color, and thus, could be assumed to be identical to Opposer’s mark. The other Dupont considerations resulted to be at least neutral.
Regarding the Dupont factor of similarity of goods/services, although both parties’ goods appear to be different, TTAB favored that their goods are commercially related, citing, “It is common knowledge that…the licensing of commercial trademarks on ‘collateral products’ has become a part of everyday life” (36).
In light of the above, Application’s registration was refused.
Upon adopting a new mark, it is important to consider the existence of potentially conflicting marks. Moreover, as shown here, a difference in goods/services may not always be strong enough to ensure registration of two potentially conflicting marks. Prior research is beneficial when considering registration of a mark with the USPTO.
Full Shannon DeVivo v. Celeste Ortiz decision can be read here: https://efoia.uspto.gov/Foia/RetrievePdf?system=TTABIS&flNm=91242863-03-11-2020.
CIONCA IP3/16/2020 8:43:10 PM
GS CleanTech Corporation v. Adkins Energy, LLC: Inequitable ConductMore
On March 2, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in GS CleanTech Corporation v. Adkins Energy, LLC. Starting in 2009 and continuing through 2014, CleanTech Corporation (“CleanTech”) filed lawsuits against Adkins Energy, LLC (“Adkins”) for infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,601,858 (“the ‘858 patent”), 8,008,516 (“the ‘516 patent”), 8,283,484 (“the ‘484 patent”) (together, “the Patents-in-Suit”) in a number of actions that were later combined into a multidistrict litigation case. The Patents-in-Suit share a specification and relate to the recovery of oil from a dry mill ethanol plant’s byproduct, called thin stillage. Particularly, the Patents-in-Suit disclose a method of successful recovery of the valuable oil from the thin stillage byproduct by evaporating the thin stillage to form a concentrate, and then separating the oil from the concentrate using a centrifuge. In 2013, CleanTech moved for summary judgement. Upon review, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (“District Court”) found Appellant CleanTech’s Patents-in-Suit unenforceable due to inequitable conduct, and that therefore, the specified claims in the lawsuit were invalid.
The District Court determined that the on-sale bar applies and invalidates the Patents-in-Suit, supported by undisputed contemporaneous evidence of inequitable conduct. In 2000, David Cantrell founded Vortex Dehydration Technology (“VDT”) with the purpose of selling methods of processing factory waste. In 2002, David Winsness joined VDT as its Chief Technology Officer, and later, Cantrell and Winsness (collectively, “the Inventors”) began developing an oil recovery product, with the help of processing equipment sold by Greg Barlage. During this time, VDT maintained a business relationship with Agri-Energy LLC (“Agri-Energy”), which operated a dry-mill ethanol plant. Mr. Cantrell believed VDT’s oil recovery system might be applicable in an ethanol plant, and later directed Mr. Barlage to conduct tests using samples of Agri-Energy’s thin stillage samples. In his testing report (“June 2003 Report”), Mr. Barlage concluded that VDT’s oil recovery system was successful. On August 1, 2003 Mr. Cantrell emailed several Agri-Energy employees (“August 2003 Email”) and attached a proposal, dated July 31, 2003 (“July 2003 Proposal”). In the July 2003 Proposal, VDT offered Agri-Energy a No-Risk trial of the oil recovery system for 60 days to operate the unit and confirm its value, after which Agri-Energy could purchase the system or return it. Agri-Energy understood the July 2003 Proposal as an offer for sale. On August 18, 2003, Mr. Cantrell traveled to Agri-Energy and presented his proposal to the Agri-Energy Board of Directors, to which the Board of Directors rejected. In early 2004, VDT and Agri-Energy again communicated regarding the oil recovery system, and a centrifuge was installed in the Agri-Energy plant.
In February 2004, the Inventors engaged attorney Andrew Dorisio to prepare a patent application for their oil recovery method. Without being told about the July 2003 Proposal, Mr. Dorisio filed a provisional application with the USPTO on August 17, 2004. In May 2005, Mr. Dorisio filed a non-provisional application, and filed subsequent continuing applications. In 2006, the Inventors joined CleanTech, which acquired VDT’s patent applications. In March 2008, Mr. Winsness transferred the prosecution of the applications to the law firm Cantor Colburn LLP (“Cantor Colburn”). Throughout prosecution of the applications, Cantor Colburn filed two declarations signed by Mr. Cantrell. In the first declaration, Mr. Cantrell stated there was no offer for sale of the claimed invention and that the July 2003 Proposal was actually disclosed on August 18, 2003. In the second declaration, filed during prosecution of the ‘484 patent, Mr. Cantrell stated that he had forgotten about sending the August 2003 Email with the July 2003 Proposal attached. The applications all issued as patents.
Following its summary judgement determinations regarding the above, the District Court held an inequitable conduct bench trial. The District Court concluded that CleanTech committed inequitable conduct through a complete lack of regard for their duty to the USPTO. The District Court also determined that the Inventors took affirmative steps to hide the offer for sale from their lawyers, then, later from the USPTO. It was decided that the Inventors purposefully acted to deceive the USPTO so they could profit from obtaining patents. Lastly, the District Court concluded that Cantor Colburn participated in the inequitable conduct by choosing advocacy of their clients over candor. In light of such conclusions, the District Court held the Patents-in-Suit unenforceable. CleanTech appealed the District Court’s decision. The Federal Circuit affirms.
Naturally, the Federal Circuit performed an analysis of all the District Court’s final determinations, as described below:
1. Inequitable Conduct. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, CleanTech argues that the District Court made clearly erroneous findings of fact and misapplied the law with respect to its on-sale bar determination, as well as its conclusions regarding the parties’ knowledge of materiality and their intent to deceive. To prevail on a claim of inequitable conduct in a patent case, the accused infringer must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the patentee knew of the prior commercial sale, knew that it was material to patentability and made a deliberate decision to withhold it. Thus, a patent is invalid under the on-sale bar if, before the critical date, the invention was the subject of a commercial sale or offer for sale and was “ready for patenting.” Whether the claimed invention was the subject of an offer for sale involves an assessment of whether the circumstances surrounding the transaction show that the transaction was not primarily for experimentation purposes. An invention is “ready for patenting” when, prior to the critical date, the invention is reduced to practice or is depicted in drawings and/or described in writings of sufficient nature.
CleanTech contends that the July 2003 Proposal was not an offer for sale as it “did not in fact perform the method for Agri-Energy, before the critical date, for a promise of future compensation.” The Federal Circuit finds this counterargument unavailing. As the District Court similarly concluded, the July 2003 Proposal provides an offer of “all items necessary to recover oil and the price” and the Inventors understood the offer to Agri-Energy was a “first sale” that would lead to future sales. In regard to the invention’s readiness for patenting, CleanTech argues that the Inventors had not prepared drawings or other descriptions of the invention that were sufficiently specific to enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to practice it. The District Court determined, however, that while there was no “single reference that specifically delineated” the claimed method, Mr. Barlage’s lab tests and results and “communications from Mr. Cantrell to Agri-Energy would allow one of ordinary skill to practice the invention of the Patents-in-Suit.” The Federal Circuit concludes that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in its on-sale bar determination.
2. Duty of Disclosure. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, CleanTech argues that the District Court erred in its materiality and intent to deceive findings. Second, CleanTech avers that the District Court’s materiality finding violated its right to a jury trial, and that the review of materiality “exceeded the scope of the bench trial, which was only on ‘inequitable conduct.’” The Federal Circuit finds all of these counterarguments unavailing. The Federal Circuit concludes that CleanTech and its attorneys were aware that the claimed invention was ready for patenting, as evidenced by documents belatedly or not given to the USPTO, and that they knew of those documents’ materiality. Second, given that inequitable conduct is based on equity, there is no right to a jury trial. Third, materiality is an element of the inequitable conduct claim, and was thus not outside the scope of the bench trial conducted by the District Court.
The District Court concluded that CleanTech knew the July 2003 Proposal to Agri-Energy threatened its chances of patenting its method and took affirmative steps to withhold the information from the USPTO. Second, the District Court found that the Inventors and their attorneys withheld evidence of successful testing in 2003 and made false representations by implying that the invention was not reduced to practice until 2004. Mr. Winsness informed Cantor Colburn that the testing done in June 2003 showed that a “sequence of evaporation followed by centrifugation allows for oil recovery.” The Inventors also informed Cantor Colburn that, based on this testing, the Inventors believed that the process would work on a commercial scale. Cantor Colburn was in possession of these test reports as well. Despite possessing this information, Cantor Colburn did not provide it to the USPTO during the prosecution of the Patents-in-Suit. Third, the District Court concluded that the Inventors and Cantor Colburn made “patentably false” statements in the two declarations filed during prosecution, which was “strong evidence of intentional deceit.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Federal Circuit’s findings of inequitable conduct and unenforceability of the Patents-in-Suit. More specifically, the Federal Circuit concludes that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that, by clear and convincing evidence, the single most reasonable inference to be drawn from the record was that the Inventors and Cantor Colburn intended to deceive the USPTO.
It is important to realize and understand the implications of the decision made in GS CleanTech Corporation v. Adkins Energy, LLC. As evidenced by the outcome, withholding vital information regarding patentability of an invention from the USPTO can have dire consequences on patents and patent applications. As discussed, CleanTech’s patents were ruled invalid and therefore unenforceable, thereby stripping CleanTech of any patent rights it previously possessed. As evidenced by this outcome, it is imperative to always disclose pertinent information to the USPTO, even if that information may result in a bar to patentability (e.g., on-sale bar). Additionally, it is imperative that registered patent practitioners respect and honor their duty to the USPTO when practicing before the USPTO. As evidenced by this decision, patent practitioners may be charged with inequitable conduct in relation to individuals they represent. As such, it is important for practitioners to always remember their duty of disclosure to the USPTO (e.g., disclosing knowledge of prior art or sale) and must practice candor to the USPTO over advocacy for their clients.
Full GS CleanTech Corporation v. Adkins Energy, LLC decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/16-2231.Opinion.3-2-2020_1543098.pdf
CIONCA IP3/10/2020 7:45:30 PM
Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Google LLC, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft Mobile Inc.More
On January 30, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Google LLC, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft Mobile Inc. Koninklijke Philips N.V. (“Philips”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,529,806 (“the ‘806 patent”), titled “Partitioning of MP3 Content File for Emulating Streaming”.
The ‘806 patent “relates to content and/or control communications between multiple computer systems, or to such communications between computer systems and consumer devices.” More specifically, when communication is “constrained by bandwidth or limited by data processing resource”. Philips “appeals the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) in an inter partes review of [the ’806 patent], in which the Board found that claims 1–11 were unpatentable as obvious.” Google LLC, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft Mobile Inc. (“Google LLC”) also submits that if Claims 1-9 and 11 are found nonobvious, they “can affirm the judgment as to claims 1–9 and 11 on the alternative ground that the claims are anticipated”.
Per the standard, “[the Federal Circuit] review[ed] the Board’s legal determinations de novo and its underlying factual determinations for substantial evidence.” Philips has three arguments in regard to their appeal of the original decision. Philips’s arguments are (1) “the Board erred by instituting inter partes review;” (2) “the Board erred in finding that the claims would have been obvious;” and (3) “the Board’s obviousness findings are nevertheless unsupported by substantial evidence.”
First, Philips argues “that the Board erred by instituting inter partes review on a ground not advanced in Google’s petition.” The Board reviewed “three grounds of unpatentability: (1) anticipation in view of SMIL 1.0; (2) obviousness over SMIL 1.0; and (3) obviousness over SMIL 1.0 in combination with Hua.” However, Google’s petition did not include the third ground to review. It was concluded that “the Board erred by instituting inter partes review of claims 1–11 of the ’806 patent based on obviousness over SMIL 1.0 and Hua because Google did not advance such a combination of references in its petition”
Second, Philips argues “the Board erred in relying on “general knowledge” to supply a missing claim limitation.” They stated that “the prior art that can be considered in inter partes reviews is limited to patents and printed publications, [however] it does not follow that [they] ignore the skilled artisan’s knowledge when determining whether it would have been obvious to modify the prior art.” The Federal Circuit’s conclusion was “that the Board did not violate § 311(b) or the inter partes review statute in determining that the claims would have been obvious over SMIL 1.0 in light of the general knowledge of a skilled artisan.”
Third, “Philips argues that substantial evidence does not support the Board’s determination that the claims would have been obvious over SMIL 1.0 in light of a skilled artisan’s general knowledge.” It was stated from an expert declaration and “the Board found that a skilled artisan ‘would have been motivated to reduce the wait time to receive media content over the Internet by using pipelining with SMIL 1.0.’” The Federal Circuit determined that “the Board’s factual findings underlying its obviousness determination are supported by substantial evidence.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s judgement.
This decision determines that even though general knowledge may not solely be relied on for inter partes reviews, general knowledge cannot be ignored if the knowledge along with evidence thereof would make the modifications obvious.
Full Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Google LLC, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft Mobile Inc. decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca2/9/2020 7:46:10 PM
Analogous Prior Art or Not? A critical patent obviousness questionMore
Analogous Prior Art or Not? A critical patent obviousness question
During the examination of a patent application, a USPTO examiner may cite two or more pieces of prior art (e.g., U.S. Patents or U.S. Patent Applications) and take the position that the claimed invention is obvious in light of the cited prior art. Similarly, in a patent litigation context, a defendant may argue that the asserted patent is invalid for being obvious over one or more pieces of prior art. In order for a prior art document to be relevant to the question of obviousness, the prior art document has to be analogous to the claimed invention. There are two tests to determine if a prior art reference is analogous:
(1) whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of the problem addressed and,
(2) if the reference is not within the field of the inventor’s endeavor, whether the reference still is reasonably pertinent to the particular problemwith which the inventor is involved.
Applying these tests is not easy, and various parties in a dispute can arrive at different conclusions. A good example isAirbus S.A.S. v. Firepass Corporation, a case decided by the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit recently, on November 8, 2019.
Summary of the Airbus Case
Airbus S.A.S. has appealed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s reversal of the patent examiner’s rejection of certain new claims presented by patent owner Firepass Corporation in an inter partes reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 6,418,752. Airbus challenged the Board’s finding that an asserted prior art reference fails to qualify as relevant prior art because it is not analogous to the claimed invention of the ’752 patent.
The ’752 patent discloses a fire prevention and suppression system that prevents and extinguishes fires using breathable air instead of water, foam, or toxic chemicals, based on the inventor’s alleged discovery that a low-oxygen (“hypoxic”) but normal pressure (“normbaric”) atmosphere inhibits fire ignition and combustion, yet remains breathable for humans.
The asserted prior art reference at issue on appeal, U.S. Patent No. 5,799,652 (Kotliar), is an earlier-issued patent that discloses equipment for providing hypoxic air in an enclosed area for the purposes of athletic training or therapy. This invention can simulate low-oxygen mountain air for training at different elevations.
The examiner considered other prior art references as part of Airbus’s validity challenges of the ’752 patent. One is a study focused on “human performance during [a] prolonged stay in normobaric hypoxia, a so-called ‘fire retardant atmosphere.’” Another prior art was a report from the U.S. Navy that examines the medical hazards of four types of flame-suppressant atmospheres for “sealed chambers.” Another prior art explored the effect of “nitrogen-based, fire-retardant atmospheres” on human performance, particularly visual sensitivity. Lastly, another prior art considered was the U.S. Patent No. 3,893,514 (Carhart) titled “Suppres- sion of Fires in Confined Places by Pressurization.” Carhart explains that “[i]t is well known to those skilled in the art that fires are supported by oxygen and that by using some means to deplete the surrounding area of oxygen or lowering the percent of oxygen the fire will be suppressed.”
Examiner’s Position: the claims in question were obvious over Kotliar in view of the other prior art.
PTAB’s Decision: Examiner erred because Kotliar was not analogous art. The Board explained that “[t]here is no articulated rational underpinning that sufficiently links the problem of fire suppression/prevention confronting the inventor” of the ’752 patent to the invention disclosed in Kotliar, “which is directed to human therapy, wellness, and physical training.” In doing so, the Board declined to consider Airbus’s argument that “breathable fire suppressive environments [were] well-known in the art” because none of the four references relied on by Airbus was specifically used to support the examiner’s rejection of claims.
The Federal Circuit Court’s Decision: the Court vacated the Board (PTAB) decision and remanded the case back to the Board for further consideration; the Court held that the Board erred in its analogous art analysis by declining to consider record evidence (i.e., the additional four prior art references mentioned above) relied on by Airbus to demonstrate the knowledge and perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention.
Whether a prior art reference is analogous and thus can be used in an obviousness analysis should be considered by all parties involved (e.g., patent applicant, patentee). The grant or the validity of the respective patent may be dependent on the answer to this question.
See entire Court Decision at http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/19-1803.Opinion.11-8-2019.pdf.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C
CIONCA IP 1/15/2020 4:47:19 PM
FOX Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC: Presumption of NexusMore
On December 18, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in FOX Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC. On April 2, 2018, FOX Factory, Inc. (“FOX”) filed a petition for inter partes review with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) of a patent belonging to SRAM, LLC. The patent belonging to SRAM, LLC. is U.S. Patent No. 9,182,027 (“the ‘027 patent”), and generally covers an improved chainring structure that better maintains the chain, obviating the need for extraneous structures that improve chain retention. The independent claims of the ‘027 patent recite a chainring with alternating narrow and wide tooth tips and teeth offset (“outboard offsets”). FOX posited that claims 1-26 of the ‘027 patent were obvious in view of Japanese Utility Model No. S5642489 (“JP-Shimano”) in combination with U.S. Patent No. 5,285,701 (“Parachinni”). Upon review, the Board determined that JP-Shimano and Parachinni together disclose every limitation of the outboard offset independent claims and that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to combine the references. However, the Board determined that FOX had not shown that the challenged claims would have been obvious, based on the analysis of secondary considerations evidence pertaining to SRAM’s X-Sync products.
The Board determined that SRAM was entitled to a presumption of nexus between the challenged outboard offset claims and the secondary considerations evidence. The Board reasoned that SRAM’s secondary considerations evidence pertaining to a specific X-Sync product is only coextensive with the claims broadly covering that particular product. FOX argued that SRAM’s products are not coextensive with the claims because the products include numerous unclaimed features, and that the X-Sync products also embody the claims of additional patents that cover a different invention than the claims of the ‘027 patent. Upon weighing the evidence, the Board determined that FOX could not rebut the nexus presumption, and that FOX had not shown that the challenged claims would have been obvious. FOX appealed the Board’s obviousness decision. The Federal Circuit vacates the obviousness decision and remands the Board to reevaluate the import of the evidence of secondary considerations with the burden of proving nexus placed on SRAM.
1. Presumption of Nexus. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, FOX argues that the Board erred in its determination that SRAM was entitled to a presumption of nexus between the challenged claims and SRAM’s evidence of secondary considerations. In short, a nexus exists if the commercial success of a product is limited to the features of the claimed invention, therefore making the product coextensive with the claims at issue. FOX and SRAM dispute whether the X-Sync chainrings are coextensive with the independent claims. Although it is not required that the patentee proves perfect correspondence to meet the coextensiveness requirement, it is required that the patentee demonstrates the product is essentially the claimed invention. As such, no reasonable fact finder could conclude, under proper standard, that the X-Sync chainrings are coextensive with the patent claims. Because the X-Sync chainrings include critical unclaimed features (e.g., 80% gap filling), the patent claim is not coextensive with the product. The Federal Circuit concludes that because the independent claims do not include the critical features, it cannot say that the X-Sync chainrings are the invention claimed. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit holds that the Board erred in presuming nexus between the independent claims of the ‘027 patent and secondary considerations evidence pertaining to SRAM’s X-Sync chainrings.
The Federal Circuit finds SRAM’s counterarguments unpersuasive. According to SRAM, the coextensiveness requirement is met if the patent claim broadly covers the product that is the subject of the secondary considerations evidence. However, in this particular case, because there are features not claimed by the ‘027 patent that materially impact the functionality of the X-Sync products, nexus may not be presumed.
2. Remand. In response to FOX’s appeal, separate from the issue of nexus, SRAM briefly contends that substantial evidence does not support the Board’s conclusions that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to combine the prior art references. The Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s determination of motivation based on JP-Shimano and Parachinni and declarations submitted by FOX’s expert.
In its appeal, FOX also raises a SAS-based (decision made in SAS Institute v. Iancu) remand request, that is, that the Board review all grounds of unpatentability raised by FOX, rather than just two of the eight grounds the Board originally reviewed. SRAM argues that FOX waived its right to a remand pursuant to SAS because FOX did not raise its SAS objection before the Board. However, SAS issued after the Board’s final written decision, and the Federal Circuit does not require filing a request for reconsideration to preserve a SAS-based remand. FOX therefore did not waive its right to a remand, according to the Federal Circuit. Thus, the Federal Circuit remands the Board to consider all remaining non-instituted grounds of unpatentability.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit vacates the Board’s obviousness decision and remands the case to the Board and allows SRAM the opportunity to prove nexus between the challenged independent claims and the evidence of secondary considerations. More specifically, SRAM will bear the burden of proving that the evidence of secondary considerations is attributable to the claimed combination, as opposed to the unclaimed features. The Federal Circuit also affirms the Board’s determination that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to combine the references.
It is important to realize and understand the implications of the decision made in FOX Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC. The Federal Circuit determined that the Board erred in its presumption of nexus between the challenged independent claims of the ‘027 patent and the X-Sync product. SRAM and the Board took the position that the coextensiveness requirement for a nexus to exist is met so long as the patent broadly covers the subject of the secondary considerations evidence. Such a position would suggest that the coextensiveness requirement rests entirely on minor variations in claim drafting. The Federal Circuit holds that resting the coextensiveness inquiry on nothing more than minor variations in patent claim language would turn the inquiry into one of form over substance. Thus, nexus can only be presumed where the evidence of secondary considerations is tied to a specific product that is the invention disclosed and claimed in a patent.
Full FOX Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/18-2024.Opinion.12-18-2019.pdf
CIONCA IP 1/9/2020 4:43:58 PM
The Bigger Picture: TTAB’s Decision in In re James Haden, M.D., P.A.More
On December 4, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”) made a decision in In re James Haden, M.D., P.A. Appellee James Haden, M.D., P.A. (“the Applicant”) sought registration on the Supplemental Register of the logo mark , for “Medical and health care services, namely, medical treatment of allergies, asthma, immune disorders, and shortness of breath.” Moreover, the mark is described as “a red, horizontal oval with a white and blue border. Inside the oval in stacked formation are the words, ‘ALLERGY CARE’ in stylized capital letters in white with blue outline,” with the colors being claimed as features. The Examining Attorney first refused the mark’s registration on the Principal Register on the basis of mere descriptiveness. The Applicant later sought registration on the Supplemental Register after final refusal, to which the Examining Attorney still upheld his position. The Applicant then appealed and TTAB has jurisdiction.
Determining genericness “‘involves a two-step inquiry: First, what is the genus of goods or services at issue? Second, is the term sought to be registered…understood by the relevant public primarily to refer to that genus of goods or services?’” In this case, the Applicant’s services are clearly defined. Regarding the public’s understanding, the Examining Attorney submitted forty excerpts wherein third-party professionals also use ALLERGY CARE to refer to their own offered services, showing that the phrase is commonly used in the industry. Thus, the Board found ALLERGY CARE to be generic for the Applicant’s services.
However, it is realized that the Applicant’s desired mark did not consist of standard characters, and as such, the design mark needs to be considered as a whole, including its features. With ALLERGY CARE disclaimed, the Board deemed the mark eligible for registration on the Supplemental Register. While the Examining Attorney argued that the mark’s design features were insufficient in being considered distinct, the Board holds that the Examining Attorney’s arguments are only relevant to registrability on the Principal Register. Moreover, the Board holds that “because such stylized non-distinctive wording, common geometric shapes, and background designs may be registered on the Principal Register with a showing of acquired distinctiveness, they are capable of serving as indicators of source and also may be registered on the Supplemental Register.” The Board concluded that the Applicant’s design mark could serve as a source identifier.
For the above reasons, the Board decided that while the genericness refusal is affirmed, the Applicant could submit a disclaimer of ALLERGY CARE in order to obtain registration on the Supplemental Register.
Although descriptive marks should be avoided, it should be noted that descriptive wording may be included in a design mark, since design marks include supporting design features. A combination of design features may be distinct enough to function as a source identifier, and thus, a trademark.
Full In re James Haden, M.D., P.A. decision can be read here:
CIONCA IP 12/31/2019 4:29:41 PM
The Chamberlain Group, INC. v. One World Technologies, INC.More
On December 17, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in The Chamberlain Group, INC. v. One World Technologies, INC. The Chamberlain Group, INC (“CG”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,196,611 (“the ‘611 patent”), titled “Barrier Movement Operator Human Interface Method and Apparatus.”
The ‘611 patent “relates to barrier movement operators and particularly to human interface methods and apparatus for such systems.” More specifically, the use of “a motor for moving a barrier between open and closed positions and a controller,” which may be used for such things as garage doors. “One World Technologies, Inc. petitioned for inter partes review (“IPR”) of claims 18–25 of the ’611 patent. One World’s petition asserted that claims 18–25 are anticipated under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) by U.S. Patent No. 4,638,433 (Schindler), and that claims 23 and 24 are obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103(a) over the combination of Schindler and an owner’s manual for an industrial duty door operator (LiftMaster).” Chamberlain appealed the United States Patent and Trademark Office Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (the “Board”) decision. The Federal Circuit affirmed that claims 18–25 of the ’611 patent was anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 4,638,433 (“Schindler”).
Per the standard, “[they] review[ed] the Board’s ultimate claim construction de novo and any underlying factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence for substantial evidence.” The Board addressed Chamberlain’s “responsive to” argument and the anticipation of claim 18 of the ‘611 patent considering the “responsive to” argument.
First, “Chamberlain argues the Board’s waiver finding was erroneous because (1) its “responsive to” argument responded to new arguments made in One World’s reply; and (2) its “responsive to” argument was consistent with its position throughout the IPR and was merely a clarification.” The Federal Circuit agrees that Chamberlain was clarifying their position and not raising a new issue, which means the “waiver [was] inappropriate in this situation.” It was concluded that “the Board erred in finding Chamberlain waived its “responsive to” argument.”
Second, the Federal Circuit addressed the anticipation of claim 18 of the ‘611 patent considering the “responsive to” argument. The Federal Circuit “agree[d] with the Board that nothing in claim 18 ‘requires the activities to be identified together or at the same time.’” With the evidence of “Chamberlain’s own expert, Dr. Davis, testif[ying] that claim 18 ‘requires identifying multiple activities by the controller and is silent on any timing requirement,’” anticipation may be concluded. Thus, with Chamberlain’s lack of timing mentioned and “Schindler’s disclosure of transmitting the signals in sequence” there is sufficient evidence of anticipation.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s judgement.
This decision determines that a new argument may be raised during the Board’s oral hearings, if it is a clarification of the position held during the trial.
Full Chamberlain Group, INC. v. One World Technologies, INC. decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca12/9/2019 8:07:20 PM
A “glove” approach to patent claim constructionMore
A “glove” approach to patent claim construction
Everyone may remember the famous rhyme Johnnie Cochran used in his closing arguments in the O.J. Simpson trial:“if it doesn’t fit you must acquit!” Could a similar approach (i.e., the glove approach) be used in claim construction, infringement analysis or patent infringement trials? I believe that at least in some cases, the answer is yes. I am a passionate believer in simplification of difficult concepts, such as patent claim scope, by using easy to understand graphics (e.g., a sketch of glove having five fingers) or even rhymes…, even though, I must admit, encapsulating any technology in a rhyme would be more often than not quite challenging.
Typically, claims in a patent have several claim limitations, also called claim elements. Imagine for example a simple patented device that has several components. For the simplicity of the analogy, let’s say that we have one patent having one claim protecting the patented device and the device has five components, exactly the number of fingers of a typical glove. The one claim is reciting this simple device and the five components the device is made of. Let’s say that there is a first competing device that also has five components, but one of the five components is completely different than the corresponding component recited in the patented claim. The question is, is the first competing device infringing?
As another example, there is a second competing device that has only four of the five components recited in the patented claim. Is the second computing device infringing the patent claim? Finally, as a third example, let’s say there is a third competing device that has six components, five of which are exactly the same as in the patented claim. Is the third competing device infringing the patented claim?
Let’s analyze them one by one under the “glove” approach. Regarding the first competing device, because one of the five components is different, the glove will not fit, meaning that one of the five “fingers” of the “glove” (i.e., the patented claim) will not fit the corresponding “finger” of the competing device. Of course, the different component must not be equivalent to the corresponding component recited in the pattern of claim. In that case, the competing device is not infringing the patented claim. Regarding the second competing device, because the device is missing one of the five components recited in the patented claim, again the “glove” will not fit, and, thus there’s no infringement. That is because there is no fifth “finger” in the computing device to correspond with the five-finger “glove” of the patented claim.
Regarding the third computing device example, it should be noted that because the competing device has all the corresponding fingers of the “glove” of the patented claim, the glove will fit, in the sense that all the five “fingers” of the glove will fit the corresponding five “fingers” of the competing device. This means that the third computing device will infringe the patented claim. Yes, I know, you are asking, what about the sixth “finger” of the competing device? It doesn’t matter. Because all “fingers” of the patented claim have a correspondent and fitting “finger” in the competing device (also called accused device), the competing device is infringing the patented claim.
It should be noted that this is an overly simplified analogy. In practice there are several nuances, such as how the five elements cooperate with each other, as recited in the patent claim. That is because the manner of cooperation itself could constitute a distinct claim element. Still, this “glove” approach could help for example a jury in an infringement trial understand the difficult concepts of claim scope and patent infringement.
11/15/2019 8:15:11 PM
Liqwd, Inc. v. L’Oreal USA, Inc.: Objective Indicia and CopyingMore
On October 30, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in Liqwd, Inc. v. L’Oreal USA, Inc. On January 31, 2017, L’Oreal USA, Inc. filed a petition for post-grant review with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) regarding a patent belonging to Liqwd, Inc. The patent belonging to Liqwd, Inc. is U.S. Patent No. 9,498,419 (“the ‘419 patent”), and relates to formulations and methods of treating hair, skin, or nails. L’Oreal posited that claims 1-6, 8, and 10 of the ‘419 patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 7,044,986 (“Ogawa”). L’Oreal also posited that claims 1-8 and 10 were obvious in view of Ogawa or in view of U.S. Patent Publication No. 2002/0189034 (“Kitabata”) in combination with German (“Berkemer”) and Korean (“KR ‘564”) Patent Publications. Upon review, the Board determined that the ‘419 patent was not anticipated by Ogawa but determined that the ‘419 patent was obvious in view of Ogawa, Berkemer, and KR ‘564. Thus, the Board determined that claims 1-8 and 10 were invalid because they are obvious in view of the prior art.
The Board also weighed evidence relating to objective indicia of non-obviousness, particularly long-felt need and copying. The Board determined that there was no long-felt need satisfied by the ‘419 patent. In regard to copying, the Board determined that L’Oreal did in fact copy Liqwd, stating that L’Oreal would not have been able to develop products containing maleic acid without access to Liqwd’s confidential information disclosed in an unpublished application (“the ‘885 patent application). However, the Board decided that the factual finding of copying was irrelevant as a matter of law because Liqwd did not provide a specific product showing proof of copying. Liqwd appealed the Board’s obviousness decision. The Federal Circuit vacates the obviousness decision for the Board’s error in disregarding the evidence of copying on the part of L’Oreal. The Federal Circuit remands the case to the Board for further analysis.
1. Objective Evidence: Indicia and Copying. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Liqwd argues that the Board erred in its determination that L’Oreal’s copying of Liqwd’s unpublished ‘885 patent application did not qualify as an objective indicium of non-obviousness. The Board determined that L’Oreal adopted the use of maleic acid in its formulations because of L’Oreal’s access to the ‘885 patent application, but the Board disregarded this finding in its obviousness determination. L’Oreal responds to Liqwd’s argument stating that because Liqwd did not present a specific product containing the maleic acid, there is no evidence of copying by L’Oreal. The Federal Circuit concludes that the Board’s dismissal of the evidence of copying was error. The Federal Circuit has consistently held that objective indicia of copying may be the most probative evidence of non-obviousness. The Federal Circuit holds that more evidence than simply showing similarities between two competitors’ products is needed to prove copying, which is a major factor in the Federal Circuit’s disagreement with the Board.
The Federal Circuit tries to avoid treating instances of mere patent infringement as copying simply because the claims of a patent are similar to a competitor product. In the event that objective evidence of copying is presented to show non-obviousness, it must be proven that a nexus exists between the evidence and the claimed features of the invention. In this particular case, evidence of actual copying by L’Oreal was present, and so that evidence must be held relevant in an obviousness determination.
2. Obviousness Determination: Remand to the Board. The evidence of copying presented to the Board included a L’Oreal email referring to a non-disclosure agreement and a planned meeting in May 2015 involving Liqwd’s founder and inventors involved with the ‘419 patent. During that meeting, L’Oreal was provided with a copy of the then-confidential ‘885 patent application, which disclosed the method of using maleic acid. The purpose of the meeting was L’Oreal’s interest in purchasing Liqwd’s technology, but this interest was subsequently lost. However, L’Oreal’s later use of maleic acid proved to the Board, and to the Federal Circuit as well, that L’Oreal copied Liqwd’s method. Because the Board dismissed this finding of evidence of copying, the Federal Circuit affirms Liqwd’s contention that the Board erred and that this evidence is indeed relevant to an obviousness determination.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit does not affirm the Board’s final determination that claims 1-8 and 10 of the ‘419 patent are invalid due to obviousness. The Federal Circuit vacates the Board’s obviousness decision and remands the case to the Board to complete a subsequent obviousness analysis and consider the evidence of copying. The Federal Circuit requires that all pieces of evidence be fully considered, and each be given its appropriate weight in this case.
Objective evidence, such as indicia of copying, should always be fully considered and given the appropriate weight when anticipation or obviousness analyses are being conducted. Indicia of copying may be able to prove the non-obviousness of a claim or set of claims in a patent. Objective evidence of copying need not solely be in the form of a particular product and may be indicated via copying efforts. In this particular case, the copying efforts were indicated by the presentation of emails, meeting discussions, and disclosure of confidential information. It should also be understood that infringement is not a clear indication of copying. While a competitor product may infringe on a patent’s claims, there must be clear evidence of copying efforts, which cannot be coincidental, as may be in the case of infringement.
Full Liqwd, Inc. v. L’Oreal USA, Inc. decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/18-2152.Opinion.10-30-2019.pdf
CIONCA IP10/16/2019 1:28:13 PM
To Use or Not to Use: The Statutory Period of Trademark Nonuse Prior to Presumed AbandonmentMore
On October 10, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Cervejaria Petropolis Sa v. Ambev S.A. Appellee Ambev S.A. (“Ambev”) filed a petition to cancel Appellant Cervejaria Petropolis SA’s (“CP”) registered mark FUSION, used for “non-alcoholic beverage ingredients, namely, effervescent powder to be dissolved in liquid to produce an energy drink and hypertonic drink” (“Registered Product”). Ambev asserted that CP had abandoned the mark, due to nonuse in three years or more. Ambev submitted supporting evidence to the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, (“TTAB”) and CP attempted to defend their entitlement to registration in turn. TTAB found CP’s defense unpersuasive and canceled CP’s FUSION mark in Ambev’s favor. CP appealed TTAB’s decision and the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
The Federal Circuit reviewed the TTAB’s findings de novo. “Under the Lanham Act, a registered trademark may be ‘deemed to be ‘abandoned’’ when ‘its use has been discontinued with intent not to resume such use.’” Furthermore, if one seeks the cancellation of a registered mark, the burden of proof of nonuse lies on the petitioner. Once the petitioner has provided proof, the mark owner may rebut and defend entitlement to the mark’s registration and provide evidence that the mark is still used or will be used. However, such evidence must have originated from a time during the statutory period of three consecutive years from initial nonuse.
TTAB found that Ambev’s evidence established CP’s nonuse of the FUSION mark for even more than three and a half years. It should be noted that CP purchased the FUSION mark, and in response to Ambev, “CP stated that at the time it acquired the FUSION mark, on October 27, 2011, it did not intend to use the mark for the Registered Product,” but developed intentions later to do so later on. Regardless, CP still could not provide documentation (e.g., a CP-owned webpage or blog) to exhibit its intent to use the mark for the Registered Product. CP’s efforts were clouded by additional withstanding supporting evidence submitted by Ambev: excerpts from CP’s website which lack of any reference to the FUSION product/mark, “testimony from Ambev’s private investigator that she found no evidence of CP using the FUSION mark for the Registered Product in the United States through June 11, 2014,” and a 2011 “public corporate filing from CP’s predecessor in interest indicating that it had discontinued sales of its FUSION mark registered products.”
In regard to CP’s intent to resume use of the mark, CP could only provide evidence suggesting intent to resume the mark’s use dated from July 15, 2015, “after more than three and a half consecutive years of nonuse.” The evidence comprised of an advertisement of the FUSION mark on a race car and driver jumpsuit, neither of which made any connection to the Registered Product.
For the above reasons, the Federal Circuit affirmed TTAB’s decision to cancel CP’s ownership of the FUSION mark due to abandonment.
Trademarks are presumed valid, and as such, cancellation of the mark may be possible if three consecutive years of nonuse of the mark is evident. Due to this statutory period, it is important for the mark owner to carefully consider whether or not to continue use of a registered mark. Moreover, the mark owner should be conscious of such use to preserve in order to preserve the chance at keeping registration alive.
Full Cervejaria Petropolis SA v. Ambev S.A. decision can be read here:
CIONCA IP10/7/2019 5:44:50 PM
A Decision in Henny Penny Corporation v. Frymaster LLCMore
On September 12, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Henny Penny Corporation v. Frymaster LLC. Frymaster LLC is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 8,497,691 (“the ‘691 patent”), titled “Oil Quality Sensor and Adapter for Deep Fryers.”
The ‘691 patent “relates to an oil quality sensor that is installed in a fryer for the purpose of indicating when the cooking oil should be changed for one or more fryer pots.” More specifically, the use of a total polar materials (“TPMs”) sensor in the fryer. “Henny Penny Corporation (“HPC”) appeals from the inter partes review decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”) holding claims 1-3, 5-12, 17-21, and 23 of [the ‘691 patent] not unpatentable as obvious.” HPC has further arguments on how the ‘691 patent should be unpatentable based on obviousness, which provides the grounds for their appeal.
Per the standard, “[they] review[ed] the Board’s legal determinations de novo… [they] review[ed] the Board’s factual findings underlying those determinations for substantial evidence.” HPC has two arguments in regard to their appeal of the original decision. HPC’s arguments are “(1) the Board procedurally erred by too narrowly construing the petition; and (2) that the Board erred in its conclusion of nonobviousness.”
First, “HPC argues that the Board erroneously interpreted the petition as limited to the physical substitution of Iwaguchi’s sensor for Kauffman’s,” which was related prior art to the ‘691 patent. It is known that “because of the expedited nature of [inter partes review] proceedings, ‘[i]t is of the utmost importance that petitioners in the [inter partes review] proceedings adhere to the requirement that the initial petition identify ‘with particularity’ the ‘evidence that the supports the grounds for the challenge to each claim.’” It has been determined that the Board did not abuse its discretion because they were not responsible to “‘an entirely new rationale’ for why a claim would be obvious,” which was what HPC had done.
Second, HPC argues that the Board made errors when reevaluating claim 1 as nonobvious. HPC further argues that the Board did not “combine Iwaguchi’s TPM sensor with Kauffman’s system,” which they claim is a mistake of the Board’s. HPC also argues that the Board did not find the proper evidence and “erred in finding Frymaster’s evidence of industry praise to be probative of nonobvious.” There was “substantial evidence [that] supports the Board’s finding of no motivation to combine” Iwaguchi’s TPM sensor with Kauffman’s system. Frymaster’s evidence of prior industry awards praising the product lead the Board to find that “this evidence weighed in favor of nonobviousness because claim 1 was commensurate in scope with Frymaster’s praised product.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s judgement.
This decision determines that even though a device may be well known in the prior art, a novel combination of the well-known device with other components may be enough for ensuring a patent is nonobvious.
Full Henny Penny Corporation v. Frymaster LLC decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca9/27/2019 9:32:48 PM
Can an Online Patent Attorney File My Patent?More
Can an Online Patent Attorney File My Patent?
There are several patent services online. I’ll describe some below in the hope that if you are looking for one online, this information will help you choose wisely.
Online Patent Services Provided by Entities that are NOT Law Firms
Proceed with caution. Some of these online entities are not law firms, have no patent attorneys or patent agents as part of their staff, but claim to be able to file your application for patent with the USPTO. Some may just file what you provided them as they are not qualified or permitted by the law (e.g., they have not registered patent attorneys) to write the application before filing it with the USPTO. So, you may be a victim of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Your patent application may have serious flaws and possibly be unsalvageable. I have seen it. So, stay away from these online patent filing services.
There is another category in this class. Those are online patent services that are not law firms but supposedly connect you with a patent attorney to write and file your patent application. And, I guess, they get a cut of the money you spend. This is a complicated relationship in my view. Who will be responsible if the patent application turns out to be bad? The online patent service or the patent attorney you were referred to, or who wrote the application in the background, maybe without you ever meeting or talking with that patent attorney? It may depend on the nature of the contract(s) you signed with the online patent filing service and/or with the patent attorney. I have seen dissatisfied inventors coming to my office after trying to work with these service providers.
Online Patent Attorneys and Patent Law Firms
Work directly with one of these. Because patent law is federal law, you can choose a patent attorney from anywhere in the U.S., who is licensed in any of the U.S. states and is also registered with the USPTO as a patent attorney. The patent attorney doesn’t need to be located or licensed in the state where you reside. So, if you are comfortable working remotely with a patent attorney, search online for the attorney you prefer in terms of the fee charged, experience, size of the law firm, personality, subject matter or technology expertise, and so on. We, here at CIONCA IP for example, while we are located in California, because of our online presence, were able to be found and engaged by many clients who live outside of California and even outside of the United States. We obtained many patents for clients from for example Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Montana, New Jersey, Germany, Australia, Bulgaria, France, and so on. The technology available today (email, secure websites and online payments, web conference applications) make the remote working relationship as effective as working with someone in person, in the local office.
Choosing to work with a patent service you find online is fine. Just make sure is a USPTO registered patent attorney with the experience and fee structure you want or a law firm that has such patent attorney.
CIONCA Team Member9/4/2019 7:20:46 PM
Guangdong Alison Hi-Tech Co. v. International Trade Commission: Objective BoundariesMore
On August 27, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made decision in Guangdong Alison Hi-Tech Co. v. International Trade Commission. In 2016, domestic manufacturer Aspen Aerogels, Inc. filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission alleging that Guangdong Alison Hi-Tech Co., a foreign manufacturer of aerogel insulation products, had violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930. Aspen posited that the importation of certain composite aerogel insulation materials infringed their U.S. Patent No. 7,078,359, thereby violating section 337. In September 2017, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held that Alison had indeed violated section 337, citing that Alison infringed the ‘359 patent protecting Aspen’s insulation materials. The Commission affirmed the ALJ’s initial determination, holding that Alison had infringed on the claims 1, 7, and 9 of the ‘359 patent, which can be found below.
Claim 1: A composite article to serve as a flexible, durable, light-weight insulation product, said article comprising a lofty fibrous batting sheet and a continuous aerogel through said batting.
Claim 7: The composite article of claim 1, further comprising a dopant.
Claim 9: The composite article of claim 7, wherein the dopant is present in an amount of about 1 to 20% by weight of the total weight of the composite.
The Commission placed an importation band on Alison’s composite aerogel insulation materials, prompting Alison to petition the Commission for review of the ALJ’s initial determination. Alison challenged the validity of the claims mentioned above, citing prior art belonging to Ramamurthi (U.S. Patent No. 5,306,555), on the basis of indefiniteness, anticipation, and obviousness. The Commission affirmed the ALJ’s claim construction order, rejecting Alison’s challenges. Alison appealed the decision. The Federal Circuit affirms the Commission’s final determinations on all grounds.
Naturally, the Federal Circuit performed an analysis of all the Commission’s final determinations, as described below:
1. Terms of Degree: Indefiniteness. In the appeal before the Federal Circuit, Alison challenges the Commission’s determination that the phrase “lofty … batting” in claim 1 of the ‘359 patent is not indefinite. Patents with claims involving terms of degree, such as the term “lofty” in this particular case, must provide “objective boundaries” in the context of the invention. These objective boundaries can be identified by “claims, figures, written description, prosecution history of a patent,” as well as extrinsic evidence. Alison argues that the phrase “lofty … batting” is an indefinite term of degree without a precise objective boundary. However, the Federal Circuit rules that the written description for the ‘359 patent provides objective boundaries in the following ways:
a. Express definitions. Upon analysis of the ‘359 patent, the Federal Circuit finds that the written description “provides express definitions for the phrase and its components.” “Lofty batting” is expressly defined as a “fibrous material that shows the properties of bulk and some resilience.”
b. Examples. The written description also includes numerous examples and measurement metrics that further inform the meaning of the phrase. The Federal Circuit cites examples of commercial products that can qualify as lofty batting. Metrics for the fineness of fibers, thermal conductivity of the batting, and density of the batting qualify as well.
In addition to the written description, the prosecution history of the ‘359 patent supports the conclusion. In the Statement of Reasons for Allowance, the patent examiner emphasized that the specification “defined ‘lofty fibrous batting’ as a ‘fibrous material that shows the properties of bulk and some resilience,’ which distinguishes the prior art based on this term.” Finally, extrinsic evidence provides further support for the objective boundaries of the phrase. The technical definitions of “batting” and “loft” confirm that they are “terms of art that have meanings consistent with their use in the ‘359 patent.”
2. Anticipation. The Commission affirmed that the ‘359 patent’s claims 1, 7, and 9 are not anticipated by prior art in the form of Ramamurthi. Alison challenges this determination by appealing to the Federal Circuit on the basis that “the Commission’s determination is unsupported by substantial evidence.” A patent claim is invalid on the basis of anticipation only if “each and every element of the claim is expressly or inherently disclosed in a single prior art reference.” Alison argues that an example in Ramamurthi demonstrates the same properties of “bulk and some resilience” as the construction of “lofty … batting,” while another example “has the same low density and thermal characteristics as the aerogel composites disclosed in the ‘359 patent.” The Federal Circuit affirms the Commission’s conclusion that “fiber glass” and “glass wool” each describe broad categories of materials that are not inherently “lofty.”’ Additionally, low-density fiber, according to expert testimony, is not inherently lofty, so the second example in Ramamurthi provides little support for Alison’s inherency argument. The Federal Circuit holds that “substantial evidence supports the Commission’s final determination of no anticipation.”
3. Obviousness. Regarding obviousness, claim 9 recites a specific range of dopant that the Commission determined not to be expressly disclosed in Ramamurthi. On appeal, Alison argues that the specific range mentioned in claim 9 “is inherently disclosed by or would have been obvious over Ramamurthi’s disclosure.” However, because the Federal Circuit affirms the Commission’s determination that the “lofty … batting” limitation of claim 1 is not inherently disclosed by Ramamurthi, the Federal Circuit holds that there is no need to reach the separate ground for claim 9.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Commission’s final determination that claims 1, 7, and 9 of the ‘359 patent are not invalid.
When applying for a patent, it is crucial that the applicant can clearly provide objective boundaries for claims involving terms of degree in the context of the invention. Objective boundaries – which can be identified by claims, figures, written description, prosecution history of a patent, or extrinsic evidence – help to satisfy the reasonable certainty standard that reflects a delicate balance between the inherent limitations of language and providing clear notice of what is claimed.
Full Guangdong Alison Hi-Tech Co. v. International Trade Commission decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/18-2042.Opinion.8-27-2019.pdf
CIONCA Team Member8/19/2019 7:46:17 PM
In re Yarnell Ice Cream, LLC: Trademark Descriptiveness and Acquired DistinctionMore
On July 9, 2019, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) made decision in In re Yarnell Ice Cream, LLC. Yarnell Ice Cream, LLC (“Applicant”) applied to register SCOOP on November 18, 2015. However, the Examining Attorney refused registration of the mark on the grounds of failure to function as a mark for identified goods, mere descriptiveness, and insufficient specimen. During prosecution, the refusal was made final and Applicant requested reconsideration, which was denied. TTAB affirms the refusal on all three grounds.
Naturally, TTAB performed an analysis of all the Examining Attorney’s grounds for refusal, as described below:
1. The Significance of the Ultimate Identification of Goods. After amendments, the Applicant’s final description of goods is “Frozen confections, Ice cream, as promoted or distributed by a mascot, named SCOOP, at product promotions and distribution of Applicant’s ice cream and frozen confections.” While Applicant argues that Applicant’s goods are not merely ice cream and emphasizes that it is ice cream specifically sold by a mascot, the Examining Attorney is unwavering in asserting that this qualification “does not ‘alter the nature of the goods identified’ in any meaningful way.” Although SCOOP is the name of Applicant’s mascot, it must be noted that Applicant “seeks registration of SCOOP for ‘frozen confections and ice cream,’ not live appearances by a mascot.” As such, TTAB affirms.
2. Mere Descriptiveness. As explained via the Trademark Act, a “merely descriptive” mark “immediately conveys information concerning a feature, quality, or characteristic of the goods or services for which registration is sought.” The Examining Attorney argues that SCOOP immediately conveys a common unit of measurement for ice cream, which is, again, the Applicant’s description of goods. Applicant argues that (1) “scoop” could be used informally to refer to news and (2) “scoop” is a commonly used serving utensil not necessarily used just ice cream (e.g., coffee, litter, bulk foods, etc.). As such, Applicant expresses that “scoop” is not descriptive of goods themselves, but rather, of the measure used to serve such goods. However, TTAB cites a collection of websites and articles that use “scoop” to refer to a portion of ice cream. Moreover, TTAB cites third-party registrations of marks including the word “scoop” in which the term is disclaimed, “which are probative of the descriptive meaning of ‘scoop’ with respect to the goods.”
3. Lack of Acquired Distinctiveness. Under the Trademark Act, a merely descriptive mark may be registered if an applicant can successfully demonstrate acquired distinctiveness. The strength of the required evidence showing distinction is dependent on the descriptiveness of the applied-for mark, which in this instance is high. In response, Applicant submitted specimen showing proof of Applicant’s use of the mark since 2012. However, “the Trademark Act does not ‘provide a presumption of acquired secondary meaning after five years’ of use of a mark,” and thus, simply showcasing such a lengthy use does not demonstrate proof of acquired distinctiveness.
4. Specimen Refusal. Moreover, Applicant submits as specimen images of Applicant’s mascot making live appearances during ice cream distribution and illustrations of the mascot wearing his SCOOP name tag. Furthermore, Applicant claims that such live appearances equate to displays associated with the goods. However, TTAB asserts that neither their mascot’s live appearances nor his cartoon counterpart qualifies as such. Finally, Applicant argues that SCOOP is manifest on their displays, but TTAB disagrees that Applicant’s placement of SCOOP “in proximity to the goods is not enough to show that these specimens constitute displays associated with the goods.”
5. Failure to Function Refusal. The function of a trademark is to act as a source identifier for a good and/or service. The Examining Attorney proclaims that the applied-for mark fails to function as a trademark “because consumers would perceive it as ‘merely conveying an informational message and not as a means to identify and distinguish the applicant’s goods from those of others.’” Again, the Examining Attorney found “scoop” to be a common unit when serving ice cream, and the specimen submitted does not identify Applicant’s goods.
For the reasons above, TTAB affirms the Examining Attorney’s refusal to register on all grounds.
When applying for trademark registration, it is crucial that the applicant can clearly exhibit proper and consistent use of the mark. Furthermore, for descriptive marks, it is important to note that the amount of time the applicant has been using the mark is irrelevant if distinctiveness cannot be shown.
Full In re Yarnell Ice Cream, LLC decision can be read here:
CIONCA Team Member8/5/2019 2:29:33 PM
Is Speculation Enough Evidence for an Appeal?: General Electric Company v. United Technologies CorporationMore
On July 10, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in General Electric Company v. United Technologies Corporation. United Technologies Corporation (“UTC”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 8,511,605 (“the ‘605 patent”), titled “Gas Turbine Engine with Low Stage Count Low Pressure Turbine.”
The ‘605 patent “is generally directed to a gas turbine engine having a gear train driven by a spool with a low stage count low pressure turbine.” Thus, the ‘605 patent “impedes its ability to use [General Electric Company’s] 1970s geared-fan engine design as a basis for developing and marketing future geared turbofan engine designs.” “Appellees General Electric Company (“GE”) sought inter partes review (“IPR”) challenging claims 1 and 2 of the ’605 patent on grounds of anticipation and claims 7–11 of the ’605 patent on grounds of obviousness. After institution, UTC disclaimed claims 1 and 2, leaving only claims 7–11 at issue.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (“USPTO”) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) issued that “the evidence did not show claims 7–11 of the ’605 patent to be unpatentable for obviousness.” GE petitioned for an appeal and the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
Per the standard, “not every party to an IPR will have Article III standing to appeal a final written decision of the Board” and for GE to have a standing in this case “an appellant must have suffered an injury in fact that has a nexus to the challenged conduct and that can be ameliorated by the court.” GE’s claimed injuries must be proven to be “‘concrete and particularized’, not merely ‘conjectural or hypothetical.’”
First, GE’s Chief IP Counsel and General Counsel of Engineering for GE Aviation, Mr. Long, claimed competitive harm to support their appeal standing. However, GE had nothing more than speculative evidence of the competitive harm. GE does not provide evidence of the loss of bids due to offering “only a direct-drive engine design,” or that a “direct-drive engine design was [submitted] to Boeing because of the ’605 patent.” The only evidence supplied by Mr. Long was “GE expended some unspecified amount of time and money to consider engine designs that could potentially implicate the ’605 patent,” which has no merit due to the statement being speculative.
Second, GE claimed economic losses to support their appeal standing. GE argued economic losses for their research and development costs “sustained by attempts to design engines that could implicate the ’605 patent and engines that do not implicate the ’605 patent.” GE did not provide proof of expenses due to research and development of similar designs to the ‘605 patent or costs of research and development costs due to designing around the ‘605 patent. The only evidence GE provided of a design similar to the ‘605 patent was their 1970s geared-fan engine, which does not provide grounds for an economic loss or imminent injury.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit dismisses the appeal.
This decision determines that without substantial evidence for an appeal, under Article III the case will be dismissed. GE’s entire case was based purely on speculation of their research, development, and costs meaning they had no standing to appeal a decision from the PTAB.
Full General Electric Company v. United Technologies Corporation decision can be read here:
CIONCA Team Member7/5/2019 2:22:42 PM
In re: Global IP Holdings LLC: Broadening Claims Through Reissue ApplicationsMore
On July 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in In re: Global IP Holdings LLC. Global IP Holdings LLC (“Global”) owns U.S. Patent No. 8,690,233 (the ’233 patent), claiming “carpeted automotive vehicle load floors having sandwich-type composite panels with cellular cores.” As the ’233 patent specifically claims reinforced thermoplastic skins, Global filed a reissue in hopes of broadening its claims. Namely, Global sought to claim the use of “plastic” skins rather than “thermoplastic” skins only. An inventor’s declaration was submitted for the reissue application, in which inventor Darius J. Preisler asserts that he was aware of the use of non-thermoplastics at the time of the invention. However, this declaration was insufficient, and the examiner rejected Global’s reissue claims due to noncompliance with the written description requirement. “The examiner noted that ‘the specification indicates that the first and second skins and core are only described as being formed generally from plastic materials.’” As such, Global was deterred from claiming the use of the full range of plastics as doing so would have introduced new matter. Global appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”), which affirmed the examiner’s rejection. Global then appealed the Board’s decision and the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
“[The] written description requirement is met when the specification clearly allows persons of ordinary skill to recognize that the inventor ‘invented what is claimed.’” Furthermore, the determination of whether the requirement is dependent on the application’s context.
In respect to Global’s reissue claims, the Board held that “the ’233 patent’s specification was insufficient ‘regardless of the predictability of results of substituting alternatives, or the actual criticality of thermoplastics in the overall invention.’” However, according to the Federal Circuit, this conclusion is contradictory to Ariad’s instruction that the amount of detail required “varies depending on the nature and scope of the claims and on the complexity of predictability of relevant technology.”
In re Peters demonstrated a similar case in which the original claims of the invention required tapered metal tips. A reissue was requested to broaden the claims and include non-tapered tips. While “the Board held that the broadened claims sought by the reissue application were not supported by the original disclosure,” the Federal Circuit disagreed, as “the broadened claims merely omit an unnecessary limitation…” In addition, no prior art was overcome by the claims’ amendments.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit vacates and remands the Board’s decision.
This decision further defines introducing new matter in the prosecution of reissue applications. Although there may be no basis for the amended claims in the originally filed written description, an amendment made to the claims that does not alter the concept provided by the invention may not be introduced as new matter, given that the feature omitted or altered is not critical and the reissue is not done to overcome prior art.
Full In re: Global IP Holdings LLC decision can be read here:
CIONCA Team Member6/27/2019 7:41:52 PM
Obviousness in a Single Prior Art Instance: Game and Technology Co., LTD., v. Activision Blizzard INC., Riot Games, INC.More
On June 21, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Game and Technology Co., LTD., v. Activision Blizzard INC., Riot Games, INC. Game and Technology Co. (“GAT”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 8,253,743 (“the ‘743 patent”), titled “Method and System for Providing Character Having Game Item Functions.” The ‘743 patent “relates to the field of customizing Internet game characters in online games by combining game items with layers of an avatar in the game.” According to the ‘743 patent’s specifications, users would generate a gamvatar, which is an avatar consisting of layers that incorporates game functions or item functions. Thus, the ‘743 patent allows for customization of in-game avatars, along with the ability to perform game item-related actions. “Appellees Activision Blizzard Inc. and Riot Games, Inc. (collectively, “Activision”) sought inter partes review (“IPR”) of claims 1–11 (“the Challenged Claims”) of Appellant Game and Technology Co.’s (“GAT”) the ’743 patent.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (“USPTO”) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) issued that the Challenged Claims were “obvious based on the combined teachings” of the prior art. GAT appealed and the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
Per the standard of review, “the PTAB’s factual findings for substantial evidence and its legal conclusions de novo” were reviewed, and “‘substantial evidence is something less than the weight of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla of evidence,’ meaning that ‘[i]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” If it is found that “two inconsistent conclusions may reasonably be drawn from the evidence in record, the PTAB’s decision to favor one conclusion over the other is the epitome of a decision that must be sustained upon review for substantial evidence.” This evidence is determined based on the definition of a claim according to PTAB at the time, which is “[a] claim . . . its broadest reasonable construction in light of the specification of the patent in which it appears.”
First, GAT disputed the PTAB’s interpretation of their term gamvatar meaning avatar. GAT argues under the broadest reasonable interpretation (“BRI”) that their claim regarding the gamvatar is narrower than the PTAB’s construction. The Federal Circuit disagrees with GAT’s statements. The Challenged Claims describe the gamvatar as “an avatar combined with game item functions having characteristic,” which coincides with PTAB’s construction of the term.
Second, GAT argues the PTAB’s interpretation of their term layers. PTAB construed the term as “‘layers’ encompasses ‘graphics regions for displaying graphical objects’ and ‘constructs for holding graphics.’” However, GAT construes the meaning to be “graphics regions for displaying graphical objects” because “‘layers’ means ‘constructs’ for displaying graphical objects.” The Federal Circuit disagrees with GAT’s statements because of the “claim’s use of the term “comprising,” combined with the use of the disjunctive conjunction “or” supports the construction that “displaying” and “performing game functions” are two alternatives for layers.”
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the USPTO and PTAB’s decision.
This decision determines that a single instance of obviousness based on prior art would be sufficient evidence for a patent to be invalidated if knowledge of said prior art could be led to obvious changes for obtaining the new claimed invention.
Full Game and Technology Co., LTD., v. Activision Blizzard INC., Riot Games, INC., decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca6/11/2019 8:43:17 PM
Can I Successfully License My Invention?More
Many inventors hope to monetize their invention by licensing it to large companies. While this is possible, from my many years of experience, I have realized that the inventors that are likely to be successful are the ones associated with the following situation.
First, the invention has to be great, in terms of being a significant improvement in the technology and having a significant market demand. Naturally, when that is the case, strong patents for the invention are also likely to be obtained.
Second, the inventor has to be someone with a significant background in the respective technical field. For example, I have seen inventors who have worked in the respective technical field for many decades and then conceived the new invention and were successful at licensing their new invention to big companies for significant amounts of money. That is because an inventor who has such a background offers credibility when engaging with the potential licensee. Moreover, because of the prior career in the industry, such an inventor already has relevant contacts, and even more importantly, the right contacts, providing them the opportunity to pitch the invention to the right industry players.
Furthermore, I have seen more than one time, that such an inventor is also needed and solicited by the licensee to come onboard as an employee or as a consultant for the licensee, to help launch the new product or service embodying the invention into the marketplace. So, not only is the inventor paid a significant amount of money for, as an example, royalties for the invention, but the inventor is also paid for assisting the licensee in commercializing the invention. In addition, not only is the inventor paid for his experience and know-how, but the experience, it should be noted, helps seal the deal with the licensee and get the licensing agreement going.
In conclusion, you need the following ingredients, mixed together, for a great licensing deal to be more likely to happen. They are (1) a great invention and (2) significant experience in the respective technical field. The experience in turn brings access to industry players, credibility and demand by the licensee for that industry experience of the inventor. If you have these ingredients, you are likely to monetize successfully your invention via licensing. Just make sure you protect your invention by securing strong patents for it. That is because a bad patent can risk ruining the deal. I have seen that, too.
CIONCA Team Member5/20/2019 8:25:57 PM
PTAB Designates Cases as PrecedentialMore
On May 7, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”) designated the following two cases as being precedential: , Case IPR2019-00062, -00063, -00084, Paper 11 (PTAB Apr. 2, 2019, “Valve Corp.”), and , Case IPR2018-00752, Paper 8 (PTAB Sept. 12, 2018, “NHK Spring.”). These decisions were related to a refusal to hold administrative trials on patent challenges.
In Valve Corp, the decision denied inter partes review after applying factors from the case General Plastic Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Canon Kabushiki Kaisha (“General Plastic”). This decision denied an attempt by Valve Corporation to institute a review of a patent, via three petitions. The Board with an argument made by Electronic Scripting Products Inc., saying that Valve Corp.’s attempted institution of a review was an unfair follow-on to an earlier petition from HTC Corporation. HTC Corporation had earlier been sued for patent infringement, along with Valve Corp., by Electronic. In designating this decision as precedential, the Board asserted that, when different petitioners look to challenge the same patent, relationships that exist between those petitioners may be considered by the Board, in addition to the factors from the General Plastic case.
In this particular case, the Board determined that not only was there a relationship, but that there was a “significant relationship between Valve and HTC with respect to Patent Owner’s assertion of the ‘934 patent” (the patent in question). “The complete overlap in the challenged claims and the significant relationship between Valve and HTC favor denying institution.”
In NHK Spring, the decision was made to deny institution under 35 U.S.C. 325(d) after applying factors from the case Becton, Dickinson. The Board determined that it would be an inefficient use of the Board’s resources if instituting review, where the district court proceeding was nearing its final stages, and where the Board proceeding would involve the same factors as would be used in the district court. According to section 325(d), the Board is given express discretion to deny a petition when “the same or substantially the same prior art or arguments previously were presented to the Office.”
The Board, additionally, determined that although the Petitioner in this case argued against, “the findings the Examiner made during prosecution and the arguments Petitioner makes here are substantially the same” and that “both rely upon prior art values…” such that the “facts and circumstances here” would not be substantially different. Again, as in Valve Corp., the Board denied institution.
The Valve Corp decision can be read at: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Valve%20Corp.%20v.%20Elec.%20Scripting%20Prods.%20Inc.%20IPR2019-00062%2000063%2000084%20%28Paper%2011%29.pdf
The NHK Spring decision can be read at: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/NHK%20Spring%20Co.%20Ltd.%20v.%20Intri-Plex%20Techs.%20Inc.%20IPR2018-00752%20%28Paper%208%29.pdf
CIONCA Team Member5/7/2019 7:13:41 PM
The Federal Circuit Defines a Technological InventionMore
On April 30, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, Interactive Brokers LLC. Trading Technologies International, Inc. (“TT”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,783,556 (“the ‘556 patent”), which “relates to displaying market information on a screen.” According to the ‘556 patent’s specification, traders may favor analyzing information not normally provided on a screen. Thus, the ‘556 patent’s interface aims to improve traders’ experience by also including the display of profit and loss (“P&L”). “IBG LLC and Interactive Brokers LLC (collectively, ‘Petitioners’) petitioned for review of…the ‘556 patent pursuant to the Transitional Program for Covered Business Method Patents (‘CBM review’).” As such, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”) completed a CBM review and held that the claims are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. TT appealed and the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction.
As the review title indicates, “the Board may only institute CBM review for a patent that is a CBM patent,” which is “a patent that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.” The criteria of a technological invention are as follows: “‘whether the claimed subject matter as a whole recites a technological feature that is novel and unobvious over the prior art’ and whether it ‘solves a technical problem using a technical solution.’”
First, TT contested whether its patent teaches a technological invention. Relying on Claim 1, the Board determined that the ‘556 patent is not directed towards a technological invention, and thus, is a CBM patent. The Federal Circuit agrees. The display under the patent’s scope seeks to provide additional information to traders; it does not solve a technical problem with a technical solution.
Second, regarding patent eligibility, the ‘556 patent’s focus is to provide additional information to a trader, which the Federal Circuit holds as an abstract idea. Moreover, “the claimed steps for calculating the P&L values…is nothing more than ‘mere automation of manual processes using generic computers,’” rather than an improvement on the technology itself, the ‘556 patent is not a technological invention. Furthermore, the claimed interface fails to recite an inventive concept as it “simply takes the prior art trading screen…and adds P&L values along the axis.” As such, the Federal Circuit concludes the patents claims to be ineligible under § 101.
For the reasons above, the Federal Circuit affirms the Board’s decision.
This decision clarifies what is classified as a technological invention, which is (1) novel and nonobvious, and (2) solves a technical problem with a technical solution. The mere revisioning of existing technological inventions is not enough.
Full Trading Technologies International, Inc. v. IBG LLC, Interactive Brokers LLC decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca4/17/2019 3:48:33 PM
What Qualifies as Proper Use in Commerce Claim in a USPTO Trademark Application?More
What Qualifies as Proper Use in Commerce Claim in a USPTO Trademark Application?
In a trademark or service mark application filed with the USPTO, and which is based on use in commerce, the mark must be in used in commerce on or in connection with all the goods and services listed in the application as of the application filing date. Use in commerce means use of the mark in all commerce which may be lawfully regulated by the U.S. Congress. An example of use in commerce activity are sales to out-of-state customers and shipment of the sold goods, having the mark on them, across state lines, to the customers’ out-of-state addresses (e.g., from California to Arizona). Let’s look at some more specific examples below.
The mark used in association with services is called a Service Mark. For services, the mark must be used to “render” those services in commerce. Advertising the services using the mark to potential customers from more than one state is typically enough (e.g., catalogs and advertisements shipped to out-of-state customers). Also, if not already providing the services, the applicant must be ready to provide the services. Offering services via the Internet has been held to constitute use in commerce, since the services are available to a national and international audience who must use interstate telephone/internet lines to access a website. Certain services such as restaurant and hotel services, although they are typically provided locally (e.g., in one city only) have been deemed to be rendered in commerce because they are activities that have been found to be within the scope of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which is predicated on the commerce clause, and thus such services can be regulated by the U.S. Congress.
The mark used in association with goods is called a Trademark. For goods, things are more complicated. Goods (e.g., computers) must have the mark on them, or on the packaging, or the mark has to be in a product display or on a webpage next to the goods, where the customers can purchase the goods. A good example of use-in-commerce of the mark on goods (e.g., shoes) is applying the mark to the goods or to the packaging (e.g., via a sticker) selling the goods to out-of-state customers and shipping the sold goods to the customers’ out-of-state addresses (e.g., from California to Arizona).
What about a sale in California to customers from Arizona who came in your California store, bought the goods and took them home themselves? That is likely not sufficient to claim use in commerce. What about advertising the goods, such as on a website? Not enough. Advertising alone may be enough for services, but not enough for goods. What about when you import goods with the trademark on them from for example China with the mark affixed to the goods or their packaging? If you also sell the goods with the trademark on them after you import them, then claiming use in commerce is likely appropriate. What about when you export the goods, let’s say, to Europe? That is likely use in commerce, as the export activities can be regulated by the U.S. Congress. What about transportation by the trademark owner of the goods, with the trademark on them, across state lines? If a sale of the goods follows, use in commerce can likely be claimed. If a sale does not follow, or precede the interstate transportation, i.e., a sale of the goods never occurs, but the goods with the trademark on them are exposed to the public (e.g., at a trade show) in addition to being transported across state lines, use in commerce claim is likely appropriate. Note however that the real goods have to be transported and exposed to the public. A mock-up of the product or a picture of the product for example would not do.
CIONCA Team Member4/3/2019 7:25:37 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) Designates Three Decisions PrecedentialMore
On March 18, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) announced the designation of three decisions as being precedential. Two of the three decisions involve the limited situations in which live testimony can be used during a PTAB proceeding. The first is K-40 Electronics, LLC v. Escort, Inc., Case IPR2013-00203 (PTAB May 21, 2014) (Paper 34) (“K-40”). K-40’s order provided factors that may be considered in making the determination of whether live testimony could be permitted. Generally, the Board does foresee live testimony being necessary in most situations. Live testimony would be allowed “under very limited circumstances,” wherein cross-examination of witnesses may be ordered. Here, the sole inventor of the patent in the proceeding was also the principal fact witness. “Through his declaration testimony in both cases, Patent Owner attempts to antedate the only two references (Hoffberg and Fleming III) relied on by Petitioner in its challenge to patentability. Mr. Orr’s testimony is, therefore, key, and may well be case-dispositive.” This, along with the inventor being a fact witness rather than an expert witness, is what was considered in the Board’s decision.
The second decision involving live testimony is DePuy Synthes Products, Inc. v. MEDIDEA, L.L.C., Case IPR2018-00315 (PTAB Jan. 23, 2019) (Paper 29) (“DePuy”). DePuy’s order determined that the testimony of an inventor at the oral hearing is considered new evidence, and it is not permitted if a declaration from the inventor was not previously provided. This would thus be considered “forbidden under our Trial Practice Guide. Office Patent Trial Practice Guide, 77 Fed. Reg. 48,756, 48,768 (Aug. 14, 2012) (“No new evidence and arguments. A party may rely upon evidence that has been previously submitted in the proceeding and may only present arguments relied upon in the papers previously submitted. No new evidence or arguments may be presented at the oral argument.”).”
.com, Inc. v. Uniloc Luxembourg S.A., Case IPR2017-00948 (PTAB Jan. 18, 2019) (Paper 34) (“Amazon”). This decision distinguished between the treatment of amended claims versus the treatment of existing claims in inter partes review, by determining that 311(b) does not preclude a petitioner from raising, or the PTAB from considering, other grounds of unpatentability, including § 101, as to substitute claims not yet part of a patent, in the context of a motion to amend. Here, the patent owner proposed three amended claims, which the Board found to be unpatentable. In addition to this, the Board denied the Motion to Amend, because these claims were directed to non-statutory subject matter under 101.
The patent owner made the argument that “by overruling the Board’s practice of placing on the patent owner the burden of showing patentability of amended claims in Aqua Products Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (en banc), the Federal Circuit also foreclosed review of proposed amended claims under § 101. Req. 3–4. Under Patent Owner’s theory, Board cases such as Ariosa Diagnostics v. Isis InnovationLimited, Case IPR2012-00022 (PTAB Sept. 2, 2014) (Paper 166), considered § 101 only as part of a patent owner’s burden to show patentability of the amended claims, and the Federal Circuit’s removal of that burden “overruled the very basis for Ariosa Diagnostic’s holding that a motion to amend must address patent eligibility under § 101.” Req. 3–4. H.”
The Board countered this by stating that, as they had previously explained in their “Final Written Decision, Aqua Products makes clear that Patent Owner does not bear the burden of persuasion on issues of patentability in a motion to amend,2 but does not foreclose an analysis of whether substitute claims comply with § 101.”
Full K-40 Electronics, LLC v. Escort, Inc. can be read here:
Full DePuy Synthes Products, Inc. v. Medidea, L.L.C. can be read here:
Full Amazon.com, Inc., Amazon Digital Services, Inc., Amazon Fulfillment Services, Inc., Hulu, LLC, and Netflix, Inc. v. Uniloc Luxemborg S.A. can be read here:
CIONCA Team Member3/21/2019 3:49:43 PM
Defining Inherency: A Decision in Personal Web Technologies, LLC v. Apple, Inc.More
On March 8, 2019 the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made decision in PersonalWeb Technologies, LLC v. Apple, Inc. An inter partes review (IPR) petitioned by Apple, Inc. (“Apple”) in 2013 resulted in Claims 24, 32, 81, 82, and 86 of U.S. Patent No. 7,802,310 (“the ‘310 patent”) being deemed unpatentable as obvious, in view of U.S. Patent No. 5,649,196 (“Woodhill”) and U.S. Patent No. 7,359,881 (“Stefik”). PersonalWeb Technologies, LLC (“PersonalWeb”) appealed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“the Board’s”) decision in 2015, and the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the Board’s obviousness finding due to inadequate analysis. On remand, the Board maintained its obviousness finding based on inherency and motivation-to-combine, adding Woodhill to its first reference, Stefik. PersonalWeb appealed again and the Federal Circuit had jurisdiction.
The ‘310 patent teaches a data processing system in which (i) a unique content-based identifier is assigned to a data item and (ii) the content-based identifier is compared to a plurality of values, authorization or lack thereof to the data item is determined contingent on the existence of correspondence to one of said plurality of values, and, based on the previous outcome, not allowing a second computer access to the data item if access is not authorized.
The Board utilizes Woodhill and Stefik to maintain its finding of the ‘310 patent’s unpatentability. “Woodhill discloses a distributed management system for backing up and restoring data files” in which each byte of data is assigned an identifier. Thus, the Board found that Woodhill inherently teaches comparing an identifier to a plurality of values. Furthermore, “Stefik discloses an authentication system for controlling access to digital works,” using a ‘digital ticket’ entitling user access. Agreeing with Apple’s arguments, the Board found that “access provided in Stefik would necessarily require a comparison between the unique identifier and other values to see if a match can be obtained.” Considering the above, the Board found the ‘310 patent unpatentable due to obviousness on the bases of inherency and motivation-to-combine.
However, the Federal Circuit does not agree. Although Woodhill may possibly utilize an identifier lookup table to locate matches, the possibility itself is not enough. “As PersonalWeb suggests, an equally plausible…understanding of Woodhill is that Woodhill’s system uses conventional file names and locations to locate files and the Binary Object Offset field to locate a given binary object within a file…Woodhill does not disclose searching for a file based on a content-based identifier.” Rather, Woodhill collects information from a database.
Thus, the features that Apple and the Board rely on do not necessarily exist, and as such, the Board’s reliance on inherency was improper. The Federal Circuit therefore reversed the Board’s finding of obviousness over Woodhill in view of Stefik.
Inherency in an obviousness claim is only valid if the allegedly-inherent feature is a naturally occurring result. The mere possibility of the result or feature is not enough to demonstrate inherency as a basis for obviousness.
Full Personal Web Technologies, LLC v. Apple, Inc. decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca3/1/2019 9:36:50 PM
USPTO Director Andrei Iancu Visits Orange County!More
USPTO Director Andrei Iancu Visits Orange County!
Last week, on Thursday, February 21, 2019, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Andrei Iancu visited Orange County. This happened at the invitation of OCIPLA (Orange County Intellectual Property Law Association) in coordination with LAIPLA (Los Angeles Intellectual Property Law Association) and University of Southern California (USC). The OCIPLA Board of which I am a member worked diligently to make the visit a great event. More than 80 people, mostly OC IP practitioners, signed up for the event.
As known, Director Iancu also holds the position of Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property. In that capacity he is apparently also an advisor to the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, on IP Law issues, such as the IP dispute with China.
Prior to assuming the above roles, Director Iancu was the Managing Partner of the law firm Irell & Manella LLP. In his long IP law career, he represented clients in various technologies, such as medical devices and genetic testing. He was an IP litigator, but he was also involved in prosecution, licensing and intellectual property due diligence.
I had the honor to introduce USPTO Director Andrei Iancu at the special event organized by OCIPLA. I have posted some pictures from the event on my LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6505188487954857984/ .
OCIPLA is a great IP Law professional organization. If you are a law professional in Orange County, California, or a law student who wants to practice IP law, and not already a member, I encourage you to join OCIPLA as soon as possible. You can find more information about the OCIPLA on its website at https://www.ocipla.org/ .
Director Iancu spoke on several recent developments at the USPTO, including the new Examiner Guidance on Section 101 (patentability of software inventions, abstract ideas, law of nature and natural phenomena). He emphasized that the new guidance clarifies for the examiners that an invention is patent eligible as long as it is a “practical application” of the abstract idea, law of nature or natural phenomenon. He hinted, and most observers including myself seem to agree, that the new guidance makes it easier to find that such patent applications overcome patent eligibility challenges from the patent examiners. This is great news for patent applicants and their patent attorneys!
One other particular point of interest for all IP lawyers practicing before the USPTO in trademark cases, which was shared by Director Iancu, is that the USPTO is working toward implementing the new rule requiring all foreign trademark applicants to be represented by a US attorney. The implementation of the new rule is expected to be completed within 2-3 months. This is another great news for all US IP Lawyers as the rule will generate more foreign clients!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law P.C.
CIONCA Team Member2/19/2019 7:12:46 PM
Revised Guidance by USPTO on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility and Examining Computer-Implemented Functional ClaimsMore
In January 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) updated their guidance for determining patent subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C 101 and computer-implemented functional claim limitations under 35 U.S.C. 112. With these updates, the USPTO seeks to provide clarity on subject matter eligibility and on claims that contain functional language, particularly computer-implemented inventions.
Updated Guidance on 35 U.S.C. 101
Previously, the USPTO used the Alice/Mayo test, also known as a two-step test, to determine patent subject matter eligibility. This was a test used to analyze whether a claim is directed towards matter excluded from subject matter eligibility based on “judicial exceptions” to what is eligible – these include laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. If the claim does not fall under a judicial exception in step 1, then step 2 is used to analyze whether the claim contains an “inventive concept.” It seemed that a proper application of the Alice/Mayo test in a consistent and reliable manner has been difficult, and as a result, patent stakeholders were at times unable to reliably determine whether a particular invention could be patent eligible. This revised guidance aims to address the concerns of stakeholders, judges, inventors, and practitioners who have felt the need for a clearer and more consistent manner of applying 35 U.S.C. 101.
The USPTO’s 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance now updates, in two ways, the procedures for determining whether a patent claim or patent application claim is directed to a judicial exception under Step 2A of the Alice/Mayo test. The first update is that it is explained that abstract ideas can be grouped, such as in the following examples: mathematical concepts, certain methods of organizing human activity, and mental processes. Second, it is explained that a patent claim or patent application claim that recites a judicial exception is not necessarily directed to the judicial exception if the judicial exception is integrated into a practical application of that judicial application. On the other hand, a claim that recites a judicial exception without integrating that judicial exception into a practical application is still directed towards that judicial exception under Step 2A of the test. Then, the claim must be evaluated under Step 2B (as discussed above, the “inventive concept”) to fully determine the subject matter eligibility of the claim.
Updated Guidance on 35 U.S.C. 112
As noted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”), there seemed to be a rising issue of broad functioning claiming without proper structural support in the specification. As described in the Federal Register (cited below):
“Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc) (overruling the Federal Circuit’s previous application of a ‘‘strong’’ presumption that claim limitations lacking the word ‘‘means’’ are not subject to § 112(f) to address the resulting ‘‘proliferation of functional claiming untethered to [§ 112(f)] and free of the strictures set forth in the statute’’); Function Media, LLC v. Google, Inc., 708 F.3d 1310, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (‘‘ ‘Section [112(f)] is intended to prevent . . . pure functional claiming.’ ’’ (citing Aristocrat Techs. Australia Pty Ltd. v. Int’l Game Tech., 521 F.3d 1238, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2008))); Ariad Pharm., Inc. v. Eli Lilly and Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc) (discussing the problem of functional claims defining a genus that ‘‘simply claim a desired result . . . without describing species that achieve that result’’).”
The Federal Circuit acknowledged that in light of some of its prior opinions, “a heightened bar” was established, in “overcoming the presumption that a limitation expressed in functional language without using the word ‘‘means’’ is not subject to 35 U.S.C. 112(f) and concluded that such a heightened burden is unjustified.” The Revised Guidance seeks to address these issues when analyzing a claim under 35 U.S.C. 112.
The Guidance for 35 U.S.C. 112 first outlines the process for claim interpretation, including determining whether a claim should be interpreted as a means-plus-function claim under section 112(f). Next, the guidance discusses indefiniteness under 35 U.S.C. 112(b). For a computer-implemented claim invoking 35 U.S.C. 112(f), the specification should disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed specific computer function. This can be, as examples, “a mathematical formula, prose or flow chart or in any other manner that provides sufficient structure.” Otherwise, the claim is indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112(b). The Guidance also reviews the requirements for enablement and written description, and in particular, states that “a specification must describe the claimed invention in sufficient detail (e.g., by disclosure of an algorithm) to 16 establish that the applicant had possession of the claimed invention as of the application filing date.”
The USPTO is accepting comments about these updates, and the deadline for submission of comments is March 8, 2019.
The Federal Register Notices in which the above are announced can be found at:
The Revised Guidance for 101 and 112 can be found at:
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law P.C.
CIONCA Team Member2/5/2019 7:22:27 PM
TiVo Puts Tivoli on Pause: TTAB’s Decision in TiVo Brands LLC v. Tivoli, LLCMore
On December 31, 2018, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) made decision in TiVo Brands LLC v. Tivoli, LLC. Tivoli, LLC (“Applicant”) applied to register TIVOTAPE and TIVOBAR in 2014 and 2016, respectively. In 2015, TiVo Brands LLC (“Opposer”) filed oppositions to both applications, alleging dilution by blurring and likelihood of confusion, as the Opposer’s registered marks are “TIVO and TIVO-formative marks.” Applicant denied all allegations. Both parties filed briefs and the Opposer filed a reply brief. An oral hearing was held in 2018 in TTAB’s jurisdiction.
“A successful claim for federal trademark dilution by blurring under Section 43(c) of the Trademark Act requires that a plaintiff plead and prove the following in a Board proceeding:
1. Plaintiff owns a famous mark that is distinctive;
2. Defendant is using a mark in commerce that allegedly dilutes plaintiff’s famous mark;
3. Defendant’s use of its mark began after plaintiff’s mark became famous; and
4. Defendant’s use of its mark is likely to cause dilution by blurring.”
TTAB specifically examined likeliness of dilution of TIVO word and design marks by Applicant’s TIVOTAPE and TIVOBAR, as dilution of these marks would hold scope over the other TIVO marks as well.
The degree of fame needed for dilution is higher than fame needed for likelihood of confusion. As such, “the court may consider all relevant factors, including the following:
(i) The duration, extent, and geographic reach of advertising and publicity of the mark, whether advertised or publicized by the owner of third parties.
(ii) The amount, volume, and geographic extent of sales of goods or services offered under the mark.
(iii) The extent of actual recognition of the mark.
(iv) Whether the mark was registered under the Act of March 3, 1881, or the Act of February 20, 1905, or on the principal register.”
TTAB somewhat favored finding the mark famous in view of factor one due to Opposer’s sparse records of self-advertising and self-publicity. In regard to factor two, TTAB concluded having neutral consideration as only statistics were provided without context. However, addressing factor three—which is perhaps the most significant of the four elements (Nike Inc. v. Maher)—TTAB found that “the extent of actual recognition of [Opposer’s] mark was pervasive and widespread” by 2010 (when Applicant adopted its mark), and thus, favored dilution of fame. Finally, factor four also favored finding a dilution of fame as both marks considered registered on the Principal Register as inherently distinctive and are over five years old.
Applicant made the argument that Opposer must establish that its fame was present by August 1972 as that is the year Applicant began using its TIVOLI mark. However, per TTAB, “the ‘involved’ mark may not change over time; in order for the defendant to ‘tack’ on its earlier use, the mark must be essentially the same at the time it is first used as at the time when it is used in association with the goods or services identified in the subject application or registration.” In this situation, TTAB expressed TIVOLI is not “legally equivalent” to TIVOTAPE or TIVOBAR. Finally, as the statute declares, “a plaintiff must show that its mark ‘is widely recognized by the general consuming public in the United States,’” and dilution can only be claimed by the “owner of a famous mark that is distinctive, inherently or through acquired distinctiveness.” Through submission of evidence and analyses, Opposer was able to prove distinction and maintain its fame post-2010 and throughout trial.
Furthermore, “In determining whether a mark or trade name is likely to cause dilution by blurring, the Board may consider all relevant factors, including the following:
(i) The degree of similarity between the mark or trade name and the famous mark.
(ii) The degree of inherent or acquired distinctiveness of the famous mark.
(iii) The extent to which the owner of the famous mark is engaging in substantially exclusive use of the mark.
(iv) The degree of recognition of the famous mark.
(v) Whether the use of the mark or trade name intended to create an association with the famous mark.
(vi) Any actual association between the mark or trade name and the famous mark.
As TIVO is used as a source identifier, and as it is the most prominent portion of the Applicant’s marks, TTAB found that Applicant’s marks are sufficiently similar to Opposer’s marks. Addressing factor two, “TIVO is inherently distinctive in connection with Opposer’s listed goods and services.” Opposer also demonstrated its consumers recognize the marks and their source. Factor three also favors Opposer as Applicant could not satisfy TTAB in proving the marks’ use by any other third-parties. Regarding factor four, TTAB found that TIVO “is now primarily associated with the owner of the mark even when it is considered outside of the context of the owner’s goods and services,” favoring Opposer. Factor five was considered neutral as “no evidence suggests that Applicant intended to create an association with Opposer’s TIVO mark.” Finally, factor six favors Applicant as TIVOTAPE and TIVO have been in concurrent use without confusion amongst consumers.
In view of all evidence as a whole, TTAB sustained Opposer’s oppositions, concluding that Applicant’s marks are likely to dilute Opposer’s famous mark.
One must consider carefully what marks to adopt as any interference with earlier marks—especially marks that have established and maintained their fame—may cause hindrance.
Full TiVo Brands LLC v. Tivoli, LLC decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca1/23/2019 9:45:30 PM
Patent Law Alert: All Sales of the Invention, Including Secret Sales May Invalidate a PatentMore
Patent Law Alert: All Sales of the Invention, Including Secret Sales May Invalidate a Patent
On January 22, 2019, the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES issued a decision in HELSINN HEALTHCARE S. A. v. TEVA PHARMACEUTICALS USA, INC., ET AL., which addressed the question of whether secret sale of the invention that occurred more than one year before the effective filing date of the application for patent invalidated the issued patent under Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). The verdict? Yes, it does.
The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) bars a person from receiving a patent on an invention that was “in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.” 35 U. S. C. §102(a)(1). This case required the Court to decide whether the sale of an invention to a third party who is contractually obligated to keep the invention confidential places the invention “on sale” within the meaning of §102(a).
More than 20 years ago, the Court determined that an invention was “on sale” within the meaning of an earlier version of §102(a) when it was “the subject of a commercial offer for sale” and “ready for patenting.” Pfaff v. Wells Electronics, Inc., 525 U. S. 55, 67 (1998). The Court did not further require that the sale make the details of the invention available to the public.
In this case, on January 30, 2003, nearly two years after Helsinn and its US distributor entered into a license agreement that granted the distributor the right to distribute, promote, market, and sell the 0.25 mg and 0.75 mg doses of palonosetron in the United States, Helsinn filed a provisional patent application covering the 0.25 mg and 0.75 mg doses of palonosetron. Over the next 10 years, Helsinn filed four patent applications that claimed priority to the January 30, 2003, date of the provisional application. Helsinn filed its fourth patent application—the one in dispute here—in May 2013, and it issued as U. S. Patent No. 8,598,219 (’219 patent). The ’219 patent covers a fixed dose of 0.25 mg of palonosetron in a 5 ml solution. Due to its effective date, the ’219 patent is governed by the AIA. See §101(i).
In 2011, Teva sought approval from the FDA to market a generic 0.25 mg palonosetron product. Helsinn then sued Teva for infringing its patents, including the ’219 patent. In defense, Teva asserted that the ’219 patent was invalid because the 0.25 mg dose was “on sale” more than one year before Helsinn filed the provisional patent application covering that dose in January 2003.
Because the Court determined that Congress, by using the phrase “otherwise available to the public” did not alter the prior settled meaning of “on sale” when it enacted the AIA, the Court held that an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party who is obligated to keep the invention confidential can qualify as prior art under §102(a), and thus, here, invalidate the ‘219 patent.
Inventors and their assignees need to be careful about activities engaged in before filing a patent application. Besides public disclosures and public use, a sale or offer for sale that occurs more than one year before the filing for patent, even when the sale is confidential, may invalidate the issued patent.
Full Court’s decision can be read here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1229_2co3.pdf
CIONCA Team Member1/4/2019 4:12:21 PM
In re: Tropp: New Matter in a Continuation Can Be Relevant to Written Description RequirementMore
On December 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit” or “CAFC”), with Prost as Chief Judge, made a nonprecedential decision in In Re: David Tropp (appeal number 2017-2503), vacating and remanding the decision of the originating venue of the case, the Patent and Trial Appeal Board (“Board” or “PTAB”). The Board had affirmed the Examiner’s decision rejecting claims 29-53 in U.S. patent application number 13/412,233 (“the ’233 application”) under 35 U.S.C. 112 for lack of sufficient written description support. The Federal Circuit determined in their decision that the Board had erred in its analysis.
The claims in question are directed towards a set of locks for securing travelers’ luggage, and methods of using the set of locks. Claim 29, the representative claim, is reproduced below:
“A set of locks for securing travelers’ luggage while facilitating an entity’s authorized luggage screening of luggage that the travelers have locked with said locks, without breaking the locks or the luggage, wherein the set comprises at least a first subset and a second subset each comprising plural locks, each lock in each of the first and second subsets having a combination lock portion for use by the travelers to lock and unlock the lock and in addition having a master key portion for use by the luggage-screening entity to unlock and re-lock the lock while the combination lock portion of the same lock remains in a locked state, wherein the same master key unlocks the master key portion of each lock in the first and second subsets, and different locks of the first and second subsets have combination lock portions with different plural numbers of dials, wherein:
the master portion of each lock in the first and second subsets of locks is configured for the same master key to unlock and re-lock the lock for the authorized luggage-screening independently of a locked state of the combination lock portion of the same lock;
the combination lock portion of each lock in the first and second subsets of locks is configured to unlock and re-lock the lock independently of a locked state of the master key portion of the same lock, using respective different combination dial settings of the plural number of dials as selected by of for the travelers;
each lock of a first subset of plural locks and a second subset of plural locks of the locks in the set has two or more combination lock dials;
the number of dials in each lock of the first subset differs from the number of dials in each lock of the second subset; and
each lock in the set has the same prominent indicia configured to uniquely differentiate the locks of the set from locks that are not configured for the luggage-screening entity to unlock and re-lock with the same master key for said authorized luggage-screening by said entity.”
Further, the “locks have two components: a combination lock portion for use by travelers, and a master key portion for use by a luggage-screening entity, like the Transportation Security Administration. The set of locks has at least two subsets with a different number of dials on the combination lock portion” (appeal number 2017-2503).
In the Board’s decision, it was found that the specification of the ‘233 application did not provide sufficient written description support by not describing “’a set of locks’ with various ‘subsets,’ but instead described a single special lock with different embodiments” (appeal number 2017-2503).
Of note is that the ’233 application is a continuation of U.S. patent application number 10/756,531 (“the ‘531 application,” now U.S. patent number 8,145,576), which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application number 10/706,500 (“the ‘500 application,” now U.S. patent number 7,021,537). In each of these applications, the following description was included, directed to a: “special lock having a combination lock portion and having a master key lock, the master key lock portion for receiving a master key that can open the master key lock portion of any special lock of this type, the special lock designed to be applied to an individual piece of airline luggage.”
Furthermore, the ‘233 application includes the following language not included in the ‘500 application, the grandparent application: “[t]he phrase ‘any special lock of this type’ is intended to include special locks having a multiplicity of sub-types, such as different sizes, different manufacturing designs or styles, etc.” The Board addressed this only in a footnote, stating: “Priority Application 10/756,531, now US 8,145,576, does describe “‘any special lock of this type’ is intended to include special locks having a multiplicity of sub-types, such as different sizes, different manufacturing designs or styles, etc.” (Col. 4, ll. 21-24), but Application 10/756,531 is a [continuation-in-part] of US ’537. We find this description constitutes at least part of the added new matter of the continuation-in-part application.”
The appellant, Mr. Tropp, presented the argument that the Board disregarded this, and mistakenly concluded this language as not relevant, being new matter. The Federal Circuit deemed this footnote to be “confusing” and believed the appellant’s interpretation to be “the most plausible one.”
The Federal Circuit continued, “Even if it is new matter, the language in the ’233 application as filed is relevant to assessing compliance with the written description requirement. Cf. Waldemar Link v. Osteonics Corp., 32 F.3d 556, 558 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (“Claims containing any matter introduced in the CIP are accorded the filing date of the CIP application. However, matter disclosed in the parent application is entitled to the benefit of the filing date of the parent application.”).”
Thus, the Board’s decision was vacated and remanded.
Full In re: David Tropp decision can be read here:
CIONCA Team Member12/18/2018 6:12:48 PM
Schlafly v. The Saint Louis Brewery: The Registration of Merely a SurnameMore
On November 26, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“the Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Schlafly v. The Saint Louis Brewery. In 2011, the Saint Louis Brewery (“SLB”), a beer brewery based in Missouri founded in 1989 by Thomas Schlafly, applied for registration of the mark SCHLAFLY, which has been sold in association with their beer since 1991. During the application’s publication for opposition, two opposers were in favor of blocking the mark’s registration: Phyllis Schlafly and Bruce Schlafly, Thomas Schlafly’s aunt and cousin (“the Opposers”), respectively. However, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) denied their opposition and entitled the SCHLAFLY mark to registration on the Principal Register. Thereafter, the Opposers appeal TTAB’s decision on the basis that TTAB disregarded the fact that the mark is a surname and that the applicant had failed to provide survey evidence of the mark’s secondary meaning. Moreover, “the Opposers claim violation of their First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Due Process rights and protections.” The appeal is in the Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction.
The Opposers first challenge the mark’s acquired distinctiveness and assert that secondary meaning was not properly proven. Per the Code of Federal Regulations, the following may be considered to demonstrate secondary meaning: (1) Ownership of prior registration, (2) Five years substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce, or (3) Other evidence, such as verified statements, depositions, etc. In this case, SLB presented evidence in all acceptable areas, and thus, secondary meaning is justified.
The Opposers further argue that the public associates SCHLAFLY with Phyllis Schlafly as she was an iconic conservative activist and insist on the “change in significance” test, “whereby a surname cannot be registered as a trademark without showing a change in significance to the public, from a surname to an identifying mark for specified goods.” However, the examiner and Board had already found that the mark had accrued secondary meaning and had been correlated with their goods of beer products.
Additionally, the Opposers allege that the Board disregarded SCHLAFLY as merely a surname. Nonetheless, per statute, a surname is eligible for trademark registration granted that it has established secondary meaning in commerce.
Regarding the Opposers’ constitutional allegations, the claim that registration of the mark impedes on their First and Fifth Amendment rights and their rights to Due Process, the Opposers fail to adequately demonstrate how their rights are violated.
Thus, the Federal Circuit affirmed TTAB’s decision and held that a surname may be considered registrable as a trademark should secondary meaning be successfully proven.
Full Schlafly v. The Saint Louis Brewery decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca12/8/2018 8:35:06 PM
IP Assets - Procurement, Enforcement, MonetizationMore
IP Assets - Procurement, Enforcement, Monetization
This week, I had the pleasure to speak at a SCORE – Orange County event about IP (Intellectual Property) issues to an audience primary made of small OC business owners. The topic was IP Assets - Procurement, Enforcement, Monetization and the subtopic was what every entrepreneur should know about trademarks, patents, copyrights and other IP assets.
I talked first about a few foundational points regarding IP procurement. IP, of course, includes, trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets and trade dress. As known, a business can acquire copyright (an IP asset) in the articles, logos, pictures, videos, website design, etc. that are created on their behalf by employees or by service providers.
One important consideration is for businesses to use agreements with strong IP provisions that clearly transfers all IP rights, that may be vested initially in the IP creators (the employees and the outside services providers), to the business. This is particularly important when dealing with service providers. For example, if the business hires a web designer/developer as an independent contractor to create a website, the copyright belongs to the designer unless the service agreement clearly states otherwise. This applies not only to copyrights, but also to trademarks (e.g., a logo created by an outside graphic designer) and patents (e.g., an invention conceived by a consultant) and to all other IP.
As known, copyrights can be registered with the US Copyright Office for additional benefits (e.g., right to sue in Federal Court, statutory damages). Trademarks can be filed with the Secretary of State office to obtain state registrations and, clearly a superior option, with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) to obtain a federal registration, to constructively occupy all 50 states and for other benefits.
Patents as well can be filed for with the USPTO to obtain a 15 year design patent protection for new designs of new or existing products or 20 years utility patent protection for products, machinery, processes or compositions that are new in terms of structure or function.
One other thing I touched on included some observations regarding choosing a mark. As known, generic or descriptive terms cannot function as trademarks (e.g., APPLE for apples). Suggestive marks are typically OK, but arbitrary (e.g., APPLE for computers) or fanciful (i.e., made-up words such as Google) are much better.
Also, before adopting a mark, trademark clearing searches are strongly recommended. It can avoid a lot of headaches for the businesses down the line. This is true not only for an easy path to registration, but also for avoiding conflicts with other marks that may cause serious business losses later (legal expenses, costs with changing the mark, etc).
As the time was running out, due to the business owners asking many questions related to issues they were unclear about, the IP Enforcement and IP Monetization portions of the planned discussion were left for another time…
CIONCA Team Member11/19/2018 1:07:51 PM
The Appeals ProcessMore
The Appeals Process
During the patent prosecution process, it is not uncommon for an applicant to receive a Non-Final Rejection for their claims. Once the claims have been twice rejected (oftentimes the second rejection being a Final Rejection), the applicant could appeal from this decision. The patent applicant (in the case of a patent application) or patent owner (in the case of a reexamination) can file an appeal.
If an applicant decides to move forward with the appeals process, the first step is to file a Notice of Appeal with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB, or Board), with the accompanying fee. This must be done within the time period set by the last Office Action. Then, an appeal brief must be filed.
The Notice of Appeal is a simple form that can be filed through the USPTO’s Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system. Like other documents in the patent prosecution history, the status of the application and the receipt date of the Notice of Appeal can also later be viewed through PAIR.
As of this writing, an ongoing pilot program allows the filing of a Pre-Appeal Brief Request for Review at the time of filing the Notice of Appeal. The USPTO provides a form for this request, and a separate paper should be submitted containing a succinct and focused set of arguments, no longer than five pages. If proper, the examiner of record is provided with the opportunity to review the arguments with a panel of reviewers assigned by a supervisor. The appellant does not attend this review. Based upon the findings of the review, the Office will next send a decision to the appellant, which could be that the application remains under appeal because at least one issue for appeal still exists, prosecution on the merits is to be reopened, the application is allowed on the existing claims, or the case is dismissed due to the request failing to comply with submission requirements.
This panel review could also be terminated if, before the mailing of a decision, the applicant files any of the following: an appeal brief, a request for continued examination, an after final amendment, an affidavit or other evidence, or an express abandonment.
If the panel review is completed and a decision is mailed to the applicant, the time period for filing an appeal brief is reset to one month from the mailing of the decision or the balance of two months from the Notice of Appeal, whichever is greater. Further information about the Pre-Appeal Brief Review Request pilot program can be found in MPEP 1204.02.
With no other factors in play such as a Pre-Appeal Brief Request for Review, the applicant must file their appeal brief within two months of filing the Notice of Appeal (otherwise, the appeal is dismissed). The appeal brief should contain an identification of the real party in interest, a list of any related appeals, interferences, and trials, a summary of the claimed subject matter, the arguments of the appellant, and an appendix of claims. Further details regarding the contents of the appeal brief can be found in 37 CFR 41.37.
The examiner will then discuss the case with a supervisor and another examiner to determine whether the case should be sent to the PTAB. The examiner can withdraw their previous rejection or file an Examiner’s Answer, which means that the appellant must pay a forwarding fee to send the case to the PTAB. They can also file an optional Reply Brief as a response to arguments in the Examiner’s Answer. Another option the appellant has at this stage is to request an oral hearing. However, the MPEP states that this should only be requested in circumstances where the hearing is necessary for a proper presentation of the appeal (MPEP 1209).
Three judges are assigned to the case when it is received by the PTAB. During their proceedings over the case, the PTAB could require the appellant to brief any matter considered to be of assistance in reaching a decision. These are accompanied by a time period for reply, and failure by the appellant to reply could terminate the proceedings. Similarly, any of the following could terminate the PTAB’s jurisdiction over the patent appeal: the PTAB entering a remand order or a final decision, an express abandonment, the filing of a request for continued examination, the applicant failing to respond to a request or take a required action, or the applicant reopening prosecution.
It is then up to the PTAB to issue a decision, which could be a new ground of rejection, a reversal, or affirmance of the Examiner’s decision, or the Examiner’s decision is affirmed-in-part. After the PTAB issues their decision, the jurisdiction passes back to the examiner of record. At this stage, the applicant can still file a request for continued examination or a continuing examination claiming priority to the application which was under review. If there is a new ground of rejection, the appellant could also reopen prosecution before the examiner (by submission of an amendment and/or new evidence). Lastly, within two months of the decision issued by the PTAB, the appellant could still optionally request a rehearing before the PTAB.
The USPTO provides a helpful guide to the appeals process, which can be accessed here:
CIONCA Team Member10/16/2018 6:50:31 PM
A Double-Edged Sword: Benefit of Priority or Longer Patent TermMore
On October 1, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in Natural Alternatives International, Inc. v. Andrei Iancu. Starting December 2011, Natural Alternatives International, Inc. (“NAI”) was in district court litigation with Woodbolt Distributors, LLC (“Woodbolt”). In May 2012, Woodbolt requested inter partes review of NAI’s Patent No. 8,067,381 (“the ‘381 Patent”), issued from the last of eight patent applications filed by NAI between 1997 and 2011. While the first through sixth applications each initially correctly claimed priority to the preceding applications, NAI amended the “Cross Reference of Related Applications” section of only the fifth application, disclaiming priority to the fourth through first applications, and only claiming priority to a provisional application filed during the pendency of the fourth. However, this amendment was not made in the sixth application or the subsequent seventh and eight applications. With this break in the priority chain as a platform, Woodbolt requested inter partes review of the ‘381 Patent. In defense, NAI averred that this break is irrelevant to the later filed applications as the sixth application claims priority to the fourth through first applications. Unpersuaded, the examiner rejected the reexamined claims in view of prior art, including Patent No. 5,965,596, NAI’s patent issued from their first filed application. Natural Alternatives appealed to the Patent and Trial Appeal Board, who affirmed the examiner’s decision and denied NAI a rehearing. NAI then appealed to the Federal Circuit.
NAI presented its argument to the Federal Circuit in four parts. First, NAI asserts that the ‘381 Patent’s priority to the first application was secured as the complete priority chain was invoked in the sixth application once the application met all criteria. Second, NAI claims that a waiver of priority is only applicable to the instant application and not subsequent filings. Third, NAI presses that “the Board erroneously viewed priority as a single growing chain rather than multiple fixed chains.” Fourth, given their third argument, having such a view “‘limits an applicant’s ability to seek protection’” when “‘amending a priority claim to gain [patent] term’” (6).
In response to NAI’s first point, the Federal Circuit strongly affirms that “amending an earlier filed parent application may affect the priority of its child applications” (9). While the eighth application claimed priority to the first application, it did not meet the requirements entitling its claim to priority benefits as the fifth application lacked priority to the first. Addressing NAI’s second point, the Federal Circuit emphasizes that while the MPEP reads, “‘[a] cancellation of a benefit claim to a prior application may be considered as a showing that the applicant is intentionally waiving the benefit claim to the prior application in the instant application,” understanding the rule as being applicable only to the instant application is too narrow; there is no language limiting the scope of this rule to only the instant application (10). Towards NAI’s third point, “The Supreme Court has previously explained that under § 120, parent and continuing applications ‘are to be considered as parts of the same transaction, and both as constituting one continuous application, within the meaning of the law’” (12). Finally, in response to NAI’s fourth point, the Federal Circuit maintains that by voluntarily omitting a priority claim to avoid losing patent term, the Applicant must accept the loss of benefits to claiming priority, including the possibility of a parent application being used as prior art. Thus, for the aforementioned reasons, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's decision.
In conclusion, Applicants should carefully consider the use of priority claims. As demonstrated in this case, any break in the chain could jeopardize the validity of subsequent patents.
Full Natural Alternatives v. Iancu decision can be read here:
Marin Cionca10/1/2018 7:42:12 PM
Can I Register a Color as a Trademark or Service Mark?More
Can I Register a Color as a Trademark or Service Mark?
The answer is yes, but it is not easy. Color marks are not inherently distinctive, and thus, they cannot be registered on the Principal Register at the USPTO without a showing of acquired distinctiveness (secondary meaning) under §2(f) of the Trademark Act. Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP), 1202.05. So, you may need to start at the USPTO on the Supplemental Register and later provide proof of acquired distinctiveness (i.e., the consumers associate the respective color with your goods or services). One way that may be acceptable by the USPTO to show acquired distinctiveness is to use the color as a mark for five years.
Examples of colors that were found registrable/protectable as trademarks are (per TMEP, 1202.05):
- green-gold color combination used on dry cleaning press pads (the color was found to have acquired secondary meaning; Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995));
-the colors green and yellow, as applied to the body and wheels of machines, respectively, not barred from registration on the basis of functionality; evidence established the colors had become distinctive of the goods; In re Deere & Co., 7 USPQ2d 1401, 1403-04 (TTAB 1988)
-the color pink as applied to fibrous glass residential insulation (the evidence showed the color had acquired secondary meaning); In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985);
As suggested from the examples above, for color marks used in connection with goods, color may be used on the entire surface of the goods, on a portion of the goods, or on all or part of the packaging for the goods. “For example, a color trademark might consist of purple used on a salad bowl, pink used on the handle of a shovel, or a blue background and a pink circle used on all or part of a product package.” TMEP, 1202.05. Similarly, service marks may consist of color used on all or part of materials used in the advertising and rendering of the services, such as brochures, business cards, invoices, websites, etc.
Examples of colors that were found unregistrable/unprotectable (per TMEP, 1202.05):
- "blue motif" used in retail stores, not registrable on Principal Register without resort to showing acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning, because it would likely be perceived by prospective purchasers as "nothing more than interior decoration”; In re Hudson News Co., 39 USPQ2d 1915, 1923 (TTAB 1996);
- color yellow appearing as the predominant uniform background color on product packaging for cereal (evidence insufficient to demonstrate that mark had acquired distinctiveness); In re Gen. Mills IP Holdings II, LLC;
- green rectangular background design as applied to clothing and footwear (evidence insufficient to establish that it had acquired distinctiveness as applied to clothing and footwear; TTAB found that the green rectangle was nothing more than a background design used to display the Benetton trademark and Benetton admitted that it never used the green rectangle separately); In re Benetton Grp. S.p.A., 48 USPQ2d 1214 (TTAB 1998);
- color pink used on surgical wound dressings was found functional and thus unregistrable because the actual color of the goods closely resembles Caucasian human skin; In re Ferris Corp., 59 USPQ2d 1587 (TTAB 2000);
- colors yellow and orange held to be functional for public telephones and telephone booths, thus unregistrable, since they are more visible under all lighting conditions in the event of an emergency; In re Orange Commc'ns, Inc., 41 USPQ2d 1036 (TTAB 1996);
While color can be registered as a trademark or service mark, it is not easy, and thus, some careful planning may be necessary. Takeaways are to choose a color that cannot be interpreted as functional for the respective good or service and to promote the color as a mark, i.e., same way as you promote your other marks (logo, product name, slogan, etc.).
CIONCA Team Member9/17/2018 4:33:20 PM
Trademarks and Likelihood of Confusion: Federal Circuit’s Decision in In re: Detroit Athletic Co.More
On September 10, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) made a decision in In re: Detroit Athletic Co. Detroit Athletic Co. (“DACo”) is a shop of sports apparel and souvenirs. In May 2015, DACo filed an application for the mark DETROIT ATHLETIC CO. on the Principal Register. However, the examining attorney refused registration on the basis of likelihood of confusion with registered mark DETROIT ATHLETIC CLUB, a Detroit-based social club also in the business of selling clothing, including athletic apparel. DACo appealed the examining attorney’s decision and thereafter, the Board affirmed. DACo appealed again to the Federal Circuit.
Section 2(d) of the Lanham Act states “a mark may be refused registration if it ‘so resembles a mark registered in the Patent and Trademark Office …as to be likely, when used on or in connection with the goods of the applicant, to cause confusion[.]’” Moreover, the PTO determines likelihood of confusion by the following DuPont factors:
1) The similarity of dissimilarity of the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound, connotations, and commercial impression.
2) The similarity or dissimilarity and nature of the goods or services as described in an application or registration or in connection with which a prior mark is in use.
3) The similarity or dissimilarity of established, likely-to-continue trade channels.
4) The conditions under which and buyers to whom sales are made—i.e., “impulse” vs. careful, sophisticated purchasing.
5) The fame of the prior mark (sales, advertising, length of use).
6) The number and nature of similar marks in use on similar goods.
7) The nature and extent of any actual confusion.
8) The length of time during and conditions under which there has been concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion.
9) The variety of goods on which a mark is or is not used (house mark, “family” mark, product mark).
10) The market interface between applicant and owner of a prior mark.
11) The extent to which applicant has a right to exclude others from use of its mark on its goods.
12) The extent of potential confusion—i.e., whether de minimis or substantial.
13) Any other established fact probative of the effect of use.
Per the Board’s decision, factors considered relevant to the matter were Factors 1, 2, 3, and 8.
Regarding Factor 1, DETROIT ATHLETIC CO. and DETROIT ATHLETIC CLUB are similar in appearance, sound, and impression. Both marks consist of three words, the first of the two—the dominant portion of both marks—being identical. Their terminal words are also similar in that they are both monosyllabic terms beginning with consonant ‘C’. While CO. and CLUB differ, their dissimilarity is not enough to combat confusion as they are both descriptive and refer to the entity of each business. Although the two different terms are disclaimed in DACo’s and the Detroit Athletic Club’s applications, respectively, their disclamation does not affect the public’s impression of their marks.
Regarding Factor 2, although DACo services (“[o]n-line retail and consignment stores featuring sports team related clothing and apparel; [r]etail apparel stores; [r]etail shops featuring sports team related clothing and apparel; [r]etail sports team related clothing and apparel stores.”) and the Detroit Athletic Club claims goods (“[c]lothing, namely athletic uniforms, coats, golf shirts, gym suits, hats, jackets, sweat pants, sweat shirts, polo shirts, and T-shirts.”), the nature of both overlap. This is due to the fact that Detroit Athletic Club’s goods seem to include general clothing, which would then encompass DACo’s goods. Additionally, and more apparently, both sets are relevant to sporting.
Regarding Factor 3, DACo attacks the registered mark’s validity by disclosing that the Detroit Athletic Club only sells its goods to its club members and its private gift shop. While this may diminish confusion, this statement is irrelevant in evaluating factor 3 because evaluation must be directed towards channels specified in the registration rather than real-world conditions. Moreover, although the Detroit Athletic Club’s registration contains no restriction on the channels of trade, the Federal Circuit “may not assume that the club will never sell clothing online or through third-party distributors.”
Finally, to address Factor 8, DACo submitted evidence to show lack of confusion, which included a statement from a long-time consumer and online search results. The Federal Circuit distinguishes that the test aims to evaluate likelihood of confusion, not actual confusion. “Likelihood of confusion in this context can be established even in the face of evidence suggesting that the consuming public was not actually confused” (16). Thus, evidence submitted by DACo positing that at least one consumer is highly aware of their mark and associated service was deemed dispositive. Again, as with Factor 3, Factor 8 is not concerned with actuality, but rather, it is concerned with possibility.
The Federal Circuit concluded that based on evidence above, the marks are likely to be confused and therefore affirmed the Board’s ruling.
Full In re: Detroit Athletic Co. can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/17-2361.Opinion.9-10-2018.pdf
Staff8/31/2018 7:26:58 PM
Patent Claim Interpretation By Federal Circuit's on Facebook's Contiguous Image LayoutMore
On August 14, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”), with Prost as Chief Judge, decided on Facebook’s appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) regarding a final rejection of application No. 13/715,636 (“’636”). The ‘636 application concerns “a method for arranging images contiguously in an array” via an algorithm, wherein the arrangement and placement of image elements is adjusted “so as to preserve the contiguous layout.” The algorithm of the ‘636 application can further adjust the arrangement and placement of images in response to user actions such as resizing, resequencing, and so on.
A section of claim one of the ‘636 application asserts “determining, in response to an instruction to adjust the position or size of a first image element, a second position in the array for at least one second image element, the second position determined based on a rule requiring the image elements to be contiguous…” A patent examiner rejected some claims as anticipated and the rest as obvious, citing a patent application filed by Perrodin.
Perrodin’s application disclosed an algorithm for positioning image elements on a grid, wherein “the application places the [three by three] first image across three cells in both directions. The application then marks those cells as being used or allocated… [Then] the remaining images are distributed across each available cell in the grid.” Perrodin also disclosed said algorithm can “reflow” image elements on the grid after a user moved an image within the grid.
The examiner concluded that “the foregoing discloses of Perrodin satisfied the ‘rule requiring the image elements to be contiguous’ limitation” of the ‘636 application. PTAB thus adopted the examiner’s conclusion and affirmed the rejections. The appellant, Facebook, appealed PTAB’s affirmation “because [PTAB’s] reading of the relevant prior art reference cannot be supported by substantial evidence.”
The exclusive question considered on appeal by the Federal Circuit is whether or not Perrodin disclosed, within the meaning of the claims, “a rule requiring the image elements to be contiguous such that each available image position between the first image element in the sequence and the last image element in the sequence is occupied by an image element.” While the “reflow” depicted in the example shown by FIGs. 18 and 19 happened to result in a contiguous arrangement, Perrodin’s algorithm does not require a contiguous arrangement. Perrodin’s lack of required contiguity is further made plain by FIG. 17 of the application, which shows another “reflow” example that resulted in unoccupied grid cells. Thus, Perrodin’s application did not require contiguity.
The Federal Circuit determined Perrodin’s algorithm “did not require contiguity in response to resizing and rearranging in all cases, but rather left open the possibility that cells would be left unfilled.” Thus, the Federal Circuit reversed PTAB’s final rejection of the ‘636 application and remanded for further action. The appeal was reversed and remanded.
Full In re: Facebook, Inc. decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/17-2524.Opinion.8-14-2018.pdf
Staff8/16/2018 4:24:01 PM
Correcting or Changing a Patent After Issue Through the Central Reexamination UnitMore
There are five primary ways in which a patent can be corrected or affected after it has been issued, wherein the proceedings are handled by the Central Reexamination Unit (CRU), although the first two that will be discussed do not actually involve a reexamination of the patent in question (despite the name Central Reexamination Unit). These five ways of correcting or affecting a patent are: statutory disclaimers, certificates of correction, reissue, ex parte reexamination, and supplemental examination. Other ways of affecting a patent after issue include trial proceedings that are conducted by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and include inter partes review, post grant review, and covered business method review. If a patent owner is aware of any issue or error in their patent, they must choose the correct route for addressing those issues or errors.
Before the formation of the CRU, requests for reexamination would be routed back to the art unit that originally worked on that patent. These requests were uncommon when compared to the typical examination work that examiners performed in their day-to-day work, and thus, the examiners were not always familiar with reexamination proceedings. When the CRU was formed in 2005, the centralization of these types of requests allowed experienced examiners dedicated to the reexamination of patents to become specialized in these matters. Another advantage of the CRU is that it helped to eliminate some of the bias that might be present when a reexamination request went back to the art unit that issued a patent, since the older system might have caused a reluctance to admit the art unit had issued an erroneous patent.
The statute, in 37 CFR 1.321, allows a patent owner to disclaim any complete claim or claims, or patent. There are a few reasons why an owner might want to do so, and an example is to reduce issues during court proceedings. A fee is required for a statutory disclaimer.
More information about statutory disclaimers can be found in MPEP chapter 1490.
Certificate of correction
Minor errors in a patent can be fixed by filing a certificate of correction. The CRU reviews the error, and if the error was the fault of the USPTO, there will be no associated fee. Errors made by the applicant must be corrected with a fee.
The types of errors that the certificate of correction is used for is limited and include only minor errors such as typos or spelling mistakes, and as such, the terms of a claim cannot be corrected by using a certificate of correction.
More information about certificates of correction can be found in MPEP chapter 1481.
A reissue is used for making more substantive changes or corrections than a certificate of correction is used for. It is an option that is only available to patent owners, and it requires a fee. For a reissue to take place, the errors that are to be corrected must be errors that would render the patent wholly or partly inoperative, or invalid. If the patent was assigned, it is required to file a consent of the owner for the reissue.
During a reissue, additional dependent or narrower claims can be added. However, there is a limitation to adding broadening claims. A broadening reissue must be filed within two years from the grant of the original patent. If an amended claim is broader in any respect than the original claim – even if it was narrowed in other respects – the claim has been broadened. To understand how “broadening” is defined, an “infringement test” can be used, which is: if someone infringes on the amended claim, but was not previously infringing on the original claim, then the claim has been broadened.
Since the reissue is only for the unexpired portion of a patent’s term, if a patent were to expire during the course of a reissue prosecution, the proceedings are terminated. This is not the same for reexamination, which could affect the entire period of enforceability of a patent.
More information on reissues can be found in MPEP chapters.
Ex Parte Reexamination
Under the reexamination statute 35 U.S.C. 302, “Any person at any time may file a request for reexamination by the Office of any claim of a patent on the basis of any prior art cited.” This means that the patent owner or a third party (who receives copies of all communications from the Office during the reexamination proceeding) can file the request, and the requester can remain anonymous. The reexamination can be requested for one or more claims, and the general practice of the CRU is to examine only those claims that were requested. This reexamination will be on the basis of prior art only, meaning that other issues, such as 35 U.S.C. 112 issues, cannot be addressed.
The process begins with the filed request, which, if it was proper, is given a filing date. A proper request must be in writing, accompanied by a fee, and must be based only on printed publications or patents – it cannot be based on, for example, an affidavit or other such evidence. These can be used, but not as the basis, and can only be used to support the prior art that the reexamination is based upon.
The threshold for initiating the reexamination proceeding after the request is filed is called a “substantial new question of patentability” (SNQ). A determination of whether or not SNQ has been raised must be made by the Office within three months. If the examiner determines that an SNQ is raised, then the examiner will order the reexamination; otherwise, the request is denied. A patent owner can have the opportunity to make a statement (or waive the right to do so), and a third party filer may comment on that statement. Afterwards, the third party will have no role in the reexamination proceeding. Then, the reexamination is conducted much like the examination process of a patent application, with a few exceptions. For one, no Request for Continued Examination is offered – there is only one opportunity to amend as a matter of right. Another difference during the examination process is that the reexamination uses “special dispatch,” which means that extensions of time are not automatic and are only granted with cause, and times for reply can be shortened (particularly the case when the patent is involved in a court proceeding). Another important difference is that amendments cannot be broadening during a reexamination. The proceeding concludes with a certificate of reexamination.
More information on ex parte reexamination can be found in MPEP chapter 2209.
Supplemental examination came about with the America Invents Act (AIA), and can only be filed by the patent owner. A primary difference between supplemental examination and an ex parte reexamination requested by the patent owner is that in an ex parte reexamination, only prior art issues can be raised; in supplemental examination, all issues can be raised, including issues related to subject matter eligibility of 35 U.S.C. 101 or written description requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112. The patent owner can request that the Office “consider, reconsider, or correct information believed to be relevant to the patent,” according to the statute, 35 U.S.C. 257.
There are two phases of supplemental examination. The first is the supplemental examination phase, and a second reexamination phase that could result from the findings of the first phase. The reexamination generally proceeds similarly to the reexamination of the ex parte reexamination discussed above, with a few exceptions. Notably, the reexamination is not limited to prior art issues.
The supplemental examination does not involve any interaction between the requester and the Office, and concludes with a certificate to indicate whether or not the “items of information” provided by the patent owner (which are limited to twelve) raised an SNQ. Like in ex parte reexamination, the Office must make this determination within three months.
A primary advantage of supplemental examination for a patent owner is that it provides the owner with a potential mechanism for immunizing themselves against allegations of inequitable conduct. That is, when information is considered, reconsidered, or corrected during this process, the patent cannot be “held unenforceable on the basis of conduct relating” to this information (35 U.S.C. 257(c)(1)). Thus, it can be advantageous for a patent owner in some situations to request a supplemental examination, particularly over an ex parte reexamination if items of information are available which are not based on printed publications or patents.
More information about supplemental examination can be found in MPEP chapter 2802.
The USPTO website for the CRU can be found at:
Marin Cionca7/31/2018 6:50:05 PM
My patent expired? Can I still sue for patent infringement?More
My patent expired? Can I still sue for patent infringement?
There are situations when a patent owner contemplates filing a patent infringement lawsuit after the patent expires. Is it too late to sue? Maybe not. The particular facts will have to be weighed against the legal doctrines of laches and equitable estoppel and against the statute of limitations applicable to patent infringement claims.
As known, in the United States, design patents expire 15 years after grant and utility patents expire 20 years after the effective filing data (i.e., the earliest of the actual filing date of the patent application and the earliest priority date claimed).
Let’s say that a patent expired 4 years ago. Is it too late to sue now? And if not, would it be worth it? Well, since the patent is now expired, an injunction and forward damages (i.e., for infringement occurring after the filing date of the infringement lawsuit) are not available. What about backward/pre-suit damages? Before March 21, 2017, the defense of laches asserted by the patent infringer may have derailed the effort to collect pre-suit damages, if the defendant could show that the patent owner unreasonably delayed enforcing its patent rights while the defendant continued to invest in the accused product, and, allowing patent enforcement now would prejudice the defendant.
That is not true anymore. That is according to the Supreme Court’s decision in SCA v. First Quality (SCA HYGIENE PRODUCTS AKTIEBOLAG ET AL. v. FIRST QUALITY BABY PRODUCTS, LLC, ET AL.) issued on March 21, 2017. A link to the entire court opinion is provided at the end of this blog.
In SCA, the Court held that “[l]aches cannot be interposed as a defense against damages where the infringement occurred within the period prescribed by §286.” The period prescribed by §286 is 6 years (35 U.S. Code § 286: “Except as otherwise provided by law, no recovery shall be had for any infringement committed more than six years prior to the filing of the complaint or counterclaim for infringement in the action”).
Thus, in our scenario, the patent owner could still sue and could potentially recover 2 (6-4) years of damages, assuming that the doctrine of equitable estoppel would not apply. As known, the doctrine of equitable estoppel could bar recovery of any damages when the patent owner by its actions misled the accused infringer into believing that the patent will not be asserted against the defendant.
Thus, assuming that the equitable estoppel defense is not a concern, the patent owner could still sue, but if it is worth it or not, may depend on what were the sales of the infringer the 5th and the 6th years prior to filing the patent infringement lawsuit. If they were relatively small, let’s say about $200,000 a year, at a reasonable royalty rate of let’s say 7%, the maximum recovery would be $28,000 (assuming no willful infringement can be proven), and thus it may not be worth it, considering the high cost of patent infringement litigation.
While the defense of laches can no longer prevent recovery of damages for past infringement if the infringement occurred during the last 6 years, patent owners should assert their patents before the patents expire, to avoid losing years of past damages (i.e., 4 years in the above example). Further, in general, and especially if interacting with the accused infringer, care should be exercised, not to say or do something to mislead the infringer into believing that the patent would not be asserted.
SCA v. First Quality Opinion available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-927_6j37.pdf
Diclaimer: The views and opinions expressed throughout this blog are the views and opinions of the individual author(s) and/or contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of our firm, CIONCA IP Law. P.C.
7/3/2018 7:44:33 PM
Impax Laboratories Inc. v Lannett Holdings Inc. on Claim InvalidationMore
On June 28, 2018 the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has decided Impax Laboratories Inc. v. Lannett Holdings Inc. Licensed to Impax Laboratories Inc. (“Impax”) by AstraZeneca UK Limited (“AstraZeneca”), Zomig® Nasal Spray, made from AstraZaneca’s patented zolmitriptan formulation, was developed and sold for migraine treatment. In June 2014, Lannett Holdings Inc. (“Lannett”) notified AstraZeneca of its pursuit of developing a generic version of Zomig® Nasal Spray, alleging noninfringement and invalidity of AstraZeneca’s patents as obvious over prior art disclosing a formulation that could be administered intranasally, further suggesting that zolmitriptan could be an active ingredient in the formulation. In defense Impax sued Lannett in the District of Delaware for infringement, and the court ruled in favor of Impax, asserting that the prior art taught away from intranasal application as zolmitriptan alone is not an active ingredient for such application, which is required of intranasal administration. Lannett appealed the court’s decision, and the case was brought to the Federal Circuit.
Decision & Conclusion
While the Federal Circuit found the case “close,” the district court’s findings were affirmed. One skilled in the art would be dissuaded from an intranasal application of zolmitriptan as it is “absolutely counterintuitive to make a nasal spray when you have an active metabolite which is more potent...than the drug itself” (13). As such, the prior art failed to teach the administration of zolmitriptan through the nasal passage. Furthermore, “The court found Appellees’ experts more credible than Lannett’s and ultimately was not convinced that Lannett had shown that the patents were invalid” (16). Thus, patent claim invalidation cannot be supported by prior art’s mere mentions of a claimed formulation and the administration of this formulation when the ingredient in question is only part of the claimed formulation rather than its active ingredient.
Full Impax Laboratories Inc. v. Lannett Holdings Inc. can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/17-2020.Opinion.6-28-2018.pdf
CIONCA IP5/17/2018 9:54:58 PM
Marin Cionca Presents at OCIPLA May 2018 LuncheonMore
5/4/2018 7:37:51 PM
The Hague System for Protection of International DesignsMore
The Hague System for Protection of International Designs
Among the intellectual property services provided by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the international registration of designs. Over 68 members, known as Contracting Parties, constitute the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, commonly referred to as the Hague System, through which a single international design patent application can be used for registering up to 100 designs. Generally, two Acts, the 1999 Act and the 1960 Act, constitute this agreement.
An “industrial design” is defined legally as the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. This can be made up of three-dimensional features, such as the shape of the article, or can also include two-dimensional features such as patterns, lines, or color. Like a utility patent, an owner of a registered design patent has the right to prevent others from making, using, or selling an article that embodies their protected design. In order to begin the process of protecting a design, a person or entity may apply to several of the Hague Contracting Parties through a single international design patent application filed with WIPO. To be able to file an international design patent application under the Hague Agreement, a natural persons or legal entities must have a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment, or a domicile, in at least one of the Contracting Parties to the Hague Agreement, or must be a national of one of the Contracting Parties (or of a member State of an intergovernmental organization that is a Contracting Party). Under the 1999 Act, an international design patent application can also be filed on the basis of habitual residence in one of the Contracting Parties. The Contracting Party through which one of these requirements is fulfilled is then referred to as the “applicant’s Contracting Party” (under the 1999 Act).
Filing an International Design Application with the Hague System
Prior national application for or registration of a design patent is not required, and application to protect an industrial design can be done through the Hague Agreement to apply for protection at the international level before any other step. To claim priority to an earlier filed application for a design patent, the international application must be filed within six months of that earlier filed application.
A single international application can be a “multiple application” which has several different designs (up to 100). However, this may differ according to which Contracting Party is designated. Also, all designs included in the same application must be monoclass, meaning that they must all belong to the same class of the international classification of Locarno.
The application for patent can be electronically filed directly through the International Bureau or indirectly through, for example, the USPTO, and must contain a reproduction of the design to be protected, and the designation of the Contracting Parties in which the protection is sought. The application must be in English, French, or Spanish.
When the International Bureau receives the application, it will review it to ensure that the appropriate fees have been paid and that all formal requirements have been met. If so, the application will be given a filing date, and the industrial design will be registered and published in the International Register. If the requirements are not fulfilled properly, the applicant will be invited to correct the issues within a time limit.
The applicant may request a deferment of publication, but the period cannot exceed 30 months from the date of filing or from the priority date, if priority is claimed.
Examination of the International Application
Next, the offices of the designated Contracting Parties in the design patent application will then proceed with examination if such examination is required under their laws. If the examination results in a refusal of protection of the design, the office may notify the International Bureau. This notification should occur within six months from the date of the international registration publication (or up to 12 months depending on the particular office’s regulations).
Following this, using the USPTO as an example, the applicant may receive a non-final rejection, a final rejection, or an allowance.
A list of the Contracting Parties can be found at http://www.wipo.int/hague/en/members/
Further information about the Hague Agreement Principles from the MPEP can be found at https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2901.html and further information about fees from the MPEP can be found at https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s2910.html
The fee calculator can be found at: http://www.wipo.int/hague/en/fees/calculator.jsp
A comprehensive guide to the Hague System can be found at http://www.wipo.int/hague/en/guide/ and http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/text.jsp?file_id=285214
The Locarno Classification can be found at http://www.wipo.int/classifications/locarno/en/
CIONCA Staff4/20/2018 5:25:25 PM
USPTO Changes Examination Procedure Pertaining to Subject Matter Eligibility in View of Berkheimer v. HP, Inc.More
USPTO Changes Patent Examination Procedure Pertaining to Subject Matter Eligibility in View of Berkheimer v. HP, Inc.
On 19 April 2018 Robert W. Bahr, Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy, released a memorandum providing “additional USPTO guidance that will further clarify how the USPTO is determining subject matter eligibility [pertaining to] the limited question of whether an additional element (or combination of additional elements) represents well-understood, routine, conventional activity.” The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) recently issued a precedential decision over Berkheimer v. HP, Inc. holding that the question above “raised a disputed factual issue.”
Federal Circuit Decision in Berkheimer
The Berkheimer patent specification claims to improve system operation efficiency and reduce storage costs in a digital asset management system by eliminating redundant storage of common text and graphical elements. “The Federal Circuit considered the elements of each claim both individually and as an ordered combination, recognizing that ‘whether a claim element or combination of elements is well-understood, routine and conventional to a skilled artisan in the relevant field is a question of fact…’ The Federal Circuit held claims 1-3 and 9 of disputed patent ineligible because they do not include limitations that realize these purported improvements… The Federal Circuit held that claims 4-7 do contain limitations directed to purported improvements described in the patent specification…, raising a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the purported improvements were more than well-understood, routine conventional activity previously known in the industry [and] therefore reversed the district court’s decision on summary judgment that claims 4-7 are patent ineligible…” The Federal Circuit determined that an additional element(s) cannot necessarily be considered well-understood, routine, or conventional activity simply because it is disclosed in a piece of prior art.
The Berkheimer decision provides clarification as to the question of whether an additional element(s) represents well-understood, routine, conventional activity. The memorandum clarifies that an examiner’s conclusion that an additional element(s) represents well-understood, routine, conventional activity “only when the examiner can readily conclude that the element(s) is widely prevalent or in common use in the relative industry [and] such a conclusion must be based upon a factual determination.”
Impact on New Examination Guideline
The memorandum revises the procedures for an examiner to formulate a rejection for lack of subject matter eligibility and evaluating an applicant’s response to said rejection. An examiner must now expressly find one or more of the following to reject an additional element(s) for being well-understood, routine, or conventional:
“A citation to an express statement…made by an applicant…that demonstrates the well-understood, routine, conventional nature of the additional element(s)…as a commercially available product, or in a manner that indicates that the additional element(s) is sufficiently well-known that the specification does not need to describe the particulars of such an additional element(s) to satisfy US U.S.C. § 112(a) [and] cannot be based only on the fact that the specification is silent with respect to describing such element(s).”
“A citation to one or more of the court decisions discussed in MPEP § 2106.05(d)(II) …”
“A citation to a publication that…describes the state of the art and discusses what is well-know and in common use in the relevant industry…
“A statement that the examiner is taking official notice of the well-understood, routine, conventional nature of the additional element(s), This option should be used only when the examiner is certain, based upon his or her personal knowledge…”
With regard to evaluating an applicant’s response, the memorandum states “if an applicant challenges the examiner’s position…, the examiner should reevaluate whether it is readily apparent that the additional elements are in actuality well-understood, routine, conventional activities…If the examiner has taken official notice per paragraph (4)…and the applicant challenges the examiner’s position…, the examiner must then provide one of the items discussed in paragraphs (1) through (3)…or an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.104(d)(2) setting forth specific factual statements and explanation to support his or her position.”
CIONCA Staff4/13/2018 9:10:04 PM
It Take Two to Tango: Knowles v. Iancu, a Standing Dispute in a PTAB DecisionMore
It Take Two to Tango: Knowles v. Iancu, a Standing Dispute in a PTAB Decision Review
On April 6, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has decided
With respect to Knowles first argument, Knowles asserted that the Federal Circuit “should direct the [PTAB] to adopt the definition of ‘package’” used in a prior case. The Federal Circuit, while it held that in some circumstances the previous interpretations of a disputed claim term (such as “packages”) may be relevant to the PTAB’s later construction of that same disputed term, agreed with the PTAB’s construction of “package” in the ‘049 patent. The Federal Circuit then determined that the extrinsic evidence raised by Knowles cannot overcome the patent intrinsic evidence.
With respect to the second argument made by Knowles, the Federal Circuit held that the PTAB did not rely upon a new ground of rejection to sustain the examiner’s obviousness findings. The PTAB’s rejection cited the same reasons provided by the examiner and Knowles had a fair opportunity to respond to the PTAB’s rejection.
The Federal Circuit considered Knowles’s remaining arguments, and upon finding them unpersuasive, affirmed the USPTO’s Final Written Decision. In the dissent, Judge Newman, questioned whether the USPTO could satisfy the constitutional requirements for Article III Standing.
3/20/2018 12:50:05 PM
Andrei Iancu - New Director of the USPTOMore
As of February 8, 2018, Andrei Iancu serves as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Iancu was born in Bucharest, Romania, traveling to the United States with his family at the age of twelve. Iancu’s rich technical background, supplemented by his work as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company, includes experience in a wide scope of fields. He is a repeated UCLA graduate, holding a B.S. in aerospace engineering, an M.S. in mechanical engineering, and a J.D. from the UCLA School of Law, where he had returned as a professor of patent law. Before assuming directorship of the USPTO, Iancu was the managing partner of Irell & Manella LLP, where he bolstered his experience in all areas of intellectual property, including representation in high-profile cases. We look forward to seeing what Iancu has in store for the USPTO.
3/8/2018 1:25:46 PM
Proceed with Caution: Consider Carefully when Narrowing Claims for AllowanceMore
On March 7, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has decided Ottah v. Fiat Chrysler. Chikezie Ottah owns U.S. Patent No. 7,152,840 (“’840 Patent”), entitled “Book Holder,” which describes “a removable book holder assembly for use by a person in a protective or mobile structure such as a car seat, wheelchair, walker, or stroller.” While it is expressed in the claims that the apparatus is intended for use with books, the specification notes that the apparatus can be utilized to hold other objects, such as “audio/video equipment, PDAs, or mobile phones, cameras, computers, musical instruments, toys, puzzles and games.” Ottah stated to have invented a mobile camera and averred that several automobile companies infringed on the ‘840 Patent in the manufacturing and selling of their camera holders. In regards to U.S. Patent No. 7,152,840, the New York District Court granted summary judgment of non-infringement to the accused automobile companies after it was established that the patent explicitly protects a book holder, and furthermore, the accused camera holders could not be removed without tools as the book holder apparatus patent requires. Plaintiff Chikezie Ottah appealed the district court’s decision, and the case was brought before the Federal Circuit.
Ottah argued that “fixed mounts” were excluded from the claim’s scope as constructed by the district court. However, the Federal Circuit found it very clear that the ‘840 Patent explicitly addresses a “removeable mounting.” Upon appeal of the district court’s claim construction, the Federal Court held that “mounts that cannot be removed without tools do not literally infringe claim 1, and that claim 1 ‘is clear on its face.’” Therefore, the accused camera holders are beyond the scope of claim 1, which emphasizes the removability of the apparatus. During its prosecution history, the ‘840 Patent forfeited “fixed mounts” and focused on removability to work towards allowability, and “subject matter surrendered to acquire the patent cannot be recaptured by the doctrine of equivalents.”
Moreover, the District Court found that while Ottah declares infringement on the apparatus given its potential use as a camera holder, there is no indication of the ‘840 Patent referring to a camera holder other than the mentioning in its specification (“that the book holder can hold items other than books”). The claim’s limitation to book holders was applied to overcome prior art during prosecution history, and thus, there is no equivalency of books and cameras, as indicated in the specification.
For the above reasons, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.
Claim 1 of the ‘840 Patent requires removability without the use of tools and is limited to a book holder. While the specification states that the device can be used for objects other than books, this alone is not enough to justify the equivalency of cameras and books, and thus extend the scope of the patent claims beyond literal meaning. Additionally, subject matter lost during patent prosecution cannot be addressed by the doctrine of equivalents. The Federal Circuit therefore affirms the district court’s decision in granting summary judgment of non-infringement to the automobile companies. As expressed through this decision, it is important to understand the true scope of your claims during patent prosecution in order to properly assert your patent protection later on. While narrowing claims might be necessary during prosecution, one must always carefully consider what protection is lost and how the loss may affect the patent’s strength.
Full Ottah v. Fiat Chrysler can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/17-1842.Opinion.3-6-2018.1.PDF
CIONCA Team2/16/2018 4:07:48 PM
Fashion and Intellectual PropertyMore
Fashion and IP Law at the OCIPLA February 2018 Luncheon
Part of the CIONCA Law team attended the OCIPLA’s February Luncheon, featuring guest speakers Attorneys Farah Bhatti and Victoria Burke. OCIPLA (Orange County Intellectual Property Law Association) is a prestigious IP law organization, with almost 400 IP law professionals as members. Our firm supports OCIPLA through sponsorship and Attorney Cionca’s involvement as a board member.
This month’s topic addressed IP Protections for Fashion and Apparel. The intersection of intellectual property and fashion is emergent, and with fashion’s frequently changing nature and increasing number of players, questions arise regarding how one can protect his or her intellectual property in the industry. As a panel, Attorneys Bhatti and Burke shared their thoughts and opinions on how to maximize IP protection in such a competitive market.
It was discussed that there are a few prominent areas within the realm of IP law, one of which is copyright protection. As defined by the US Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression...[and] covers both published and unpublished works.” Regarding to copyright, it is possible to copyright some features of clothing (e.g., fabric prints), but not necessarily the clothing designs themselves. One important question to be answered is: Is the design feature separable—physically or conceptually—from the clothing article?
A second ground covered by the speakers was the possibility of filing for patents in the fashion world. While design patents may be perceived as the only choice, utility patents are still possible to attain for your fashion if the product functions beyond simply being apparel. For example, an article of clothing that also warms the wearer with an incorporated heating element may be eligible for a utility patent.
One last area of IP law as it relates to fashion addressed by the speakers was trademarks and trade dresses. This appears to be the most turbulent branch of IP law in terms of the fashion industry since source identifiers (i.e., trademarks) play a significant role in market success. While a common first thought/instinct is to protect brand name, it is important to keep in mind that the value of non-traditional trademarks should not be underestimated. The distinctness of a stitching, for example, may be enough to strongly identify a source and make an impression on consumers. Furthermore, an ornamental feature, such as unique stitching of a product, may overtime develop into trade dress registrable as a trademark, although secondary meaning is required.
Regarding the enforcement of IP law rights, under copyright or trademark law for example, an accused design/product or trademark or brand do not have to be identical copies to be infringing, as long as there is a suggestion that there may be a relationship between the accused and the original/known brand.
While social media can be used as a tool for the start-up and freelance artist, it should be utilized with caution. As a product’s promotion gains more traction, it runs the risk of becoming a larger target for more social media aficionados and/or more prominent competitors to covet.
CIONCA Team1/17/2018 8:12:06 PM
A Fork in the Road: Production or Protection?More
A Fork in the Road: Production or Protection?
Start-ups, small businesses, and individual inventors—typically faced with budgetary concerns—often encounter the dilemma of where to allocate their limited funds. Frequently, entrepreneurs, especially when launching a startup business, need to decide whether to invest in their intellectual property (IP) rights, such as patents and trademarks, or rather in the development of their product or service. This predicament introduces risks that should be carefully considered. The investment in IP may delay the development and the launch of the product and the company itself, but the IP investment is in most cases a must. On the other hand, it is understandable that it is tempting for a startup company to invest in its own launch and growth to quicken its establishment and market presence rather than spend on IP. Serious risks are associated with each option, thus, the decision where to allocate that limited budget have to be carefully considered.
For instance, on an episode of Shark Tank show, we see the outcome of an inventor and entrepreneur decision. She invented a new product (a washable/reusable diaper) that turned out to be a market success. She presented a creative, engaging, and effective pitch to the Sharks. Very interested, the Sharks began to question her business strategies and the status of her success. Unfortunately, in the end the Sharks had to restrain themselves from investing when she revealed her weak IP protection. Although she did decide to invest in both IP protection and production, her IP protection hadn’t been well-balanced, apparently due to the same classical cause, the limited budget at startup. While she did have a patent, it apparently did not provide sufficient patent protection against her competition, likely due to narrow scope of the patent claims. As a result, her weak patent protection was no match for her competition, and her many competitors claimed significant profit that could have been hers had she been able to deter them in the first place. After years of being on the market with her innovative product, the market grew to about 70 million dollars in sales, but she had only a market share of about 3.5 million, due to the fierce competition with many sellers (including a former distributor) who apparently stole her idea and entered the market. Not only that she had a very small share of the market (5%), but the profit margins were low too, due to the difficult competitive climate.
This is a lesson to be learned by all entrepreneurs: A single facet of protection or a single IP tool may not suffice. When an IP attorney suggests for example a continuation application for patent to pursue a second patent with broader patent claims, that have to be carefully evaluated. A family of two or more patents is more likely to better protect the new product or technology. Similarly, securing other IP assets such as by filing trademark application(s), or employing other protective strategies (e.g., trade secrets), must be considered. The goal is to increase the business’ scope of IP protection, dissuading the competition from impeding on its success. Having multiple standpoints of IP protection could provide a more holistic armor for the business.
Of course, the converse situation rings just as true—budget cannot always support both business execution and proper IP protection, and sometimes the product will fail, so the funds spent on IP will be a loss too. However, decisions like these must be made very carefully. The entrepreneur should at all times be mindful of the advantages and disadvantages of investing in IP, and the risks involved on each side.
1/2/2018 7:47:09 PM
The Lanham Act: Disparagement Provision Violates the First AmendmentMore
The Lanham Act: Disparagement Provision Violates the First Amendment
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court made a decision in Matal v. Tam (previously known as Lee v. Tam). The case addressed the issue of whether or not the Lanham Act’s disparagement clause impeded on trademark applicants’ First Amendment rights.
The case’s history can be traced back to front-man Simon Tam’s application to register his band name The Slants, filed in 2011. As his application progressed through the registration process, it was rejected by the examining attorney, who cited the Lanham Act’s prohibition of trademarks that “may ‘disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute’ any ‘persons, living or dead’” U.S.C. §1052(a). However, Tam claimed that his intentions were not to disparage, but to reclaim the term and express pride in his Asian heritage. In response to the denial of his application, Tam appealed before the Federal Circuit, whose final decision recognized the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act as unconstitutional. For this reason, the Federal Circuit expressed that Tam should be granted his trademark registration for The Slants. However, the Patents and Trademark Office still did not agree that Tam should be granted his mark, and the case was then appealed and presented before the Supreme Court.
On January 18, 2017, oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court, and a decision was made on June 19, 2017. The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision that the Lanham Act’s disparagement provision is unconstitutional, violating the applicant’s right to free speech. This decision was made upon the arguments of viewpoint-based discrimination and commercial vs. expressive purpose of a mark. Although perceived as offensive to some, prohibiting such marks silences a viewpoint, and with trademarks being considered private speech rather than government speech, the silencing of these viewpoints is considered a violation of the First Amendment. Furthermore, because the Government and its programs are obliged to adhere to viewpoint neutrality, commercial speech (i.e. trademarks) is no exception, regardless of the speech’s expressive aspect. The disparagement provision automatically muffles a viewpoint albeit disfavored, and therefore, all trademarks—even those perceived to be offensive—are at the very least entitled to a chance of becoming registered.
This Supreme Court decision redefined the Lanham Act and its boundaries. The disparagement provision can no longer be used as a basis for rejection of a U.S. trademark application due to its violation of the First Amendment. It excludes the government from deciding what is considered moral and immoral, leveling the field for trademark applications and granting applicants the chance to protect their names.
Full decision can be read here: Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Tam
12/26/2017 6:04:25 PM
CIONCA Sets Foot in San FranciscoMore
CIONCA now in San Francisco!
We are proud to announce that CIONCA Law Group has set foot in San Francisco! San Francisco—a global city and technological hub—is home to a variety of innovations, and we are very excited to be part of this community. Located in Mid-Market and easily accessible by the BART line, we are in the midst of growing businesses, including startups and other firms, not to mention Twitter’s headquarters located across the street. As we always have at our primary location, we will offer our services for all of San Francisco’s intellectual property needs, which of course includes patent, trademark, and copyright work. We thank you for your support thus far, and we look forward to the expansion of our firm!
12/1/2017 8:01:27 PM
An Introduction to Patent Cooperation Treaty ApplicationsMore
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is a treaty that allows for the facilitation of filing a patent application in multiple countries that cooperate with the PCT. Instead of requiring an applicant to file a patent application for each country, the PCT allows the applicant to start the international application process, file a single application, and apply it to all relevant countries.
What is it?
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is a treaty that allows for the facilitation of filing a patent application in multiple countries that cooperate with the PCT. Instead of requiring an applicant to file a patent application for each country, the PCT allows the applicant to start the international application process, file a single application, and apply it to all relevant countries. Several benefits afforded to applicants by the PCT include a formalities check, an international search and an optional supplementary international search, an optional international preliminary examination, and an automatic deferral of national processing. These options provide an application with more time and a better idea of whether or not it’s advisable to file an application, and in which countries.
It is important to note that there is no such thing as an international patent, only international patent applications. The PCT procedure does not allow an applicant to receive a “global patent” of sorts that applies to all relevant national Offices. The PCT procedure merely simplifies the process of applying for a patent in multiple countries through the use of an international application process. As detailed below, the international application is sent to each national Office, where it will be either approved or rejected on a country-by-country basis. Use of the PCT, however, still carries a number of advantages, and should certainly be considered if an applicant plans on working towards receiving recognition for a patent in multiple countries.
What can it be applied to?
The international application process can only be applied to the protection of content tha falls under the category of “inventions”. This pertains to inventions, inventors’ certificates, utility certificates, utility models, and several other kinds of patents and certificates. Essentially, if an applicant wishes to file for something that falls outside the scope of “inventions,” such as for a design patent, the applicant cannot do so under the PCT.
How does it work?
The PCT procedure has two different phases, informally referred to as the International Phase and National Phase. The international application process begins in the International Phase, and then (if the results of the international application are favorable) through the National Phase of the relevant countries. The International Phase consists of five parts, three of which are required. The three required steps involve: 1) filing the international application and having it processed by the “receiving Office” (usually the PCT office of the inventor’s native country); 2) the preparation of an international search report and written opinion by an “International Search Authority”; and 3) the publication of the international application with the international search report. This publication is then sent by the International Bureau to the national Offices where the applicant wishes to have a patent granted.
The optional fourth and fifth steps are additional procedures that happen concurrently with step three. Should they be utilized, the resulting reports are sent along with everything else by the International Bureau to the relevant national Offices. The fourth step includes conducting a supplementary international search, carried out by one of several International Search Authorities that were not involved in the primary international search. These supplementary searches result in supplementary search reports, which may also be sent to the relevant national Offices during the third step. The fifth step involves an “International Preliminary Examination” which results in an international preliminary report on patentability. The report analyzes aspects of the invention and determines the general patentability of the invention. If conducted, this report is also sent to the relevant national Offices during the third step.
In order to proceed to the National Phase, the applicant must also take several additional actions in each of the relevant national Offices. These include paying required national fees, providing the Offices with applicable translations of the application, and appointing a patent agent where required. If these steps are not completed within the specified time restraints in a particular national Office, the application is no longer relevant in that Office.
Upon completing the required steps for each relevant national Office, those Offices then examine the application and either grant or refuse the national patent to the applicant. This is where the application is in the National Phase. An application can proceed into the National Phase in some countries while remaining in the International Phase in others, usually if the applicant began the filing process for an application in a specific country before utilizing the PCT. Be aware that subsequent changes to the application in the International Phase will not retroactively affect applications that are already in the National Phase. Applying those changes to applications in the National Phase require the applicant to directly change the national application(s).
Why is it beneficial?
There are several benefits to using the PCT procedure. The largest benefit, however, is the simplification of the international patent application process for the applicant. The PCT allows the applicant to file the international application in one place, in one language, and pay one set of fees. This application is then recognized in all relevant national Offices, and so the applicant does not have to file a separate application for each Office (as would be the case without the PCT).
Most countries that use the PCT have a national Patent Office where the applicant can file the international patent application. This allows an applicant to remain in his or her native country throughout the process and localizes the applicant’s efforts in one place. This localization benefit also allows the applicant to file the application under one language accepted by the Office (which usually ends up being the native language of the applicant) and have the fees paid using one currency, thus avoiding currency exchange difficulties that would otherwise result. The required forms are also standardized under the PCT, allowing applicants to fill out a single set of forms and not worry about dealing with different forms used by different national Offices.
Chances of patentability
Additionally, search and opinion reports produced by the International Phase of the international application process assist the applicant in making decisions regarding whether it is worth prosecuting the application and where. Again, this saves a considerable amount of time and effort on behalf of the applicant, as a centralized report avoids the need to have searches and opinions conducted in each relevant national Office. The option to have supplementary searches conducted by International Search Authorities other than the one who carried out the main search increases the value of the PCT even further. Supplementary searches may provide the applicant with a much clearer picture of relevant prior art and allow the applicant to better determine the chances of successfully patenting the invention under consideration.
The extra time afforded to the applicant by using the PCT is also a very valuable benefit. Most national Offices under the PCT allow for 30 months from the priority date before the application must enter the National Phase. This considerably long grace period in the International Phase gives the applicant time to examine and consider the results of searches and opinions provided by the International Search Authorities, as well as assess the international technical and economic climate. It is then that the applicant can decide which countries are worth the time and cost commitment of applying for a national patent, and save on translation, agent, and filing costs in those that are not.
Another benefit is that a favorable international search report will carry considerable weight when the applicant enters the National Phase and attempts to acquire a national patent for an invention. The benefit of a favorable international preliminary report on patentability (if the applicant chose to have one conducted) is even greater. If the report is only partly favorable, the applicant has the opportunity to modify the claims in the application to focus on the aspects that were favorable. If the report is entirely unfavorable, the applicant can choose not to proceed any further, saving a considerable amount of time and money.
What is included in an international application?
The elements of an international application are, in order: a PCT request, description, claim(s), abstract, and drawing(s). Drawings are usually necessary to the understanding of an invention, but certain inventions may not need them.
The request is essentially a petition for the international application to be processed under the PCT. It is similar to the Application Data Sheet that is filed with non-provisional utility patents to the USPTO, but also includes additional items such as the applicant’s choice of International Searching Authority.
The description for an international application is almost identical to the description for any utility application filed with the USPTO. As described by WIPO, “the description must disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art.” There is an accepted order to the (six) sections of the description, which should contain the following headings: “Technical Field,” “Background Art,” “Disclosure of Invention,” “Brief Description of Drawings,” “Best Mode for Carrying Out the Invention,” and “Industrial Applicability.”
The claims for an international application, like the description, are the same as the claims for non-provisional utility applications filed with the USPTO. As described by the WIPO, “the claim or claims must ‘define the matter for which protection is sought.’”
Drawings are included in an international application when they are required. As described by the WIPO, drawings must be included “when they are necessary for the understanding of the invention.” It is also important to note that any designated Office may require the applicant to file drawings during the National Phase, even if they weren’t required during the International Phase.
11/17/2017 1:24:20 PM
An Introduction to Patent SearchesMore
An Introduction to Patent Searches
A patent search is conducted by an examiner when reviewing an application to confirm that it does not, in fact, conflict with prior art. This is required, of course, as the entire point of filing a patent is to protect your invention from potential infringements by future inventors and businesses. What is optional, however, is the ability of the inventor to conduct a separate patent search prior to filing the application. The USPTO, as well as other international offices, has a public database that allows users to personally examine prior art and decide if their invention is patentable.
“Is it worth it?”
There is the question of, “Is it worth it?” The answer is almost always yes. Not only does it give an inventor the opportunity to determine the viability of applying for a patent on an invention, but provides insight into whatever prior art may be related to the invention. This second point is important, as it allows the inventor become more familiar with “what is already out there,” which in turn provides insight into what is unique about the invention under consideration.
At the very least, it his highly advisable to conduct a search before filing a non-provisional patent. Because of the high cost of a non-provisional application, it would be extremely unfortunate if a patent search would have revealed a conflict of claims between the invention in the application and prior art. Conducting a patent search prior to filing can avoid a loss of critical time and money by revealing such conflicts to the inventor.
Hire a Patent Law Professional?
If the budget allows, it is ideal to hire a patent law professional to conduct a search for the inventor. A patent attorney will have a much better understanding of what to look for in prior art, and will be able to determine which patents are more likely to conflict with the invention under consideration. Additionally, a patent attorney will provide a “patentability opinion,” which is their estimate of how likely is that an application will be approved by the USPTO. However, it is important to understand that patent searches are “part art, part science.” Patent attorneys are very skilled at conducting patent searches, but it is impossible for them to be 100% accurate.
One cause for inaccuracy is that inventors have the option to not publicly file a patent application. If a patent attorney is conducting a search for a client, the privately filed application (which could potentially conflict with the attorney’s invention) will not be available. The examiner, however, will have access to the private application, and may reject the attorney’s filed application on the basis of prior art. This is not very common, however, and the benefits of hiring a patent law professional to conduct a search far outweighs such unlikely situations as this example.
As a general guideline, conducting a patent search prior to filing an application is recommended if the budget allows it. If the search shows that prior art conflicts with an inventor’s idea, the inventor has the ability to change the scope/focus of the invention before submitting the application (or abandoning it entirely to pursue another idea, saving time and money in the process). Even if there are no discernible conflicts of claims after conducting a search, a thorough knowledge of prior art allows for an inventor or attorney to prepare a much better application that not only has a higher chance of approval, but is much better defined in the claims it sets out to protect.
11/10/2017 6:47:44 PM
An Introduction to Design Patent ApplicationsMore
Design Application for Patent
A design patent, as described by the US Patent and Trademarks Office, “consists of the visual ornamental characteristics in, or applied to, an article of manufacture.” This means that, while a utility patent deals with how a device works, a design patent focuses on how a device looks. If an inventor comes up with an original, unique design for the physical appearance of a device, the inventor is able to file a design patent.
It is important to understand what qualifies for a design patent and what does not. If the shape or surface design of an object is based on its function, it is not considered “ornamental” and does not qualify for a design patent. A milling machine, for example, has a shape defined by the need for the milling head to travel along various axes. This results in a design that is not ornamental and is not acceptable for a design patent. A design patent can be filed if the surface design of an object has no effect on the objects function, such as the shape of a Coke bottle. Finally, a design patent only protects the ornamental appearance of a device, not its function or structure. If you are seeking to protect the function of an invention, a utility patent will be necessary.
The design can relate to the whole device, a part of the device, or even something that is attached to the device. Whatever part of the device’s design the inventor wishes to patent, it must be made very clear which parts of the device are not included in the claimed design. There is a very simple method for differentiating the two, and it allows the inventor to show the design in its “environment” without confusing the examiner. Ensuring the examiner fully understands your application is important, otherwise the application will be rejected and will require modifications to the drawings before resubmission.
Due to the simplicity of a design patent compared to a utility patent, the cost of filing a design patent is about one-third the cost of filing a utility patent. Additionally, it’s much easier to get a design patent granted by the USPTO, partly because of the simplicity of the requirements.
Sections of a Design Application for Patent
A design application has six sections:
1) Preamble, which gives basic information regarding the application (applicant name, patent title, brief description, etc.).
2) Description of the figures presented in the drawing section.
3) A description of features (optional).
4) A single claim (design patents cannot have more than one claim).
5) Drawings (or photographs).
6) Executed oath or declaration.
When selecting a title for the application, it helps to choose one that describes the nature of the design. Using a “code name” does not help the examiner, or the general public, understand the purpose of the invention. A short, informative name is best.
The description of the figures, also known as the Specification, is usually simplified into a list that describes the view of each figure (isometric view, top view, etc.). Additional information is not required, as the drawings themselves are the best way to describe the design. The Specification section may also include additional information, such as descriptions of the design’s use (if that was not already covered in the preamble).
As mentioned above, design patents only have one claim, which defines the design “as shown.” If there is a specific verbal description of the design, the design is claimed “as shown and described.” As there are no other aspects of the patent other than the design, additional claims are not necessary.
The drawing section is the most important aspect of the design patent, and care should be taken to ensure every aspect of the design is visibly presented in this section. Generally, the drawing section should have a minimum of seven figures: top, bottom, front, back, left, right, and a perspective view. If two views are mirror images (left and right side of a chair, for example), it is acceptable to present only one figure, and state the mirror image nature of the two sides in the description of the figures. More complex designs will require more figures. If, for example, the design has moving components, perspective drawings should be included of the design in its various states of motion.
Drawings are required to use black ink on white paper.
Broken lines in a drawing are used to portray components that are not claimed in the patent, but are important aspects of the design’s “environment” that need to be displayed to better understand the design’s usage.
Submitting a Design Application for Patent
The actual process of applying for a design patent is relatively simple. The first step is to draft an application that includes all of the sections mentioned above, with emphasis on the drawing section. The application is then filed with the USPTO, along with the correct filing fee. Upon receiving both the application and fee, the Office assigns the application an Application Number and a Filing Date. The applicant is then sent a Filing Receipt that contains this and other relevant information. An examiner checks the application for adherence to filing rules and formalities, completeness and accuracy of the drawings, and compares the design with “prior art,” which constitutes all of the public information and filed patents prior to the filing date of the patent under examination. If the examiner feels that the design is patentable, then the application is considered “allowed,” and the applicant is given instructions on how to finalize the application process.
If the patent application is unclear, however, or if prior art shows that the claim is unpatentable, then the examiner will reject the patent and issue an Office Action to the applicant. The Office Action explains what aspects of the patent application were unsatisfactory, and tends to offer suggestions for rectifying these errors. A response is required from the applicant in a timely manner or the application will be considered abandoned. The applicant must address every error listed by the examiner for the application to be reconsidered.
Upon receiving the response, the examiner will review the changes and either withdraw the rejection or repeat it and make it “final.” If an application is rejected again in this way, the applicant my attempt to file an appeal with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
Staff11/3/2017 4:20:04 PM
An Introduction to Provisional Patent ApplicationsMore
Provisional Application for Patent
A provisional application is a “placeholder” for utility patents. An inventor may file a provisional application first, and then file a non-provisional application up to twelve months later. There are three main advantages to filing a provisional patent.
First, a provisional application for patent allows the inventor to use the filing date of the provisional patent application when filing the non-provisional application several months later. This is the primary reason to file a provisional application. Because the USPTO operates now, after the 2011 America Invents Act -AIA, under a “first to file” standard, it is important to file an application for an invention as early as possibly to avoid the risk of someone else filing a similar/identical patent first. A provisional patent gives inventors the ability to establish an effective filing date as early as twelve months before they have a non-provisional application ready.
Second, it allows the inventor to use the term “Patent Pending” in the description of the invention. This is effectively allows the inventor to begin promoting the invention in a commercial setting with greater security against the possibility of theft.
Third, a provisional patent is considerably cheaper and simpler than its non-provisional counterpart. This means that if an inventor doesn’t quite have the funding to file a non-provisional application, or the fine details of the invention aren’t quite finished yet, the provisional patent still gives the inventor the ability to establish an earlier effective filing date.
It is important to note that the 12-month grace period is unchangeable. An applicant filing a provisional patent has exactly 12 months to file a non-provisional application for the patent, or the advantage of the early filing date is lost. Additionally, the non-provisional application must specifically reference the provisional application.
Sections/Requirements of a Provisional Application for Patent
The requirements for a provisional application are as follows:
1. A cover sheet that provides basic information regarding the inventor, invention, and attorney (if applicable).
2. A written description of the invention (background and summary).
3. A set of drawings, along with written explanations for each figure.
Formal drawings in a provisional application are not technically required, as the application is not examined based on merit. However, it is extremely helpful to have drawings that are as clear as possible, as it makes the process of filing the corresponding non-provisional application much smoother.
Once an application meeting these requirements is sent to the USPTO with the requisite filing fee and is approved, it will be given a filing date and a filing receipt will be sent to the applicant. If there is a deficiency in the application (the filing fee is missing, for example), the USPTO will inform the applicant and will not give the application a filing date until the errors are corrected.
Additional Considerations for a Provisional Application for Patent
As an inventor decides whether or not a provisional application is right for his or her needs, there are some things to keep in mind when preparing a provisional patent application.
Provisional applications are only accepted for utility patents. They may not be filed for design applications.
If there are multiple inventors associated with a patent, they must all have contributed to the invention, and their names must all be included in the application. Additionally, at least one of the inventors listed on the provisional patent must be listed on the corresponding non-provisional in order to receive the benefit of the early filing date.
Finally, in order for a non-provisional application to receive the benefit of the provisional patent, the claimed subject matter in the former must be supported by the description of the latter. To this end, it is important for the description of the invention in the provisional application to be as complete as possible.
Staff9/28/2017 7:27:22 PM
Pictured above: IP Legal Secretary Beverly Ramos and Patent Agent Iris Kim in attendance at the SCORE 5th Annual Women Business Owners Conference
CIONCA IP Law Attends 5th Annual Women Business Owners Conference
On September 28, 2017, we had the opportunity to attend the 5th Annual Women Business Owners Conference at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, California. The event provided an inspirational environment for all business owners, especially women. A variety of exhibitors made their way to the conference, ranging from jewelry producers and marketing agencies to financial advisors and college representatives. All exhibitors were given great collaborative and learning opportunities.
In addition to the networking benefits, the conference hosted a number of brilliant keynote speakers. The importance of networking and self-presentation was demonstrated by the knowledgeable Liz Goodgold of REDfire Branding, whose interactive talk allowed participants to experience proper networking skills for themselves. Afterwards, Lisa Nguyen of the Senhoa Foundation shared her story of how community service can become a driving force in nurturing your small business into a tremendous success. A wonderful talk was also given by CorpNet Founder Nellie Akalp, whose business is proof that starting small has its advantages towards competing against bigger companies.
The rewarding event was organized by SCORE, whom we proudly sponsor. SCORE is a nonprofit organization aiming to help small businesses flourish, and as a small business always seeking growth ourselves, we understand the importance of support and building strong relationships. SCORE provides many services for the developing entrepreneur, such as mentoring, tools, and workshops. For more information on SCORE, please visit https://www.score.org/.
staff9/27/2017 5:12:07 PM
CIONCA - Patent and Trademark Law AttorneyMore
CIONCA Law Group P.C. has launched a TV advertising campaign in Orange County, California. The TV Ad below has played on Fox News, CNN, CNBC (including the Shark Tank show) and Discovery cable channels.
We hope you'll watch the video below and send us your feedback.
As always, since 2009, we are here to assist with any patent and trademark law matters you may have.
staff9/27/2017 5:00:12 PM
Claim Indefiniteness During Patent Pre-Issuance: Define Your Invention, Not Just Your AudienceMore
On August 25, 2017, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board has decided Ex parte McAward. The case revolved around the patentability of James Gerard McAward’s invention of a “water leakage detectors...which are easily connectable to flexible water hoses, and, can be coupled together to monitor leakage from hot and cold supplies.”
Claims 1-20 were deemed indefinite, while Claims 1-7 and 10-20 were deemed unpatentable by the examiner in the Final Action because of lack of novelty and/or obviousness over prior art identified by the examiner. Appellants James Gerard McAward et al. sought review from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
The following is the excerpted Claim 1, chosen to represent Claims 1-20 as the rest stand or fall with the claim:
“1. A water detector comprising:
flow connectors carried by the housing including a spin-on female pipe connector at an inflow end and a spin-on male pipe connector at an outflow end;
at least one water presence sensor carried by the housing;
an electrically actuatable valve, carried by the housing, and having first and second states; and
control circuits, carried by the housing, coupled to the sensor and valve, and, responsive to a leakage indicating signal from the sensor, the circuits actuate the valve causing it to change state wherein the control circuits detect flood conditions, shut off a malfunctioning water branch to a home appliance and communicate to a premises alarm communication device or home automation system via a wireless link and wherein the water detector is configured to be reliable installed by an untrained installer or a homeowner and to not require the services of a plumber or electrician to perform installation, thereby permitting widespread and cost effective adoption.
The examiner challenged the “metes and bounds” of McAward’s invention, which according to the examiner were not clearly defined within Claim 1. Rather than providing additional description of the invention being claimed, McAward’s claim further describes the skill level required to utilize the apparatus by stating that the water detector is “configured to be reliably installed by an untrained installer or a homeowner and to not require the services of a plumber and cost effective adoption.” The language does not capture the structure of the invention. There is no language specifically claiming the subject matter.
Furthermore, it is claimed that no tools are needed for installation, but including this quality does not further describe the apparatus’s structure because it does not specify which tools are not needed. Again, rather than specifying the structure of the invention, the claim refers to the minimal skill level needed to utilize the invention. It is also noted that a “homeowner” can easily install the apparatus; however, a “homeowner” encompasses a varied collection of people who represent a wide range of skills.
In addition to the aforementioned points, Claims 1-7 and 10-20 were rendered unpatentable over the combined teachings of Walter (US 7,549,435) and Kaplan (US 7,403,839). McAward’s claimed water detector comprises “a housing [and] flow connectors carried by the housing including a spin-on female pipe connector at an inflow end and a spin-on male pipe connector at an outflow end.” Per the patent Examiner, Walter “fail[s] to explicitly show or teach the limitations wherein the flow connectors include ‘a spin-on female pipe connector at an inflow end and a spin-on male pipe connector on an outflow end’” but “it would have been obvious to modify the flow connections of the device of Walter to be ‘spin-on’ connectors...”
Furthermore, the patent Examiner found that the process of wireless communication to a remote device forewarning a possible flood was well known in the art, and states that “it would have been obvious ‘to use wireless communication in the device of Walter to allow remote and convenient wireless communication between the control module of the valve and a remote monitoring system, as it is taught by Kaplan” (19).
For the above reasons, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the patent Office’s decisions of rendering Claims 1-20 as indefinite, and Claims 1-7 and 10-20 as unpatentable for being obvious.
The USPTO is responsible for ensuring that each patent clearly defines what is claimed so that other inventors are aware of where their patents’ boundaries lie. After being considered indefinite, a process is initiated during which the applicant has the opportunity to respond with amendments or evidence that the patent claims are sufficiently definite. Doing so in turn ensures that the rights gained through the patent are consistent with the inventor’s contribution to the field, and that the public seeking to invent have a clear understanding of what has already been done.
Full Ex parte McAward decision can be read here: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Ex%20parte%20McAward%202017_08_25.pdf
staff9/15/2017 9:33:30 PM
Pictured above: Patent and Trademark Attorney Marin Cionca and Patent Agent Iris Kim in attendance at the OC Asian Business Expo
CIONCA IP Law Attends the OC Asian Business Expo
On September 12, 2017, we had the opportunity to attend the 7th Annual OC Asian Business Expo (OC ABE) at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, California, where the Southern Californian Asian community embraces their increasing achievement in the business world. The lively event featured exhibitors from a wide range of areas, all representing successful and innovative OC Asian businesses. The OC ABE gives OC business owners the chance to strengthen their network and engage with their community, and local chambers of commerce take part in ensuring that the OC ABE is a success each year. The event provides a welcoming environment so all participants can actively build relationships and benefit from each other’s knowledge. For more information on the OC ABE, please visit http://www.theasianbusinessexpo.com/.
Also in attendance was SCORE, whom we proudly sponsor. SCORE is a nonprofit organization aiming to help small businesses flourish, and as a small business always seeking growth, we understand the importance of support. SCORE provides many services for the developing entrepreneur, such as mentoring, tools, and workshops. For more information on SCORE, please visit https://www.score.org/.
Other businesses represented include the Korean American Chamber of Commerce, the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce, East West Bank, Sumokey, Inline Four, El Aviso Magazine, Heartland Institute of Financial Education, and VIETV, among many others. All are growing businesses, and all businesses look forward to expansion. With that said, networking and IP protection (patents, trademark, copyrights) are both important in building a steady business.
CIONCA Staff8/20/2017 3:16:11 PM
CIONCA on Patents: Think Twice Before Suing for Patent Infringement and Fight Back when Unreasonably SuedMore
CIONCA on Patents: Think Twice Before Suing for Patent Infringement and Fight Back when Unreasonably Sued
On July 5, 2017, the Federal Circuit made a decision in , LLC v. Newegg. In July 2010, sued Newegg and other defendants for patent infringement, the subject matter being rotatable computer-mounted camera clips and their means of rotation. A Markman (i.e., patent claim construction) hearing was held in April 2012, which the Court found that case was baseless. While the cases against most other defendants were dropped afterwards, continued the litigation against with Newegg. However, requested for dismissal without prejudice, and Newegg moved for an exceptional case shortly afterwards, stating that infringement accusations were baseless and in bad faith. The district court denied Newegg’s motion. Newegg later appealed in light of Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., and the case was reassigned to a new judge. However, Newegg’s request for attorney’s fees was denied once again as the district court based their decision on the previous district judge’s analysis. Newegg timely appealed and the case was again before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
In light of Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., “[A]n ‘exceptional’ case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.” In regards to , LLC v. Newegg, the Federal Circuit ultimately reversed and remanded the case, articulating their belief that the district court abused its discretion. When instructed to gauge the case as ‘exceptional,’ the district court utilized previous findings rather than conducting a novel independent analysis, a course of action that should not have happened since some facts had changed since the case’s initial ruling. In addition, “its decision was based on ‘a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.’” Newegg’s product rotates on at least two axes, but claimed that “Newegg’s ball-and-socket joint limited the rotation to a single axis at a time.” This argument implies that although Newegg’s product utilizes multiple axes, it infringes on patent because both products rotate on a single axis at all times, regardless of whether it is one of one axis or one of multiple axes. However, failed to provide evidence to support their argument, and it was established that Newegg’s camera clip does not infringe on that ground. Moreover, throughout the progression of the case, “pattern of low and erratic settlements, though not determinative, reinforces a conclusion of unreasonableness.” In conclusion, the district court’s previous decision was reversed and the case remanded. Costs were ordered to be paid to Newegg.
Before taking action on asserting patent infringement claims, the patent owners must thoroughly analyze the extent of their patented claims. It is important to ensure that patent infringement accusations are not baseless, and that patent infringement evidence is prepared prior to filing a patent infringement case. This is because filing a baseless patent infringement patent exposes the patent owner to liability for attorney fees of the accused infringers. Furthermore, one should understand that patent claims must be carefully written to provide a clear scope of protection. Having clear, carefully-verbalized patent claims will make it easier to determine when legal action is appropriate.
Full , LLC v. Newegg decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/16-1882.Opinion.6-29-2017.1.PDF
CIONCA - Staff8/9/2017 5:39:58 PM
Patent Case Study: The Novelty Of An “Invention” Is NOT Enough To Make It PatentableMore
On July 26, 2017, a decision was made by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) in Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc. Soft Gels—in a sequence of a parent patent, a continuation, and a continuation-in-part patent for (1) a soft gel capsule, (2) a solubilized coenzyme Q-10, and (3) a method for preparing a soft gel capsule. After it was established that the Q-10 coenzyme was beneficial to the human body, Soft Gels saw “a need in the art for an improved methodology to deliver increased amount[s] of bioavailable CoQ-10 to an individual in need thereof.” Therefore, Soft Gels created an oil mixture solvent containing d-limonene and gel capsule for the coenzyme. In 2012, Jarrow Formulas, Inc. requested an inter partes reexamination of all three patents. Reexaminations of all three were ordered, and the assigned examiner issued rejections for each set of claims based on grounds of obviousness.
With five key prior art references to consider, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB, Board) rejected a number of Soft Gel’s patent claims. The first reference was to Patent Application of Motoyama (“Motoyama”). Motoyama claims “an oral formulation containing CoQ10 dissolved in an oil.” This patent application makes evident that the bioavailability of the coenzyme to the bloodstream significantly increases when mixed with an essential oil and ingested orally with a capsule. The next two references—another patent and a dissertation—express the observation that CoQ10 has poor solubility in aqueous solvents, leading to the idea of mingling the coenzyme with an oil mixture solvent instead prior to introducing it to the body. The fourth reference the Board relied upon, Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, “notes that lemon essential oil has many different components, but ‘contains approximately 90% limonene.’” The fifth and final reference the Board considered was Some Naturally Occurring Substances: Food Items and Constituents, Heterocyclic Aromatic Amines and Mycotoxins (1993), “a monograph…[stating] that limonene is ‘the most frequently occurring natural monoterpene.’” Overall, the Board found that Soft Gel’s claimed patents were simply a reconstruction of the prior art. Furthermore, the Board also concluded that “a person of skill in the art would have been motivated to combine those references and would have had a reasonable expectation of success in doing so.” A number of Soft Gel’s patent claims were rejected upon this reexamination. Soft Gel appealed to the Federal Circuit.
First, Soft Gel sought to “[challenge] the Board’s factual finding that d-limonene is the main constituent of lemon oil.” Soft Gel attempted to refer to an experiment that yielded a sample of lemon oil species that only contained 38.1% limonene content. However, this was only one of nineteen samples, and the limonene content among samples varied from 38.1% to 95.8%. Therefore, this reference did not help in supporting Soft Gel’s contention . Second, Soft Gel argued that the second reference used against them only addressed the melting of CoQ10 from a solid to a liquid, only concerning itself with state of matter rather than dissolving the coenzyme in essential oils. However, the Federal Circuit decided that the patent referenced “teaches the use of essential oils to make CoQ10 more available to the body, which is precisely what is claimed in the Soft Gels patents.” Third, Soft Gel tried to make a distinction between lemon oil and peppermint and spearmint oils by citing an experiment in which essential oil performance was tested when combined with the coenzyme and emulsifiers. Although lemon oil caused the CoQ10 to re-melt, it simply performed better than the spearmint and peppermint oils, which does not imply that it “behaved in an entirely different manner.”
For the aforementioned reasons, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision.
This case is another example of instances when a combination of prior art elements is novel, yet not patentable because the combination would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skills in the art (POSITA) at the time the application for patent was filed. Particularly in this case the combination was obvious because “a person of skill in the art would have been motivated to combine those references and would have had a reasonable expectation of success in doing so.”
Full Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc.decision can be found here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/16-1814.Opinion.7-24-2017.1.PDF
CIONCA - Staff6/28/2017 8:26:07 PM
Patent Law: Conditions Precedent May Expose Method Claim to Broad Interpretation During ProsecutionMore
On April 28, 2016, a decision was made by PTAB in Ex parte Schulhauser, an application apparently owned by Medtronic Inc.The Appelants sought a review of the Examiner’s decision to reject claims regarding “subject matter relate[d] to ‘medical devices for monitoring physiological conditions and, in some embodiments, to a minimally invasive implantable device for monitoring a physiological conditions [sic] and detecting the onset of a critical cardiac event such as a myocardial infarction.” Claims 1-11 were rejected.
Upon review of the Examiner’s decision, PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board) decided to affirm the rejections of Claims 1-10 and reverse the rejection of Claim 11.
For reader’s reference, Claim 1 is included below. The Board held that some limitations of a claimed method are not considered to have patentable weight since those steps require precursors. In other words, a condition precedent must be met in order for these steps to take place. For example, “determining the current activity level of the subject from the activity level data if the electrocardiac signal data is within the threshold electrocardiac criteria,” communicates that this step would only be executed once the condition is met. However, whether the condition is met or not, the claimed method remains unaffected. Because additional steps are conditioned, mutually exclusive, and neither inhibit nor advance the claimed method, they carry no patentable weight. Because prior art disclosed such a method, the Claim’s rejection was affirmed.
While the method claims remained rejected, PTAB did make the decision to reverse the Examiner’s rejection of Claim 11, which was directed to a “system for monitoring cardiac conditions [including] various ‘means for’ limitations involving functions substantially similar to those recited in claim 1.” Although the limitations provided for the system are similar to those provided for the method, they are patentable in the system’s case because the system must have the capability of performing such processes if needed. As stated in the opinion, “the system claim differs from the method claim because the structure…is present in the system regardless of whether the condition is met and the function is actually performed.” In comparison to prior art, the claimed system necessitates a certain order of operations while the prior art does not disclose any such essential order. While the system may perform the same functions as prior art, it does so in a distinct way.
1.A method for monitoring of cardiac conditions incorporating an implantable medical device in a subject, the method comprising the steps of:
collecting physiological data associated with the subject from the implantable device at present time intervals, wherein the collected data includes real-time electrocardiac signal data, heart sound data, activity level data and tissue perfusion data;
comparing the electrocardiac signal data with a threshold electrocardiac criteria for indicating a strong likelihood of a cardiac event;
triggering an alarm state if the electrocardiac signal data is not within the threshold electrocardiac criteria;
determining the current activity level of the subject from the activity level data if the electrocardiac signal data is within the threshold electrocardic criteria;
determining whether the current activity level is below a threshold activity level;
comparing the tissue perfusion data with a threshold tissue perfusion criteria for indicating a strong likelihood of a cardiac event if the current activity level is determined to be below a threshold activity level;
triggering an alarm state if the threshold tissue perfusion data is not within the threshold tissue perfusion criteria; and
triggering an alarm state if the threshold tissue perfusion data is within the threshold tissue perfusion criteria and the heart sound data indicates that S3 and S4 heart sounds are detected,
wherein if an alarm state is not triggered, the physiological data associated with the subject is collected at the expiration of the preset time interval.
PTAB’s decision in Ex parte Schulhauser magnified in a way the difference between a method and a system patent claim. Although both include limitations, some with conditions precedent, a system’s structure is a more concrete entity that must include the capabilities of addressing all limitations in order to function properly, whereas a claimed method may be interpreted more broadly by the patent examiner, namely, independently of its limitations that include conditions precedent. It is important to consider these differences upon writing claims to create optimal patent protection.
Full Ex parte Schulhauser decision can be read here: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Ex%20parte%20Schulhauser%202016_04_
CIONCA - Staff6/15/2017 5:32:14 PM
Patent Law: Challenging the Patent Claim Definiteness RequirementMore
Patent Law: Challenging the Patent Claim Definiteness Requirement
On June 12, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has issued a decision regarding the dispute between One E-Way, Inc. and the International Trade Commission (“ITC”). The case was triggered by One E-Way, Inc.’s initial accusation against Respondents Sony Corporation, Sony Corporation of America, Sony Electronics, Inc., Blueant Wireless Pty, Ltd., Blueant Wireless, Inc., Creative Technology, Ltd., Creative Labs, Inc., and GN Netcom A/S (“Respondents”) of two incidents of patent infringement, among other accusations. Previously, at the ITC level, the patent law case concluded with the International Trade Commission’s ruling that in the asserted patent the claim language “virtually free from interference” was indefinite. One E-Way, Inc. appealed the ITC decision in this case, One E-Way, Inc. v. International Trade Commission.
One E-Way, Inc. v. Respondents addressed the patent claims outlining One E-Way’s design of “a wireless digital audio system designed to let people use wireless headphones privately, without interference, even when multiple people are using wireless headphones in the same space.” The following is an excerpt from a representative One E-Way’s patent claim:
“a module adapted to reproduce said generated audio output, said audio having been wirelessly transmitted from said portable audio source virtually free from interference from device transmitted signals operating in the portable wireless digital audio system spectrum”
Both parties argued over whether or not “virtually free from interference” meets the definiteness requirement. The ITC’s final decision deemed the phrase as indefinite. In turn, One E-Way appealed the Commission’s decision, relaying the case to the Federal Circuit as One E-Way, Inc. v. International Trade Commission.
Intrinsic evidence heavily served as the basis for the Federal Circuit’s decision in this patent case. Throughout the patent, it is repeatedly reported that private listening is “without interference.” The Federal Circuit held that, “[t]aken together, the specification makes clear that private listening is listening without interference from other users…the interference would cause one use to hear another user’s wireless transmissions, potentially interfering with the utility of a device.” Referring to a parent patent, “the applicant explained that the term ‘virtually free from interference’ results in the ability to listen without eavesdropping,” implying that that eavesdropping “is consistent with the purpose (‘private listening’) and mechanisms (separation of users by recognizing other transmissions as ‘noise’) disclosed in the patents.” Applicant also argues that interference is used as a non-technical term, dodging the requirement of defining concise boundaries. Lastly, “free from interference”—virtually eliminated—simply signifies that the functionality is “a little bit better than ‘virtually free from interference,’” but both straightforwardly imply private listening. Therefore, the Federal Circuit ruled in One E-Way’s favor: “virtually free from interference” satisfies the patent claim definiteness requirement, reversing the International Trade Commission’s previous decision. However, Chief Judge Prost dissented, expressing that intrinsic evidence alone should not have sufficed in demonstrating definiteness. Furthermore, Prost adds that the majority’s argument provided no clarification on the necessity of virtually—it neither broadens nor adds certainty to the patent claim scope.
The One E-Way, Inc. v. International Trade Commission case demonstrates again the importance of language terms used in crafting patent claims. It also shows once again that the effort of choosing the right patent claim terms is more an art than a science. Reasonable minds can differ when construing the meaning of patent claim terms. While virtually or similar terms may be used to for example attempt to make the patent claim scope broader (i.e., positive), their use may also expose the patent claim to a claim indefiniteness challenge (i.e., negative).
Full One E-Way, Inc. v. International Trade Commission decision can be read here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/16-2105.Opinion.6-8-2017.1.PDF
Marin Cionca4/25/2017 9:48:49 PM
Monetization of Patents: How to Make Money with PatentsMore
People and clients often ask me how can they make money with an invention or with a patent if they were to pursue one. Or, they ask, I now have the patent, what can I do next to make money with it? Here are some answers:
Start a business.If you have entrepreneurial experience and/or inclinations as I do, and the necessary time and funds, I recommend starting a business. Nobody believes more in the product you have invented than you do. Especially if the cost of making it is accessible, make it, put up a website, use other online platforms such as Amazon, and start selling. Even if you will not afford to enforce the patent through litigation, the patent you have can give you other important market advantages. For example, it can be used to deter the competition to copy your product and at least force them to spend the time and money to design around if they want to compete. As another example, a patented product often sells better than a non-patented product. Consumers often perceive a patented product to be a superior product. One benefit of making and selling the patented product is that you’ll get feedback from consumers that may inspire you to improve your product even more and come up with further and better version, some of which may be patentable on their own. If not the original patented version, the further iterations may be a market winner.
Grow an existing business.For similar reasons as above, a patent product can be a great addition to your line of existing goods or services. Having patented products in your product line may show the consumers and the market that you are a serious business. That market image may be very valuable to your business success. Further, being a valuable business asset, a patent can be used in many business dealings such as merger and acquisitions, sale of the business, strategic alliances, investor or loan agreements for access to cash, etc.
License or Assign your Patent.If you do not have an existing business and you are not in the mood to start one, licensing may be an option. This is not easy, but I saw it happening. Finding an interested party (e.g., a manufacturer) takes a lot of time and effort. Manufacturers or seller of similar products as your patented product are likely the best targets of licensing efforts. I typically recommend that you reach out to potentially interested patent licensees yourself. In any case, be very skeptical and do your own due diligence when approached by invention promotion companies or individuals that promise to market your invention or patent, while you just sit back and relax! Ask about their success rate, examples of success, milestones, etc. I had clients coming to me very disappointed with this type of entities. Basically, they were asked to continue to pay according to contractual obligations without seeing any results. Again, I recommend making these efforts yourself. Patent attorneys like myself can’t typically assist finding interested parties, but what once such party is identified, we can assist with negotiations and licensing or patent assignment agreements.
Sell your Patent.There are apparently patent brokers and online platforms that purportedly offer to sell your patent for a fee. I am not very familiar with them, but they and their services may be worth exploring.
Marin Cionca2/21/2017 12:30:52 AM
Software Patent Law Update: Federal Circuit Finds Graphical User Interface PatentableMore
Since June 2014 when the Alice case was decided by the US Supreme Court, which held that certain software is just an “abstract idea” and thus not patentable, software patents faced an uphill battle when comes to procurement or enforcement. However, during the following years, the Federal Circuit Court decided several software patent cases that provide more clarity regarding the scope of the Alice case and arguably more hope for software patents. Such cases include Enfish and Bascom which we discussed here on our blog in separate articles. A new decision, also favorable to the software patents was issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) on January 18, 2017 in TRADING TECHNOLOGIES INTERNATIONAL, INC., v.CQG LLC. Although this decision is non-precedential, it addresses a specific aspect of software, namely the graphical user interface (GUI), and an example of what can make a GUI patentable. For that reason, the discussion of this case is warranted.
Summary of The Case
Trading Technologies asserted against Cog U.S. Patents No. 6,772,132 (“the ’132 patent”) and No. 6,766,304 (“the ’304 patent”), which “describe and claim a method and system for the electronic trading of stocks, bonds, futures, options and similar products. The patents explain problems that arise when a trader attempts to enter an order at a particular price, but misses the price because the market moved before the order was entered and executed. It also sometimes occurred that trades were executed at different prices than intended, due to rapid market movement. This is the problem to which these patents are directed.” The patents describe a solution including a trading system in which a graphical user interface “display[s] the market depth of a commodity traded in a market, including a dynamic display for a plurality of bids and for a plurality of asks in the market for the commodity and a static display of prices corresponding to the plurality of bids and asks.” The court agreed with the district court which held that the claims are not directed to an abstract idea and also that they recite an inventive concept, such that the subject matter is patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 (i.e., is not an abstract idea).
At district level, the court first applied Step 1 of the two-step analysis under Alice. The Federal Circuit court agreed with the district court that, rather than reciting “a mathematical algorithm,” “a fundamental economic or longstanding commercial practice,” or “a challenge in business,” the challenged patents “solve problems of prior graphical user interface devices...in the context of computerized trading relating to speed, accuracy and usability.” The district court further held, and the Federal Circuit court agreed, that these patents are directed to improvements in existing graphical user interface devices that have no “pre-electronic trading analog,” and recite more than “‘setting, displaying, and selecting’ data or information that is visible on the [graphical user interface] device.”
The district court alternatively continued the analysis under Alice Step 2, and it concluded that the specific structure and concordant functionality of the graphical user interface provides the inventive concept that makes the invention more than an abstract idea.
This case is another good news for software patents. One lesson learned here is that software inventions have to be looked at carefully, module by module, aspect by aspect, including the general user interface. An identified technological improvement in any of the modules may be enough to escape an Alice-abstract idea challenge from a patent examiner at USPTO or an infringer of the patent in patent litigation.
Marin Cionca9/15/2016 9:47:39 PM
Patent Law Alert: Federal Circuit Opens Door for More Software PatentsMore
On September 13, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) has decided another case, McRO (d.b.a. Planet Blue) v. Bandai Namco Games (“Planet Blue”) involving two software patents covering the same technology. It is another post-Alice case in a series of cases signaling that the Federal Circuit is determined to continue to narrow the scope of Alice (Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347, 2355 (2014)). This is good news for inventors, patent applicants and patent owners in the software industry. Particular to the Planet Blue case is what appears to be an opening for software inventions which do not necessarily improve the computer technology “itself,” but instead improve other technological processes, for example, by automating them using software.
First, on December 5, 2014, in DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., the Federal Circuit found that “systems and methods of generating a composite [hybrid] web page that combines certain visual elements of a “host” website with content of a third-party merchant” were not an abstract idea and were thus patentable subject matter. That was because the claimed solution was “necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks.”
Next, on May 12, 2016, in ENFISH, LLC v. MICROSOFT Corp. et al., the Federal Circuit did not find a computer database model using a “self-referential table” an abstract idea, and thus, it was patentable subject matter. The court concluded that the disputed claims were “directed to a specific improvement to the way computers operate, embodied in the self-referential table.”
On June 27, 2016, In BASCOM GLOBAL INTERNET v. AT&T MOBILITY LLC, the Federal Circuit decided that it was not an abstract idea to provide a process for filtering content over the Internet by placing the filtering software on the server instead of the client computer and allowing customization by each user, after login, of the filtering software. The court appeared to see the claimed invention an improvement of the computer technology itself, even though it was accomplished with conventional steps or well-known computer technology.
It should be noted that all of the above cases appear to have a common thread, that is improvement in computer technology.
PLANET BLUE CASE
The Planet Blue case involved two patents directed to 3-D animation technology using software and computers. The patents relate to automating part of a preexisting 3-D animation method. “As explained in the background of the patents, the admitted prior art method uses multiple 3-D models of a character’s face to depict various facial expressions made during speech. To animate the character as it speaks, the [prior art] method morphs the character’s expression between the models.” Using the prior art method, animators, using a computer, manually determined the appropriate morph weight sets for each of the established key-frames based on the phoneme timings in a timed transcript. “Because the pronounced phoneme and drawn keyframe corresponded in time, this prior art process synchronized the lips and facial expression of the 3-D character.”
The claimed invention automates a 3-D animator’s tasks, specifically, determining when to set keyframes and setting those keyframes, by using rules that are applied to the timed transcript to determine the morph weight outputs. The claimed process produces more accurate and realistic lip synchronization and facial expressions in animated characters.
The Federal Circuit agreed with the patent owner and analogize this case with Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981) (“Diehr”), finding that the algorithm and rules used improve an existing technological process (3-D animation technology), and that the rules used are specific enough to “prevent preemptionof all processes for achieving automated lip-synchronization of 3-D characters.” As such, the claimed process was not an abstract idea; it was patentable subject matter.
The Planet Blue case appears to be the first post- Alice case in which non-computer technology improving software was found to overcome the abstract idea challenge. The key seems to be to be able to show that (1) some technology is improved and (2) that preemption of all processes for achieving the same result is prevented by the way the patent claims are drafted.
Marin Cionca9/6/2016 9:26:12 PM
Patent Case Law: New Example of Software as Patentable Subject MatterMore
On June 27, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“appeal court”) has decided another case, part of a group of four post Alice cases, which found patent eligible subject matter in the challenged patent. The patent at issue (U.S. Pat. 5,987,606) in this case (BASCOM GLOBAL INTERNET v. AT&T MOBILITY LLC) was directed to a process for filtering content over the Internet. According to the appeal court, the inventive concept of step two of the Supreme Court’s Alice analysis was successfully provided by a specific “ordered combination” of conventional steps, because it provided a solution the prior art content filtering processes and systems failed to provide.
The representative claim (Claim 1) of the disputed patent reads as follows:
1. A content filtering system for filtering content retrieved from an Internet computer network by individual controlled access network accounts, said filtering system comprising:
a local client computer generating network access requests for said individual controlled access network accounts;
at least one filtering scheme;
a plurality of sets of logical filtering elements; and
a remote ISP server coupled to said client computer and said Internet computer network, said ISP server associating each said network account to at least one filtering scheme and at least one set of filtering elements, said ISP server further receiving said network access requests from said client computer and executing said associated filtering scheme utilizing said associated set of logical filtering elements.
At the district court level, the court found that the claim recited an abstract idea of “filtering Internet content” which was not limited by an inventive concept because the claims elements individually and in combination were conventional and routine. One argument advanced by BASCOM, which failed, according to the district court, was that “the inventive concept is found in the “ordered combination” of the limitations: a “special ISP server that receives requests for Internet content, which the ISP server then associates with a particular user and a particular filtering scheme and elements.” In a somehow convoluted manner, the appeal court agreed with Bascom, distinguishing cases such as Ultramercial (Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709 (Fed. Cir. 2014) and finding that this case is more analogous with DDR (DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245 (Fed. Cir. 2014)). As in DDR, the appeal court appeared to see the claimed invention an improvement of the computer technology itself, even though it was accomplished with conventional steps or well-known computer technology. The ordered combination seems to have been enough, in the eyes of the court, even though it consisted of routine, conventional or well-known elements.
What this decision appears to be teaching is that even though all claim elements are well-known or routine, a specific, ordered combination of such elements may still overcome a 101/Alice challenge. To be successful however, when mounting such argument, the specification and the claims may need to provide enough basis to show that the claimed invention improves the computer technology itself, in certain aspects. It should be noted that what was addressed in this appeal was only the eligibility (101/Alice) question. It still remains to be seen if this patent will survive the 102/novelty and 103/challenges, given the conventionality of the claim elements, individually.
Entire court opinion can be found at:
Iris Kim, PhD6/1/2016 7:04:50 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Designates Five More Decisions as PrecedentialMore
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or the Board) designated its first precedential decision in 2014, SecureBuy LLC v. CardinalCommerce Corporation, CBM 2014-00035, Paper 12 (April 25, 2014), which concerned the statutory requirements for instituting a covered business method (CBM) patent review. At the beginning of the 2016 year, the Board designated two more, which can be read about here.
In May 2016, five more decisions were designated as precedential, bringing the total of PTAB Precedential Decisions to eight. The five that have most recently been given the precedential designation are the following:
Garmin Int’l v. Cuozzo Speed Techs LLC, IPR2012-00001, Paper 26 (Mar. 5, 2013): This decision involves the factors to be considered when evaluating motions for additional, non-routine discovery in inter partes review proceedings. Prior to being designated as precedential, this decision was marked as “informative.” PTAB decisions are designated as either precedential, informative, representative, or routine.
Bloomberg, Inc. v. Markets-Alert Pty, Ltd., CBM2013-00005, Paper 32 (May 29, 2013): Like the first case, this decision also deals with the factors considered when evaluating motions for additional discovery, but in CBM patent review proceedings.
Oracle Corp. v. Click-to-Call Techs., LP, IPR2013-00312, Paper 26 (October 30, 2013): This decision involves a rule stating that an inter partes review cannot be instituted if the petition was filed more than one year after the date when the complaint was served, and deals specifically with the interpretation of the phrase “served with a complaint.”
MasterImage 3D, Inc. v. RealD Inc., IPR2015-00040, Paper 42 (July 15, 2015): This decision involves clarifying the standard for patent owner Motions to Amend. The patent owner has the burden to show entitlement to substitute claims, and this decision defined “prior art of record” and “prior art known to the patentee.” Previously, this decision was designated as representative.
Lumentum Holdings, Inc. v. Capella Photonics, Inc., IPR2015-00739 (Paper 38) (March 4, 2016): This decision involves the requirement that petitions should name all of the interested parties, and the fact that changes during a proceeding can be corrected.
Marin Cionca5/17/2016 8:57:23 PM
Patent Claims Rejection Based on Inherency
Patent claims are often rejected by USPTO examiners on the ground that a property or characteristic of the claimed invention is inherent and thus not novel or, alternatively, obvious. In either case, if true, the invention is not patentable. However, often times, the examiner’s statements are pure conclusory statements with no support in any sound analysis or articulated reasoning. The Manual for Patent Examination Procedure (MPEP) cautions however against this type of impermissible practice.
MPEP 2141: DISCLOSED INHERENT PROPERTIES ARE PART OF “AS A WHOLE” INQUIRY