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Prime Delivery: Amazon Program Now Offers Personal Jurisdiction to Patent Holders

Addressing the issue of personal jurisdiction in the context of a declaratory judgment case involving a program for resolving patent infringement claims, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that a patent owner has personal jurisdiction in the forum of an alleged infringer when it files a program claim against the alleged infringer. SnapRays, dba SnapPower v. Lighting Defense Group, Case No. 23-1184 (Fed. Cir. May 2, 2024) (Moore, CJ. Lourie, Dyk, JJ.)

The Amazon Patent Evaluation Express (APEX) program helps resolve patent infringement claims against sellers on Amazon. Under APEX, a patent owner submits an APEX Agreement to Amazon that identifies the allegedly infringed patent claim and the Amazon listings with the alleged infringing products. Amazon then sends this APEX Agreement to the seller, who can do one of the following to avoid removal of their accused listings:

  • Opt into APEX and let a third party determine whether their product likely infringes
  • Resolve the claim directly with the patent owner
  • File a lawsuit for declaratory judgment of noninfringement. If the seller does nothing, its listings are automatically removed from Amazon within three weeks of receipt of the APEX Agreement.

Lighting Defense Group (LDG), a Delaware company whose principal place of business is in Arizona, submitted an APEX Agreement alleging that SnapPower’s Amazon products (electrical outlet covers with integrated technology) infringed one of its patents. SnapPower, a Utah company whose principal place of business is in Utah, then filed a declaratory judgment action against LDG in Utah. LDG then filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted the motion, finding that SnapPower did not demonstrate that LDG purposefully directed activities at SnapPower in Utah and that there was no evidence that LDG reached out to Utah other than through responses to SnapPower’s communications. SnapPower appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that LDG was subject to personal jurisdiction under the Court’s three-prong test because (1) LDG purposefully directed its activities at SnapPower in Utah, (2) LDG’s submission of the APEX Agreement was directed to SnapPower in Utah and aimed to affect activities in Utah and (3) it would not be unreasonable to find personal jurisdiction over LDG in Utah.

In assessing the first prong, the Federal Circuit found that LDG knew, via APEX’s terms, that Amazon would notify SnapPower of the APEX Agreement and that the options available to SnapPower included a claim for declaratory judgment. Further, the Court found that the APEX Agreement had more power than cease and desist letters because of the automatic removal of the listings after three weeks, which would affect sales and activities in Utah.

In assessing the second prong, the Federal Circuit found that personal jurisdiction comported with due process because LDG’s actions aimed to affect marketing, sales and other activities in Utah and because the suit arose out of LDG’s activities in the forum.

In assessing the final prong, the Federal Circuit rejected LDG’s argument that allowing personal jurisdiction would “open the [...]

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CEO Punches Ticket and Avoids Sanctions Based on Receiving Confidential Documents

Addressing protective order violations, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit largely vacated a district court’s sanctions order. The Court explained that sanctions must comply with due process, barring parties from future litigation should be treated as a “death-penalty” sanction and damages calculations require specific factfinding. CEATS, Inc. v. TicketNetwork, Inc., Case No. 21-40705 (5th Cir. June 19, 2023) (Elrod, Haynes, Willett, JJ.)

To settle a long-running dispute, TicketNetwork licensed several patents from CEATS, a non-practicing patent assertion entity. Several years into the license, all of the licensed patents were invalidated in an unrelated litigation. TicketNetwork promptly stopped paying royalties and filed suit seeking a declaration that the license agreement was unenforceable. CEATS counterclaimed for breach of contract.

During discovery, CEATS requested TicketNetwork’s list of affiliates, which TicketNetwork refused to produce, citing its highly confidential nature. After two discovery hearings, the district court ordered TicketNetwork to produce the affiliate list but specifically prohibited CEATS from using the list for any purpose other than use in the present litigation.

At trial, a jury found that TicketNetwork breached the license, and the district court awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to CEATS. After the jury verdict, CEATS CEO Milford Skane asked his litigation consultants for a “non-confidential” list of TicketNetwork’s affiliates. The consultants gave Skane the confidential list, which was promptly used in settlement negotiations with TicketNetwork. TicketNetwork filed for sanctions, requesting damages from CEATS and an injunction preventing CEATS from suing or seeking licenses from the listed affiliates.

The district court ordered an investigation and, after two years of inquiry and an all-day evidentiary hearing, found that Skane, the consultants and CEATS all violated the protective order and were jointly and severally liable to TicketNetwork. As sanctions, the district court awarded $500,000 in attorneys’ fees (using a billing rate nearly double the one it used when calculating CEATS’s fees) and barred Skane, the consultants and CEATS from suing or seeking licenses from any of TicketNetwork’s affiliates.

The sanctioned parties appealed and argued:

  • The district court violated due process by finding Skane and the consultants personally liable without giving them notice or opportunity to respond.
  • The district court erred by barring the parties without a finding of bad faith.
  • The district court’s damages calculation was unsupported.

The Fifth Circuit began by addressing the sanctions against Skane and the litigation consultants. The Court explained that sanctions require due process, which includes both fair notice and the opportunity to defend against the claim. The Court observed that the first time Skane and the consultants were made aware that they could be sanctioned was in the sanctions order itself—and their only opportunity to defend themselves took place after that order. Given the lack of any advance notice, the Fifth Circuit concluded that due process had not been satisfied and vacated the monetary sanctions against Skane and the consultants.

The Fifth Circuit also vacated the bar preventing Skane, the consultants and CEATS from suing or seeking licenses from any of the affiliates. Core [...]

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Foreign Company’s Purposeful US Activities Blemishes Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Defense

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a complaint, finding that the foreign defendant was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in the United States in light of the defendant’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. Ayla, LLC v. Alya Skin Pty. Ltd., Case No. 20-16214 (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2021) (Rakoff, J.)

Ayla is a beauty and wellness brand based in the San Francisco area that offers skincare and hair products through retail and online sales, as well as health and personal care advice on its website. Ayla has three registered trademarks “for use of the ‘AYLA’ word mark in connection with on-site beauty services, online retail beauty products and cosmetics services, and cosmetics.” Alya Skin is a skincare company with its place of incorporation and principal place of business in Australia. Alya Skin sells and ships its products worldwide but about 10% of its total sales are made to the United States.

Alleging a “confusingly similar” mark on its products and advertisements, Ayla sued Alya Skin for trademark infringement and false designation of origin pursuant to the Lanham Act, as well as unfair competition under the California Business & Professions Code and California common law. Alya Skin moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted Alya Skin’s motion to dismiss, finding that it did not have personal jurisdiction. Ayla appealed.

On appeal, Ayla challenged the district court’s determination that it did not have nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 4(k)(2). The Ninth Circuit framed the issue on appeal as a question of whether the district court “erroneously held that the exercise of nationwide jurisdiction over Alya Skin does not comport with due process.” The Court noted that the due process analysis under 4(k)(2) is “nearly identical” to the traditional personal jurisdiction analysis but “rather than considering contacts between [the defendant] and the forum state, we consider contacts with the nation as a whole.” Because trademark infringement is “treated as tort-like for personal jurisdiction purposes,” the Court focused its specific jurisdiction analysis on whether Alya Skin “purposefully directed its activities toward the United States.”

The Ninth Circuit’s inquiry focused on a totality analysis surrounding Alya Skin’s marketing, sales and operations, each of which reflected a significant focus on the United States. The Court noted that Alya Skin promoted its allegedly infringing products specifically to US individuals through “significant advertising efforts.” These efforts included, for example, an Instagram post directly referencing the “USA,” Alya Skin’s advertising efforts during “Black Friday” and Alya Skin’s reference on its website that its products were featured in US magazines. Moreover, Alya Skin presented to consumers “that its products are FDA approved,” which the Court found to be “an appeal specifically to American consumers for whom the acronym ‘FDA’ has meaning.” The Court also noted that Alya Skin’s volume of sales reflected a purposeful direction toward the United States.

[...]

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As Due Process Recognizes, it’s Hard to Shoot at a Moving Claim Construction Target

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated several Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) decisions as violating due process and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), referencing the parties’ inability to respond to the PTAB’s sua sponte construction of a term on which the parties had previously agreed. Qualcomm Inc. v. Intel Corp., Case Nos. 20-1589; -1594 (Fed. Cir. July 27, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

After Qualcomm sued Intel over a patent directed to techniques for generating a power tracking supply voltage for a circuit that processes multiple radio frequency signals simultaneously, Intel filed six inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging the validity of Qualcomm’s patents. In each petition, Intel proposed that the claim term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” meant “signals for transmission on multiple carriers at the same time to increase the bandwidth for a user.” Qualcomm proposed a different construction: “signals from a single terminal utilizing multiple component carriers which provide extended transmission bandwidth for a user transmission from the single terminal.” Neither party disputed that the signals were required to increase user bandwidth, either at the PTAB or in a parallel proceeding before the US International Trade Commission (USITC) where the USITC adopted a construction—including the increased bandwidth requirement.

However, during the oral hearing, one of the administrative patent judges (APJs) asked Intel counsel about the inclusion of the bandwidth limitation in the claim construction. No other APJ raised, or asked Qualcomm, any questions about the increased bandwidth requirement in the claim construction. The day after the hearing, the PTAB sua sponte ordered additional briefing on the meaning of other claim terms that had been extensively discussed at the hearing.

The PTAB ultimately issued six final written decisions concluding that all challenged claims were unpatentable. In doing so, the PTAB omitted any requirement that the signals increase or extend bandwidth in construing the term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” to mean “signals for transmission on multiple carriers.” The PTAB also held that “means for determining a single power tracking signal” (power tracker limitation) was a means-plus-function limitation and that an integrated circuit (IC) board, the “power tracker 582,” was the corresponding structure.

Qualcomm timely appealed, arguing that 1) it was not afforded notice of, or an adequate opportunity to respond to, the PTAB’s construction of “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” and 2) that the PTAB’s construction of the power tracker limitation was erroneous for failing to include an algorithm in the corresponding structure.

NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND TO THE PTAB’S CONSTRUCTION

The Federal Circuit has discussed the administrative and notice requirements provided by the APA and due process in IPR proceedings: “[a] patent owner in [an IPR] is undoubtedly entitled to notice of and a fair opportunity to meet the grounds of rejection” (Belden v. Berk-Tek). The Court observed that for IPRs, the PTAB must “timely inform” the patent owner of “the matters of fact and law asserted” and, in terms of notice, “must provide ‘all interested [...]

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No Estoppel in the Name of Different Interests and Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that 35 USC § 314(d) did not bar its review of a Patent Trial & Appeal Board determination that a petitioner was not estopped from maintaining inter partes review (IPR) proceedings since the alleged estoppel-triggering event occurred post-institution. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Facebook Inc., Case Nos. 19-1688, -1689 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2021) (Chen, J.)

Facebook and WhatsApp (collectively, Facebook) filed two IPR proceedings challenging certain claims of Uniloc’s patents. Apple also filed a petition challenging a subset of claims of the patent. Facebook subsequently filed a third petition that was substantively identical to Apple’s petition and also filed a motion to join Apple’s IPR. LG Electronics filed petitions identical to Facebook’s three petitions and also filed motions to join Facebook’s IPRs. The Board instituted Facebook’s third petition and granted Facebook’s motion to join Apple’s IPR. The Board then instituted Facebook’s original IPRs and ordered the parties to “brief the applicability, if any, of 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(1)” against Facebook, in light of the soon-to-be-issued final written decision for Apple’s IPR. At the time, LG’s petition and motion to join Facebook’s IPRs had not been decided.

In response to the Board’s order, Facebook argued that it should not be estopped under § 315 from challenging the patentability of any claim upon the issuance of a final written decision in Apple’s IPR. Facebook argued that if the Board did find it estopped, Facebook should be able to continue as a petitioner against one of the claims, which it never challenged, in Apple’s IPR. Facebook also argued that if LG’s IPR petition was granted and LG was joined as a party to its first IPR, the IPR should proceed as to all challenged claims (regardless of whether Facebook was found estopped) because LG was not a party in Apple’s IPR. Uniloc responded, arguing that once the Board issued a final written decision in Apple’s IPR, Facebook would be estopped as to all claims challenged in its first IPR and the Board must terminate that proceeding. Uniloc also argued that allowing LG to join the IPR would create inefficiency and confusion.

The Board ultimately instituted LG’s IPR petitions and granted LG’s motion to join Facebook’s IPRs. In its Patent Owner Responses to the original Facebook IPR petitions, Uniloc argued that LG should be barred from maintaining the first Facebook IPR once the Board issued a final written decision in the Apple IPR because LG was estopped as a real party in interest (RPI) or privy to Facebook. A few months later, the Board issued a final written decision in the Apple IPR upholding the patentability of all challenged claims. The Board’s decision in the first Facebook IPR found that Facebook was estopped under § 315(e)(1) as to claims also challenged in Apple’s IPR, but not other claims since § 315(e)(1)’s estoppel provisions apply only to grounds that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised “with respect to that claim.”

In its final [...]

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