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Post-AIA Patents Are Not Shielded from Interferences

Addressing the applicability of interference proceedings to patent applications filed after the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) was enacted, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) found it proper to declare an interference between a patent application with a priority date before March 16, 2013, the AIA implementation date, and a patent with a priority date after March 16, 2013. SNIPR Technologies Limited v. The Rockefeller University, Pat. Interf. No. 106,123 (DK) (PTAB Nov. 19, 2021) (Katz, APJ).

The AIA switched the US patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” system. In line with this change, the AIA eliminated the patentability requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 102(g), regarding whether another inventor made the invention first, and the interference proceeding under 35 U.S.C. §135 for determining who invented the claimed invention first. Section 3(n)(2) of the AIA provides a timing provision relating to this change. Under this section, the interference proceeding “shall apply to each claim of an application for patent, and any patent issued thereon, for which the amendments made by this section also apply, if such application or patent contains or contained at any time, a claim [having a priority date before March 16, 2013].”

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) declared an interference between several patents owned by SNIPR and a pending application to The Rockefeller University. The claims involved were drawn to a method of killing or modifying specific bacteria in a mixed population of bacteria with different species using the CRISPR-mediated gene editing technology. The Rockefeller application asserted a priority date of February 7, 2013 (i.e., pre-AIA), while the SNIPR patents asserted the priority date of May 3, 2016 (i.e., post-AIA). SNIPR argued that the interference proceeding was improper since all involved patents were filed after the AIA was enacted.

The Board rejected SNIPR’s argument, explaining that Section 3(n)(2) provides for continuation of interference under certain circumstances. The Board noted that the patentability requirement under 35 U.S.C. §102(g) and interference still apply to each claim having a priority date before March 16, 2013, such as the claims of Rockefeller’s involved application. Accordingly, when the Rockefeller claims would otherwise be allowable, except for the existence of an interference with other claims such as SNIPR’s claims, Section 3(n)(2) necessarily calls for an interference proceeding between the Rockefeller application and the SNIPR patents. Otherwise, the PTO would not be able to determine whether Rockefeller was entitled to a patent under 35 U.S.C. §102(g).

The Board further reasoned that, instead of ending all interferences at the implementation of the AIA, US Congress enacted Section 3(n)(2) to continue the interference proceeding as applicable to certain cases after AIA. Congress also did not explicitly require that cases involved in interferences must all have priority dates before March 16, 2013. Therefore, the Board found that Congress contemplated interferences between pre-AIA and post-AIA applications and patents. Accordingly, the Board ruled in Rockefeller’s favor, finding it was the first to invent the claimed technology.




PTO Will Transition to Electronic Issuance of Patents and Trademarks

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) announced on December 10, 2021, that it intends to transition to electronic issuance of patents and trademarks in 2022. Under the current rule (37 C.F.R § 1.315), the PTO must deliver or mail a patent “upon issuance to the correspondence address of record.” The PTO will soon issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to seek public feedback on revising the rules of practice to issue patents electronically. Under the proposed changes, the PTO would no longer mail patents to the applicant. Instead, the PTO would issue patents electronically via the Patent Center and Patent Application Image Retrieval, from which the patents could be downloaded and printed.

While no changes to the trademark rules are necessary, the PTO will also issue a public request for comments on replacing paper registration certificates with digital versions.

The PTO believes that electronic issuance will reduce the time it takes for a patent or trademark to issue by about two weeks.

Once the transition is complete, applicants can still receive a paper copy of the issued patents and trademark registration certificates with an embossed gold seal and the director’s signature (i.e., a ribbon certificate) for a fee of $25 per copy.




IPR on Written Description? Claims Found Unpatentable Based on Lack of Entitlement to Priority Date

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) ruling, based on a written description analysis, that certain claims were invalid as anticipated by an earlier priority application from the same family. Indivior UK Ltd. v. Dr. Reddy’s Labs. S.A., Case Nos. 20-2073, -2142 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 24, 2021) (Lourie, J.) (Linn, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Indivior’s patent, which issued from a fifth continuation application claiming priority back to 2009, claimed orally dissolvable films with therapeutic agents. Some of the claims recited numeric ranges, such as “about 40% wt to about 60% wt of a water-soluble polymeric matrix.” Instead of a range, one claim recited a specific amount of “about 48.2% wt” of the polymeric matrix. The patent’s specification did not expressly mention the claimed ranges or the specific 48.2% amount, but it did contain tables comprising quantities of polymer from which Indivior contended a person of ordinary skill in the art could calculate the percentage of polymer by weight.

Indivior argued that the polymer weight percentage limitations were supported by the priority application and, therefore, the patent was entitled to that priority date. Dr. Reddy’s contended that since the polymer weight percentage limitations were added later, an intervening patent publication (Myers) was prior art and anticipated the claims. Indivior did not contest that if Myers was prior art, it anticipated the claims. As a result, the Board’s decision on anticipation under 35 U.S.C. §102 turned on the priority analysis which, in turn, hinged on written description. The Board found that the tables disclosed formulations from which the “48.2% wt” could be calculated and, thus, claims reciting that limitation were not anticipated by Myers. However, the Board found that the claimed ranges (i.e., about 40% wt to about 60% wt) were not disclosed in the specification, and those claims were therefore anticipated by Meyers. Indivior appealed the Board’s anticipation finding, and Dr. Reddy’s appealed the no anticipation finding.

The Federal Circuit first analyzed the specification and concluded that there was no written description support for the broader range of “about 40% wt to about 60% wt.” The Court explained that the range was not disclosed in the specification, the specific values of 40% and 60% were not disclosed and there was another “inconsistent” teaching for weights of “at least 25%.” The Court noted that two specific tables in the specification “do not constitute ranges; they are only specific, particular examples. For written description support of a claimed range, more clarity is required.” The Court explained that “[h]ere, one must select several components, add up the individual values, determine the aggregate percentages, and then couple those aggregate percentages with other examples in the [] application to create an otherwise unstated range. That is not a written description of the claimed range.” The Court applied similar analysis in finding lack of written description for other claims reciting a slightly different range. Ultimately, the Court agreed that there was no written [...]

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Federal Circuit Reverses Judge Stark Decision, Finds Computer Network Patent Eligible

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that a representative claim was directed to a patent-eligible improvement to computer functionality, and therefore reversed a decision authored by Judge Leonard P. Stark as a sitting judge in the US District Court for the District of Delaware. Mentone Solutions LLC v. Digi International Inc., Case Nos. 21-1202, -1203 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 15, 2021) (Moore, C.J.) (nonprecedential).

Mentone Solutions sued Digi International for infringement of Mentone’s patent directed to an improvement in dynamic resource allocation in a GPRS cellular network utilizing shifted uplink status flags (USF). Digi moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), arguing that the patent claims were not patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the representative claim was patent ineligible for being “directed to the abstract idea of receiving a USF and transmitting data during the appropriate timeslots.” Mentone appealed.

The Federal Circuit began its analysis with a detailed explanation of the claimed technology and how its use of a “shifted USF” improved the normal operation of the communication system, noting that the shifted USF specifically allowed a mobile station to access previously restricted multi-slot configurations.

Reviewing the district court’s § 101 eligibility determination de novo, the Federal Circuit applied the Supreme Court’s two-step Alice framework, first determining whether the representative claim was directed to an abstract idea. The Court explained that in cases involving software, step one often turns on whether the claim focuses on specific asserted improvements in the computer’s capabilities rather than on an abstract idea which merely invoked a computer as a tool.

The Federal Circuit compared the claim in issue to those at issue in Packet Intelligence v. NetScout Sys., in which the Court found that the challenged claims were directed to a problem unique to computer networks and that the patent specification provided details on how the solution to the network problem was achieved. In Packet Intelligence, the Court looked to the patent specification to inform its understanding of the claimed invention and found that the specification made clear that the claimed invention solved a challenge unique to computers.

Similarly, in this case, the Federal Circuit explained that the representative claim did not recite generalized steps to be performed on a computer but rather a particular method of breaking the timing between the downlink USF and the subsequent uplink transmission. The Court noted that the term “shifted USF” was coined by the inventor, and that the specification and figures informed the Court’s understanding of the term, the claimed invention, the technical solution and how the elements of the claim work together to provide the solution. The Court concluded that the claimed invention solved a challenge unique to computer networks and was directed to patent-eligible improvements in computer functionality.

The Federal Circuit rejected the district court’s characterization of the claim as directed to the abstract idea of “receiving a USF and transmitting data during the appropriate [...]

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Judge Albright Issues Updated Standing Order for Patent Cases

On October 8, 2021, Judge Alan Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a new standing order governing proceedings for patent cases, which the Court designated as version 3.5 following previous updates in February and June 2021. The Western District of Texas manages more patent cases than any other district court in the United States.

The new order contains many refinements to Judge Albright’s procedures:

  • Recharacterizes the “default” schedule to be an “exemplary” schedule that the parties’ proposed schedule is expected to track in “most cases” and adds a date eight weeks prior to trial when the parties must email the court clerk to confirm the pretrial and trial dates
  • Requires parties with discovery disputes to summarize their respective positions to the court’s clerk when calling to schedule a conference with the court
  • Specifies the procedure for preparing the required email summary of discovery disputes and adds a 500-word limit per side
  • Notes that emails are the preferred method of contact with the court and that voicemail is not regularly checked and is not recommended
  • Removes a prior requirement to show good cause for extensions longer than 45 days to respond to the complaint
  • Extends the time to file a reply brief for a motion to transfer from seven days to 14 days
  • Deletes a previous provision by which substantive briefs could be submitted via audio file
  • Adds pages limits for Daubert motions (40 pages per side) and motions in limine (15 pages per side)
  • Requires that the paper copies of Markman briefs delivered to the Court be printed double-sided.



Design Patent Prior Art Must Be From Same or Analogous Field as Claimed Article of Manufacture

Finding that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) applied an erroneous interpretation of claim scope, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Board decision upholding an examiner’s rejection of a lip implant design patent as anticipated by a non-analogous art tool. In re: SurgiSil, Case No. 20-1940 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

SurgiSil filed a design application for a lip implant shaped like a generally cylindrical rod that tapered to a point at each end. The examiner rejected the patent as anticipated by a “stump,” an art tool of similar, almost identical, shape used for smoothing and blending areas of pastel or charcoal. SurgiSil appealed the rejection to the Board. The Board affirmed the rejection, finding that the differences in the shapes of SurgiSil’s lip implant and the art tool were minor. The Board rejected SurgiSil’s argument that the two articles of manufacture were “very different,” reasoning that it is irrelevant whether a prior art reference is analogous for anticipation purposes. SurgiSil appealed.

Reviewing the Board’s legal conclusions de novo, the Federal Circuit found that the Board erred as a matter of law. Citing 35 U.S.C. § 171(a) and the 1871 Supreme Court decision in Gorham Co. v. White, the Court explained that a design patent claim does not cover the design in the abstract, and that it is limited to the particular article of manufacture identified in the claim. The Court concluded that the claimed design was limited to a lip implant, did not cover other articles of manufacture and that the Board’s decision therefore rested on an erroneous interpretation of the claim’s scope.




One for All, and All for One . . . Except When It Comes to Patent License Comparability

Examining whether portfolio patent licenses can be sufficiently comparable to a single-patent license for the purposes of supporting a patent damages verdict, a split panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that, at least without accounting for distinguishing features, the answer is no. Omega Patents, LLC v. CalAmp Corp., Case No. 20-1793 (Fed. Cir., Sept. 14, 2021) (Prost, J.)

The most recent decision was the result of a second jury trial, after the Federal Circuit previously ordered a new trial. At issue in this appeal were certain direct-infringement findings, admission of technical expert testimony and the underlying damages determination. Multiple errors were raised regarding the latter, the most significant of which was the court’s apportionment analysis.

At trial, the jury awarded a royalty of $5 per unit to Omega for CalAmp’s infringement of a single patent that covered multi-vehicle tracking units. On appeal, CalAmp contended that patent damages law required apportionment, and that the evidence was insufficient to support apportionment. Judge Prost, joined by Judge Dyk, agreed, while Judge Hughes dissented in part.

First, the Federal Circuit rejected Omega’s argument that apportionment was unnecessary because all parts of the infringing units were covered by the claims. According to the Court, even where all elements of the infringing unit are claimed, a patentee still must approximate the value of the patented features as compared to the conventional, pre-existing elements. Thus, the jury could not, as a matter of law, merely value the entire unit.

Next, the Federal Circuit held that Omega could not rely on the entire-market-value rule to support its damages verdict. That rule permits a patentee to value the infringement where the patented feature drove demand for the entire product. But on the record here, it was undisputed that other conventional elements contributed to sales of the underlying product. At most, the record indicated that the patent technology was important or helpful—which was insufficient to show that it actually drove sales.

Lastly, Omega contended that its royalty was supported by licensing evidence, which included (1) Omega’s president’s testimony that its policy was to license its entire portfolio for a certain amount regardless of the number of patents included at the time of licensing, and (2) 18 license agreements consummated by Omega, some of which included the patent at issue. For both items, the Federal Circuit found evidence of apportionment lacking. To the first claim (i.e., that Omega would not have hypothetically licensed on a patent-by-patent basis), the Court concluded that crediting such testimony would serve as an end-run around the apportionment requirement because it did not approximate the value of the specific patent at issue. So too with the 18 license agreements, many of which identified a portfolio that included almost 50 additional patents. And although the damages expert identified the portfolio feature as distinguishing, the expert’s failure to explain how to separate out the value of the individually asserted patent was fatal.

In dissent, Judge Hughes would have permitted the conventional, more [...]

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Notice Under § 287 Means Knowledge of Infringement, Not Knowledge of Patent

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s finding of liability for infringement that occurred prior to the filing of the action, explaining that notwithstanding the defendant’ admission that it was aware of the asserted patent, the actual notice requirement of § 287(a) is only satisfied when the recipient is informed of the identity of the patent and the activity that is believed to be an infringement. Lubby Holdings LLC v. Chung, Case No. 19-2286 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2021) (Dyk, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting in part).

Lubby Holdings sued Henry Chung for infringement of its patent relating to leak-resistant vaping products. Lubby sought damages for alleged pre-filing sales based on alleged compliance with the marking requirement of § 287. Chung raised the issue of whether Lubby’s products were properly marked as required by § 287(a), pointing to one of Lubby’s products as an example. At trial, Chung moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 50(a), arguing that Lubby did not meet its burden to show that it complied with the § 287 marking requirement. The jury ultimately found Chung liable for direct infringement and awarded Lubby almost $900,000. Chung renewed his motion for JMOL under Rule 50(b) and moved for a new trial under Rule 59(a). After both motions were denied, Chung appealed.

Chung argued that there was no evidence that Lubby complied with the marking or notice requirements of § 287. Lubby argued that Chung did not meet his initial burden to point to products that were sold unmarked.

The Federal Circuit explained that under § 287(a), a patentee must properly mark its articles that practice its own invention, or the patentee is not entitled to damages for patent infringement that occurred before “actual notice” was given to an alleged infringer. The Court noted that once Chung met the “low bar” burden bar under Artic Cat to “articulate the products he believed were unmarked patented articles, the burden of proving compliance with the marking requirement is on the patentee.” The Court explained that Chung met this burden by specifically pointing to Lubby’s J-Pen Starter Kit. The Court continued that the burden shifted to Lubby, and Lubby failed to present any evidence that its products were properly marked or that its products did not practice its invention. As a result, Lubby could only recover damages for the period after Chung was provided with “actual notice.”

The Federal Circuit explained that actual notice under § 287(a) requires that the recipient be informed “of the identity of the patent and the activity that is believe to be an infringement, accompanied by a proposal to abate the infringement.” The Court further explained that it is irrelevant whether the defendant knew of the patent or knew of its own infringement. As applied to this case, the Court found that it was not relevant that Lubby told Chung that he could not use the patented technology, or that Chung [...]

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Bascom Cannot Save Your Claims if Your Own Patent Says You Used Known Technology

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court determination that claims of several patents were patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because they did not recite an innovation with sufficient specificity to constitute an improvement to computer functionality. Universal Secure Registry LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 20-2044 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 26, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

Universal Secure Registry (USR) sued Apple, Visa and Visa U.S.A. (collectively, Apple), asserting four patents directed to securing electronic payment transactions, which USR alleged allowed for making credit card transactions “without a magnetic-stripe reader and with a high degree of security” (e.g., allegedly Apple Pay or Visa Checkout). Apple moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6), arguing that the asserted patents claimed patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Delaware magistrate judge, quoting Visual Memory v. NVIDIA (Fed. Cir. 2017), determined that all the representative claims were directed to a non-abstract idea because “the plain focus of the claims is on an improvement to computer functionality itself, not on economic or other tasks for which a computer is used in its ordinary capacity.”

The district court judge disagreed, concluding that the representative claims failed at both Alice steps, and granted Apple’s motion to dismiss. The district court found that the claimed invention was directed to the abstract idea of “the secure verification of a person’s identity,” and that the patents did not disclose an inventive concept—including an improvement in computer functionality—that transformed the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application. USR appealed.

In assessing the claims under the Alice two-part test, the Federal Circuit noted that in cases involving authentication technology, patent eligibility often turns on whether the claims provide sufficient specificity to constitute an improvement to computer functionality itself. For example, in its 2017 decision in Secured Mail Solutions v. Universal Wilde, the Court (at Alice step one), held that claims directed to using a conventional marking barcode on the outside of a mail object to communicate authentication information were abstract because they were not directed to specific details of the barcode, how it was processed or generated or how it was different from long-standing identification practices. Similarly, in its 2020 decision in Prism Technologies v. T-Mobile, where the claims broadly recited “receiving” identity data of a client computer, “authenticating” the identity of the data, “authorizing” the client computer and “permitting access” to the client computer, the Court held at Alice step one that the claims were directed to the abstract idea of “providing restricted access to resources,” not to a “concrete, specific solution.” At step two, the Court determined that the asserted claims recited conventional generic computer components employed in a customary manner such that they were insufficient to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.

The claims in issue fared similarly. The district court held that the representative claim was not materially different from the Prism claims, and the Federal Circuit agreed. Although the [...]

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Footnote Doesn’t Preserve Claim Construction Argument, but Patent Owner Must Observe “Nose of Wax” Principle

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected an insufficiently developed claim construction challenge and found noninfringement where the patentee argued that a key feature shared by the accused device and the prior art distinguished the prior art from the claimed invention. CommScope Technologies LLC v. Dali Wireless Inc., Case Nos. 20-1817; -1818 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 24, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

CommScope Technologies and Dali Wireless are both in the wireless telecommunications industry. After CommScope sued Dali for infringement of five of its patents, Dali counterclaimed for infringement of two of its own patents. One of Dali’s patents relates to a method of predistorting a signal to account for distortion that occurs when the signal is amplified. The patent describes a training mode in which a feedback loop operates to update lookup tables and an operating mode in which a certain controller is turned off and the lookup table is no longer updated. In particular, the claim recites “switching a controller off to disconnect signal representative of the output of the power amplifier,” which the district court construed to mean “switching a controller to a nonoperating state to disconnect signal representative of the output of the power amplifier.” The accused product has two power amplifiers, and the controller switch continuously chooses between feedback signals for calculating predistortion values. Similarly, one asserted prior art reference discloses a system including multiple power amplifiers and a switch that continuously selects one of the feedback signals. At trial, the jury found the patent both valid and infringed, and the district court denied judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) of invalidity and no infringement.

On appeal, Dali included a footnote challenging the district court’s claim construction. The Federal Circuit held this challenge ineffective for three reasons, writing:

First, an argument that is only made in a footnote of an appellant’s brief is forfeited. Second, even if the argument were in the body of the brief, it is insufficiently developed. Finally, and most importantly, it is irreconcilable with Dali’s statements in other portions of its brief: (1) asserting that the district court’s construction is “unchallenged” and (2) applying the construction in the context of invalidity.

The Federal Circuit also criticized Dali for taking inconsistent positions with respect to application of its claims to the accused product and the prior art “given [the accused device] has a switch that operates identically [to the prior art.” “[t]his case falls squarely within the principle that a ‘patent may not, like a nose of wax, be twisted one way to avoid anticipation and another to find infringement.’” The Court held that no substantial evidence supported the infringement verdict because there was no evidence that the controller in the accused product put itself in the claimed “nonoperating state.” Accordingly, it reversed the denial of JMOL of noninfringement (while affirming the balance of the judgment below).




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