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Uncle Sam Can March In: Government Licenses Under Bayh-Dole Aren’t Subject to “Strict Timing Requirements”

In an appeal from the US Court of Federal Claims, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a determination that 35 U.S.C. § 202(c)(4), a provision of the Bayh-Dole Act, operates to provide a license to the government for federally funded research based on work that occurred prior to the effective date of a funding agreement. University of South Fl. Board of Trustees v. United States, Case No. 22-2248 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 9, 2024) (Reyna, Taranto, Stoll, JJ.)

University of South Florida (USF) owns a now-expired patent directed to transgenic mice expressing a certain gene causing an accelerated pathology for Alzheimer’s disease. The patent’s subject matter was conceived while the two named inventors worked at USF, but both inventors transitioned their work to the Mayo Clinic prior to the first actual reduction to practice of the claimed invention. The mice remained at USF, under the care of USF professors, while the named inventors continued to oversee the project from Mayo. The first actual reduction to practice occurred while the inventors were at Mayo.

While the named inventors were still at USF, one inventor submitted a grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH awarded the inventors (while they were still at USF) a grant covering the mouse project. After the inventors moved to Mayo but prior to the award grant, the designated grantee changed from USF to Mayo. In November 1997, Mayo and USF entered into a subcontract whereby Mayo would pay USF for grant-covered work occurring at USF.

USF sued the United States alleging infringement of the mouse patent by a third party with the government’s authorization and consent. The third party was producing and using mice covered by the patent for the government. The US asserted a license defense under the Bayh-Dole Act, which gives the government a license to practice certain federally funded inventions. The Claims Court granted judgment to the US under its license defense, determining that USF operated pursuant to an implied contract with Mayo based on the understanding that Mayo would use funding from the NIH grant to pay USF for work done there. The Claims Court therefore determined that USF was a contactor with an implied subcontract that was a funding agreement under Bayh-Dole. Since the invention was therefore invented by a government contractor operating under a funding agreement, it was a “subject invention” that was first actually reduced to practice under a government contract. Therefore, under Bayh-Dole, the government was entitled to a license. USF appealed, arguing that the invention was not a “subject invention” within the meaning of § 202(c)(4) of Bayh-Dole.

USF argued that to trigger § 202(c)(4), a funding agreement must be in place at the time of the relevant work and there was no implied agreement in April 1997, the time the work that led to the reduction to practice commenced. The Federal Circuit determined that the November 1997 subcontract was adequate to support entitlement to claim a government license under § [...]

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No Home Away From Home: Federal Circuit Confirms PTO Domicile Requirements

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirmed the US Patent & Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register a trademark based on the applicant’s failure to comply with the domicile address requirement of 37 C.F.R. §§ 2.32(a)(2) and 2.189. In re Chestek PLLC, Case No. 22-1843 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 13. 2024) (Lourie, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Chestek included only a PO box for its domicile address in its trademark application. The PTO found this information noncompliant with the domicile address rule, which requires trademark applicants to either have a domicile within the United States or be represented by US counsel. The PTO implemented the requirement in 2019 following a notice-and-comment period. Chestek appealed the PTO’s refusal to register based on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and challenged the processes surrounding implementation of the domicile address requirement.

Chestek first argued that the requirement was improperly instituted because the PTO failed to comply with the notice-and-comment rulemaking requirement under 5 U.S.C. § 533 by failing to provide notice of the domicile address requirement adopted in the final rule. However, the Federal Circuit held that the formalities of the notice-and-comment were not required under § 533(b)(A) because the rule was procedural, not substantive (i.e., effecting a change in existing law or policy that affects individual rights and obligations). As the Court explained, the rule did not affect the substantive trademark standards used during examination to evaluate applications but was simply an applicant information requirement.

Chestek next argued that the domicile address requirement was arbitrary and capricious because in implementing the final rule, the PTO “offered an insufficient justification for the domicile address requirement” and failed to consider important repercussions of the requirement, such as its effects on privacy. The Federal Circuit rebuffed that argument, explaining that the domicile requirement and the explanations given for it (determining whether the US attorney requirement applied) were “at least reasonably discernable.” The Court stated that as long as an agency does not give “almost no reason at all” for a new policy, the change is sufficiently justified and not arbitrary or capricious. The Court also noted that the APA does not require an agency to consider and respond to every impact of a proposed policy change.

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Trademark Trial & Appeal Board Gets a DuPont 101 Lesson

Addressing errors in the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s likelihood of confusion analysis in a cancellation action, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the Board erred by failing to give sufficient weight to the first DuPont factor (similarity of the marks) and failing to consider the relevant evidence for the third (similarity of established trade channels). Naterra International, Inc. v. Samah Bensalem, Case No. 22-1872 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 15, 2024) (Moore, Stoll, Cunningham, JJ.)

In 2020, Naterra International filed a petition to cancel Samah Bensalem’s registration for BABIES’ MAGIC TEA for use in connection with “medicated tea for babies that treats colic and gas and helps babies sleep better” based on a likelihood of confusion with Naterra’s multiple registrations for BABY MAGIC for use in connection with infant toiletry products such as lotion and baby shampoo. The Board denied Naterra’s petition, finding that Naterra failed to prove a likelihood of confusion. The Board found that while the first DuPont likelihood of confusion factor (similarity of the marks) weighed in favor of a likelihood of confusion, factors two (similarity of the goods) and three (similarity of established trade channels) did not, and Naterra’s BABY MAGIC mark “fell somewhere in the middle” for factor five (fame of the prior mark). The Board found that factors four (conditions of purchasing), six (number and nature of similar marks in use on similar goods), eight (length of time and conditions of concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion), 10 (market interface between applicant and owner of a prior mark) and 12 (extent of potential confusion) were neutral. Naterra appealed.

Naterra argued “that substantial evidence does not support the Board’s finding that the similarity and nature of the goods (DuPont factor two) and trade channels (DuPont factor three) disfavor a likelihood of confusion,” and that the Board did not properly weigh the first (similarity of the marks) and fifth (fame of the prior mark) DuPont factors.

DuPont Factor Two – Relatedness of the Goods

The Board rejected Naterra’s expert testimony that other so-called “umbrella” baby brands offered both infant skincare products and ingestible products, calling it “unsupported by underlying evidence.” The Federal Circuit disagreed, stating that “testimony that third-party companies sell both types of goods is pertinent to the relatedness of the goods.” Nonetheless, because the Court could not determine whether the Board rejected the expert testimony for other reasons, it remanded the case for further consideration and explanation of its analysis on this point.

DuPont Factor Three – Similarity of Trade Channels

The Board found that the third factor weighed against a likelihood of confusion, stating that it lacked the “persuasive evidence” necessary to “conclude that the trade channels are the same.” The Federal Circuit found that the Board erred by not addressing relevant evidence, namely Bensalem’s admission that the parties’ goods were sold in similar trade channels. The Court also noted that the Board “did not identify in its decision any evidence showing a lack of [...]

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We Meant It – No Incorporation by Reference

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a sua sponte order regarding the impermissibility of incorporating by reference arguments from one brief into another, especially when doing so causes the brief to exceed the permitted word count. Promptu Sys. Corp. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, LLC, Case No. 22-1093 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 16, 2024) (Moore, CJ; Prost, Taranto, JJ.) (per curiam).

On January 11, 2024, the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in four related cases involving Promptu and Comcast. During oral argument, the Court asked counsel for the appellee to submit a brief within 10 days, totaling no more than 10 pages, to show why he should not be sanctioned for attempting to incorporate by reference multiple pages – almost 2,000 words – of argument from the brief in one case into another, thereby causing the brief to exceed the word limit.

The Federal Circuit recounted that it has “repeatedly held” that incorporating by reference to exceed word count is not permitted, citing its holdings on this issue in Microsoft v. DataTern (2014) and more recently in Medtronic v. Teleflex Life Sciences (2023). Appellee counsel responded that he was unaware of the Microsoft decision until the appellant’s reply brief had already been filed. The Court accepted his assertion but noted with disapproval that the precedential Microsoft decision admonished “the exact same law firm before us now for the exact same behavior,” and that once made aware of the Microsoft decision, counsel did nothing to remedy the impropriety.

Practice Note: The Federal Circuit did not award sanctions against appellate counsel but sternly warned future litigants that it is improper to incorporate by reference arguments from one brief into another unless in compliance with Fed. R. App. P. 28, and that such incorporation is never permitted if it results in exceeding the applicable word limit. The Court stated that going forward, such a violation “will likely result in [an award of] sanctions.”

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Lost Connection: Preliminary Injunction Against Unreleased Product Is a No-Go

Addressing a preliminary injunction motion directed to a competitor’s yet-to-be-released product, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the patent holder failed to establish irreparable harm based on speculative evidence. SmartSky Networks, LLC v. Gogo Bus. Aviation, LLC, Case No. 23-1058 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 31, 2024) (Cunningham, Chen, Hughes, JJ.) (non-precedential).

SmartSky Networks and Gogo Business Aviation are competing aviation network providers that offer air-to-ground in-flight internet networks for aircrafts. SmartSky sued Gogo in early 2020, alleging that Gogo’s 5G network infringed four patents related to wireless in-flight internet connections. SmartSky also moved to preliminarily enjoin Gogo from selling its 5G network, which is not yet operational and has yet to be released. In late 2022, the district court denied SmartSky’s motion for preliminary injunction, finding that SmartSky had not shown a likelihood of success or irreparable harm. SmartSky appealed.

SmartSky first moved to supplement the record with new materials relevant to market share, sales and switching costs. The Federal Circuit first denied SmartSky’s motions to supplement the record, noting that it would not consider new evidence on appeal absent extraordinary circumstances, such as instances where the court can take judicial notice of new facts or where the facts would alter the appropriateness of injunctive relief. Because the district court found no likelihood of irreparable harm, despite acknowledging that SmartSky had shown consumer stickiness and direct competition between the parties, the Court concluded that documents related to market share, sales and switching costs would not alter the appropriateness of injunctive relief. The Court further declined to take judicial notice of the facts, which were subject to dispute.

The Federal Circuit then turned to SmartSky’s argument that the district court erred in finding no likelihood of irreparable harm from lost sales and market share, price erosion, lost reputation and goodwill, and lost research and development and investments. Regarding lost sales, SmartSky argued that the district court ignored Gogo’s sales of AVANCE L5 equipment (used for Gogo’s 4G and 5G networks) and that Gogo’s 5G network was not “yet-to-be-released” because it had been on sale since late 2021. The Court found these arguments unpersuasive. The Court noted that SmartSky did not dispute that Gogo had yet to launch its 5G network and found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that any such sales were quantifiable. As for AVANCE L5, the Court observed that the equipment was currently sold as part of Gogo’s unaccused 4G network, and that the alleged harm would only occur if Gogo launched its 5G network and customers upgraded. Thus, the Court found that any harm from the sales of AVANCE L5 was highly speculative, particularly because the parties are not the only two players in the market and customers may have other non-infringing options.

SmartSky next argued that the district court ignored testimony that customers used Gogo’s pricing to negotiate discounts from SmartSky. The Federal Circuit disregarded this [...]

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Sliced and Diced: Operating Manuals Are Printed Publications

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s non-obviousness determination, finding that the Board erred in determining that an operating manual did not qualify as printed publication prior art. Weber, Inc. v. Provisur Technologies, Inc., Case Nos. 22-1751; -1813 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 8, 2024) (Reyna, Hughes, Stark, JJ.)

Provisur owns two patents related to advanced high-speed mechanical slicers used in food processing facilities that precisely slice and package food items such as meats and cheeses. The key components recited in the patent claims are a “loading apparatus” designed to load food items, a “feeding apparatus” responsible for supplying food items to a slicer, and a “stop gate” intended to regulate the assembly of food items prior to their entry into the slicing mechanism.

Weber filed inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging the validity of several claims of the patents based on certain operating manuals. During the IPR proceedings, the Board determined that Weber’s operating manuals did not qualify as prior art printed publications because they were distributed selectively and subject to confidentiality restrictions. The Board also concluded that the prior art combinations, which included Weber, failed to disclose crucial claim limitations, notably the “disposed over” and “stop gate” limitations. The Board found the challenged claims not unpatentable. Weber appealed.

Weber argued that the Board erred in determining that the operating manuals were insufficiently accessible to constitute printed publications, specifically contending that the Board misapplied the Federal Circuit’s 2009 decision in Cordis Corp. v. Boston Scientific Corp. The Court agreed. It explained that unlike Cordis, where academic monographs were limited to distribution among a select few, Weber’s operating manuals were intended for distribution to purchasers of the machines and others to provide instructions on food slicer usage and maintenance. The Court explained that the evidence in the form of delivery records and email exchanges showed that manuals were available to customers upon purchase or request. The Federal Circuit also noted that the manuals were not bound by any confidentiality restrictions. The Court thus concluded that the operating manuals qualified as printed publications.

Turning to claim construction, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s interpretation of the “disposed over” and “stop gate” limitations. Consistent with long-standing precedent, the Court emphasized the importance of examining intrinsic evidence, including the claims themselves, the specification and the patent’s prosecution history. Weber argued that the claims’ language implied a broader feed apparatus positioning over the loading apparatus without strict alignment requirements. Supported by expert opinions, Weber contended that neither the claim language nor the specification mandated direct alignment. The Court agreed with Weber. The Court emphasized that “disposed over” demanded only a general positioning of the feed apparatus above the loading apparatus, not a direct positioning as the Board had construed.

Similarly, concerning the “stop gate” limitation, the Federal Circuit agreed that the Board’s determination was not supported by substantial evidence because evidence, such as the manuals, disclosed the claimed conveyer mechanism in a manner sufficient to establish its [...]

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Even a Non-Explicit Claim Construction Can Be Erroneous

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision finding the challenged patent claims not obvious over the prior art. The Court found that the Board, after concluding that no claim construction was required, implicitly construed the claim limitation at issue and did so erroneously. Google LLC v. EcoFactor, Case Nos. 22-1750; -1767 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 7, 2024) (Reyna, Taranto, Stark, JJ.)

Google filed a petition for inter partes review (IPR) challenging claims of an EcoFactor patent related to dynamic climate control systems that factor outside weather conditions and thermal conditions inside the home to balance comfort and energy savings. The challenged claims define a method for reducing the cycling time of a climate control system involving “retrieving a target time at which [the] structure [(e.g., a house)] is desired to reach a target temperature.” The challenged method claims recite a step of “determining a first time prior to said target time at which [the] climate control system should turn on to reach the target temperature by the target time.” The relevant claim limitation reads:

[D]etermining a first time prior to said target time at which said climate control system should turn on to reach the target temperature by the target time based at least in part on [i] said one or more thermal performance values of said structure, [ii] said performance characteristic of said climate control system, [iii] said first internal temperature, [iv] said first external temperature, and [v] the forecasted temperature.

During the IPR proceedings, the parties disputed whether a prior art reference disclosed a method involving determining a first time prior to the target time based on a first internal temperature. Google argued that the prior art taught a calculation of a first time prior to the target time based on thermal performance values (input [i]) calculated from internal temperature values (input [iii]). EcoFactor argued that each of the inputs in the claim limitation was a distinct value not dependent on or calculated from any other input. Based on the claim language, the Board determined that claim construction was unnecessary and concluded that inputs [i] – [v] of the relevant claim limitation were separate inputs using different data. The Board concluded that Google had not shown that the challenged claims were unpatentable, reasoning that Google’s theory of obviousness relied on a single input as the basis for both input [i] and input [iii].

Google appealed. Google argued that although the Board stated that no construction was necessary, it incorrectly construed the claim limitation to require five discrete inputs.

The Federal Circuit agreed with Google, finding that the Board’s assessment of the claim limitation implicitly established the claim scope by requiring inputs [i] – [v] to be completely separate. The Court reasoned that the plain claim language did not provide any indication that none of the listed inputs could be based on any other input(s). Imputing this requirement into the limitation was therefore an act of claim construction.

The Federal [...]

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Carolina Calling: Sources of Proof Favor Transfer

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court order denying transfer, finding that the sources of proof, compulsory process and localized interest factors all favored transfer. In re Honeywell Int’l Inc., Case No. 23-152 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 26, 2024) (Dyk, Bryson, Taranto, JJ.) (per curiam) (nonprecedential)

Lone Star SCM Systems filed a lawsuit against Honeywell in the Western District of Texas, Waco Division (West Texas) asserting infringement of four patents related to radio frequency identification technology. Honeywell moved to transfer the suit to the Western District of North Carolina (West Carolina), where Hand Held Products, a Honeywell subsidiary that designed, manufactured, imported and sold certain accused products, is headquartered. Honeywell argued that it had identified five potential Hand Held witnesses who would be subject to the transferee’s subpoena power and that relevant and material evidence would be more likely to exist in the transferee district.

The district court denied Honeywell’s motion. The district court analyzed public- and private-interest factors outlined in the Fifth Circuit’s 2008 In re Volkswagen of Am. decision and concluded that although Lone Star could have brought its suit in West Carolina, Honeywell had failed to demonstrate that West Carolina was clearly more convenient. The district court acknowledged that the bulk of the evidence was located in West Carolina but ultimately concluded that the convenience to potential party witnesses favored West Texas, pointing to several Lone Star witnesses who resided in the Northern District of Texas. The court found that the public-interest factors were neutral or similarly offsetting. The district court also found that West Carolina’s local interest favored transfer, but judicial efficiency did not because a transfer would have required relocating this suit away from two co-pending Lone Star infringement suits.

Honeywell petitioned the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus. The Federal Circuit determined that the district court’s denial of Honeywell’s transfer motion was patently erroneous. The Federal Circuit explained that the district court’s findings regarding potential party witness convenience and judicial efficiency were contrary to recent Fifth Circuit and Federal Circuit precedent. Regarding the potential party witnesses, the Federal Circuit cited the Fifth Circuit’s 2023 In re TikTok decision, explaining that it was improper to place witnesses residing outside of West Texas but still within the state of Texas on par with those residing in West Carolina. Regarding judicial efficiency, the Federal Circuit found that Lone Star’s position differed little from the circumstances that the Federal Circuit considered in its 2021 In re Samsung Elecs. decision, where the other suits involved different defendants with different hardware and software. Consistent with Samsung, the Federal Circuit concluded that Lone Star’s co-pending suits did not favor West Texas because the other cases were likely to involve significantly different discovery, evidence and issues. The Federal Circuit vacated the district court’s decision and ordered the district court to grant Honeywell’s transfer motion.

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Stay in the Know: Informational Message Is Not a Source Identifier

Addressing whether the mark EVERYBODY VS. RACISM was registrable, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s final refusal to register the mark because it failed to function as a source identifier. In re: GO & Assoc., LLC, Case No. 22-1961 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2023) (nonprecedential) (Fed. Cir. Jan. 22, 2024) (precedential) (Lourie, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)

On June 2, 2020, GO & Associates filed a trademark application seeking registration on the principal register of EVERYBODY VS. RACISM, identifying the goods and services as various apparel “promoting public interest and awareness of the need for racial reconciliation and encouraging people to know their neighbor and then affect change in their own sphere of influence.”

In a non-final office action, the examining attorney refused to register the mark, asserting that it “failed to function as a source identifier for GO’s goods and services.” The examiner noted that the mark “merely convey[ed] support of, admiration for, or affiliation with the ideals conveyed by the message.” The examiner presented examples of the mark being used in informational settings, such as by referees in the National Basketball Association; in YouTube videos; on clothing; and in titles of rap songs, podcasts and church sermons. Although GO presented evidence that the mark had hardly been used or searched prior to its use in May 2020, the examining attorney continued to reject the application. The examiner found that “the ornamental uses of the mark only reinforced the fact that consumers would likely view the mark as a sentiment rather than a source.” The examiner also noted that the applicant’s first use of the mark coincided with the “general timeline of the heated anti-racism protests throughout the nation in the wake of the George Floyd killing.”

GO appealed to the Board. The Board found “that the record as a whole show[ed] wide use of the proposed mark in a non-trademark manner to consistently convey an informational, anti-racist message to the public, as opposed to a source identifier of GO’s goods and services,” and affirmed the examiner’s refusal to register the mark. GO appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Affirming the Board’s decision, the Federal Circuit emphasized that the threshold requirement for the issuance of a mark is whether it is source identifying: “what makes a trademark a trademark under the Lanham Act is its source-identifying function.” The mark must identify the source for the public and distinguish that source from others.

The Federal Circuit noted that whether a mark is source identifying depends on “how the mark is used in the marketplace and how consumers perceive it.” In particular, the US Patent & Trademark Office prohibits registering marks that it calls “informational matter” (i.e., “slogans, terms, and phrases used by the public to convey familiar sentiments, because consumers are unlikely to perceive the matter as a trademark or service mark for any goods and services”). Reviewing the Board’s findings for substantial evidence, the Court found that the Board properly weighed the [...]

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R&D Expenditures Need Only Relate to Subset of Domestic Industry Product

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.

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