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Supreme Court to Consider Whether Lanham Act Reaches Foreign Defendants’ Extraterritorial Conduct

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review the geographic scope of the Lanham Act and the extent to which trademark owners can use US trademarks to police foreign sales. Abitron Austria GmbH et al. v. Hetronic International Inc., Case No. 21-1043 (Supr. Ct. Nov. 4, 2022) (certiorari granted). The question presented is as follows:

Whether the court of appeals erred in applying the Lanham Act extraterritorially to petitioners’ foreign sales, including purely foreign sales that never reached the United States or confused U.S. consumers.

In the underlying case, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld a damages award for Hetronic International based on its conclusion that the Lanham Act can affect conduct that substantially affects US commerce, such as the products Hetronic Germany and others sold to European customers.

The US Solicitor General suggested that the case is “a suitable vehicle” to clarify the Lanham Act’s geographic scope, noting that the Lanham Act provides a remedy for a foreign defendant’s use of a US trademark abroad only if that use is likely to cause confusion within the United States.




Supreme Court to Consider Enablement Requirement

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider how much a patent must disclose in order to meet the enablement requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 112. Amgen Inc., et al. v. Sanofi, et al., Case No. 21-757 (Supr. Ct. Nov. 4, 2022) (certiorari granted). The question presented is as follows:

Whether enablement is governed by the statutory requirement that the specification teach those skilled in the art to “make and use” the claimed invention, 35 U.S.C. § 112, or whether it must instead enable those skilled in the art “to reach the full scope of claimed embodiments” without undue experimentation—i.e., to cumulatively identify and make all or nearly all embodiments of the invention without substantial time and effort.

Amgen owns two patents that describe antibodies that bind to PCSK9 protein and lower LDL cholesterol levels by blocking PCSK9 from binding to LDL receptors. After a jury determined that Sanofi failed to prove that the asserted claims were invalid for lack of enablement, the district court granted Sanofi’s post-trial motion for invalidity based on lack of enablement. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the scope of the claims encompassed millions of antibodies and that the patent thus did not meet the enablement requirement because practicing the full scope of the claims would require “undue experimentation.”

The Supreme Court declined to consider the first question presented in Amgen’s petition: whether enablement should be a question of law (under current Federal Circuit precedent) or be designated a question of fact to be decided by a jury. In granting certiorari, the Supreme Court proceeded contrary to the recommendation of the US Solicitor General.




Supreme Court to Consider Fair Use and Transformative Works of Art

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider the application of the fair use doctrine as it relates to transformative works. The Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith, Case No. 21-869 (Supr. Ct. Mar. 28, 2022) (certiorari granted).

In a case touching the estates of two of the world’s best-known artists, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a series of prints and illustrations of the musical artist Prince created by the visual artist Andy Warhol were substantially similar to a 1981 portrait photograph of Prince taken by the photographer Lynn Goldsmith. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Lynn Goldsmith, et al., Case No. 19-2420-cv (2d Cir. Mar. 26, 2021) (Lynch, J.) (Sullivan, J., joined by Jacobs, J., concurring) (Jacobs, J., concurring). The Andy Warhol Foundation petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the decision.

The question presented is as follows:

Whether a work of art is “transformative” when it conveys a different meaning or message from its source material (as this Court, the Ninth Circuit, and other courts of appeals have held), or whether a court is forbidden from considering the meaning of the accused work where it “recognizably deriv[es] from” its source material (as the Second Circuit has held).




Supreme Court to Consider Whether 17 U.S.C. § 411 Requires Referral to Copyright Office

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review whether a district court is required to request that the Register of Copyrights advise whether inaccurate information, if known, would have caused the Register to refuse registration of the plaintiff’s asserted copyright. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted). The question presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.

In the circuit court decision, Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P. (9th Cir. May 29, 2020), the Ninth Circuit held that once a defendant alleges that (1) a plaintiff’s certificate of registration contains inaccurate information, (2) “the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration” and (3) the inaccurate information was included on the application “with knowledge that it was inaccurate,” a district court is required to submit a request to the Register of Copyrights “to advise the court whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused [it] to refuse registration.”




Supreme Court to Consider Fraudulent Intent in Copyright Registration

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether a copyright registration accurately reflecting a work can nevertheless be invalidated without fraudulent intent. Unicolors Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz LP, Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted)

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court decision awarding Unicolors a copyright infringement award of $800,000 as well as attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit ruled that although Unicolors improperly registered the copyright (in a fabric design) as part of a “single-unit registration,” the district court was wrong to find intent to defraud the US Copyright Office—a requirement for invalidating a registration.

The issue presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.




Supreme Court to Consider Doctrine of Assignor Estoppel in Patent Cases

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review assignor estoppel in patent cases. Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc., et al., Case No. 20-440 (Supr. Ct. Jan. 8, 2021) (certiorari granted). The question presented is:

Whether a defendant in a patent infringement action who assigned the patent, or is in privity with an assignor of the patent, may have a defense of invalidity heard on the merits.

Csaba Truckai is the inventor of two patents relating to endometrial ablation that were ultimately acquired by Hologic. Truckai later founded Minerva and developed a system that competed with Hologic’s system. The district court ruled that Minerva could not challenge the validity of the patents because Truckai was barred by assignor estoppel from attacking his own patents. A jury found that Minerva infringed both patents and awarded Hologic more than $4.7 million. On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, confirming that assignor estoppel bars an assignor from asserting invalidity of an assigned patent in district court, and “declined Minerva’s invitation to ‘abandon the doctrine’ of assignor estoppel entirely.”




Supreme Court to Consider Whether PTAB Judges Are Unconstitutionally Appointed

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) judges are unconstitutionally appointed. The United States of America v. Arthrex, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1452, -1458, -1459 (Supr. Ct. October 13, 2020) (certiorari granted).

In what quickly turned into a controversial decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held the appointment of administrative patent judges at the PTAB unconstitutional. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc.  The Federal Circuit found that PTAB judges were appointed as if they were “inferior officers” but vested by the PTAB with authority that is reserved for Senate-confirmed “principal officers.” Smith & Nephew, Arthrex and the United States of America petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the decision.

The questions presented are:

  1. Whether, for purposes of the Appointments Clause, US Const. Art. II, § 2, Cl. 2, administrative patent judges of the US Patent and Trademark Office are principal officers who must be appointed by the president with the Senate’s advice and consent, or “inferior officers” whose appointment Congress has permissibly vested in a department head.
  2. If administrative patent judges are principal officers, whether the court of appeals properly cured any Appointments Clause defect in the current statutory scheme prospectively by severing the application of 5 USC 7513(a) to those judges.



Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Set for Initial Supreme Court Review

In the wake of a 5-4 circuit court split, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to review the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and specifically whether a person who is authorized to access information on a computer for certain purposes violates the CFAA if he accesses the same information for an improper purpose. Van Buren v. United States, Case No. 19-783 (Supr. Ct., Apr. 20, 2020) (certiorari granted).

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