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Swing and a Miss: Failed Interferences Don’t Affect Later Ones

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) interference decision finding that priority belonged to the junior party based on sufficiently corroborated reduction to practice. Dionex Softron GmbH v. Agilent Technologies Inc., Case No. 21-2372 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 6, 2023) (Reyna, Chen, Stark, JJ.)

Both parties attempted to instigate an interference by copying each other’s claims regarding a method of operating a liquid chromatography system. Agilent first substantially copied Dionex’s claims but failed to secure declaration of an interference and subsequently amended its claims. Dionex then copied verbatim Agilent’s amended claims, successfully provoking an interference. The Board identified Dionex as the senior party and Agilent as the junior, placing the burden for priority on Agilent.

At the interference, Dionex moved for judgment based on lack of written description for the relevant count language (emphasis added):

. . . determining a movement amount of the piston within the chamber from a first position to a second position to increase a pressure in the sample loop from an essentially atmospheric pressure to the pump pressure, based on the pump pressure […] wherein decreasing the volume includes forwarding the piston within the chamber by the determined movement amount from the first position to the second position.

Dionex contended that Agilent’s specification lacked written description for “determining a movement amount” and subsequently “forwarding the piston,” wherein the order of those two separate operations was important and lacking support. Dionex also contended that while the relevant specification was Dionex’s patent for a majority of count terms, some terms, such as “determining,” should be viewed in light of Agilent’s application. The Board disagreed and found that Agilent’s specification was controlling and contained adequate written description to support the count.

In finding Agilent’s written description adequate, the Board rejected Dionex’s contention that the claims required a determination of movement amount before forwarding the piston. Applying the broadest reasonable interpretation standard, the Board found that the count language permitted determination of movement amount while forwarding the piston and that consequently there was adequate support in the specification.

Both parties moved for judgment on priority. The Board granted Agilent’s motion, finding that even as the junior party, Agilent proved conception and reduction to practice before Dionex’s earliest conception date. Applying the rule of reason, the Board found that the testimony of one of Agilent’s co-inventors was sufficiently corroborated by two coworkers to show successful reduction to practice by the critical date. The Board also credited Agilent’s coworker testimony in denying Dionex’s contention that Agilent’s reduction to practice lacked a pressure senor and credited testimony stating that a high-pressure pump with a built-in pressure system was used. The Board also declined Dionex’s request to draw a negative inference from the lack of testimony of the other co-inventor, crediting Agilent’s explanation that the testimony would have been cumulative. Dionex appealed.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the Board had correctly treated Agilent’s specification as the “originating specification” because it was Dionex’s [...]

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The Saddest Hour? Closing Time for Trademark Cancellation Petition

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) denied a petition to cancel a trademark registration based on priority. The Board explained that the petitioner bears a higher burden of proof to show prior use when it has amended its trademark application during prosecution to allege an earlier use date. JNF LLC v. Harwood Int’l Inc., Cancellation No. 92070634 (TTAB Sept. 21, 2022) (Wellington, Greenbaum, Heasley, ATJ)

On October 6, 2014, Harwood International applied to register the standard character mark HAPPIEST HOUR on the Principal Register for “bar and restaurant services.” The application matured into a registration on July 26, 2016. Almost two years later, on May 1, 2018, JNF applied to register the mark THE HAPPIEST HOUR in standard characters on the Principal Register for “restaurant and bar services.” In its application, JNF claimed to have first used the mark anywhere and in commerce “at least as early as 10/00/2014.” The examining attorney assigned to JNF’s application issued an office action citing Harwood’s HAPPIEST HOUR registration as a bar to registration. JNF then amended its claimed date of first use to September 7, 2014. JNF subsequently filed a petition to cancel Harwood’s registration and further requested suspension of its application pending disposition of the cancellation proceeding. Harwood answered the petition and admitted that its registered mark HAPPIEST HOUR was cited as confusingly similar to JNF’s THE HAPPIEST HOUR application but denied that JNF had established prior rights to the mark.

The Board explained that for priority purposes, Harwood may rely on the filing date of the underlying application that matured into its involved registration. The Board further explained that JNF bears the burden of proving that its mark was “previously used in the United States,” before Harwood’s constructive filing date of October 6, 2014. The Board also noted that while a petitioner must ordinarily prove its priority entitlement by a preponderance of the evidence, in the circumstances of this case, the burden was heavier. Because JNF alleged a first use date of “at least as early as 10/00/2014” when it filed its application to register THE HAPPIEST HOUR, the date presumed for purposes of examination was the last day of the month, October 31, 2014—several weeks after Harwood’s constructive use date of October 6, 2014.

As the Board explained, although JNF subsequently amended its date of earliest use, that amendment came with a cost. The Board explained that where an applicant has stated an earliest use date under oath but then amends the oath and attempts to show an earlier date, the applicant is under a heavier burden of proof: clear and convincing evidence. Citing to Federal Circuit precedent, the Board further explained that the original allegation of first use date may be considered to have been made against interest at the time of filing. The Board found that this rationale applied with even greater force in the current situation because the alleged dates were very close to Harwood’s constructive use date and because JNF only [...]

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