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Failing to Address All Reasons for Noninfringement Renders Appeal Moot

In deciding whether the district court correctly interpreted various claim terms in four patents related to communication techniques used in computer gaming technology, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that rendering a decision as to the terms for at least two of the patents would be moot. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on noninfringement. Acceleration Bay LLC v. Take-Two Interactive Software (Oct. 4, 2021) (Reyna, J.)

Acceleration Bay is the owner of four unrelated patents that are generally directed to communication techniques associated with computer gaming. In particular, certain of the patents teach that an originating computer sends a message to its neighbors on a broadcast channel using point-to-point connections, and that the neighboring computers then sends the message to only their neighboring connections. This reduces the number of connections that each computer must maintain and improves efficiency in the system.

Acceleration Bay filed a patent infringement suit claiming that Take-Two Interactive Software, a software designer for various video games, including Grand Theft Auto V, NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K16, directly infringed the four asserted patents. As part of the district court proceedings, multiple terms recited in the claims of the four patents were construed. In particular, the court construed the claim term “m-regular” to mean “a state that the network is configured to maintain, where each participant is connected to exactly m neighbor participants.” Additionally, the court effectively embedded this definition of “m-regular” into other construed claim terms, including “fully connected portal computer” and “each participant being connected to three or more other participants.”

After claim construction, the district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement in favor of Take-Two on all asserted patents. In granting summary judgment, the court observed that Take-Two makes software, not computer networks or broadcast channels, and therefore its customers must introduce those elements. As such, direct infringement is inappropriate because multiple entities, not just Take-Two, contribute to the allegedly infringing system. The court rejected Acceleration Bay’s argument under Centrak, Inc. v. Sonitor Techs., Inc. that Take-Two was actually the “final assembler” because it installed the software for its customers. The court additionally identified multiple reasons why the “m-regular” limitation was not met in the accused products, including the fact that Acceleration Bay identified no source code to support its theory. Acceleration Bay appealed.

With respect to two of the four patents on appeal, Take-Two argued that Acceleration Bay’s appeal is moot because it only addressed one of the two reasons the district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement. Specifically, the court granted summary judgment on these two patents because (1) the accused products do not meet the “m-regular” limitation and (2) Acceleration Bay’s “final assembler” theory fails as a matter of law. On appeal, Acceleration Bay addressed only the “final assembler” theory. As such, the Federal Circuit found that a ruling on this issue would not affect the court’s summary judgment ruling, and the appeal of these two patents is [...]

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A Shoe-In? Fleet Feet Gives Injunction Appeal the Moot Boot

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed a preliminary injunction as moot where the enjoined party had discontinued the use complained of and had no future plan to restart it. Fleet Feet, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., Case No. 19-2390 (4th Cir. Jan. 26, 2021) (Diaz, J.) The Court denied the enjoined party’s request that it vacate the district court’s order granting the preliminary injunction despite mootness due to an ongoing litigation.

Fleet Feet is a retailer selling products related to running, including Nike merchandise. It is also a Nike competitor since Nike sells its own products. Fleet Feet obtained two trademark registrations, having already used both for years: “Running Changes Everything” in 2020, and “Change Everything” in 2015. In July 2019, Nike launched an advertising campaign with the tagline “Sport Changes Everything” scheduled to end at the February 2020 Super Bowl. Fleet Feet sued Nike for trademark infringement. The district court granted a preliminary injunction against Nike and set a $1 million injunction bond. The preliminary injunction order prohibited Nike from any use of the phrase “Sport Changes Everything” or any other designation confusingly similar to the Fleet Feet’s marks when advertising or selling goods and services. Nike discontinued its campaign two months before the scheduled end and appealed the preliminary injunction order.

Nike argued that the district court erred in its preliminary injunction factor analyses. But on appeal, the Fourth Circuit decided as a threshold matter that the end of Nike’s “Sport Changes Everything” campaign and its representation that there were no plans to use the term after the campaign rendered Nike’s appeal of the preliminary injunction “designed to interrupt that very campaign” moot. A case becomes “moot” when the “issues presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” The Court found that Nike’s appeal of the preliminary injunction was nonjusticiable since there had been an event during the pendency of the appeal that made it impossible to grant effective relief to a prevailing party. Because of the conclusion of the 2020 Super Bowl and Nike’s representations that it did not plan to use the term afterwards, there was no possible relief to Nike based on the preliminary injunction’s interference with the campaign.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed with Nike that two issues remained live. First, Nike argued that the continued restraint on Nike’s speech due to the order’s prohibition of any confusingly similar designation to Fleet Feet continued to be a live issue. The Court explained that this was only a potential controversy, not a live controversy. Because Nike had not engaged in the speech barred by the order, had represented that it did not intend to do so in the future, and had not introduced any new slogans confusingly similar to Fleet Feet’s marks, no actual speech was threatened by the preliminary injunction.

Second, Nike argued that the potential recovery on the injunction bond was a live issue. Referring to the Supreme Court case Univ. of Tex. [...]

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PTAB May Reject Substitute Claims Under Any Basis of Patentability

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit considered for the first time whether a district court’s invalidity determination, when made final after all appeals are exhausted, divests the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of jurisdiction in a co-pending inter partes review (IPR) proceeding involving the same claims, and held that it does not. The Court also held that in an IPR proceeding, the PTAB is free to reject proposed substitute claims for failing to meet the subject matter eligibility requirements of § 101. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Hulu, LLC, Case No. 19-1686 (Fed. Cir. July 22, 2020) (Wallach, J.) (Dyk, J., dissenting).

Hulu filed an IPR petition challenging claims of Uniloc’s patent directed to adjustable software licensing for digital products. After the PTAB instituted review, Uniloc filed a motion for substitute claims, conditional on whether the PTAB found the original claims unpatentable. Before the PTAB issued its final determination and before it ruled on the motion for substitute claims, a district court, in a related proceeding, held Uniloc’s asserted claims invalid as directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. Shortly thereafter, the PTAB issued a final written decision finding the challenged claims unpatentable over the prior art, and it found the substitute claims unpatentable under § 101. Uniloc appealed the PTAB’s use of § 101 to invalidate its substitute claims.

While Uniloc’s appeal of the Hulu IPR was pending, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s invalidity finding as to the original claims. With respect to the Hulu appeal, the Federal Circuit ordered the parties to address whether the appeal was moot in view of the ultimate finality with respect to invalidity of the original claims, thereby divesting the PTAB of jurisdiction over the IPR.

The majority held that the finality of the district court’s invalidity finding did not necessarily divest the PTAB of authority to consider substitute claims. It determined that the mootness issue was waivable, and that Hulu had waived the argument because it failed to raise mootness during the pendency of the IPR at the time the district court issued its decision. Even if Hulu had not waived the argument, the majority found that the PTAB’s authority to consider substitute claims does not depend on any live dispute about the original claims, as long as the motion to amend in the IPR was timely filed.

As to the PTAB’s rejection of the claims under § 101, the majority held that although the PTAB is restrained in an IPR proceeding to invalidating a patent’s original claims only under the anticipation and obviousness grounds raised in the petition, the PTAB may use other invalidity tools as a “new ground of rejection” for substitute claims, including for lack of patentable subject matter under § 101. The majority also suggested that other grounds of patentability would be within the scope of the PTAB’s authority, including rejections under the various subsections of § 112. The majority was concerned that limiting the PTAB’s review might force it to issue substitute claims that fail to meet all the statutory [...]

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