The Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous decision invalidating the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA), a 1990 statute intended to provide copyright owners with the power to sue a US state government for infringement, and held that states cannot be sued for copyright infringement. Allen v. Cooper, Case No. 18-877 (Supr. Ct. Mar. 23, 2020) (Kagan, Justice) (Thomas, Justice, concurring) (Breyer and Ginsburg, Justices, concurring).
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that “lightly sketched anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions” were not copyrightable. Daniels v. Walt Disney Co., Case No. 18-55635 (9th Cir. Mar. 16, 2020) (McKeown, J.).
Denise Daniels created The Moodsters Company. The Moodsters were five named characters, each color-coded to an emotion. The Moodsters Company developed a pitchbook in 2005, a pilot episode for television in 2007, and toys and books of a second generation of The Moodsters by 2013. Daniels and The Moodsters Company also pitched The Moodsters to Disney. In 2010, Disney began developing a movie about five anthropomorphized emotions called Inside Out.
Daniels brought a claim of copyright infringement against Disney. After the district court granted Disney’s motion to dismiss, Daniels appealed.
In an appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found claim construction error and reversed the PTAB’s finding that all instituted claims were unpatentable. Personalized Media Commc’ns, LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 18-1936 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 13, 2020) (Stoll, J.).
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to dismiss a first-filed declaratory judgment complaint, finding that equitable considerations warranted departure from the first-to-file rule. Communications Test Design, Inc. v. Contec, LLC, Case No. 19-1672 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 13, 2020) (O’Malley, J.).
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a jury verdict of infringement of a design patent on grounds that purported appellate issues had not been properly presented to the trial court. Hafco Foundry and Machine Co., Inc. v. GMS Mine Repair and Maintenance, Inc., Case No. 18-1904 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 16, 2020) (per curiam) (Newman, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part).
The en banc US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit declined to review its October 2019 panel decision holding the appointment of administrative patent judges (APJs) at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) unconstitutional because APJs are appointed as if they are “inferior officers” but vested with authority that is reserved for Senate-confirmed “principal officers” under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., Case No. 18-2140 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 23, 2020) (per curiam) (Moore, J., joined by O’Malley, Reyna and Chen, JJ., concurring) (Dyk, J., joined by Newman, Wallach and Hughes, JJ., dissenting).
Addressing for the first time the issue of implied copyright sublicenses, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that where a copyright license provides an unrestricted right to grant sublicenses, a copyright licensee may do so impliedly and without express language. Photographic Illustrators Corp. v. Orgill, Case No. 19-1452 (1st Cir. Mar. 13, 2020) (Kayatta, J.).
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a Notice clarifying its practice as to situations that will require additional information about whether a delay in seeking the revival of an abandoned application, acceptance of a delayed maintenance fee payment, or acceptance of a delayed priority or benefit claim was unintentional. 85 FED. REG. 12222 (Mar. 2, 2020).
Ruling en banc, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated a 2016 jury verdict, finding that the rock band Led Zeppelin and the opening notes of its hit song “Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe the 1967 song “Taurus” by the band Spirit. Michael Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al., Case No. 16-56057 (9th Cir., March 9, 2020) (en banc) (McKeown, J.) (Bea and Ikuta, JJ., dissenting).
The en banc decision addressed a “litany of copyright issues”—the most critical being the interplay between the 1909 and 1976 Copyright Acts and the Court’s reversal of its own precedent in rejecting a doctrine occasionally referred to as the “inverse ratio rule”—when it concluded that, regardless of a copyrighted work’s fame, all plaintiffs must satisfy the same standard of proof in showing that an allegedly infringing work is substantially similar to the copyrighted work.
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) obviousness decision, finding the decision was infected by an erroneous claim construction that failed to consider the purpose of the claimed invention. Kaken Pharmaceutical Co., LTD v. Iancu, Case No. 18-2232 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 13 2020)(Taranto, J.).
Kaken owns a patent claiming a method for topically treating fungal infections in nails. Fungal infections of the nail plate and nail bed are notoriously difficult to treat because topical treatments cannot penetrate the thick keratin in the nail plate. The patent describes an effective topical treatment with an antifungal, KP-103, having good permeability, retention capacity and activity in the nail plate. The patent specification notes that topical treatments known in the prior art were largely ineffective at penetrating the nail plate and treating onychomycosis.