Even Judges Have a Boss: PTAB Must Sufficiently Articulate its Obviousness Reasoning

Addressing the sufficiency of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (PTAB) justification of its inter partes review (IPR) determination, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB’s obviousness determinations, concluding that the PTAB’s findings regarding motivation to combine were not supported by substantial evidence. Chemours Company FC, LLC v. Daikin Industries, Ltd., Daikin America, Inc., Case No. 20-1289, -1290 (Fed. Cir., July 21, 2021) (Reyna, J.) (Dyk, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Chemours, owner of the challenged patents, appealed the PTAB’s final written decisions in two IPRs initiated by Daikin. The challenged claims relate to a unique polymer for insulating communication cables formed by pulling wires through melted polymer to coat and insulate the wires, a process known as “extrusion.” The challenged claims of the patents recite that the polymer has a specific melt flow range of about 30+/- g/10 mins. The polymer’s melt flow range correlates with how fast the melted polymer can flow under pressure during extrusion. A higher melt flow rate means a faster coating of the polymer onto a wire. During the IPRs, the PTAB found all challenged claims unpatentable as obvious.

The Federal Circuit reviews the PTAB’s legal determinations de novo and its factual findings for substantial evidence, which “requires more than a ‘mere scintilla’ and must be enough such that a reasonable mind could accept the evidence as adequate to support the conclusion.” Obviousness is a question of law necessarily made on underlying findings of fact, and in making factual findings, the PTAB “must have both an adequate evidentiary basis for its findings and articulate a satisfactory explanation for those findings.”

In this instance, the Federal Circuit found that the PTAB’s obviousness findings were not supported by substantial evidence. According to the Court, while the PTAB may rely on prior art other than the references being applied or combined to inform itself of the state of the art at the time of the invention, the scope of the relevant prior art encompasses only that which is “’reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor was involved.”’ Here, the Court explained that the only prior art reference relied on was not appropriate because it expressly taught away from the claimed invention and relied on teachings from other references that were not concerned with the particular problems the prior art sought to solve. As the Court noted, the PTAB “did not adequately grapple with why a skilled artisan would find it obvious to increase [the reference’s] melt flow rate to [the] claimed range while retaining its critical ‘very narrow molecular-weight distribution.’” To support its obviousness conclusion, the PTAB needed “competent proof showing a skilled artisan would have been motivated to, and reasonably expected to be able to, increase the melt flow rate of [the reference’s] polymer to the claimed range when all known methods for doing so would go against [the reference’s] invention by broadening molecular weight distribution.” By failing to provide its reasoning, the PTAB relied [...]

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Supreme Court to Consider Whether 17 U.S.C. § 411 Requires Referral to Copyright Office

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review whether a district court is required to request that the Register of Copyrights advise whether inaccurate information, if known, would have caused the Register to refuse registration of the plaintiff’s asserted copyright. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted). The question presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.

In the circuit court decision, Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P. (9th Cir. May 29, 2020), the Ninth Circuit held that once a defendant alleges that (1) a plaintiff’s certificate of registration contains inaccurate information, (2) “the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration” and (3) the inaccurate information was included on the application “with knowledge that it was inaccurate,” a district court is required to submit a request to the Register of Copyrights “to advise the court whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused [it] to refuse registration.”




PTO Updates Arthrex Guidance

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) updated its June 29, 2021, interim procedure to implement the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in U.S. v. Arthrex, Inc., and specifically updated the Arthrex Q&As section. The PTO’s July 20, 2021, updates address the effect of Arthrex on Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings generally and ongoing proceedings in particular. In Arthrex, the Supreme Court held that appointment of PTAB administrative patent judges violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, and that the proper remedy was to vest the PTO director with discretion to overturn the PTAB’s decisions.

In section A of the Q&As, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on PTAB proceedings, the PTO explained that the director has the option to sua sponte initiate director review of any final written decision at any point before the filing of a notice of appeal or before the time for filing such a notice has expired. The updated Q&As further explain that a request for director review is not an opportunity for a party to make new arguments or submit new evidence and imposes a 15-page limit on any request. The updated Q&As also clarify the mechanism to request review by the director. The update clarifies that a party cannot request both director review and a panel rehearing after the issuance of a final written decision, and if a party requests both it will be treated as a request for director review. However, if a panel rehearing is granted, a party can request director review of the rehearing panel decision.

In section B of the update, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on ongoing PTAB proceedings, the PTO clarified the deadline for requesting a rehearing by the director and the circumstances under which the director will consider granting extensions of the rehearing deadlines.

In addition, the PTO added a new section, section D, pertaining to the interim internal process for director review. In section D, the Q&As address:

  1. What happens to a director review request when it is received by the PTO?
  2. What criteria does the advisory committee use when evaluating director review requests?
  3. How will the director identify decisions for sua sponte director review?

Regarding 1), the Q&As explain that requests for director review will be evaluated by an advisory committee established by the director. Regarding 2), the Q&As explain there is no exclusive list of criteria, but list criteria the advisory committee may consider. Regarding 3), the Q&As explain that the PTAB internal management review team will alert the director to decisions that may warrant director review.




Don’t Be So Dramatic: True Crime Docudrama Doesn’t Violate Right of Privacy

Addressing the tension between the First Amendment and the right to privacy under New York law, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, unanimously held that despite being partially fictionalized, a movie based on true events did not violate the privacy rights of the film’s subjects. Porco v. Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC, Case No. 531681 NY Supr. Ct, Appellate Div. Third Judicial Dept, June 24, 2021) (Fitzgerald, J.)

Christopher Porco was tried and convicted for the murder of his father and attempted murder of his mother in 2011. Lifetime Entertainment created a movie inspired by the events titled, Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story. Porco and his mother sued to stop the broadcast, alleging that the film (and related promotional materials) violated their rights of privacy under New York law.

Both parties moved for summary judgment on liability, with Lifetime arguing that the movie did not violate the plaintiffs’ right to privacy “because it depicted newsworthy events to which the use of their names was reasonably related.” The New York Supreme Court denied both motions, finding that questions of fact remained as to whether the depiction of events was “so materially and substantially fictitious as to give rise to liability.” The parties cross-appealed.

New York’s statutory right of privacy (Civil Rights Law §§ 50 and 51) prohibits the unauthorized use of “a living person’s name, portrait or picture . . . for advertising or trade purposes.” On appeal, the Court recognized the tension with the First Amendment, as the right of privacy does not prohibit reporting on “newsworthy events or matters of public interest, even if the reports were produced with profit in mind.” This “newsworthiness exception” is inapplicable, however, in situations where the “newsworthy or public interest aspect . . . is merely incidental to its commercial purpose” or “where the purported aim of the work is to provide biographical information of obvious public interest, but the content is substantially fictionalized.”

Porco argued that the film, a docudrama, fell within the latter category. The New York Supreme Court noted that the events depicted were “indisputably” newsworthy, but Porco contended that the movie was an “invented biography” that had “no purpose at all beyond the actionable one of exploiting their names and likenesses for profits.” The Court held that the film did not violate Porco’s rights of privacy, despite containing some fictionalizations, for two reasons. First, based on a review of materials such as the real police and media interviews with Porco and excerpts from his criminal trial, the Court concluded that the film was “broadly accurate.” Second, the film did not mislead viewers or present itself as wholly truthful, because it included the statement “based on a true story” at the beginning of the film and stated at the end that it was a “dramatization in which some names have been changed, some characters are composites and certain other characters and events have been fictionalized.” Accordingly, the Court reversed the lower court’s denial of Lifetime’s motion for [...]

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A Goldilocks Dilemma: What is the “Right Amount” When Pleading Patent Infringement Cases?

Addressing the issue of pleading requirements for patent infringement cases, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit clarified that patentees need not prove their case at the pleading stage on an element-by-element basis but can plead themselves out of court by presenting facts that are inconsistent with their infringement claims. Bot M8 LLC v. Sony Corp. of Am., Case No. 20-2218 (Fed. Cir. July 13, 2021) (O’Malley, J.)

Bot M8 filed suit against Sony and alleged that Sony’s PlayStation 4 and PlayStation network infringed Bot M8’s asserted patents, which are all generally directed to casino, arcade and video games. The asserted patents describe an “authentication mechanism to verify that a game program has not been manipulated,” a “gaming machine [that stores] gaming information and a mutual authentication program on the same medium,” a “gaming device with a fault inspection system,” and a “gaming machine that changes future game conditions based on players’ prior game results.”

The district court sua sponte instructed Bot M8 to file an amended complaint, “specifying ‘every element of every claim that [Bot M8] say[s] is infringed’” and to reverse engineer Sony’s products to prove its case. Bot M8 did not challenge the district court’s order and agreed to file claim charts. Following Bot M8’s service of the first amended complaint, Sony filed a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted. On an unrelated patent, both parties filed summary judgment motions. The district court entered final judgment in favor of Sony, and Bot M8 subsequently appealed both the dismissals and the grant of summary judgment.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit emphasized that “patentees need not prove their case at the pleading stage” and thus found that the district court had erred by misapplying Iqbal and Twombly. Apparently exasperated by the need to reiterate the proper pleading standard, the Court emphasized that “[a] plaintiff is not required to plead infringement on an element-by-element basis.”

While reaffirming a standard favorable to patentees, the Federal Circuit explained that for a complaint to pass muster under Iqbal and Twombly, it still must provide sufficient factual allegations to “articulate why it is plausible that the accused product infringes the patent claim.” Thus, “a patentee may subject its claims to early dismissal by pleading facts that are inconsistent with the requirements of its claims.” The Court explained that Bot M8’s allegations conflicted with claim 1 of Bot M8’s patent. Whereas that claim required a motherboard separate from the authentication and game programs, Bot M8’s claim charts expressly alleged that “[t]he authentication program for the PlayStation 4 hard drive, operating system, and games is stored on PlayStation 4 . . . Serial Flash Memory” and that “[t]he PlayStation 4 motherboard contains flash memory.” According to the Court, it was “not even possible, much less plausible” for Bot M8 to prevail because of this inconsistency between Bot M8’s allegations and its patent with respect to the location of the authentication and game programs relative to the motherboard. By pleading “too much rather [...]

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