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USPTO Conducting Patent Eligibility Jurisprudence Study

At the request of Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Marie Hirono (D-HI), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) is undertaking a study on the current state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States and how the current jurisprudence has impacted investment and innovation, particularly in critical technologies like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, precision medicine, diagnostic methods and pharmaceutical treatments. On July 9, 2021, the USPTO issued a Federal Register Notice seeking public input on these matters to assist in preparing the study. The deadline for submitting written comments is September 7, 2021.

The Federal Register Notice included 13 concerns on which comments were requested:

  1. Explain how the current state of patent eligibility jurisprudence affects the conduct of business in your technology areas, and identify your technology areas.
  2. Explain what impacts you have experienced as a result of the current state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States. Include impacts on as many of the following areas as you can, identifying concrete examples and supporting facts when possible:
    1. patent prosecution strategy and portfolio management;
    2. patent enforcement and litigation;
    3. patent counseling and opinions;
    4. research and development;
    5. employment;
    6. procurement;
    7. marketing;
    8. ability to obtain financing from investors or financial institutions;
    9. investment strategy;
    10. licensing of patents and patent applications;
    11. product development;
    12. sales, including downstream and upstream sales;
    13. innovation and
    14. competition.
  3. Explain how the current state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States impacts particular technological fields, including investment and innovation in any of the following technological areas:
    1. quantum computing;
    2. artificial intelligence;
    3. precision medicine;
    4. diagnostic methods;
    5. pharmaceutical treatments and
    6. other computer-related inventions (e.g., software, business methods, computer security, databases and data structures, computer networking, and graphical user interfaces).
  4. Explain how your experiences with the application of subject matter eligibility requirements in other jurisdictions, including China, Japan, Korea, and Europe, differ from your experiences in the United States.
  5. Identify instances where you have been denied patent protection for an invention in the United States solely on the basis of patent subject matter ineligibility, but obtained protection for the same invention in a foreign jurisdiction, or vice versa. Provide specific examples, such as the technologies and jurisdictions involved, and the reason the invention was held ineligible in the United States or other jurisdiction.
  6. Explain whether the state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States has caused you to modify or shift investment, research and development activities, or jobs from the United States to other jurisdictions, or to the United States from other jurisdictions. Identify the relevant modifications and their associated impacts.
  7. Explain whether the state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States has caused you to change business strategies for protecting your intellectual property (e.g., shifting from patents to trade secrets, or vice versa). Identify the changes and their associated impacts.
  8. Explain whether you have changed your behavior with regard to filing, purchasing, licensing, selling, or maintaining patent applications and patents in the United States as a result of [...]

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Diehr Alice, Yu are Superimposing Novelty onto Patent Eligibility. Love, Newman.

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the basis that, under the two-step Alice analysis, the patent claims—directed to a digital camera—were directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Yu, et al. v. Apple Inc., et al., Case Nos. 20-1760; -1803 (Fed. Cir. June 11, 2021) (Prost, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting)

The patent claim under consideration recited an “improved digital camera” that has two lenses, two image sensors, an analog-to-digital converter, a memory and a digital image processor for “producing a resultant digital image from said first digital image enhanced with said second digital image.” Yu conceded that “the idea and practice of using multiple pictures to enhance each other has been known by photographers for over a century” and that the components recited in the claim “are themselves generic and conventional.”

Applying the Supreme Court’s two-step Alice v. CLS Bank test for determining patent eligible subject matter, the Federal Circuit determined at step one that the claim was “directed to the abstract idea of taking two pictures . . . and using one picture to enhance the other in some way.” At step two, the Court held that the claim failed to otherwise define a patent eligible invention because the digital camera “is recited at a high level of generality and merely invokes well-understood, routine, conventional components to apply the abstract idea of [using one picture to enhance the other in some way].” The Court rejected Yu’s attempts to use portions of the patent’s specification to support eligibility, explaining that the eligibility analysis is limited to the literal recitations of the asserted claims.

Then, along came Judge Pauline Newman. With a chainsaw.

In dissent, Judge Newman argued that the majority was improperly enlarging the § 101 analysis to include other “substantive requirements of patentability.” Judge Newman emphasized (twice) that the claim literally recited an electromechanical camera, not an abstract idea. In her view, the camera recited in the claim met the requirements of § 101 as a new and useful machine, without regard to whether the claimed camera also met the novelty requirements of §§ 102 and 103. Referring to the Supreme Court’s 1981 holding in Diamond v. Diehr, Judge Newman wrote that “[i]n contravention of [Diehr‘s] explicit distinction between Section 101 and Section 102, the majority now holds that the [claimed] camera is an abstract idea because the camera’s components were well-known and conventional and perform only their basic functions.” Judge Newman further proclaimed that “the principle that the majority today invokes was long ago discarded.”

Judge Newman also admonished the majority for the destabilizing effects that similar holdings have already had on US patent policy. She noted that “[i]n the current state of Section 101 jurisprudence, inconsistency and unpredictability of adjudication have destabilized technologic development in important fields of commerce,” and that “[t]he fresh uncertainties engendered by the majority’s revision of Section 101 are contrary to the statute and [...]

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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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Targeted Advertising Still Patent Ineligible Subject Matter

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that targeted advertising is still an abstract idea and that a system providing targeted advertising must utilize something more than generic features and routine functions to be eligible for patent protection. Free Stream Media Corp. v. Alphonso Inc., Case No. 19-1506 (Fed. Cir. May 11, 2021) (Reyna, J.)

Free Stream Media, d.b.a. Samba, owns a patent directed to “a system providing a mobile phone user with targeted information (i.e., advertisements) that is deemed relevant to the user based on data gathered from the user’s television.” The system has three main components: (1) a networked device (e.g., a smart TV) that collects primary data, including program information, location, weather information or identification information; (2) a client device (e.g., a mobile device) on which applications run and advertisements may be shown; and (3) a relevancy-matching server that uses the primary data to select advertisement or other targeted data based on a relevancy factor associated with the user. Specifically, the relevancy-matching server “may also be configured to render the targeted data to the user through the networked device and/or the sandboxed application of the client device.”

Samba asserted infringement of the patent against Alphonso. In response, Alphonso filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the asserted claims of the patent were directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101. Alphonso subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment of non-infringement. The district court denied the § 101 motion but granted the summary judgment motion. Samba appealed the non-infringement finding, and Alphonso cross-appealed the § 101 finding.

The Federal Circuit started with the § 101 finding by first addressing Alice step 1 (abstract idea). The Court rejected the district court’s finding that the asserted claims were directed to “systems and methods for addressing barriers to certain types of information exchange between various technological devices . . . being used in the same place at the same time,” i.e., to bypass the security sandbox, and not an abstract idea of tailored advertising. To the contrary, the Court found that the asserted claims were directed precisely to the abstract idea of tailored advertising—specifically, gathering information about television users’ viewing habits, matching the information with other content and sending that content to a second device. Reiterating its prior holdings with respect to Alice step 1, the Court explained that the asserted claims only provided for the result of overcoming a security sandbox, and did not at all describe how that result is achieved. The Court also explained that even if the claims did recite a method for bypassing a security sandbox, Samba failed to demonstrate that this was anything more than a mere use of a computer as a tool, or that it somehow “improves the operability of these devices beyond providing a user with targeted content using generic processes and machinery.”

Turning to Alice step 2 (inventive concept), the Federal Circuit explained that the claimed abstract idea of providing targeted advertisements was not [...]

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2020 IP Law Year in Review: Patents

Executive Summary

In 2020, the US Supreme Court and Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit continued to refine key aspects of intellectual property law on issues that will have an impact on litigation, patent prosecution and business strategy. This Special Report discusses some of the most important decisions.

The Federal Circuit issued several panel decisions clarifying the bounds of patent-eligible subject matter in the area of life sciences and computer technology. In the life sciences space, the court found several patents satisfied the conditions for patent eligibility. For example, the Federal Circuit found patent-eligible claims directed to preparing a fraction of cell-free DNA enriched in fetal DNA, claims directed to a method of operating a flow cytometry apparatus with a number of detectors to analyze at least two populations of particles in the same sample to be patent eligible, and claims directed to a method of treating type 2 diabetes mellitus using a DPP-IV inhibitor. In the area of computer technology, the court clarified that claims directed to an improvement to computer networks were patent eligible, but that claims directed to applying longstanding commercial practices to generic computer components remain ineligible. Given the uncertainty of patent eligibility law, questions surrounding life sciences and computer-related technology will continue to be raised in cases.

The Supreme Court issued one decision in 2020, in which it found that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s application of the time bar for filing a petition for inter partes review (IPR) is not appealable. The Federal Circuit issued two en banc decisions, including one decision confirming discussing the use of the phrase “consisting essentially of” in patent claims and patent eligibility of mechanical inventions.

Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s 2017 TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods decision addressing patent venue, the Federal Circuit addressed patent venue in Hatch-Waxman litigation. The court explained that for the purposes of determining venue, infringement occurs only in judicial districts where actions related to the submission of an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) occur, and not in all locations where future distribution of the generic products specified in the ANDA is contemplated. This ruling may have far-reaching consequences, including the ability for ANDA defendants to effectively control venue for litigation.

Patents

  1. § 101 Decisions in 2020
  2. 2020 at the Supreme Court
  3. Arthrex Decision
  4. En Banc at the Federal Circuit – Two Contentious Denials
  5. The Federal Circuit Limits Venue for Hatch-Waxman Litigation

2021 Outlook

The Supreme Court is set to hear at least two patent cases and one copyright case this term. In The United States of America v. Arthrex, Inc., the Court will consider whether PTAB judges are unconstitutionally appointed and the other addressing whether assignor estoppel and in Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc., et al., the Court will consider whether the doctrine of assignor estoppel bars an assignor from asserting invalidity of an assigned patent in district court. [...]

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New or Not, Object-Oriented Simulation Patent Ineligible Under § 101

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s pleadings-stage determination that patent claims directed to an object-oriented simulation were subject matter ineligible under 35 USC § 101. Simio, LLC v. FlexSim Software Prod., Inc., Case No. 20-1171 (Fed. Cir. Dec 29, 2020) (Prost, C.J.).

Simio filed suit against FlexSim for infringement of patent claims directed to object-oriented simulations in which one instance of an object may have behaviors assigned to it without changing the generic object’s definition. FlexSim moved to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. of Civ. P.12(b)(6), arguing that the patent was invalid under 35 USC § 101. The district court granted FlexSim’s motion to dismiss, finding that the asserted claims were directed to the ineligible abstract idea of substituting text-based coding with graphical processing and that FlexSim properly showed there was no inventive concept or alteration sufficient to make the system patent-eligible. Simio appealed.

The Federal Circuit reviewed the dismissal order and its underlying patent eligibility conclusions de novo. Under the two-step Alice/Mayo framework, the Court affirmed. Considering the first step of the Alice/Mayo framework, the Court agreed that the asserted claims were “directed to the abstract idea of using graphics instead of programming to create object-oriented simulations.” The Court rejected Simio’s argument that the “executable process to add a new behavior to an object instance” improved the functionality of the computer on which it ran, concluding that no improvement was made to the computer and that the claim limitation did not change the claim’s “character as a whole.” As to step two of the Alice/Mayo framework, whether the claim limited the abstract idea to an inventive concept, the Federal Circuit concluded that, while the claim may be directed to a new idea, it is still an abstract one lacking any inventive concept or application of the idea. The Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

The Federal Circuit next addressed whether the district court erred in denying Simio’s motion for leave to amend its complaint. The Court concluded that, after disregarding conclusory statements, Simio’s amended complaint just repackaged the same assertions of non-abstractness as the original complaint. Citing its holding in ShoppersChoice.com (IP Update, May 2020), the Court also rejected Simio’s argument that the district court should have conducted claim construction before determining eligibility. In ShoppersChoice.com, the Court held that pleadings-stage patent eligibility decisions may be proper when the patentee does not explain how a term’s construction could affect the analysis.

Finally, the Federal Circuit raised its own independent reasoning for denying Simio’s motion for leave to amend, explaining that it “may affirm on any grounds for which there is a record sufficient to permit conclusions of law, even grounds not relied upon by the district court.” The Court found that Simio failed to show good cause for seeking leave to amend after the scheduling order’s deadline. Namely, Simio’s amended complaint contained no facts that could not have been alleged before the deadline. Nor did Simio demonstrate any relevant [...]

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Printed Matter Is Patentable If It’s Functional, Not Just Communicative

In a tour de force of issues related to the printed matter doctrine, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed various rulings that the patents-in-suit were not infringed, not willfully infringed and invalid as directed to printed matter. Instead, the Court held that there was substantial evidence in the record to support a jury finding of infringement and willfulness, and that the asserted claims were not directed solely to printed matter and thus were patent eligible under 35 USC § 101 (thereby raising a genuine dispute of material fact that precludes summary judgment as to anticipation). C R Bard Inc. v. AngioDynamics, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1756, -1934 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 10, 2020) (Reyna, J.)

This dispute began when Bard sued AngioDynamics for infringing three patents directed to identifying a vascular access port that is suitable for power injection, which is a medical procedure requiring injecting fluids into a patient at a high pressure and flow rate. Generally, the identification was accomplished by certain markings on the vascular access port that can be detected during an x-ray scan.

Prior to trial, AngioDynamics moved for summary judgment on patent eligibility, novelty and enablement. This summary judgment motion was initially denied, but the district court sought a report and recommendation prior to trial regarding whether certain limitations relating to radiographic marker images were entitled to patentable weight under the printed matter doctrine. The magistrate judge concluded that the limitations were not entitled to patentable weight, and the district court adopted the recommendation. At trial and at the end of Bard’s case-in-chief, AngioDynamics moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on non-infringement and no willfulness. Ultimately, the district court terminated the trial and granted AngioDynamics’ JMOL motion for non-infringement and no willfulness. The district court further held that the claims were invalid because they were directed to printed matter and were not inventive. Bard appealed, challenging each of the district court’s findings.

In reversing the summary judgment of no infringement, the Federal Circuit explained that Bard’s expert’s reliance on an incorrect understanding of the district court’s claim construction was alone insufficient to grant judgment as a matter of law. Instead, the expert’s misunderstanding went to credibility, and the Court found the record reflected that the expert properly testified that the various claim elements were met under the proper claim constructions. The Court further explained that Bard did not have an affirmative duty to test AngioDynamics products, but rather was entitled to rely on AngioDynamics’ representations to the US Food and Drug Administration and to its customers. With regard to induced infringement, the Court explained that if an alleged infringer instructs its users to use the product in an infringing way, there is sufficient evidence for a jury to find infringement. Because the district count found no inducement based on its erroneous summary judgment of no infringement, that ruling was similarly reversed.

The Federal Circuit also reversed the district court on its summary judgment of no willfulness, concluding that Bard [...]

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PTAB May Reject Substitute Claims Under Any Basis of Patentability

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit considered for the first time whether a district court’s invalidity determination, when made final after all appeals are exhausted, divests the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of jurisdiction in a co-pending inter partes review (IPR) proceeding involving the same claims, and held that it does not. The Court also held that in an IPR proceeding, the PTAB is free to reject proposed substitute claims for failing to meet the subject matter eligibility requirements of § 101. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Hulu, LLC, Case No. 19-1686 (Fed. Cir. July 22, 2020) (Wallach, J.) (Dyk, J., dissenting).

Hulu filed an IPR petition challenging claims of Uniloc’s patent directed to adjustable software licensing for digital products. After the PTAB instituted review, Uniloc filed a motion for substitute claims, conditional on whether the PTAB found the original claims unpatentable. Before the PTAB issued its final determination and before it ruled on the motion for substitute claims, a district court, in a related proceeding, held Uniloc’s asserted claims invalid as directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. Shortly thereafter, the PTAB issued a final written decision finding the challenged claims unpatentable over the prior art, and it found the substitute claims unpatentable under § 101. Uniloc appealed the PTAB’s use of § 101 to invalidate its substitute claims.

While Uniloc’s appeal of the Hulu IPR was pending, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s invalidity finding as to the original claims. With respect to the Hulu appeal, the Federal Circuit ordered the parties to address whether the appeal was moot in view of the ultimate finality with respect to invalidity of the original claims, thereby divesting the PTAB of jurisdiction over the IPR.

The majority held that the finality of the district court’s invalidity finding did not necessarily divest the PTAB of authority to consider substitute claims. It determined that the mootness issue was waivable, and that Hulu had waived the argument because it failed to raise mootness during the pendency of the IPR at the time the district court issued its decision. Even if Hulu had not waived the argument, the majority found that the PTAB’s authority to consider substitute claims does not depend on any live dispute about the original claims, as long as the motion to amend in the IPR was timely filed.

As to the PTAB’s rejection of the claims under § 101, the majority held that although the PTAB is restrained in an IPR proceeding to invalidating a patent’s original claims only under the anticipation and obviousness grounds raised in the petition, the PTAB may use other invalidity tools as a “new ground of rejection” for substitute claims, including for lack of patentable subject matter under § 101. The majority also suggested that other grounds of patentability would be within the scope of the PTAB’s authority, including rejections under the various subsections of § 112. The majority was concerned that limiting the PTAB’s review might force it to issue substitute claims that fail to meet all the statutory [...]

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Technical Issues Affirm Patent Validity but Preclude Pre-Suit Damages

In a split decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the subject matter eligibility of claims directed to collection, comparison and classification of information. The Court also unanimously found that the patent owner was not entitled to pre-suit or enhanced damages because it failed to prove pre-suit patent marking by its licensees. Packet Intelligence LLC v. Netscout Systems, Inc., Case No. 19-2041 (Fed. Cir. July 14, 2020) (Lourie, J.) (Reyna, J., dissenting in part).

This dispute began when Packet Intelligence sued Netscout for infringing three of its patents that were directed to a system and method for monitoring packets exchanged over a computer network. The case was tried before a jury, which found the patents-in-suit valid and infringed. The jury further determined that Packet Intelligence was entitled to pre-suit and post-suit damages, as well as enhanced damages. Netscout filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law that Packet Intelligence was not entitled to pre-suit damages, which the district court denied. Following a bench trial, the district court held that the claims of the patents-in-suit were not invalid under 35 USC § 101. Netscout appealed.

Netscout challenged the district court’s § 101 decision and the denial of Netscout’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on pre-suit damages. In a split panel decision, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination on subject matter eligibility under § 101. Netscape specifically argued that the claims were directed to an abstract idea because the claims were merely directed to the collection, comparison and classification of information.

The majority reiterated that the Federal Circuit has recognized that software-based innovations may be deemed patent-eligible subject matter at Alice step 1. For example, in Enfish, the Court held that software claims were valid at step 1 because the claims were directed to a technical improvement over conventional systems. Similarly, in SRI International, the Court held that software claims were valid because the claims at issue were “necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to solve a specific problem in the realm of computer networks.” Applying these principles, the majority found that the claims were patent eligible because they presented a technical solution to a technical problem. Notably, the majority relied on the patent specification’s disclosures regarding the invention’s improvements over conventional systems.

Judge Reyna dissented. In his view, the claims were directed to an abstract idea because they lacked specific technological means for the collection, analysis and display of data. Because a concrete technical solution was absent, Reyna argued that the claims were distinguishable from the SRI International case on which the majority relied. He would have found the claims invalid under step 1 and remanded the case to the district court to fully address Alice step 2.

Regarding pre-suit damages, the Federal Circuit unanimously held that Packet Intelligence was not entitled to such damages. The primary issue was whether a Packet Intelligence licensee had properly complied with the marking requirements in order to provide the required constructive notice to [...]

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Verdict Delivered: Shipment Notification Claims are Patent Ineligible—Even with Security Flair

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s pleadings-stage determination that a patent claim directed to a delivery notification system was subject matter ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Elec. Commc’n Techs., LLC v. ShoppersChoice.com, LLC, Case No. 19-1587 (Fed. Cir. May 14, 2020) (Prost, C.J.).

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