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PTO Provides Guidance for Computer-Related Design Patent Applications

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) published a notice regarding supplemental guidance for PTO personnel examining design patent claims containing computer-generated images. 88 Fed. Reg. 80277 (Nov. 17, 2023).

The guidance clarifies how to satisfy the article of manufacture requirement under 35 U.S.C. 171 for ornamental designs relating to computer-generated icons shown on a display panel, as discussed in Section 1505.01(a)(I) of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP). According to the guidance, “the mere display of a computer-generated electronic image . . . on a display panel does not constitute statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 171.” However, a computer icon or a graphical user interface (GUI) shown on a display panel (e.g., a computer screen, monitor, computer display system, mobile phone screen or virtual/augmented reality goggles) is more than a mere display of a picture on a screen because it constitutes an integral and active component in the operation that is embodied in and/or applied to a programmed computer displaying the computer icon or the GUI. Thus, if a computer icon or GUI is properly presented and claimed (e.g., the drawing fully discloses the design as embodied in the article of manufacture), it is eligible under 35 U.S.C. 171.

In addressing the foregoing distinctions, the guidance sets forth specific standards for PTO personnel, including consideration of the complete disclosure when evaluating whether a design claim containing a computer-generated electronic image complies with the article of manufacture requirement. For example, given that computer icons or GUIs are considered to be two-dimensional images, which standing alone are surface ornamentation (i.e., an ornament, impression, print or picture), the guidance stipulates that the title and the claim should not be for a computer icon or a GUI alone, but rather an article of manufacture, such as a “display panel with a computer icon.” The guidance further provides examples of acceptable claim language and specific examination scenarios for evaluation.




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USPTO Clarifies Practice for Reviving Unintentionally Abandoned Patent Applications and Patents

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a Notice clarifying its practice as to situations that will require additional information about whether a delay in seeking the revival of an abandoned application, acceptance of a delayed maintenance fee payment, or acceptance of a delayed priority or benefit claim was unintentional. 85 FED. REG. 12222 (Mar. 2, 2020).

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ITU Applicants Beware: Federal Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Pending Trademark Applications

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part a district court’s ruling in a trademark dispute, upholding its decision to invalidate trademark applications. The Ninth Circuit held that district courts have jurisdiction to alter or cancel trademark applications in an action properly brought under 15 U.S.C. § 1119, and that in the context of challenges to intent-to-use (ITU) applications, proof of a lack of bona fide intent can invalidate. BBK Tobacco & Foods LLP v. Central Coast Agriculture, Inc., Case Nos. 22-16190; -16281 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2024) (Hurwitz, Desai, JJ.) (Bumatay, J., dissenting).

BBK sells and distributes smoking-related products with BBK’s “RAW” branding. Central Coast Agriculture (CCA) sells cannabis products using “Raw Garden” branding. BBK filed a complaint against CCA including claims of trademark infringement and a petition to void several ITU trademark applications owned by CCA for lack of a bona fide intent to use the relevant trademarks in commerce. Instead of disputing the merits of BBK’s claims, CCA argued that the district court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate this issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate the trademark applications. CCA appealed.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment in favor of BBK on its claims to invalidate CCA’s trademark applications. The Court explained that “when an action involves a claim of infringement on a registered trademark, a district court also has jurisdiction to consider challenges to the trademark application of a party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at 15 U.S.C. § 1119, provides that “[i]n any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, order the cancelation of registrations, . . . restore canceled registrations, and otherwise rectify the register with respect to the registrations of any party to the action.” The Lanham Act, at § 1051, defines an application for use of trademark as a “request for registration of a trademark on the principal register.” Because a challenge to an application affects the applicant’s right to the registration, the Court reasoned that § 1119 authorizes a district court to resolve disputes over trademark applications.

The Ninth Circuit held that a “lack of bona fide intent to use a mark in commerce is a valid basis to challenge a trademark application,” aligning with decisions in sister circuits and the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board. An applicant can seek to register a mark if the mark is already being used in commerce or if the applicant has a bona fide intention, under circumstances showing the good faith of such person, to use a trademark in commerce. While applicants filing under the ITU provisions may begin the registration process based on a bona fide intent to later use the mark in commerce, the Lanham Act requires such applicants to either subsequently file a verified statement of actual use of the mark or convert their application into a use application. As a result, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling [...]

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PTO Proposes Trademark Application Filing Changes, Fee Adjustments

On March 26, 2024, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register concerning changes to trademark application filings and fee adjustments in trademark cases for 2025. The PTO solicits written comments from the public on the proposed rule changes on or before May 28, 2024. The proposed rules seek to generate sufficient multiyear revenue for trademark operations in future years based on projections described in the notice.

The changes are recommended to support the PTO’s strategic goals and objectives, including optimizing trademark application pendency through the promotion of efficient operations and filing behaviors, issuing accurate and reliable trademark registrations, and encouraging access to the trademark system for stakeholders.

The proposal seeks to incentivize more complete and timely filings, improve prosecution, adjust 31 trademark fees and impose 12 new fees while discontinuing six existing fees. The proposal also seeks to consolidate the present Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) filing options (i.e., TEAS Plus and TEAS standard) into a single electronic filing option. The single option would include most of the same requirements as TEAS Plus, while eliminating those under TEAS Standard. The new filing framework would discontinue the previous filing fees and fees for failing to meet the requirements of a TEAS Plus application. Similar to TEAS Plus, however, applicants complying with the proposed requirements in their initial filing would pay the lowest fees.

The proposed fee adjustments would:

  • Set the fee for a base application at $350 using the ID Master List (which is $100 more than the current fee for a TEAS Plus application)
  • Discontinue current fees for filing an application under the Madrid Protocol
  • Require surcharge fees between $100 and $200 for applications that are noncompliant with the base filing requirements
  • Require an additional $200 fee per class for the identification of goods and services entered in the free-form text field to incentivize use of the Trademark ID Manual for such identifications instead
  • Require an additional $200 fee for each additional group of 1,000 characters in the free-form text field; identifications directly from the ID Manual would not incur these fees
  • Increase fees by $50 for filing amendments to allege use (AAU) and statements of use (SOU), with fees being discounted $100 for electronic filings
  • Increase post-registration maintenance fees from $50 to $75
  • Increase the letter of protest fee from $50 to $150.

Regarding the proposed fee adjustments, the notice describes changes to 37 CFR 2.6 and 7.6. The notice further describes changes to 37 CFR 2.22 and 2.71 with respect to base application fees and amendments to correct informalities, respectively.

For further details, see the Federal Register notice.




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Senate Holds Hearing on Legislative Initiative to Address Patent Eligibility

Seeking to undo the current jurisprudence “mess” on the issue of patent eligibility, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property heard testimony on January 23, 2024, on the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act (PERA) (text here). PERA seeks to address the uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes created by the 2014 Supreme Court of the United States decision in Alice Corp. Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l.

PERA is the latest iteration of 35 USC § 101 patent eligibility reform that Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) have been introducing for years. Although the language has been tweaked over time, the bill’s purpose is to eliminate “[a]ll judicial exceptions to patent eligibility” and in their place codify several categories of inventions as unpatentable, such as mathematical formulas; processes that are substantially economic, financial, business, social, cultural or artistic; processes that are mental or purely natural; unmodified human genes; and unmodified natural materials.

The January 23 hearing featured eight witnesses, divided into two panels. The first panel included:

  • Andrei Iancu, former US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) director
  • Richard Blaylock, testifying on behalf of Invitae Corporation
  • Courtenay Brinckerhoff, partner at Foley & Lardner
  • Phil Johnson, steering committee chair at the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform.

The second panel included:

  • The Honorable David Kappos, former PTO director
  • Adam Mossoff, professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School
  • Mark Deem, operating partner of Lightstone Ventures
  • David Jones, executive director of the High-Tech Inventors Alliance.

Harkening back to prior panels, the testimony was largely in favor of reform considering what many characterized as inaction by all other stakeholders. Senators and witnesses alike recognized that legislative reform is likely the only way to gain clarity on § 101 considering the Supreme Court’s failure to take up more than 100 certiorari petitions seeking review, many with the Solicitor General’s endorsement.

During the first panel, Blaylock testified that PERA would improperly provide patent eligibility to new uses of natural phenomena, such as genetic material, and therefore “would stifle innovation and harm patient care in the fields of diagnostic genetic testing and precision medicine.” Iancu testified in response that “all human invention is the manipulation of nature towards practical uses by humans on this planet . . . and it should be eligible for a patent.” Brinckerhoff’s testimony also opposed Blaylock’s view; she explained that considerable research and development is needed to develop new uses for isolated natural products and would be disincentivized without patent eligibility. Brinckerhoff highlighted an important theme at the hearing: “PERA would bring eligibility back in line with other countries” by permitting patents on methods of detecting new diagnostic markers, thus maintaining international competitiveness. Lastly, Johnson testified that “[j]ust because something is eligible doesn’t mean it’s patentable” and stressed the importance of using §§ 102, 203 and 112 as additional filters to determine patentability.

During the second panel, venture capitalist Deem testified that “the United States is failing many of our most innovative startups” because [...]

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Same Applicant, Similar Claims Support Obviousness-Type Double Patenting Rejection

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board obviousness-type double patenting rejection, finding that an unexpected mechanism of action does not render the known use of a known compound nonobvious. In re: Institut Pasteur, Case No. 22-1896 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 13, 2023) (Taranto, Clevenger, Stoll, JJ.) (nonprecedential).

Institut Pasteur filed a patent application directed to peptides derived from human basic proline-rich lacrimal protein and claimed, among other things, a method for treating pain comprising of administering 10 to 300 mg/day of the peptide for seven days. The examiner rejected the claims for obviousness-type double patenting over another patent application filed by Pasteur, which was directed to diagnostic and therapeutic uses of human basic proline-rich lacrimal protein and peptides derived therefrom.

Pasteur appealed to the Board, which affirmed the examiner’s rejection. Rather than appeal the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit, Pasteur sought continued examination of the application and modified the claims to specify that the method of treatment was for human patients, was in a dose of 1 mg/kg to 2 mg/kg at 10 to 300 mg/day, and should not induce pharmacodependence or tolerance in the patient. The examiner rejected the amended claims for obviousness-type double patenting over the same application. On appeal, the Board issued another decision agreeing with the examiner. Pasteur appealed this decision.

Pasteur argued that the Board’s second decision was unsupported by substantial evidence because the Board applied a legally flawed prima facie obviousness analysis and disregarded the secondary indicia of nonobviousness presented in a declaration submitted by Catherine Rougeot, the named inventor of the application.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with Pasteur and affirmed the Board’s rejection. As for Pasteur’s argument that the Board disregarded the differences between the claims of the patent application and the claims of the other application, the Court noted that the Board “explained why each claim limitation was obvious in light of the [other application].” With respect to Pasteur’s argument that the Board improperly relied on inherency when finding one limitation of the filed application to be satisfied, the Court concluded that “[i]t is settled that inherency may supply a missing claim limitation in an obviousness analysis.”

As for Pasteur’s challenge to the Board’s consideration of the secondary indicia of nonobviousness presented in the Rougeot declaration, the Federal Circuit found that the Board’s analysis was supported by substantial evidence. The Court made clear that Pasteur failed to prove that the benefits claimed by the application were unexpected compared to the closest prior art since unexpected mechanisms of action do not ipso facto make the known use of known compounds nonobvious. The Court also noted that Federal Circuit precedent did not demand a finding of nonobviousness simply because one limitation was found to be satisfied through inherency. The Court was similarly unpersuaded by the long-felt need described in the Rougeot declaration because any need for the subject matter claimed by the patent application was already satisfied by the subject matter claimed by the other [...]

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Distinguishing Drinkware—Provisional Priority Determined Differently in Pre- and Post-AIA Patents

In a precedential final written decision, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board concluded that a patent does not need to contain a claim supported by a provisional application’s disclosure to draw priority to that provisional for prior art purposes post America Invents Act (AIA). Penumbra, Inc. v. RapidPulse, Inc., IPR2021-01466, paper 34 (PTAB Mar. 10, 2023) (designated precedential Nov. 15, 2023) (Melvin, Cotta, Wisz, APJs).

Penumbra filed an inter partes review (IPR) petition targeting a patent directed to a “thrombectomy system,” which is a system for removing blood clots in the brain. Penumbra challenged the claims on four different grounds, and each included the Tiegen reference. Therefore, the petition would fail if the Tiegen reference was not prior art.

The challenged patent was filed on July 18, 2019, and drew priority to a provisional application filed on October 24, 2018. Tiegen drew priority to two provisional applications—one dated December 12, 2018, and another dated July 24, 2018. Whether Tiegen was prior art thus depended on whether the challenged patent could draw priority to its provisional application, and whether Tiegen could draw priority to its July 24, 2018, provisional. RapidPulse challenged Tiegen on both bases.

First, the Board assessed the proper priority date for the challenged patent. The Board explained that in order for the patent to draw priority to its provisional application, that provisional application had to provide written support for the challenged patent’s claims. Penumbra argued that the challenged patent’s provisional application did not have written support for the claimed “prevent[ing] forward flow.” RapidPulse responded, arguing that the disclosure of a “minimal amount of momentum from the fluid column” disclosed the claimed “preventing forward flow.” Forward flow generates momentum from the fluid column, so minimizing momentum required preventing fluid flow, according to RapidPulse. RapidPulse also pointed to embodiments that had substantially no forward flow from the distal end of the system.

Penumbra responded by explaining that the provisional application required forward flow in some embodiments, and nothing in the specification stated that the flow should be prevented. The Board agreed, explaining that the provisional application included embodiments with forward flow, and while the provisional recited some embodiments with small amounts of forward flow, the provisional did not indicate that the low forward flow was significant. The Board observed that “one cannot disclose a forest in the original application, and then later pick a tree out of the forest.”

Having determined that the priority date of the challenged patent was July 18, 2019, the Board turned to the priority date of Tiegen. The Board distinguished the present case over Dynamic Drinkware, a 2015 US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case. Dynamic Drinkware states that for prior art purposes, a prior art patent can only draw priority to a provisional application if the prior art patent contains a claim supported by that provisional application. The Board explained that Dynamic Drinkware does not apply post-AIA. Instead, the Board found that, based on the language of AIA 35 [...]

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Statements in Unrelated Application Don’t Narrow Claim Term

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a stipulated judgment of noninfringement in a patent infringement dispute after construing a disputed claim term, taking a more literal approach than the district court based on the meanings of the individual words of the claim language. Malvern Panalytical Inc. v. TA Instruments-Waters LLC, Case No. 22-1439 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 1, 2023) (Prost, Hughes, Cunningham, JJ.)

The dispute involved a suit brought by Malvern against TA Instruments-Waters and Waters Technologies Corporation (collectively, Waters) alleging infringement of two patents. Both asserted patents disclose microcalorimeters for measuring the amount of energy absorbed or released during a chemical reaction between two compounds and include independent claims directed to “a micro titration calorimetry system” having several elements, including an automatic pipette assembly that is guided into at least two positions via another component—namely, the disputed “pipette guiding mechanism.”

The pre-grant publication of a commonly assigned but unrelated patent was cited during the prosecution of an unrelated Malvern patent because the examiner understood the disclosure of that patent to recite an automated pipette guiding mechanism. The applicant initially tried to rebut the rejections by arguing that the disclosure of that patent recited a “purely passive [pipette] guiding mechanism.” However, after the examiner found the arguments unpersuasive, the applicant simply changed course and argued that the cited reference was not prior art because the publication and unrelated patent had a common assignee.

Malvern then requested supplemental examination of the now asserted patent under 35 U.S.C. § 257. In connection with the supplemental examination, Malvern filed an information disclosure statement (IDS) that included 154 documents, seven of which were office actions from the prosecution of the unrelated patent. Malvern did not describe or characterize the office actions in any way.

Turning back to the litigation, during claim construction proceedings, Malvern argued that “pipette guiding mechanism” should mean a “mechanism that guides the pipette assembly” while Waters argued that it should mean a “mechanism that manually guides the pipette assembly.” The district court concluded that the term “pipette guiding mechanism” was a coined term because Malvern presented no evidence that a “pipette guiding mechanism” was known or readily understandable to a person of ordinary skill in the art. Based on that determination, the district court relied on intrinsic evidence to determine the objective boundaries of the term.

The district court found that the statement made during the prosecution of the unrelated patent was relevant to the claim construction because the asserted and unrelated patents were assigned to Malvern. The district court also considered these statements as having been incorporated into the intrinsic record of the asserted patent because it concluded that Malvern agreed to incorporate the statements when it cited the office actions filed during supplemental examination of the asserted patent. Malvern appealed.

The Federal Circuit explained that it was appropriate to construe the term “pipette guiding mechanism” by looking into the individual meanings of the words “pipette,” “guiding” and “mechanism.” The Court indicated that when the patentee [...]

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The End Is Not So Near: Patent Term Adjustments Count in Obviousness-Type Double Patenting Determinations

Addressing for the first time how patent term adjustments (PTAs) interact with obviousness-type double patenting (ODP), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that when members of a patent family have different expiration dates due to PTAs, the earlier expiring family members can be used as a basis for an ODP invalidity challenge against the later expiring family members. In re Cellect, LLC, Case Nos. 2022-1293; -1294; -1295; -1296 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 28, 2023) (Lourie, Dyk, Reyna, JJ.)

Cellect owns several patents directed to devices with image sensors, such as personal digital assistant devices and phones. Each patent claims priority from a single application. None of the patents were subject to a terminal disclaimer, and each was granted PTA under 35 U.S.C. § 154(b) because of PTO delay during prosecution. Had the patents not been granted PTA, each one would have expired on the same date as the original application.

After Cellect sued for infringement, the defendant requested ex parte reexaminations and asserted that the patents were unpatentable based on ODP. During the reexaminations, the Examiner “determin[ed] that the challenged claims were obvious variants of Cellect’s prior-expiring reference patent claims” because “although the ODP invalidating reference patents form a network across the four ex parte reexamination proceedings, all invalidated claims can be traced back to the single family member [now expired] patent that did not receive a grant of PTA.” The Patent Trial & Appeal Board affirmed the Examiner’s finding. Cellect appealed.

The Federal Circuit began with the inquiry for determining unpatentability based on ODP and whether, in that context, a patent’s expiration date includes a duly granted PTA under 35 U.S.C. § 154. While the Court recognized that the relevant expiration date for an ODP analysis where a patent received a patent term extension (PTE) is the pre-PTE expiration date, the Court concluded that, in the context of patents that have received PTAs, the relevant expiration date for analyzing ODP is the expiration date accounting for the PTA regardless of whether a terminal disclaimer has been filed. The Court reasoned that when determining whether claims are unpatentable for ODP, PTA and PTE, they “should be treated differently” because each is governed by different statutes that were designed to address different circumstances. While both PTAs and PTEs were intended to recover lost patent terms, PTAs were designed to extend patent terms because of administrative delays in patent processing and preclude the extension of a patent term past a terminal disclaimer. PTEs were designed to extend a patent term because of regulatory delays in product approval and are not foreclosed by a terminal disclaimer. As such, the Court reasoned that not contemplating a PTA when analyzing ODP would “frustrate the clear intent of Congress” because “when a terminal disclaimer has been entered in a patent subject to PTA, no patent (or claim) may be extended beyond the disclaimed expiration date.”

The Federal Circuit next considered whether examiners are required to consider “equitable concerns” such as good faith when [...]

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Reissue Boat Won’t Float: “Original Patent” Rule Sinks New Floating Grill Claims

Addressing the same invention requirement for reissue patents, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision to reject an overly broad reissue application. In re Float‘N’Grill LLC, Case No. 22-1438 (Fed. Cir. July 12, 2023) (Prost, Linn, Cunningham, JJ.)

Float‘N’Grill (FNG) owned a patent directed to a floating device that supports a grill so that users can grill food while in water. The patent’s specification lays out a single embodiment, illustrated in Figure 1 below, which includes a float (20) that has two supports (46, 48), each of which “includes a plurality of magnets” (60) so that the grill can be removably attached to the float:

FNG filed a reissue application that claimed new ways to “more generically” removably attach a grill to the float. In rejecting the reissue claims, the Examiner found that three of the new requested claims required zero magnets, three claims required one magnet, and one claim did not specifically require magnets but referred to a magnet in the preamble. This was in contrast to the issued patent’s only embodiment, which required multiple magnets. The Examiner, therefore, rejected the reissue claims for failure to meet the “original patent” requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 251. The Board affirmed. FNG appealed.

The question on appeal was whether FNG’s newly requested claims complied with § 251. The Federal Circuit explained that the only path to expanding the coverage of an issued patent is through a reissue application, which is subject to § 251’s limitations. Pertinent here, § 251 requires reissue claims to be directed to the same invention disclosed in the original patent. Citing Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decisions, the Court described the “original patent” requirement as a question of whether the issued patent’s disclosed invention “on its face, explicitly and unequivocally describe[s] the invention as recited in the reissue claims.”

Turning to FNG’s reissue claims, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board, finding that the new claims were not directed to the same invention as the original patent and thus failed to satisfy § 251. The Court explained that the specification of FNG’s issued patent had just one embodiment, which featured “a plurality of magnets” to removably attach a grill to the floating device. The reissue claims, however, contemplated more general attachments without magnets.

FNG argued that its claims were acceptable under § 251 because the magnets were a “non-essential embodiment” of the invention. The Federal Circuit disagreed for four reasons:

  1. An element of a patent may be deemed essential even if the patent does not explicitly state as much. Thus, the magnets were essential to FNG’s original patent, even if not labeled so.
  2. It is irrelevant that a person of skill in the art may know to replace an original patent element with “some other undisclosed mechanism” to reach the same result. Here, a new way to attach a grill to the [...]

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