infringement
Subscribe to infringement's Posts

Espresso Yourself: When Prosecution History as a Whole Doesn’t Demonstrate Clear, Unmistakable Disclaimer

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s claim construction and related summary judgment rulings after determining that the district court erred in construing a claim term by improperly limiting the plain and ordinary meaning of the term. K-fee System GmbH v. Nespresso USA, Inc., Case No. 22-2042 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 26, 2023) (Taranto, Clevenger, Stoll, JJ.)

K-fee filed a lawsuit against Nespresso alleging infringement of three K-fee patents directed toward coffee machine portion capsules that use a barcode. The district court issued a claim construction order construing the term “barcode,” which was present in every asserted claim. In the claim construction order, the district court characterized the dispute as “whether statements made by K-fee System GmbH . . . before the EPO [European Patent Office] concerning the meaning of ‘barcode’ should influence the plain and ordinary meaning of that limitation in these proceedings.”

In the EPO, Nespresso’s foreign affiliate had challenged the validity of K-fee’s related European patent, and K-fee had responded seeking to distinguish a particular piece of prior art (Jarisch/D1). Because the statements made to the EPO were submitted to the US Patent & Trademark Office during prosecution of the asserted patents, the district court analyzed the statements as part of the intrinsic record. The district court concluded that K-fee had “argued strenuously before the EPO for a particular ‘plain and ordinary meaning,’ which excluded ‘bit codes’—codes made up of two binary symbols.” Based on the EPO submissions, the district court construed the claim term “barcode” to:

its plain and ordinary meaning (i.e., a code having bars of variable width, which includes the lines and gaps), the scope of which is understood by the clear and unequivocal statements K-fee made to the EPO (i.e., the scope of barcode does not include the type of bit code disclosed in Jarisch/D1).

Based on that construction of “barcode,” Nespresso moved for summary judgment of noninfringement. It argued that its accused products operated identically to Jarisch capsules, which K-fee distinguished before the EPO, since both use a machine-readable code with only two binary symbols. The district court agreed. When applying its construction at summary judgment, the district court clarified that using “the type of bit code disclosed in Jarisch” … means “a binary code containing only ‘0s’ and ‘1s.’” Thus, the district court read K-fee’s EPO statements “to mean that a barcode must ‘contain more than only two binary symbols’ and, by extension, that any code that contains only two binary symbols could not be a barcode.” Because the court found that “there was no dispute that Nespresso’s accused products used a code having only two symbols,” it granted Nespresso’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement. K-fee appealed.

Considering the issue de novo, the Federal Circuit reviewed K-fee’s statements to the EPO in context and disagreed “that the ordinary meaning of ‘barcode’ excludes ‘bit codes’ (in some sense, two-value codes) or even bit codes of ‘the type . . . disclosed in Jarisch’ to [...]

Continue Reading




read more

If the Label Is Skinny Enough – No Inducement Under Hatch-Waxman

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made explicit what has long been considered implicit based on Warner-Lambert and its progeny, namely, that plaintiffs asserting an induced infringement theory to bar the entry of generic drugs in a Hatch-Waxman suit are subject to higher scrutiny than plaintiffs asserting the same theories outside of the Hatch-Waxman context. H. Lundbeck A/S v. Lupin Ltd., Case No. 22-1194 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 7, 2023) (Dyk, Prost, Hughes, JJ.)

Lundbeck owns the approved new drug application (NDA) for Trintellix®, a drug indicated for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), as well as an expired compound patent for the associated active ingredient vortioxetine. Lundbeck also owns a patent that claims the use of vortioxetine as an antidepressant that can be prescribed in place of a traditional antidepressant to alleviate a patient’s negative sexual side effects, and another patent that claims the use of vortioxetine to treat cognitive impairment symptoms in patients with MDD.

Generic pharmaceutical companies filed abbreviated new drug applications (ANDAs) seeking approval to market generic versions of Trintellix® and asserting that Lundbeck’s unexpired patents listed in its NDA were invalid and would not be infringed by the generic companies. As required by the Hatch-Waxman Act (to prevent the entry of a generic on the market), Lundbeck sued the generic companies. At the district court, the defendants prevailed on the finding of noninfringement but lost on invalidity. Lundbeck appealed.

Lundbeck pressed its induced infringement and contributory infringement theories on appeal. Lundbeck argued that the generics infringed under the plain text of Hatch-Waxman (35 USC 271(e)(2)(A)) because they filed ANDAs seeking approval to market vortioxetine, and that “some uses of vortioxetine—for the treatment of patients that have previously taken other drugs but had to cease or reduce use due to sexually related adverse events and for the treatment of cognitive impairment—are covered by [Lundbeck’s listed] patents; and the labels do not prohibit prescribing vortioxetine for those uses, even though the defendants do not propose to market the drug for those patented uses.” In other words, Lundbeck argued that in terms of its inducement allegation, it made no difference whether a drug would be sold for a use not covered by Lundberg’s NDA-listed patents because the drug could be prescribed for those patented uses.

The Federal Circuit disagreed, explaining that “‘the use’ in § 271(e)(2)(A) refers to the use for which the FDA has granted an NDA” and for which the ANDA was submitted.” The Court emphasized that it is not “an act of infringement under . . . § 271(e)(2)(A) to submit an ANDA for a drug if just any use of that drug were claimed in a patent.” If it were, a brand could “maintain its exclusivity merely by regularly filing a new patent application claiming a narrow method of use not covered by its NDA,” which “would confer substantial additional rights on pioneer drug patent owners that Congress quite clearly did not intend to confer.” As the Court then held, “actions for [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Sound the Alarm: Reasonable Royalty Apportionment Analysis Overlooks “Sleep State”

After a jury found infringement of two patents and awarded almost $2.2 billion in damages, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the infringement finding for one asserted patent, vacated the damages award for the other asserted patent, and reversed the district court’s refusal to allow the alleged infringer to add a licensing defense. VLSI Technology LLC v. Intel Corporation, Case No. 22-1906 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 4, 2023) (Lourie, Dyk, Taranto, JJ.)

VLSI sued Intel for infringement of two patents. During the litigation, third party Finjan underwent a change in control after which it was controlled by the same parent entity as VLSI. Intel sought to amend its answer to add a licensing defense based on the broad definition of “affiliates” in its license agreement with Finjan, arguing that as a consequence of the change in control Intel was licensed to patents owned by VLSI. The district court denied the motion to amend.

At trial, the jury found literal infringement of one patent and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents (DoE) for the other patent. The jury awarded $2.2 billion in damages. Intel appealed.

The patent that the jury found infringed under the DoE was directed to devices, such as computer processors, having the ability to operate at a variety of frequencies. Depending on the operating conditions, a master device can provide a trigger input to a controller in response to a desired increase in device performance, and the controller can then adjust the clock frequency accordingly. Intel argued that the evidence of equivalents presented to the jury was legally insufficient to support a finding of infringement.

The Federal Circuit agreed and reversed the jury’s finding under the DoE. The Court stressed that for a patent owner to prevail under a DoE assertion, it must provide “particularized testimony and linking argument as to the insubstantiality of the differences between the claimed invention and the accused device.” While VLSI’s proof of equivalence was limitation specific, the testimony provided during the trial was insufficient to explain the “insubstantiality” of the differences between the claims and the Intel products. The Court specifically cited trial testimony by VLSI’s expert, who characterized the differences as “a difference of where an engineer draws the line . . . it’s a design choice.” In its explanation of why the analysis and testimony was insufficient, the Court explained that “[i]t is not enough [] to say that the different functionality-location placements were a ‘design choice.’ . . . VLSI had to prove—with particularized testimony and linking argument—that the elements of the Intel arrangement were substantially the same as the elements of the claimed arrangement. But VLSI offered no meaningful testimony doing so.”

Intel also appealed the damages award based on the patent that was found to be literally infringed. That patent was directed to certain features that provide separate scalable (as opposed to fixed) power supply voltages for both processors and memory devices, depending on the need of the device. VLSI’s expert presented a calculation of damages based [...]

Continue Reading




read more

A Step Forward for Choreography and Copyright

In a rare ruling on infringement of a copyright on choreography, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a copyright infringement action, holding that the district court erred in its application of the substantial similarity standard in terms of the line between animation and choreography, and remanded for further proceedings. Hanagami v. Epic Games, Inc., Case No. 22-55890 (9th Cir. Nov. 1, 2023) (Murguia, C.J.; Paez, Nguyen, JJ.)

Kyle Hanagami, a Los Angeles-based choreographer with a substantial social media following, brought this action against Epic Games, creator of the blockbuster video game Fortnite. Hanagami alleged that Epic infringed his copyrighted choreography by incorporating a portion of his dance work into a virtual animation, known as an “emote,” that players can purchase for video game avatars to perform. Hanagami has created choreography for famous pop stars and globally recognized brands. The five-minute choreographic work at issue in this action was originally published on YouTube in November 2017 and had received almost 36 million views as of Hanagami’s original March 2022 complaint.

In August 2020, Epic released a version of Fortnite that included a new emote called “It’s Complicated.” The allegedly copied choreography consisted of a two-second combination of eight bodily movements set to four beats of movement, which Hanagami alleged “contain[ed] the most recognizable portion” of his choreography. Hanagami brought federal claims alleging direct and contributory infringement of a copyright, as well as a state law unfair competition claim.

The district court granted Epic’s motion to dismiss wherein Epic asserted that Hanagami had not plausibly alleged that the Fortnite emote displayed “substantial similarity” to his choreographic work. Hanagami appealed.

At issue in this appeal was whether the district court had properly applied the Ninth Circuit’s two-part test for substantial similarity in assessing Hanagami’s infringement allegations. The first part, called the “extrinsic test,” focuses only on the protectable elements of the plaintiff’s expression and assesses the objective similarities between the original and the allegedly infringing work. The second part, referred to as the “intrinsic test,” gauges similarity of expression from the perspective of the ordinary reasonable observer and is reserved for the trier of fact. Hence, at the pleadings stage, only the extrinsic test is applied.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in its application of the extrinsic test in two ways. First, the district court incorrectly analyzed Hanagami’s choreography as a series of unprotectable “poses,” rather than as a movement sequence that includes expressive elements such as body position, timing, use of space, energy, pauses and repetition. The Court explained that when a dance work is properly analyzed as a selection and arrangement of movements, Hanagami “plausibly alleged that the creative choices he made in selecting and arranging elements . . . are substantially similar to the choices Epic made in creating the emote.” Second, the district court erred in dismissing Hanagami’s claim because the choreography in the emote was “short” and a “small component” of the original work. The Ninth Circuit [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Still Exceptional: Fee-Shift Appropriate in View of Noninfringement Stipulation

In a split decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s award of more than $5 million in attorneys’ fees, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the underlying case “exceptional” under 35 U.S.C. § 285 or in calculating the total fees awarded. In re PersonalWeb Tech., Case No. 21-1858 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 3, 2023) (Reyna, Lourie, JJ.) (Dyk, J., dissenting).

Under 35 U.S.C. § 285, a “court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.” In Octane Fitness (2014), the Supreme Court of the United States held that an exceptional case is “simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated,” and the court considers the totality of the circumstances in making this determination.

PersonalWeb’s litigation positions at issue date back to 2011, when PersonalWeb first asserted five patents against an e-commerce company. After an unfavorable claim construction ruling, PersonalWeb stipulated to dismiss the action, and the district court entered the dismissal with prejudice.

In 2018, PersonalWeb asserted the patents against customers of the e-commerce company. The e-commerce company intervened and filed a new action against PersonalWeb seeking a declaratory judgment to bar the infringement actions against the customers based on the 2011 dismissal. Some of the cases proceeded while others were stayed. The district court granted summary judgment against PersonalWeb on claims directed to two allegedly infringing products for two separate reasons: because of the Kessler doctrine and claim preclusion, and because PersonalWeb conceded that it could not prevail after an unfavorable claim construction order.

The district court also entered an award of attorneys’ fees and costs against PersonalWeb, finding the case to be “exceptional” for the following reasons:

  • The infringement claims were “objectively baseless and not reasonable when brought because they were barred due to a final judgment in the [2011 action].”
  • PersonalWeb frequently changed its infringement positions to overcome the hurdle of the day.
  • PersonalWeb unnecessarily prolonged this litigation after claim construction foreclosed its infringement theories.
  • PersonalWeb’s conduct and positions regarding the customer cases were unreasonable.
  • PersonalWeb submitted declarations that it should have known were inaccurate.

The district court calculated the attorneys’ fees to be more than $5 million and costs to be more than $200,000. PersonalWeb appealed.

PersonalWeb argued that the district court erred in awarding fees and, even if fees were warranted, the court erred in assessing almost $2 million of the $5 million award. The Federal Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in any of its findings related to the fee grant, agreeing with the district court’s application of the Kessler doctrine. In Kessler, the Supreme Court ruled that after a final judgment of noninfringement, follow-up suits by the same patentee over the same non-infringing product against customers of the party [...]

Continue Reading




read more

No Money, Mo’ Problems: Speculative Damages Award Cannot Stand

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a district court’s claim construction and jury instructions but reversed a premature judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on obviousness and an imprecise damages award. Cyntec Company, Ltd. v. Chilisin Electronics. Corp., Case No. 22-1873 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 16, 2023) (Moore, Stoll, Cunningham, JJ)

Cyntec sued Chilisin for willful infringement of two patents related to molded chokes, which are component parts in batteries and power supplies. Four events at trial led to this appeal. First, the district court construed the disputed “by means of” term by its plain meaning but also instructed the jury that when a result occurs “by means of” a factor, that factor “has an impact on”—but may not be the “only potential cause” of—the result. Second, Chilisin presented invalidity evidence, arguing that the asserted claims were obvious by one prior art reference in light of another.

Before Chilisin could cross-examine Cyntec’s rebuttal expert, the district court granted Cyntec’s JMOL, finding the patents not obvious. In the third event that led to the appeal, Cyntec presented a market-share lost profits theory of damages based on expert testimony. Chilisin unsuccessfully moved to exclude the testimony as being speculative and unreliable. The jury awarded more than $1.8 million in damages and the district court subsequently granted enhanced damages totaling more than $5.5 million. As for the fourth event, Chilisin unsuccessfully moved for JMOL and a new trial on multiple issues. Chilisin then appealed.

The Federal Circuit reviewed three issues on appeal:

  1. The nonobviousness JMOL
  2. The infringement findings
  3. The damages award.

Starting with nonobviousness, the Federal Circuit reversed the JMOL and remanded. While obviousness is ultimately a legal question, it relies on “numerous underlying factual findings,” including the scope/content/differences of prior art, the skill level of a person of ordinary skill in the art and objective indicia of nonobviousness such as commercial success. The Court found Chilisin had presented enough evidence to allow a jury to find the asserted claims obvious in light of the two prior art references presented. The Federal Circuit also analyzed the district court’s reasoning regarding the prior art and found that its “conclusions are either insufficient to support JMOL or unsupported by the evidence.” Thus, it was improper to withhold a partial fact issue from the jury.

Next, the Federal Circuit analyzed the infringement issue, dividing the analysis into the district court’s claim construction and jury instructions, and the jury’s infringement finding. Chilisin argued that the disputed term “by means of” should signal but-for causation, meaning the factor must cause the result. The Court agreed that this was one possible reading, but because the claim language did not read “by exclusive/primary means” or something similar, the disputed term could also encompass “mere contribution.” The Federal Circuit cited to the specification in support of its claim interpretation and ultimately upheld the district court’s claim construction and the consistent jury instructions. The Court rejected Chilisin’s argument that there was insufficient evidence of infringement, concluding [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Downloaded: No Relief From Stipulated Claim Construction

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that a claim interpretation that flows naturally from the parties’ stipulated claim construction is binding on the parties even if the interpretation reads preferred embodiments out of the claims. Finjan LLC v. SonicWall, Inc., Case No. 22-1048 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 13, 2023) (Reyna, Cunningham, JJ.) (Bryson, J., dissenting).

In 2017, Finjan sued SonicWall for infringing several of Finjan’s patents related to cybersecurity technology systems that identify malicious material in downloadable content and programming code. The asserted patents included claims directed to ways to protect network-connectable devices from undesirable downloadable operations. During claim construction, the parties stipulated that a “downloadable” should be construed as “an executable application program, which is downloaded from a source computer and run on the destination computer.”

SonicWall moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not infringe the patents because the accused devices received and inspected supposed “downloadables” as unextracted packets, which do not constitute executable files under the stipulated claim construction. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of SonicWall, finding that Finjan failed to offer evidence that “the accused […] products ‘ever possess a reassembled file or executable application.’” Finjan appealed.

Finjan argued that the district court’s ruling was incorrect because it impermissibly grafted additional requirements onto the stipulated claim construction, and that the district court’s interpretation was inconsistent with claim language found in other parts of the asserted patents. The Federal Circuit rejected these arguments, noting that the district court’s infringement ruling followed directly from the parties’ stipulated definition of the term “downloadables.” Under the stipulated claim construction and in accordance with Finjan’s own expert’s interpretation of the meaning of “executable,” a device “that merely receives and forwards packets without reassembling their contents does not receive a downloadable . . . because that device does not receive an executable application program.” The Court emphasized that Finjan could not challenge its earlier claim construction stipulation. Further, the Court noted that the stipulated definition of “downloadables” was derived verbatim from the specifications of two of the asserted patents.

Judge Bryson dissented for two reasons. First, he noted that the district court’s interpretation of the claims would read preferred embodiments out of the patent and effectively eviscerate from the patent’s scope any device that screens content from the internet. Second, Judge Bryson found that elsewhere in the asserted patents’ specifications it was clear that the meaning of “downloadables” used by the district court was incorrect. Contrary to the majority, Judge Bryson did not find the stipulated claim construction dispositive because Finjan merely challenged the meaning of the word “executable” within the stipulated claim construction, rather than the contents of the stipulation itself.

Practice Note: This decision offers a few helpful lessons for practitioners. First, it is important to write claims in language that is both expansive enough to encompass all intended embodiments but precise enough to survive invalidity challenges. By carefully selecting specific but broad language, and writing claims more accurately, patentees may avoid semantic noninfringement arguments. [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Just How Similar Must Competing Marks Be to Survive Dismissal?

After a de novo review, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s motion to dismiss, finding the competing marks sufficiently similar to avoid dismissal, and the attorneys’ fee award. Bliss Collection, LLC v. Latham Companies, LLC, Case Nos. 21-5723; -5361 (6th Cir. Sept 21, 2023) (Mathis, Bush, JJ.) (Larsen, J., dissenting).

This case between Bliss and Latham was the latest installment in a series of cases between the children’s clothing companies after a Bliss founder left to start Latham as a competitor company. Here, Bliss sued Latham for infringement of three trademarks for Bliss’s stylized lowercase “b” logo, appearing as if stitched out in thread. Bliss sued for federal copyright infringement, federal trademark infringement, federal trade dress infringement, federal false designation of origin and misappropriation of source, federal unfair competition, trademark under Kentucky law and unfair competition under Kentucky law.

The competing marks are depicted below:

Latham moved to dismiss, and the district court dismissed the federal copyright and trade dress claims. The district court did not initially dismiss the remaining claims, but later did so after a motion for reconsideration. The district court determined that Latham was not entitled to attorneys’ fees because the case was not exceptional, and Bliss had brought the suit in good faith. Bliss appealed the federal trademark infringement, federal trade dress infringement and trademark infringement under Kentucky common law only.

The Sixth Circuit focused its analysis on whether the amended complaint properly alleged that Latham’s logo was a use of Bliss’s trademark. The Court noted that dismissal was not warranted for anything but the most extreme cases, concluded that this was not such a case and reversed.

The Sixth Circuit found that Latham used the accused mark “in a trademark way” (i.e., to identify goods). Then, weighing the Frisch factors to determine likelihood of confusion between the marks, the Court found that the similarity between the marks and their “impression” favored Bliss despite the fact “that the logos share no words or homophones.” Overall, the Court found that five of the eight factors favored Bliss and that two were neutral. Only the likelihood of purchaser care factor was found to favor Latham. The Court thus found that Bliss had plausibly alleged a likelihood of confusion and that its complaint stated a federal trademark infringement claim. Applying the same logic to the state trademark claims, the Court also reversed the dismissal of those claims.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the trade dress claim, however, because Bliss failed in its affirmative duty to plead facts in support of nonfunctional trade dress.

Turning to the attorneys’ fee award, the Sixth Circuit found that the mere fact that Bliss sued Latham was not sufficient to warrant an “exceptional” case finding in terms of an award for fees. The Court was also unpersuaded that the trade dress claim was worthy of a fee award [...]

Continue Reading




read more

What’s Kühler Than Kühl? No Likelihood of Confusion

Addressing unfair competition claims under the Lanham Act, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concluded that no reasonable juror would confuse an alcohol distributer’s use of the word “kühl” with use of a similar mark by a clothing company. Alfwear, Inc. v. Mast-Jägermeister US, Inc., Case No. 21-4029 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 7, 2023) (Holmes, Kelly, Carson, JJ.)

Alfwear has used the mark KÜHL on its outdoor apparel line since 1993 and has registered the mark in connection with apparel, wine and beer. Mast-Jägermeister US (MJUS), a German herbal liqueur distributor, began incorporating “kühl” into its advertisements on billboards, commercials and digital advertising in phrases such as “kühl as ice” and “drink it ice kühl.” In response, Alfwear filed suit against MJUS, asserting trademark infringement and unfair competition. The district court granted MJUS’s motion for summary judgment, finding that there was no likelihood of confusion because all but one factor for assessing likelihood of confusion supported MJUS. Alfwear appealed.

Alfwear argued that the district court erred by not concluding that MJUS’s use of the word “kühl” was likely to cause confusion with Alfwear’s use of the essentially the same word. To determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists, the following factors must be considered:

  • The degree of similarity between the marks
  • The intent of the alleged infringer in adopting its mark
  • Evidence of actual confusion
  • Similarity of products and manner of marketing
  • The degree of care likely to be exercised by purchasers
  • The strength or weakness of the marks.

The Tenth Circuit found that the two marks were not similar in sound, meaning or appearance, and that MJUS only used “kühl” in association with other MJUS marks. The Court explained that Alfwear often depicts the KÜHL mark alongside a logo of a shield-type shape containing a stylized, snow-covered mountain peak in the colors brown, black and white against a bright blue sky. In contrast, MJUS uses the word “kühl” in phrases such as “kühl shots” or “kühl as ice,” on top of a black or green background and accompanied by a combination of either the mark JÄGERMEISTER, the Jägermeister logo or images of a Jägermeister bottle.

The Tenth Circuit also found that MJUS did not intend to copy Alfwear’s mark, explaining that MJUS was not aware of Alfwear’s trademark when designing the new advertising campaign, and noting that when MJUS became aware of the trademark, MJUS intended to avoid infringement by not placing the mark on its apparel or liquor products. The Court also determined that there was insufficient evidence of actual confusion. Alfwear presented anecdotal evidence from Alfwear executives who had heard about confusion from individuals and survey evidence that demonstrated consumers experienced an approximately 30% chance of confusion. The Court found that the anecdotal evidence was de minimis and found that the survey was not designed properly because the products were not shown to survey participants as they would appear in the marketplace and used leading questions. The Court also found that the two [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Standard Practice: The Public Has Right to Copyrighted Material Incorporated Into Law

In a case that attracted a slew of amicus curiae participation and was the most recent in the series of American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) copyright cases, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the noncommercial dissemination of standards, as incorporated by reference into law, constitutes fair use and thus does not support liability for copyright infringement. Am. Soc’y for Testing & Materials v. Public.Resource.Org, Case No. 22-7063 (DC Cir. Sept. 12, 2023) (Henderson, Pillard, Katsas, JJ.)

The ASTM and the other plaintiffs are private organizations that develop and promulgate standards for establishing best practices for their respective industries or products. In 2013, they brought an action for copyright infringement against Public.Resource.Org for posting their copyrighted standards (as they were referenced in agency rulemaking and incorporated into law) on its website, thereby making these materials available to the public at no cost. After the district court initially granted ASTM’s motion for summary judgment of copyright infringement and rejected Public Resource’s fair use defense, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded for further consideration the issue of whether posting the incorporated standards constituted fair use. Subsequently, the district court “found fair use as to the posting of standards incorporated into law and infringement as to the standards not so incorporated.” The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the DC Circuit analyzed the following fact-intensive fair use factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The DC Circuit concluded that the first three factors strongly favored holding that Public Resource’s posting of the incorporated standards constituted fair use. As to the first factor, the Court explained that in a manner similar to the one discussed by the Supreme Court of the United States in its 2021 Google v. Oracle Am. case, Public Resource’s use was for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. The DC Circuit further found Public Resource’s use transformative in that it served different purposes than ASTM’s use (“provide[ing] the public with a free and comprehensive repository of the law” versus “producing standards reflecting industry or engineering best practices.”)

As to the second factor, the DC Circuit reasoned that the “nature of the copyrighted work” heavily favored fair use because the standards “fall at the factual end of the fact-fiction spectrum” and “have legal force, [such that] they . . . fall ‘at best, at the outer edge of copyright’s protective purposes.’” As to the third factor, the Court found that it strongly supported fair use because the standards had been incorporated and thus had “the force of law.”

With respect to the fourth factor, the DC Circuit recognized that Public Resource’s [...]

Continue Reading




read more

BLOG EDITORS

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES