Interference Analysis Is a Two-Way Street

On appeal from an interference proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision that found the claims of the senior party’s patent were not invalid as time-barred under 35 U.S.C. § 135(b)(1). The Federal Circuit concluded that the “two-way test” requires looking to see if either set of pre-critical and post-critical date claims contains a material limitation not found in the other and not just looking to see if the post-critical date claims have additional material limitations. Speck et al. v. Bates et al., Case No. 22-1905 (Fed. Cir. May 23, 2024) (Dyk, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.)

35 U.S.C. § 135(b)(1), pre-AIA, provides that “a claim which is the same as, or for the same or substantially the same subject matter as, a claim of an issued patent may not be made in any application unless such a claim is made prior to one year from the date on which the patent was granted.” This has been described as a statute of repose that places a time limit on a patentee’s exposure to an interference, the deadline for which is referred to as the “critical date.” At issue in this appeal was the “long-standing” exception to § 135(b)(1) for instances where the applicant files its claim after the critical period but has already been claiming substantially the same invention as the patentee during the critical period.

This case involves drug-coated balloon catheter technology. Bates is the senior party that filed a patent application, and Speck is the junior party that owns an issued patent. Speck’s patent issued on September 4, 2012, whereas Bates filed his application on August 29, 2013, six days before the critical date of Speck’s patent (i.e., one year after the filing date). Bates amended the application on August 30, 2013 (still before the critical date), and canceled all of the original claims and replaced them with new claims. Bates later amended the claims after the critical date to add a requirement that the device be “free of a containment material atop the drug layer.” The amendment was made to overcome a rejection from the examiner during prosecution.

Speck filed a motion to terminate the interference on the ground that the claims of Bates’s application were time-barred under § 135(b)(1) because Bates amended the claims more than one year after Speck’s patent issued. Speck also moved the Board to find that the claims of Bates’s application were unpatentable for lack of written description.

The Board denied Speck’s motion to terminate under § 135(b)(1), finding that the later-amended claims did not differ materially from the claims in other patents and patent applications Bates owned that were filed prior to the critical date, because “Speck ha[d] not directed [the Board] to a material limitation of the Bates involved claims that is not present in the earlier Bates claims.” Speck filed a motion for rehearing, which the Board denied. The Board also denied Speck’s motion to find that Bates’s claims lacked [...]

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For Statutory Equivalents, Even One Means May Be Enough

A US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) appeals review panel decided that a means-plus-function (M+F) claim element supported by the disclosure of only a single species is not invalid for indefiniteness or lack of written description, even if the specification lacks other disclosed statutory corresponding equivalents. Ex parte Chamberlain, Appeal No. 22-001944 (App. Review Panel, May 21, 2024) (Vidal, Dir.; Udupa, Boalick, APJs) (per curiam).

The independent claims of the patent application at issue involved methods of treating patients with “anti-C5 antibod[ies]” that include amino acid substitutions devised to increase the in vivo half-life of the antibody. Each claim involved similar preambles: “A method of treating a patient by administering an anti-C5 antibody comprising . . . .” One of the independent claims was in Jepson form, whereas the other included a M+F limitation.

Following rejections by the examiner and the applicant’s appeal to the Patent Trial & Appeal Board, the Board entered new grounds of rejection finding both claims invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶1 (written description) and affirmed the examiner’s rejection of the claims for obviousness-type double patenting. The Board also entered a new ground of rejection finding the claim including the M+F claim element indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶2. Following the applicant’s appeal to the Federal Circuit, the PTO took the unusual step of petitioning the Federal Circuit to “administratively remand [the case] to the Office in order to convene an Appeals Review Panel to clarify the Office’s position on the proper analysis of ‘Jepson-format and means-plus-function claims in the field of biotechnology, and particularly in the antibody art’ and ‘to issue a revised decision.’”

On remand, the panel affirmed the Board’s determinations that written description was lacking but overturned the Board’s finding of indefiniteness for the claim including the M+F element. In doing so, the panel offered useful commentary on the invalidity standard for M+F claim elements as well as the implications that a limiting preamble may have on invalidity.

The panel found the “treating a patient” preamble recitation limiting in both claims. For the Jepson claim, the preamble was per se limiting. However, the panel went on to find that, even independent of the Jepson claim format, the “treating a patient” phrase would be limiting. Outside the Jepson context, the panel characterized the inquiry of determining whether a preamble limits the body of the claim as a highly contextual one. According to the panel, the “treating a patient” term did not merely provide “circumstances in which the method may be useful” but instead constituted “the raison d’être of the claimed method itself.” The “treating a patient” language was necessary to “give life, meaning, and vitality” to limitations in the body of the claim involving increasing the in vivo half-life of the antibodies and administering the antibodies.

Having determined that the “treating a patient” recitation was limiting, the panel found that the limitation was overbroad compared to the scope of the patent’s disclosure, and thus the Jepson format claim lacked adequate written description. Read in light of [...]

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Sour Grapes: Winery Minority Ownership Insufficient for Statutory Standing at Trademark Board

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a petition seeking to cancel the registered marks of two wineries, finding the petitioner (a trust owning an interest in a competitor winery) lacked statutory standing under 15 U.S.C. § 1064. Luca McDermott Catena Gift Trust v. Fructuoso-Hobbs SL, Case No. 23-1383 (Fed. Cir. May 23, 2024) (Lourie, Reyna, Chen, JJ.) (en banc). The Court found that while the cancellation petitioner, Luca McDermott, had Article III standing to seek judicial review of the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s decision, it did not have statutory standing under the Lanham Act to petition for cancellation of the registrations at issue.

Paul Hobbs is a winemaker and partial owner of California-based Paul Hobbs Winery. The Paul Hobbs Winery owns the registration for the PAUL HOBBS mark in International Class 33 for “Wines.” Luca McDermott and two other related family trusts are each limited partners of the winery, collectively owning more than 21% of the business. Paul Hobbs is also affiliated with two other wineries: Fructuoso-Hobbs, a Spanish winery and owner of the registered mark ALVAREDOS-HOBBS, and New York winery Hillick & Hobbs Estate, owner of the registered mark HILLICK AND HOBBS. Both marks are registered in International Class 33 for “Alcoholic beverages except beers; wines.”

Luca McDermott and the other two family trusts petitioned to cancel both of the registered marks on the grounds of likelihood of confusion, alleging that the use of the ALVAREDOS-HOBBS and HILLICK AND HOBBS marks in connection with wine was likely to cause confusion with the Paul Hobbs Winery’s use of the PAUL HOBBS mark for wine. The trusts also alleged that Fructuoso-Hobbs committed fraud because it caused its lawyer, the same lawyer of record who managed the registration of the Paul Hobbs Winery’s PAUL HOBBS mark, to declare that the marks would not be likely to cause confusion with another mark.

Fructuoso-Hobbs moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that the family trusts were not entitled by statute to bring the cancellation action because they were not the owners of the PAUL HOBBS mark. Fructuoso-Hobbs also argued that the trusts could not show they had the necessary “proprietary interest” to bring the likelihood of confusion claim. The Board granted the motion to dismiss. Luca McDermott, one of the three trusts in the original action, appealed.

Before it could review de novo the Board’s decision regarding the trust’s lack of standing under the Lanham Act, the Federal Circuit addressed whether the trust had Article III standing to seek judicial review of the Board’s decision. The Court had little trouble concluding that the alleged injury (i.e., the diminished value of the trust’s investment in the winery) constituted an individual injury-in-fact, even for a minority partner. Furthermore, the Court found that the causation requirement was satisfied because the constitutional standard did not require proximate causation but only that the injury be “fairly traceable” to the allegedly unlawful registration of the challenged marks. Finally, the Federal Circuit found it [...]

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No Attorneys’ Fees Available for Successful IPR in Parallel Court Proceedings

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that a party that voluntarily elects to pursue parallel proceedings before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board and the district court is not entitled to recover attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 (exceptional case doctrine) in connection with the Board proceedings, nor does § 285 entitle a party to hold opposing counsel jointly and severally liable for fees. Dragon Intellectual Property LLC v. Dish Network L.L.C., Case Nos. 2022-1621; -1777; -1622; -1779 (Fed. Cir. May 20, 2024) (Moore, C.J.; Stoll, J.) (Bencivengo, J., dissenting).

Dragon sued DISH Network, Sirius XM Radio (SXM) and eight others for patent infringement. The district court stayed proceedings as to DISH and SXM while they pursued inter partes review (IPR) but proceeded with claim construction for the other defendants. Following claim construction, all parties stipulated to noninfringement, and the district court accordingly entered a noninfringement judgment that was subsequently vacated following appeal to the Federal Circuit. Following the Board’s determination that the asserted claims were unpatentable, DISH and SXM filed a motion for attorneys’ fees in the district court proceeding. The district court granted the motion for time spent litigating the district court case but denied for fees incurred solely during the IPR proceedings and recovery from Dragon’s former counsel. DISH and SXM appealed the denial-in-part, and Dragon cross-appealed the grant-in-part.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant-in-part, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declaring these cases exceptional. The Federal Circuit explained that the vacated noninfringement judgment did not require the district court to ignore its claim construction order in determining exceptionality. The Court further explained that even though Dragon was not entitled to a claim construction “do-over,” the prosecution history disclaimer issue was independently considered during the exceptionality inquiry, and Dragon did not provide any grounds for the conclusion that this constituted an inadequate inquiry.

The Federal Circuit also affirmed the denial of attorneys’ fees with regard to fees incurred during the IPR proceedings and Dragon’s former counsel’s liability for fee awards under § 285.

First, the Federal Circuit rejected DISH and SXM’s argument that § 285 allows recovery of fees incurred during parallel IPR proceedings, principally on the grounds that the IPR proceedings were pursued voluntarily. The Court reasoned that there are many advantages to leveraging IPR proceedings and, therefore, “where a party voluntarily elects to pursue an invalidity challenge through IPR proceedings, we see no basis for awarding IPR fees under § 285.”

Second, the Federal Circuit relied on the statutory text and determined that liability for attorneys’ fees awarded under § 285 does not extend to a party’s counsel. The Court explained that while other statutes explicitly allow parties to recover costs and fees from counsel, § 285 is silent as to who can be liable for a fee award, and therefore it is reasonable to conclude that fees cannot be assessed against counsel.

Sitting by designation, Judge Bencivengo of the US District Court for the Southern District of California dissented [...]

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Section 337 Doesn’t Require Article III Standing for Claimant but Claimant Must Be “Patentee”

Addressing an initial determination by an administrative law judge (ALJ) granting summary determination and terminating a Section 337 investigation for lack of Article III standing, the US International Trade Commission reversed and held that Section 337 does not require claimants to have Article III standing. Certain Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode Display Panels and Modules for Mobile Devices, and Components Thereof, Inv. No. 337-TA-1351, Commission Opinion (May 15, 2024).

In late 2022, Samsung Display filed a complaint seeking to institute a Section 337 investigation based on its infringement allegations regarding four patents and seeking an exclusion order against replacement displays sold by various companies. In late 2023, on the eve of the evidentiary hearing, the ALJ granted the respondents’ motion for summary determination that the complainant lacked constitutional standing because Samsung Display had granted its parent company, Samsung Electronics Co., an implied license to the asserted patents with an unrestricted right to sublicense. Samsung Display petitioned for Commission review. On review, the Commission reversed.

The Commission first noted that because it’s an administrative tribunal and not an Article III court, the “case or controversy” requirement does not apply to parties before it and standing is instead based on its governing statute. The Commission acknowledged its previous decisions where it had applied a constitutional standing requirement and expressly overruled those decisions. It further noted that its statute does not include the “patentee” requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 281 that applies to plaintiffs in district court actions but reiterated its long-standing practice of requiring a complainant be the owner or exclusive licensee of the asserted patent(s) at the time of filing the complaint.

The Commission held that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Samsung Display was a “patentee” when it filed the complaint. The Commission found there was an open question as to whether Samsung Electronics actually had a right to sublicense without Samsung Display’s explicit or implicit authorization. The Commission thus remanded the investigation to the ALJ to conduct further proceedings to develop the factual record.