Claim Construction and Jurisdictional Discovery Are More Than Skin Deep

Referencing the use of antecedents from a “wherein” clause, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s claim construction and vacated its summary judgment ruling of indefiniteness that relied on that construction. University of Massachusetts v. L’Oréal S.A., Case No. 21-1969 (Fed. Cir. June 13, 2022) (Prost, Mayer, Taranto, JJ.) The Court also reversed the dismissal of a defendant based on personal jurisdiction, finding error in the district court’s refusal to permit jurisdictional discovery before granting a motion to dismiss on that basis.

This case involved two patents directed towards the topical treatment of skin with a composition of adenosine at a certain concentration, held by the University of Massachusetts (UMass). L’Oréal is French-based company (L’Oréal S.A.) and its US-based company (L’Oréal USA) were involved in the suit. L’Oréal S.A. moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the district court granted the motion without an opportunity for UMass to conduct jurisdictional discovery. After the dismissal, the district court ruled on the construction of a claim limitation and subsequently wielded that construction to invalidate another limitation as indefinite. The district court entered a final judgment of invalidity on this basis. UMass appealed, challenging the claim construction and lack of jurisdictional discovery.

Construction Using “Wherein” Clause

The Federal Circuit explained that there are two steps in reviewing claim construction: determining whether there is a plain meaning of a disputed term and, as necessary, properly construing the term. After determining that there was no plain meaning of the claim term “concentration,” the Court addressed the construction of the phrase “topically applying to the skin a composition comprising a concentration of adenosine.” The Court found that the district court erred in its determination that the “concentration applied to the dermal cells” meant that the concentration must be measured by the concentration directly applied to the dermal cells beneath the skin, rather than the composition applied to the surface of the skin. The Patent Trial & Appeal Board had adopted the same interpretation in an inter partes review, and therefore “concentration applied to the dermal cells” required no further construction.

UMass challenged that the proper construction. The Federal Circuit, citing to support in the specification, stated that the concentration of adenosine found in the composition should be construed as that applied to the epidermis. Viewing the claim as a whole and use of antecedents, the Court explained that “applied” could relate to both direct and indirect application. The Court specifically noted the use of the word “the” in the wherein clause, and found that this read, for antecedent, as the concentration of the composition. In viewing the prosecution history, the Court determined there was no disavowal of indirect application, and the specification and dependent claims supported a read of the term “concentration” to mean the composition applied to the surface of the skin, rather than requiring testing of the concentration to which the dermal cells were actually exposed. The Court also noted that in the prosecution history, UMass [...]

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Lost and “Found”: Fourth Circuit Interpretation of Discovery in Support of Foreign Litigation Opens Circuit Split

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a corporation that is not physically present in a district is not “found” in the district for purposes of the federal statute that authorizes courts to order discovery for use in a foreign tribunal. In re Eli Lilly and Co., Case No. 22-1094 (4th Cir. 2022) (Niemeyer, Diaz, JJ.; Floyd, Sr. J.) The Court rejected the approach of the Second Circuit, which previously had held that a district court’s power to order discovery under 28 USC § 1782 was coextensive with the minimum contacts inquiry of specific jurisdiction.

After acquiring a patent portfolio related to the psoriasis drug Taltz, Novartis AG sued Eli Lilly for patent infringement in several European courts. Eli Lilly requested discovery from Novartis in the Eastern District of Virginia under § 1782, which authorizes a district court “of the district in which a person resides or is found” to “order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” Novartis is based in Switzerland and has no offices or employees in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Following a magistrate judge’s grant of Eli Lilly’s ex parte application for a discovery subpoena, the district court vacated that order. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, substantially echoing the district court’s reasoning.

There was no dispute that Novartis did not “reside” in the district; the only issue was whether Novartis could be “found” there. The Fourth Circuit considered the plain meaning of “found,” Supreme Court precedent interpreting similar statutory language, and the legislative history of the statute, and held “that a corporation is found where it is physically present by its officers and agents carrying on the corporation’s business.”

The Fourth Circuit rejected Eli Lilly’s counterargument that the satisfaction of specific jurisdiction requirements was sufficient for a corporation to be “found” in a district, including Eli Lilly’s reliance on the 2019 Second Circuit decision in In re del Valle Ruiz, which held that a corporation was “found” wherever it could be subject to specific jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit concluded that In re del Valle Ruiz failed to give “found” its plain meaning, incorrectly ignored Supreme Court precedent and did not give appropriate weight to the legislative history of § 1782.

Even if the Fourth Circuit had disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 1782, the Court would still have affirmed based on the deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. Because § 1782 permits, but does not require, an order of discovery, the Court found that the district court’s determination that to “request[ ] [ ] a substantial volume of data and materials located abroad [to] be brought into the United States for subsequent use in proceedings abroad, [would be] a nonsensical result” was well reasoned.

With this decision, the Fourth Circuit broke with the Second Circuit and created a circuit split in the interpretation of § 1782.

Ian Howard, a summer associate in the Washington, DC, office, also contributed [...]

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Faked It? Your Contract Won’t Make It

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court ruling denying a defendant’s motion to enforce an arbitration clause in a software license agreement that the defendant’s employee entered into using a fake company name at the defendant’s direction. CCC Intelligent Sols. Inc. v. Tractable Inc., Case No. 19-1997 (7th Cir. June 6, 2022) (Easterbrook, Brennan, St. Eve, JJ.)

CCC Intelligent Solutions and Tractable are competitors that provide customers, including insurance companies, with cost estimates to repair damaged cars and trucks. Both companies supply software that applies algorithms to data generated by body shops and other repair centers. CCC provides the software to customers under terms in a license agreement. The license prohibits disassembling the software code or incorporating it into other software, forbids assignment of the license without CCC’s consent and includes a representation that the customer is not acting as an agent of any third party. The license also includes an arbitration clause. A Tractable employee obtained a license to CCC’s software under a fake business name, “JA Appraisal,” using a false mailing address and email address. The employee gave the software to Tractable, which disassembled the software and incorporated CCC’s proprietary algorithms into its own product. CCC became aware of Tractable’s improper use of its software and filed a lawsuit in the district court.

Tractable moved to compel arbitration under the terms of the agreement, arguing that JA Appraisal was its agent and that Tractable was therefore a party to the license agreement. The district court denied Tractable’s motion. The district court found that a reasonable jury could find that CCC did not intend to grant Tractable a license, and that CCC could have reasonably believed it was doing business with JA Appraisal based on JA Appraisal’s representations and the agreement’s non-assignment provisions. Tractable appealed.

The Seventh Circuit addressed whether Tractable was a party to the contract. The Court first assessed whether it was publicly known that Tractable did business under the JA Appraisal name. The Court found (and Tractable’s counsel admitted) that it was not possible for CCC to discover that Tractable used that name. Tractable, based on a comment to § 163 of the Restatement of Contracts, argued that § 163 provides that a party’s acceptance of a contract is not effective if it was induced by a misrepresentation of an essential term of the contract by the other party. The cited comment provides an exception to this rule, stating that “the mere fact that a party is deceived as to the identity of the other party” does not bring a case within the auspices of § 163 “unless it affects the very nature of the contract.”

The Seventh Circuit rejected Tractable’s reliance on the comment. The Court found that JA Appraisal’s identity affected the very nature of the contract and therefore the exception recited in the comment did not apply. The Court explained that the exception to § 163 covers situations when a party failed to know the “full truth” [...]

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Can’t Hide Behind Minor Clerical Error to Escape Willful Infringement Verdict

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court decision correcting a clerical error in a claim. Pavo Solutions LLC v. Kingston Technology Company, Inc., Case Nos. 21-1834 (Fed. Cir. June 3, 2022) (Lourie, Prost, Chen, JJ.)

The Pavo patent is generally directed to a “flash memory apparatus having a single body type rotary cover.” CATR Co., later substituted by Pavo, sued Kingston for infringing the Pavo patent. Supported by the patent specification and prosecution, the district court judicially corrected the claim language in its claim construction order to read “pivoting the cover with respect to the flash memory main body,” not “pivoting the case with respect to the flash memory main body” (change emphasized). Pavo’s damages expert, Bergman, presented a profit-based model of reasonable royalty damages, relying on an earlier settlement agreement between CATR and IPMedia to arrive at a profit split of 18.75%, amounting to 40 cents/unit for Kingston. The jury returned a verdict of willful infringement and awarded Pavo a 20% reasonable royalty.

Judicial Correction

The Federal Circuit addressed and affirmed three issues on appeal, the first being that the district court approximately corrected an obvious minor clerical error in the claims. Correction is appropriate “only if (1) the correction is not subject to reasonable debate based on consideration of the claim language and the specification and (2) the prosecution history does not suggest a different interpretation of the claims.” In deciding whether a particular correction is appropriate, a court “must consider how a potential correction would impact the scope of a claim and if the inventor is entitled to the resulting claim scope based on the written description of the patent.”

The Federal Circuit decided that the error was clear from the full context of the claim language, supported by the specification, and did not broaden the claim scope. Additionally, the correction was not subject to reasonable debate. Judicial correction “is merely giving to it the meaning which was intended by the applicant and understood by the examiner.” Kingston’s alternative correction would just reverse the order in which the structural components appear in the claim.

The prosecution history also did not suggest a different interpretation of the claim. The applicant and the examiner consistently characterized the claims as describing pivoting the case within the cover, which both the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) and the court recognized. Each reviewing body understood the nature and scope of the invention consistent with correcting “case” to “cover.” Kingston argued that the Board denied the applicant’s request to correct the language, but the denial was on procedural grounds.

Willfulness

Second, the Federal Circuit determined that Kingston could form requisite intent to support a willful infringement verdict despite its arguments that it reasonably relied on not infringing the claims as originally written, and it could not anticipate that a court would later correct the claims. However, “reliance on an obvious minor clerical error in the claim language is not a defense to willful infringement.” By definition, [...]

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Drink Up, but Not with Lehman Brand

In the context of an opposition proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) refusal to register a trademark based on likelihood of confusion with a famous but expired mark, notwithstanding the applicant’s assertion of abandonment of the mark by the original registrant. Tiger Lily Ventures Ltd. v. Barclays Capital Inc., Case Nos. 21-1107;- 1228 (Fed. Cir. June 1, 2022) (Lourie, Bryson, Prost, JJ.)

Tiger Lily sought to register the word mark LEHMAN BROTHERS for beer and spirits and for bar services and restaurant services. Barclays, whose Lehman Brothers marks had expired, opposed the applications based on likelihood of confusion. Tiger Lily argued that Barclays had abandoned the mark and filed an opposition to Barclays’ application to register the work mark LEHMAN BROTHERS. The Board sustained Barclays’ oppositions on the grounds of likelihood of confusion and dismissed Tiger Lily’s opposition. Tiger Lily appealed.

Tiger Lily challenged the Board’s decision, arguing that the Board erred in its determination that Barclays did not abandon its rights in the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark and, relatedly, that Barclays established priority with respect to the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark in its own application. Tiger Lily also argued that the Board erred in finding that its proposed mark for beer and spirits and its proposed mark for bar services and restaurant services would cause a likelihood of confusion with Barclays’ LEHMAN BROTHERS mark.

Addressing the issue of abandonment, the Federal Circuit explained that “there are two elements to a claim for abandonment: (1) nonuse; and (2) intent not to resume use,” and “even limited use can be sufficient to avoid a finding that use of a mark has been ‘discontinued.’” The Court noted that Tiger Lily acknowledged that Barclays had used the mark “continuously in the course of winding up the affairs of at least one Lehman Brothers affiliated company” and thus failed to prove nonuse. Whether Lehman Brothers would exist after bankruptcy proceedings ended was immaterial.

On the issue of likelihood of confusion and the DuPont factors, the Federal Circuit found that “because the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark has achieved a high degree of fame, it is afforded a broad scope of protection.” Tiger Lily attempted to draw a distinction between “consumer recognition” as compared with “goodwill” as a factor and argued that it was actually trying to trade on the “bad will” associated with the mark. The Court found “no legal support for [this] subtle distinction.” The Court concluded that “Tiger Lily’s attempts to capitalize on the fame of the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark weighs in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion,” and that the Board’s findings on the remaining factors were supported by substantial evidence.




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