No More Bites at the Apple: Imminent and Non-Speculative Standing Still Required

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reiterated that a patent challenger did not have Article III appellate standing to obtain review of a final Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) ruling because the underlying district court proceedings had been dismissed with prejudice after the parties reached a settlement and license agreement. Apple Inc. v. Qualcomm Inc., Case Nos. 20-1683; -1763; -1764; -1827 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 10, 2021) (Prost, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

This is the second dispute between Apple and Qualcomm to reach the Federal Circuit. In the first appeal (Apple I), the Court found that Apple did not have standing to maintain an appeal from the PTAB because the parties had entered into a settlement agreement.

As in the earlier case, here Qualcomm asserted patent infringement in district court, and Apple filed petitions for inter partes review of the patent claims that Qualcomm asserted Apple had infringed. The PTAB instituted on four petitions. While the inter partes review proceedings were pending, the parties settled the district court litigation, whereby Apple received a license in exchange for royalty payments to Qualcomm. The parties filed a joint motion to dismiss Qualcomm’s district court action with prejudice, which the district court granted. Ultimately, the PTAB found that Apple failed to prove that the challenged claims were unpatentable. Apple appealed.

As in Apple I, Qualcomm moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing. Apple responded by arguing that “[a]lthough Apple continues to disagree with [Apple I], in light of that decision and the . . . order denying Apple’s petition for rehearing en banc, Apple believes that the present appeal can be resolved on the briefs without the need for oral argument.” The parties filed a joint motion to vacate oral argument, but the Federal Circuit instead held a consolidated oral argument. Apple reiterated its disagreement with the Court’s ruling in Apple I but admitted that the operative facts in this appeal were “the same.” The Court found that other than the specific difference of the patents in issue themselves, the operative facts were the same and the alleged failure of proof as to certain patent claims (regarding whether the petitioner had established them to be unpatentable) were the same. The Court further found that any specific patent differences were irrelevant since the settlement and license agreements in each case covered the patents in issue in that case.

Apple raised a “nuance” not “specifically addressed” in Apple I, namely that Apple I “did not explain why the threat of liability, if Apple ceases the ongoing payment and the agreement is terminated, is not a sufficient injury to support standing.” The Federal Circuit was not convinced that this nuance merited a different treatment because:

  • The Court would need to sit en banc to change Apple I, and panels of the Court are bound by stare decisis.
  • Apple acknowledged that this “nuance” was at the core of its denied en banc petition in Apple I.

Accordingly, [...]

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Federal Circuit Clarifies Venue in Hatch-Waxman Case

Addressing venue in the context of a Hatch-Waxman case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit explained that sending a paragraph IV notice letter to a company in the district is insufficient to establish venue. Celgene Corp. v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., Case No. 21-1154 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 5, 2021) (Prost, J.) The Court affirmed a district court finding that venue was improper since the defendant had not committed any acts of infringement and did not have a regular and established place of business in the district.

Celgene owns patents related to a multiple-myeloma drug that it markets and sells under the brand name Pomalyst. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc. (MPI) submitted abbreviated new drug applications (ANDAs) to the US Food & Drug Administration in order to bring a generic version of Pomalyst to market. Celgene filed suit in New Jersey against MPI and its related companies, Mylan Inc. and Mylan N.V. While Celgene is headquartered in New Jersey, MPI is based in West Virginia, Mylan, Inc. is based in Pennsylvania and Mylan N.V. is based in the Netherlands and Pennsylvania. The district court dismissed the case for improper venue (MPI and Mylan, Inc.) and for failure to state a claim (Mylan N.V.). Celgene appealed.

Citing Valeant v. Mylan, the Federal Circuit reiterated that venue for Hatch-Waxman cases must be predicated on past acts of infringement, and “it is the submission of the ANDA, and only the submission, that constitutes an act of infringement in this context.” Celgene argued that because MPI sent a paragraph IV notice letter from West Virginia to Celgene’s headquarters in New Jersey, acts of infringement occurred in New Jersey. Celgene also argued that since the notice letter was mandatory and the ANDA had to be amended to include proof of delivery, the delivery of the letter was “sufficiently related to the ANDA submission.” The Court disagreed, explaining that venue in Hatch-Waxman cases is focused on the submission of the ANDA itself, including acts involved in the preparation of an ANDA submission. The Court noted these acts must be part of the ANDA submission and that Celgene’s “related to” standard was impermissibly broad. The Court found that since the submission of the ANDA did not take place in New Jersey, venue there was improper.

The Federal Circuit also found that neither MPI nor Mylan, Inc. had a regular and established place of business in New Jersey. Celgene argued both had a regular and established place of business based on places associated with Mylan employees as well as Mylan affiliates. In rejecting these arguments, the Court noted that the employees Celgene pointed to were working remotely from home, and that the employee’s home numbers were contained in business communications. However, the Court noted that there was no indication that the defendants owned, leased or rented the employees’ homes; participated in the selection of the homes; stored inventory there or took any other actions to suggest that they had an intention to maintain a place of [...]

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The Plot Plot Thickens: Trade Secret, Tortious Interference, Fiduciary Duty Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss

A judge from the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sitting by designation in the US District Court for the District of Delaware denied a motion to dismiss claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty, finding that the plaintiff plausibly pled facts supporting each claim. Park Lawn Corp. v. PlotBox Inc., Case No. 20-cv-01484-SB (D. Del. Oct. 29, 2021) (Bibas, J., sitting by designation).

Park Lawn and PlotBox are competitors in the cemetery business. In 2018, Park Lawn began developing software to automate various cemetery management tasks to cut costs. Park Lawn also hoped to generate revenue by licensing the software to competitors. Park Lawn’s CEO, however, had been leaking information to PlotBox about the software, its unique features and Park Lawn’s strategy for licensing. The CEO also helped PlotBox in its efforts to recruit Park Lawn’s chief technology officer, who had been overseeing the software project. The CEO acted despite having signed confidentiality, non-compete and non-solicitation agreements. Park Lawn ultimately discovered the CEO’s involvement with PlotBox and fired him. Soon after, the CEO became PlotBox’s chairman. Park Lawn sued PlotBox for stealing its trade secrets, interfering with the CEO’s employment agreements and helping the CEO breach his fiduciary duty to Park Lawn. PlotBox moved to dismiss.

The district court denied the motion. As to the trade secret claims, PlotBox argued that it did not misappropriate any trade secrets since the CEO never actually gave PlotBox any information. The court found that the complaint alleged otherwise. In particular, the court noted the complaint alleged:

  • The CEO and PlotBox exchanged compromising emails discussing the “status,” “developments in ‘death-tech,’” and the CEO’s interest in becoming PlotBox’s chairman.
  • The CEO invited PlotBox executives to his home to discuss a “Park Lawn Update” and “Technical Presentation.”

The court found that these allegations plausibly alleged that the CEO could have disclosed a trade secret.

PlotBox argued that even if it did learn something from the CEO, it never knew that the CEO obtained that information through improper means. The district court again disagreed, finding that PlotBox should have known something was amiss since the CEO broke a promise to keep quiet. While the court acknowledged that PlotBox may have never read the CEO’s confidentiality agreement, PlotBox should have reasonably inferred that it was improper for the CEO of a competitor to disclose his company’s innovations.

PlotBox also argued for dismissal because any information it received from the CEO did not count as a trade secret under the Defend Trade Secrets Act. Once again, the district court disagreed, explaining that Park Lawn alleged that the information provided was technical in nature (e.g., unique features of software and strategy of selling it to rivals), Park Lawn took adequate measures to protect the information by only allowing a few employees who signed confidentiality agreements to access the software and the information was valuable because it was secret. The court thus permitted the trade secret claim to proceed.

The [...]

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What a Deal! Car Dealers Retain Control over Their Own Data

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that there is no conflict between an Arizona statute aimed at strengthening privacy protections for consumers whose data is collected by car dealers and the Copyright Act provision that grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” CDK Global LLC v. Mark Brnovich, et al., Case No. 20-16469 (9th Cir. Oct. 25, 2021) (Miller, J.)

Car dealers use specialized dealer management software (DMS), which at its core is a database containing information about a dealer’s customers, vehicles, accounting, parts and services. Some of the data includes personal information, such as social security numbers and credit histories. The data is used for a variety of tasks, from financing to inventory management. Dealers also rely on separate software applications for various aspects of their business, such as marketing and customer relations. For those applications to properly function, they must access the data stored in a dealer’s DMS.

CDK is a technology company that licenses DMS to dealers. In the past, CDK allowed dealers to share access to the DMS with third-party companies that would integrate data from the DMS with other software applications. Recently, however, CDK began to prohibit the practice and instead offered its own data integration services to dealers.

In 2019, the Arizona legislature enacted a statute, known as the Dealer Law, to ensure that dealers retain control over their data. There are two provisions of the Dealer Law central to this case. First, the statute prohibits DMS providers from taking any actions (contractual, technical or otherwise) to prohibit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use the data stored in its DMS. Second, the statute requires DMS providers to adopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration and sharing of data.

CDK sued the attorney general of Arizona for declaratory and injunctive relief, asserting a range of claims. In one of its claims, CDK argued that the Dealer Law is preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. CDK asserted that the Dealer Law conflicts with the Copyright Act because the Dealer Law grants dealers and their authorized integrators the right to access CDK’s systems and create unlicensed copies of its DMS, its application programming interfaces (APIs) and its data compilations. CDK argued that in all three respects, the statute conflicts with 17 U.S.C. § 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The district court dismissed most of the claims but allowed the copyright preemption claims and a few others to proceed. Following a hearing, the district court denied a preliminary injunction. CDK appealed.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that CDK presented no evidence that the Dealer Law would require the embodiments of CDK’s DMS to persist for a period of more than transitory duration. The Court explained that the reproduction right set forth in [...]

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US Copyright Office Expands Rights to Repair Software-Enabled Devices

The US Copyright Office issued new regulations expanding and strengthening consumers’ rights to repair software-enabled digital devices (such as video game consoles and medical devices) via exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Under 17 U.S.C. § 1201, it is generally unlawful to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to” copyrighted works. In response to proposals from several organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the iFixit and Repair Association, the Registrar of Copyright (as it has done every three years since 2000) made rulemaking recommendations to the Librarian of Congress; recommendations that have now been adopted as final rules. The new rules create exemptions to make it easier to repair software-enabled devices. In the prior rulemaking sessions, the Register of Copyrights recommended—and the Librarian of Congress adopted—17 groups of exceptions. This session, the Register recommended 14 additional classes of exemptions, all of which have been adopted.

Among the 14 classes of exemptions that were recommended and adopted are the following:

  • Computer programs that operate the following types of devices, to allow diagnosis, maintenance and repair:
    • Motorized land vehicles or marine vessels
    • Devices primarily designed for use by consumers
    • Medical devices and systems.

This proposed class initially included “modification” in addition to diagnosis, maintenance and repair, but the exemption for modifications was ultimately eliminated. The Register reasoned that including all “modification[s]” would encompass both infringing and noninfringing activities and would implicate the right to prepare derivative works, as well as other issues.

This proposed class, “Computer Programs – Repair,” was initially divided into four general categories: “(1) all software-enabled devices; (2) vehicles and marine vessels; (3) video game consoles; and (4) medical devices and systems.” Not all of the categories made it through, as the Register removed all software-enabled devices from the recommendations. The recommendations stated that this category would have made the class too broad and would have raised the complex question of which types of devices would qualify for permitted repair.

After consideration of all the issues, the Register determined the following three classes had sufficient commonalities to recommend them: Computer programs in devices primarily designed for use by consumers (such as the repairing of optical drives in video games), computer programs in marine vessels and computer programs and data in medical devices and systems. The adopted exemptions expanding the current exemptions for vehicle and device repair and added an exemption for medical devices and systems repair.

The Rules also expand exemptions for consumer-related devices only. In recommending exemptions for device repair, the Register found significant commonalities among uses and users in terms of the diversity of software-enabled devices designed for use by consumers. The Register determined that the narrowed uses of “diagnosis, maintenance, and repair” were supported by the fair use factors, and that the exemption was “not accomplished for the purpose of gaining access to other copyrighted works.” The recommendations also contained a special subset for video games, which narrows the exemption solely to the repair of optical drives. [...]

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