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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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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.




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).




The Application of “Authentication by Comparison” at the PTAB

Directly addressing the application and operation of the Federal Rules of Evidence in proceedings before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part two inter partes review (IPR) decisions, criticizing the Board’s refusal to consider a particular reference relied upon by the patent challenger on the basis of failure to authenticate. Valve Corp. v. Ironburg Inventions Ltd., U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Nos. 20-1315, -1316, -1379 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 17, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

The Board found that an IPR petitioner, Valve Corporation, failed to show that several challenged patents were unpatentable based on a non-authenticated copy of a critical prior art reference (the Burns article). The Burns article was a printed copy of a 2010 online review of an Xbox 360 controller. Simon Burgess, a co-inventor of the patents at issue, had facilitated the publication of the Burns article by providing a test controller to Dave Burns (who worked for an online gaming magazine) for promotional purposes. Valve appealed the Board’s decision.

Valve argued that the Burns article copy submitted in connection with the IPR (the Exhibit) was merely a printout of the same online article cited and enclosed in the prosecution histories of the challenged patents, as well as another of Ironburg’s patents directed toward similar subject matter. The Board concluded that Valve failed to show that the Exhibit was the same version of the Burns article that appeared in the prosecution history and that it was not obligated to compare the documents in the absence of testimony from Valve that the two were identical. Valve appealed.

In reviewing the Board’s decision, the Federal Circuit first referred to the principles of authentication by comparison under Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(3), which permits authentication of a document by a comparison with an authenticated specimen “by an expert witness or the trier of fact.” While the Court did note a discrepancy in the dates shown in the Exhibit and in the Burns article in one of the prosecution histories, the Court found that the difference in dates did not bear on the subject matter being disclosed, which was “virtually identical” between the two, as well as identical to the version of the same article in the other two relevant file histories. The Court held that the Board was obligated to perform this comparison and erred by failing to do so.

After determining that the Exhibit was “substantively the same” as the versions of the Burns article from the relevant prosecution file histories, the Court addressed the question of whether the Exhibit was a printed publication under 35 U.S.C. § 102(a)(1). The Board found “overwhelming evidence” that the Burns article was accessible prior to the critical date of the patents at issue, based in significant part on the fact that Mr. Burgess had provided a controller to Mr. Burns with the purpose of a “dialogue with the intended audience,” an indicia of public accessibility. The Board also noted its agreement with [...]

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Patents and Trade Secrets Aren’t Mutually Exclusive: The Nuanced Nature of Trade Secret Protection

Addressing the nuanced nature of trade secret protection of patented products, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s trade secret protection determination, finding that the asserted trade secrets were not publicly disclosed and had been adequately protected. Life Spine, Inc. v. Aegis Spine, Inc., Case No. 21-1649 (7th Cir. Aug. 9, 2021) (St. Eve, J.)

The underlying conflict in this case has its roots in a short-lived business relationship between two companies specializing in selling spinal implant devices. Life Spine makes and sells a device called the ProLift Expandable Spacer System. Aegis Spine contracted with Life to distribute Life’s ProLift system to hospitals and surgeons for scheduled surgeries. Under the distribution agreement, Aegis was obligated to protect Life’s confidential information, act as a fiduciary for Life’s property and refrain from reverse engineering the ProLift system. Aegis did not abide by its contractual promises. It gave information about Life’s ProLift system to L&K Biomed, Aegis’s parent company and Life’s direct competitor. L&K used Life’s confidential information to develop a competing spinal implant device. Shortly after L&K’s device appeared on the market, Life sued Aegis for trade secret misappropriation and breach of the distribution agreement. The district court ruled in favor of Life, granting its motion for preliminary injunction against Aegis and its business partners, all of whom could no longer market the competing product. Aegis appealed.

Aegis argued that the injunction rested on the flawed legal conclusion that a company can have trade secret protection on a device that it publicly discloses through patents, displays and sales. The Seventh Circuit disagreed.

While the Court reaffirmed that there can be no trade secret protection in information available in the public domain, it found that such was not the nature of the information sought to be protected in this matter. Rather, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Life did not publicly disclose the specific information it sought to protect via patenting, displaying and selling its ProLift system.

The ProLift expandable spinal implant consists of the implant (or cage) component and an installer. The cage comprises an upper and lower endplate, a nose and base ramp and an expansion screw. The installer is used to insert the cage into a patient’s spine and expand the affected spinal disc height. Life considers “the precise dimension and measurements of the ProLift components and subcomponents and their interconnectivity” to be confidential trade secrets. The district court found that third parties are unable to access that precise dimensional information without first signing confidentiality agreements, and the information is not available in any of Life’s marketing materials (which include only dimensional approximations) or patents. Life’s ProLift system cannot be purchased by the general public or even handled at industry convention displays without Life’s close supervision. Instead, Life’s distributors sell ProLift directly to hospitals and surgeons for scheduled surgeries only.

The Seventh Circuit noted that “a limited disclosure” does not destroy all trade secret protection on a product, allowing a company [...]

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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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Paris Court of Appeals Rejects Pharmaceutical Supplementary Protection Certificate Applications

One of the conditions for obtaining an SPC is that “the product is protected by a basic patent in force”. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) clarified to what extent a product must be identified by the claims to meet this condition in Teva, Eli Lilly, and Royalty Pharma.

In Eli Lilly, the CJEU notes that an active ingredient which is not identified in the claims of a basic patent by means of a structural or functional definition cannot be considered to be “protected by a basic patent.”

The active ingredient does not, however, have to be identified in the claims by a structural formula. A functional definition of the active ingredient may suffice if it is possible to reach the conclusion on the basis of the claims (interpreted in light of the description of the invention) that they relate “implicitly but necessarily and specifically, to the active ingredient in question.

Click here to read the full article in our latest International News.




Submarine Sunk: Patent Prosecution Laches Pops GATT Bubble

Addressing for the first time whether the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) can assert prosecution laches as a defense in a civil action brought under 35 U.S.C. §145, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the PTO could assert prosecution laches as a defense against four patent applications in a case where the plaintiff delayed presenting the claims for these applications over a period of at least 10 years. Hyatt v. Hirshfeld, Case Nos. 2018-2390; -2391; -2392; 2019-1038; -1039; -1049; -1070 (Fed. Cir. June 1, 2021) (Reyna, J.)

Gilbert Hyatt is well known for having built a prolific patent application portfolio based on nearly 400 initial filings made just before the United States changed from an issuance-based patent exclusivity system to a filing-based patent exclusivity system under the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). By 2003, those 400 initial filings had exploded into 45,000 independent claims. Hyatt’s applications were so labor intensive that the PTO developed a separate examining unit specifically dedicated to their review. Many of these applications have been rejected.

After the PTO finally rejected four of Hyatt’s computer software patent applications, in 2005 Hyatt filed a § 145 action in the district court. Throughout the litigation, the PTO argued that Hyatt had routinely delayed prosecuting his patent applications and never complied with his verbal agreement with the PTO to streamline each application to apply for only one invention. Ultimately, after a five-day bench trial, the district court found that the PTO failed to prove it had taken sufficient action to advance prosecution of Hyatt’s applications. The PTO appealed.

Resolving the threshold issue on appeal of whether prosecution laches is even available to the PTO in a § 145 action, the Federal Circuit explained that the right to assert laches as an affirmative defense flows naturally from the PTO’s rights to reject applications based on laches and defend such rejections on appeal in the Federal Circuit on the same grounds. Any other conclusion, the Court recognized, would create incongruence and undermine the PTO’s authority. Such a defense is available even if raised for the first time in the district court, as “§145 actions open the door to new evidence.”

The Court found significant errors in the district court’s application of prosecution laches law. First, the Federal Circuit held that the district court too narrowly focused on the PTO’s specific conduct without considering the totality of the circumstances, including delays caused by Hyatt’s sweeping amendments and prosecution of other patent applications, as well as the relative costs and burdens of examining Hyatt’s gargantuan application portfolio. The Court was particularly critical regarding the district court’s assignment of blame to the PTO in its attempts to manage the unwieldy task before it.

After reviewing the evidence presented by the PTO, the Federal Circuit found that the PTO had amassed significant evidence of Hyatt’s delay of prosecution of his applications—i.e., “patterns of prosecution conduct [that] created a perfect storm that overwhelmed 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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