Addressing a decision by the US International Trade Commission finding a violation of Section 337 based on importation of certain TV products, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed that the patent holder had established a domestic industry based on research and development (R&D) relating to only a subset of the domestic industry products. Roku, Inc. v. ITC, Case No. 22-1386 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 19, 2024) (Dyk, Hughes, Stoll, JJ.)
In 2020, Universal Electronics filed a complaint at the Commission seeking a Section 337 investigation of certain streaming devices, TVs, set top boxes and remote controls sold by Roku and others that allegedly infringed six of Universal Electronics’ patents. During the investigation, the administrative law judge (ALJ) granted Roku’s summary determination motion that Universal Electronics lacked ownership of one of the patents, but the Commission promptly reversed that decision. Prior to the hearing, Universal Electronics terminated the investigation as to the three other patents and all respondents other than Roku. The ALJ subsequently issued an initial determination finding infringement and domestic industry for all three patents but held that two of the patents were invalid. The Commission agreed and issued a limited exclusion order barring Roku’s importation. Roku appealed.
Roku raised three challenges to the Commission’s decision on appeal. Roku renewed its ownership argument, disputed the domestic industry finding, and contested the holding of nonobviousness. The Federal Circuit affirmed on all issues.
On ownership, the Federal Circuit faced the question of whether an inventor had executed an automatic assignment or merely a promise to assign. The Court noted that Roku only addressed a 2004 agreement cited by the ALJ and disregarded a later 2012 agreement relied on by the Commission where the inventor agreed to “hereby sell and assign” the patent.
The Federal Circuit rebuffed Roku’s argument that the domestic industry prong was not satisfied on the basis that Universal Electronics failed to allocate expenses to specific domestic industry products. Instead, the Court noted that Section 337 requires investment in the exploitation of the intellectual property and explained that the expenditures can relate to only a subset of a product if the patent only involves that subset.
Finally, regarding obviousness, the Federal Circuit noted that Roku’s arguments regarding secondary considerations ignored the Commission’s finding that the prior art combination failed to satisfy the key claim limitation. As to secondary considerations, the Court dismissed Roku’s lack of nexus argument by finding that it did not matter that the news articles showing a long-felt but unmet need also discussed features other than what was claimed by the patent.