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Thank You to Our Readers

We greatly appreciate our readers over the past year and are pleased to share that we were recently recognized for our intellectual property thought leadership in the 2023 JD Supra Readers’ Choice Awardswhich acknowledge top authors and firms for their thought leadership in key topics during all of last year.

Sarah Bro, a regular contributor to IP Update, was recognized as a “Top Author” for trademarks. She focuses her practice on trademark prosecution, enforcement and brand portfolio management, as well as licensing, due diligence, copyright, right of publicity and domain name matters.

Through our various blogs and thought leadership pieces, we are dedicated to maintaining our position as a leading firm for intellectual property work and keeping clients abreast of significant and relevant topics in the industry.




All the Benefits of a Reverse Triangular Merger, None of the IP Merger Mess

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s claim that the defendant failed to provide a payment conditioned on the sale, merger or transfer of certain intellectual property since ownership was not transferred via the merger. GSE Consulting, Inc. v. L3Harris Techs., Inc., Case No. 22-10647 (11th Cir. Feb. 8, 2023) (Rosenbaum, Lagoa, Wetherell, JJ.)

L3Harris specializes in defense and information technology and until recently was known as Harris Corporation. The name change from Harris to L3Harris was the result of a reverse triangular merger it executed over 2018 and 2019 whereby its subsidiary, Leopard Merger Sub, merged with its target, L3 Technologies.

In 2008, Harris and GSE combined forces to develop an oil sands heavy oil recovery process. In addition to yielding intellectual property relating to the process’s corresponding radio frequency heating technology, the collaboration resulted in a consulting agreement that would have extended through December 31, 2022. Under the consulting agreement, GSE provided its specialized infrastructure and energy consulting services on call and assigned all its rights to intellectual property developed under the agreement to Harris. In return, GSE received base pay and the right of first refusal for 10% of the direct labor workshare of Harris’s radio frequency heating projects.

The consulting agreement also included several payment conditions to benefit GSE or mitigate its risk. GSE believed that the Harris-L3 merger triggered the following condition to the tune of $4 million:

6.b. Payments calculation for the following to be 3% of market capitalization, capped at $4M:

 

  1. in the event the IP is sold, merged or transferred and the primary basis of the sale is not the IP.

GSE argued that the intellectual property relevant to the consulting agreement had “merged” because the Harris-L3 plan of merger addressed that intellectual property and included it in the merger. GSE therefore issued a $4 million invoice to L3Harris.

L3Harris rejected the invoice, arguing that while the plan of merger addressed the relevant intellectual property, the relevant language declared that the merger would have no effect on Harris and L3’s respective ownership interests: “all such rights will survive unchanged after the consummation of the [merger].” According to L3Harris, ownership of the relevant intellectual property did not change through the merger. Not long after rejecting GSE’s invoice, L3Harris also shut down its radio frequency heating program.

GSE subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, and the parties filed competing summary judgment motions. GSE maintained its position that it was owed $4 million but also argued that if the district court found the payment provision ambiguous then it should consider testimony from those who brokered the agreement demonstrating that a corporate merger was sufficient to trigger payment. L3Harris argued that the provision was unambiguous and thus Florida law prohibited considering extrinsic evidence. L3Harris also argued that its merger didn’t involve anything that triggered payment (i.e., the relevant intellectual property was not sold, merged or transferred).

The district court granted [...]

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Webinar Series: McDermott IP Focus 2023

McDermott Will & Emery is committed to providing insightful commentary on IP developments from around the world to our Japanese clients. In light of that effort, we are continuing our free monthly webinar series, McDermott IP Focus. During these sessions, we will explore global developments in IP including disputes, transactions and procurement, with a significant focus on what Japanese companies need to know during this ever-changing business landscape.

Upcoming sessions:

  • March 2—Life Sciences Session: Pharma Brands v. Generics: Developments Affecting the Balance Between Exclusivity and Market Entry
  • April 6—Trademark Session: New Options for Trademark Enforcement in the US under the Trademark Modernization Act
  • April 21—PTAB Session: Strategic Considerations Before Filing IPR Petitions

Over the course of the series, we will feature a variety of speakers from McDermott’s offices around the world. These sessions are presented in English and a Japanese summary is provided orally.

Click here for session details and to register.




PTO Introduces Intellectual Property Identifier Tool

On January 18, 2023, the US Patent & Trademark Office announced the launch of its new Intellectual Property (IP) Identifier tool. This tool is designed for those who are less familiar with IP and assists users in determining whether they have IP and identifies what IP protections are available to support their business, invention or brand. The tool also briefly explains patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

The IP Identifier tool comprises two modules: The Basic IP Identifier and the Advanced IP Identifier. The Basic IP Identifier module consists of six questions that allow users to quickly identify the type of IP they should protect. The Advanced IP Identifier module explains the specific types of IP and includes links to additional resources, including how to file an application for protection. A third module, Managing Your IP Assets, is currently under development.




Calling All US IP Owners: Submit Your Comments on IP-Lax States

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) seeks public commentary regarding countries that deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, or deny fair and equitable market access to US persons that rely on intellectual property protections. Comments are due by January 30, 2023.

Each year the USTR requests that intellectual property owners, stakeholders and other interested parties submit commentary regarding countries that weaken protections and benefits associated with intellectual property ownership and registration in the United States. The USTR interprets the feedback and compiles an annual report.

The USTR’s authority for such action arises out of Sections 301-305 of the Trade Act (19 U.S.C. §§ 2411-2415). These “Special 301 Provisions” require the USTR to determine which, if any, of the countries submitted by commenters should be identified as Priority Foreign Countries. In furtherance of this goal, the USTR maintains a Priority Watch List and a Watch List. The Special 301 listings and actions announced in the annual report are the result of intensive deliberations among all relevant agencies within the US government, which in turn are informed by extensive consultations with participating stakeholders, foreign governments, the US Congress and other interested parties.

The 2022 report identified a wide range of concerns, including the following:

  • Challenges with border and criminal enforcement against counterfeits, including in the online environment
  • High levels of online and broadcast piracy, including through illicit streaming devices
  • Inadequacies in trade secret protection and enforcement in China, Russia and other countries
  • Troubling “indigenous innovation” and forced technology transfer policies that may unfairly disadvantage US right holders in markets abroad
  • Other ongoing, systemic issues regarding intellectual property protection and enforcement, as well as market access, with many trading partners around the world.

The 2022 report listed the following countries on the Priority Watch List: Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and Venezuela. The report listed the following countries on the Watch List: Algeria, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The USTR is soliciting comments for this year’s report via the online Federal eRulemaking Portal in lieu of an in-person hearing.  Commenters are encouraged to include detailed information, including the following:

  • Specific references to laws, regulations and policy statements, including innovation policies; executive, presidential or other orders; and administrative, court or other determinations that should factor into the review
  • Particular regions, provinces, states or other subdivisions of a country in which an act, policy or practice is believed to warrant special attention
  • Data, loss estimates and other information regarding the economic impact on the United States, US industry and US workforce caused by the denial of adequate and effective intellectual property protection.

Commentators should act now, as the window to submit public commentary ends on January 30, 2023. Keep an eye out for the 2023 report, which is scheduled for release on or around April 18, 2023.




PTO and Copyright Office Seek Public Comments on Non-Fungible Tokens

On November 23, 2022, the US Patent & Trademark Office and the US Copyright Office announced that they are seeking public input on intellectual property (IP) considerations related to non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The agencies will hold three public roundtables directed to patents, trademarks and copyrights, respectively, scheduled as follows:

  • January 10, 2023 – Patents and NFTs
  • January 12, 2023 – Trademarks and NFTs
  • January 18, 2023 – Copyrights and NFTs.

The roundtables will be livestreamed, and the agencies will post instructions for registration to view them live. Requests to participate as a panelist in any of the roundtables must be received by December 21, 2022, to be considered.

The agencies also issued a request for comments, soliciting answers to 13 questions of particular interest:

  1. Describe current and potential future uses of NFTs in your field or industry.
  2. Describe any IP-related challenges or opportunities associated with NFTs or NFT markets.
  3. Describe how NFT markets affect the production of materials subject to IP protection.
  4. Describe whether, how and to what extent NFTs are used by or could be used by IP rights holders to
    1. Document the authenticity of an asset
    2. Document the seller’s ownership of or authority to sell an asset
    3. Document the seller’s authority to transfer any relevant or necessary IP rights associated with an asset
    4. Document any limitations related to IP rights surrounding the sale, or the purchaser’s use, of an asset.
  5. Describe whether, how and to what extent NFTs present challenges for IP rights holders, or those who sell assets using NFTs, with respect to the activities described in question 4.
  6. Describe whether, how and to what extent NFTs are used by, could be used by, or present challenges or opportunities for IP rights holders to
    1. Obtain their IP rights
    2. Transfer or license their IP rights
    3. Exercise overall control and management of their IP rights
    4. Enforce their IP rights.
  7. Describe how and to what extent copyrights, trademarks and patents are relied on, or anticipated to be relied on, in your field or industry to
    1. Protect assets that are associated with NFTs
    2. Combat infringement associated with NFT-related assets offered by third parties
    3. Ensure the availability of appropriate reuse of NFT-related assets.
  8. Are current IP laws adequate to address the protection and enforcement of IP in the context of NFTs? If not, explain why and describe any legislation you believe should be considered to address these issues.
  9. Describe any IP-related impacts those in your field or industry have experienced in connection with actual or intended uses of NFTs. Describe any legal disputes that have arisen in the following contexts, and the outcome of such disputes, including citations to any relevant judicial proceedings:
    1. The relationship between the transfer of an NFT and the ownership of IP rights in the associated asset
    2. The licensing of IP rights in the asset associated with an NFT
    3. Infringement claims when either (i) an NFT is associated with an asset in which another party [...]

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Webinar Series | McDermott IP Focus

McDermott Will & Emery is committed to providing insightful commentary on IP developments from around the world to our Japanese clients. In light of that effort, we launched a monthly webinar series: McDermott IP Focus. During these sessions, we will explore global developments in the IP space, including disputes, transactions and procurement, with a significant focus on what Japanese companies need to know during this post-pandemic era.

Over the course of the series, we will feature a variety of speakers from McDermott’s offices around the world. We hope you can join us!

Click here for session details and to register.




New Patent Eligibility Bill May Impact What Subject Matter Is Patentable

On August 2, 2022, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022. Senator Tillis’s bill addresses patent subject matter eligibility by modifying 35 U.S.C. § 101 to mitigate areas in which it has been considered problematic in view of recent judicial decisions/exceptions construing it while retaining its core features. For some in the biotechnology space, “problematic” Supreme Court decisions have included May Collaborative Services (2012), Myriad Genetics (2013), Alice Corp. (2014) and their Federal Circuit progeny.

The core features for eligibility will remain in the statute as: “[w]hoever invents or discovers any useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore.”

The bill provides express exceptions, including:

  • A mathematical formula, apart from useful invention or discovery
  • An unmodified human gene, as that gene exists in the human body
  • An unmodified natural material, as that material exists in nature.

However, the bill further states that genes or natural material that are “purified, enriched, or otherwise altered by human activity, or otherwise employed in a useful invention or discovery,” would not be considered unmodified and would be eligible for patents. One of the goals of the bill is to override case law that has made it  difficult to receive patents on diagnostics inventions and otherwise blurred the line between what inventions are considered abstract.

Processes that are excluded from eligibility under the bill include:

  • Nontechnological economic, financial, business, social, cultural or artistic processes
  • Mental processes performed solely in the human mind
  • Processes occurring in nature wholly independent of, and prior to, any human activity.

Under current law, the question of what constitutes a technological solution that would render an otherwise abstract idea patent eligible is a hotly contested one often determined on a case-by-case basis. The European Patent Convention’s eligibility exclusions include presentations of information and mathematical methods. However, if there is a technical use applied to those types of inventions, they are patent eligible.

The bill was reportedly drafted following three years of work by Senator Tillis’ team, including a series of US Senate hearings in 2019 with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and meetings with an array of industries. Updates will be posted to the IP Update blog as legislative developments warrant.

Practice Note: Readers are encouraged to check out the IP Update report that discusses a recent presentation by the PTO that shares recommendations for dealing with § 101 rejections during prosecution, which can be found here.




Over My Dead Body: Defendant Can’t “Wait Until He Dies” to Pay Arbitration Award

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s interpretation of an arbitration award, finding that the defendant could not “wait until he dies” to pay a portion of the damages award. Nano Gas Techs., Inc. v. Roe, Case Nos. 21-1809; -1822 (7th Cir. Apr. 25, 2022) (Rovner, St. Eve, Jackson-Akiwumi, JJ.)

Clifton Roe invented a nozzle that disperses gases into liquids. Roe assigned the invention to Nano Gas as part of a collaboration agreement under which Roe received 20% equity and a board seat. The agreement also provided for a salary that was subject to Nano Gas’s ability to raise capital and Roe’s success in developing the invention at Nano Gas’s facility. The parties’ relationship deteriorated after the collaboration failed to produce the desired results. Roe ultimately took the machine and related intellectual property created by another Nano Gas employee and continued developing the product on his own. Arbitration ensued.

The arbitrator concluded that Roe did not have the right to remove the machine and related intellectual property from Nano Gas’s facility. The arbitrator determined that Roe should pay Nano Gas for the financial harm it suffered but also found that Roe deserved compensation for his work on the technology. In his award, the arbitrator indicated that he had initially considered giving Roe a royalty on future profits but declined to do so because Roe was a shareholder in Nano Gas and could benefit financially from the invention’s future success. The arbitrator offset Nano Gas’s $1.5 million damages award with an award to Roe of $1 million and ordered Roe to pay the $500,000 offset “in such manner as Roe chooses.” Roe was also required to return the related intellectual property or pay Nano Gas $150,000.

Nano Gas sued to enforce the award, and the district court entered judgment for $650,000 ($500,000 for the offset and $150,000 for the intellectual property). Nano Gas then filed a turnover motion for Roe’s Nano Gas stock, valued at $117,000. Roe argued that the arbitration award protected his status as a shareholder and allowed him to pay the damages “in such manner as [he] chooses.” Roe planned to pay the award with dividends from his stock and maintained that he could “wait until he die[s]” to satisfy the debt. The district court denied Nano Gas’s turnover motion, finding that Roe was entitled to remain a shareholder and could pay both awards “in such a manner as Roe chooses.” Nano Gas filed a motion to reconsider, and the court amended its order to require Roe to either turn over the stock or identify other assets to satisfy the $150,000 award. As to the remaining $500,000, the district court found that Roe could still choose how and when to pay that portion of the award. Both parties appealed.

The Seventh Circuit first addressed Roe’s argument that the arbitration award entitled him to remain a shareholder. The Court observed that the award did not stipulate that Roe would remain a shareholder indefinitely [...]

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Lawyers Scolded but Not Sanctioned for Violating Federal Circuit’s COVID-19 Rules

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided not to impose sanctions for violation of its COVID-19 restrictions on the number of counsel permitted to attend oral argument, citing the involved lawyers’ “earnest remorse.” In re Violation of the Revised Protocols for In-Person Arguments and Related Order, Case No. 22-9000 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 25, 2022) (per curiam).

When the Federal Circuit reopened for in-person oral arguments in September 2021, it continued to restrict public access to the National Courts Building and set out strict protocols governing appearances at oral argument. Under those protocols, only arguing counsel and up to one additional attendee whose presence was necessary to assist or supervise the arguing counsel could attend. All persons entering the building had to sign a form certifying that they were either arguing counsel or assisting or supervising arguing counsel. Arguing counsel had to sign an additional form taking personal responsibility for ensuring that all individuals attending argument with the arguing counsel had read and would comply with the COVID-19 protocols.

Several senior lawyers from one law firm wanted to attend a junior colleague’s oral argument. The junior lawyer moved for permission for two lawyers and two other individuals to attend the oral argument in addition to arguing counsel and the one permitted assistant/supervisor. The Federal Circuit denied the motion. Nonetheless, on the day of argument, four lawyers (each carrying the required form) went to the courthouse and entered the assigned courtroom. The two non-arguing, non-assisting/supervising lawyers sat in the back corner of the courtroom until they were summoned to the front by a deputy clerk and told to leave the courtroom. The lawyers returned to the lobby area and were subsequently escorted out of the building.

The matter was referred to the Federal Circuit’s standing panel on attorney discipline, which ordered all four lawyers to show cause why they should not be sanctioned. The lawyers stated that they had gone to the courthouse notwithstanding the denial of their motion for leave to attend the hearing merely to seek clarification on any potential changed circumstances that might permit their attendance. They also argued that the Court’s COVID-19 restrictions were ambiguous. Finally, they expressed remorse for having violated the rules.

The Federal Circuit criticized the lawyers for trying to attend the oral argument even though their motion for leave to attend was denied. The Court noted that the lawyers might have sought clarification or reconsideration of the denial in writing but stated that it was inappropriate for the lawyers to have sought such clarification or reconsideration in person at the time of the hearing. The Court also called the lawyers’ argument that the protocols were ambiguous “wholly without merit.” Nonetheless, on a finding that the lawyers’ remorse was earnest, the Court decided not to impose sanctions.

Practice Note: Anyone might make an occasional error in judgment. While remorse does not undo such an error, it can at least help prevent sanctions from being imposed. Then again, the Federal Circuit has now [...]

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