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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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Present-Tense Claim Terms Not Sufficient to Require Actual Operation

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a US International Trade Commission (Commission) decision that found no violation of Section 337 due to noninfringement. The Court disagreed with the Commission that the use of present-tense claim terms required actual operation to be shown to prove infringement, but nevertheless affirmed the Commission’s finding because the patentee failed to establish that the accused products were capable of carrying out the claimed functionality. INVT SPE LLC v. ITC, Case No. 20-1903 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 31, 2022) (Newman, Taranto, Chen, JJ.)

In 2018, INVT filed a complaint at the Commission alleging a Section 337 violation by various cell phone companies. INVT asserted that five of its patents were infringed by the 3G and LTE networking standards used by mobile devices (such as cell phones) to communicate with base stations (such as cell phone towers). INVT withdrew two of the asserted patents during the course of the investigation, and the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an initial determination holding that there was no Section 337 violation because none of the three remaining patents were infringed. The Commission did not disturb that decision on review, and INVT appealed on two of the three asserted patents in June 2020.

Briefing during the appeal was extended several times, and as a result, oral argument did not occur until November 2021. The Federal Circuit then asked for supplemental briefing regarding whether there could be any relief on one of the patents scheduled to expire in March 2022. The Court ultimately issued its decision at the end of August 2022, more than two years after the appeal was filed.

In its decision, the Federal Circuit first held that the appeal was moot as to the expired patent. For the remaining patent, the dispute over infringement resolved to the question of whether the claims required actual operation or could instead be met by mere capability. On that point, the Court reversed the ALJ’s determination that the claims required actual operation. According to the Court, the present-tense claim language used (i.e., “a data obtaining section that demodulates and decodes”) was not significantly different from the sort that is usually interpreted to merely require capability (e.g., “for demodulating and decoding”). But the Court then held that the actual operation of the base stations was relevant to determining whether the accused mobile devices were capable of performing one of the particular claimed functions. The Court thus affirmed the finding of no infringement because INVT had failed to show that the base stations actually operated in a way that would allow the mobile devices to be capable of carrying out the claimed functionality.

Alexander Ott appeared for respondent ZTE at the Commission in this matter.




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Significant Third-Party Discovery Too Complex for ITC Early Disposition Program

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) denied a proposed respondent’s request to use the early disposition program to determine whether a complainant met the domestic industry requirement in a Section 337 investigation. The ITC concluded that the issues proposed for resolution were too complex to be decided within 100 days of institution because significant third-party discovery was likely necessary. Certain Video Processing Devices, Components Thereof, and Digital Smart Televisions Containing Same, Comm’n Order, USITC Inv. No. 337-TA-1222 (Oct. 14, 2020).

The early disposition program aims to limit unnecessary litigation and save time and resources for litigants and the ITC by resolving obvious and fatal deficiencies in a complainant’s case before the parties embark on a full Section 337 investigation. The program provides for an initial determination by the presiding administrative law judge within 100 days of institution on potentially dispositive issues. The administrative law judge may hold expedited hearings and stay discovery of any other issues during the pendency of the 100-day proceeding. The ITC has indicated that appropriate issues for resolution include domestic industry, importation, standing and patent subject matter eligibility.

Complainant DivX, LLC, a video software technology company, relied on its licensee’s assembly of smart TVs in the United States to satisfy the domestic industry requirement. Proposed respondent Realtek Semiconductor Corporation, a chipmaker for consumer electronics, argued that DivX would be unlikely to meet the domestic industry requirement because DivX’s licensee stopped identifying several of its products as “Assembled in the USA” to avoid deceiving consumers in connection with a petition filed before the Federal Trade Commission. Realtek also argued that DivX could not identify smart TVs as the domestic industry product for purposes of the economic prong and a different video processor product for purposes of the technical prong. Realtek sought to resolve these issues through the early disposition program, and DivX opposed. Although neither party raised the issue of third-party discovery, the ITC denied Realtek’s request because such discovery was likely necessary, making adjudication within 100 days impracticable.

Practice Note: The ITC places great emphasis on the expeditious adjudication of Section 337 investigations because of the ITC’s statutory mandate to complete them at the earliest practicable time. The early disposition program builds on that mandate and can provide an even speedier timeframe by streamlining and resolving dispositive issues within 100 days of institution. A proposed respondent should consider requesting early disposition for clear weaknesses in a complainant’s case where the issue to be decided is not complex and does not require significant discovery. While the ITC does not grant use of the early disposition program often, where it has done so, several cases have ended with withdrawal of the complaint or termination before a hearing.




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Non-Respondent’s Product Cannot Be Adjudicated for Infringement in Context of General Exclusion Order

The US International Trade Commission issued a general exclusion order (GEO) excluding from entry into the United States products infringing patents directed to luxury vinyl tile, but vacated findings in the Initial Determination (ID) adjudicating infringement for products belonging to entities not named as respondents in the investigation. The Commission explained that a finding should not be made as to whether a non-respondent’s product infringes a patent in the context of a GEO, but instead the analysis should be limited to whether the “alleged” infringement supports a finding that there is a pattern of violation of Section 337. Certain Luxury Vinyl Tile and Components Thereof, USITC Inv. No. 337-TA-1155, Comm’n Op. (Oct. 5, 2020).

The ITC instituted an investigation against multiple respondents. The administrative law judge granted summary determination of violation by certain defaulting respondents and recommended a GEO. Unlike limited exclusion orders (LEO), which only prohibit infringing goods imported by a named respondent in an investigation, GEOs prohibit entry of the infringing products regardless of the source. GEOs are issued when necessary to prevent circumvention of an LEO or when there is a pattern of violation and it is difficult to identify the source of infringing products. In connection with the request for a GEO in this investigation, the complainants accused two additional products from non-respondents of infringement. In the ID, the administrative law judge analyzed the two products and determined that they infringed the asserted patents.

The Commission determined to review the ID in part. On review, the Commission determined that a GEO was appropriate, but vacated the findings of the ID that adjudicated infringement of the asserted patents by the two products belonging to the non-respondents. The Commission explained that in considering a GEO, a finding should not be made as to whether a non-respondent’s product infringes a patent and instead the analysis should be limited to whether there is a pattern of violation of Section 337. The Commission therefore vacated the infringement findings to avoid confusion and possible prejudice to the non-respondents in future proceedings.

Practice Note: A GEO is an attractive remedy for companies confronted by widespread infringement by imported products originating from sources that are difficult to identify or companies that dissolve and re-emerge as new entities and can therefore circumvent an LEO. The Commission has now made it easier to obtain a GEO because “alleged” infringement by products from a non-respondent can be used to show a pattern of violation warranting a GEO without a full adjudication of infringement for those products.




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Unnamed Respondent Has Standing to Seek Rescission of ITC General Exclusion Order

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a US International Trade Commission (ITC) decision denying a petition for rescission of a general exclusion order (GEO) prohibiting importation of products accused of patent infringement, because a post-investigation invalidity attack is not a changed condition warranting rescission. Mayborn Grp., Ltd. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, Case No. 19-2077 (Fed. Cir. July 16, 2020) (Lourie, J.).

Several parties filed a complaint at the ITC against several respondents, not including Mayborn Group, Ltd., and Mayborn USA, Inc. The complaint alleged infringement of a patent disclosing a self-anchoring beverage container that prevents spills. The complainants sought a GEO barring importation of infringing goods by any party, including unnamed respondents such as Mayborn. In contrast to GEOs, limited exclusion orders only prohibit infringing goods imported by named respondents in an investigation. The ITC instituted an investigation, and the administrative law judge determined that two respondents were in default and liable for unfair acts (patent infringement) in connection with importation. The defaulting respondents did not raise any invalidity challenge during the investigation. On the administrative law judge’s recommendation, the ITC issued a GEO.

Following issuance of the GEO, Mayborn continued to import potentially infringing products. The complainants notified Mayborn that they were working with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to enforce the GEO against Mayborn’s importations. In response, Mayborn petitioned the ITC to rescind the GEO pursuant to its power to rescind or modify an order if there is a change in the conditions that led to the GEO. Mayborn argued that the “changed condition” requirement was satisfied because it contends the asserted claims are invalid.. The ITC denied Mayborn’s petition, holding that a petitioner’s asserted discovery of invalidating prior art after the issuance of a GEO was not a changed condition. Mayborn appealed, arguing that the ITC erred in rejecting its request for rescission. The ITC alleged that Mayborn lacked standing to appeal because Mayborn’s alleged injury stemmed from the complainants’ threat to enforce the GEO rather than any act by the ITC.

The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that Mayborn’s post-investigation invalidity challenge was not a basis for rescission of the GEO. The Court first addressed the ITC’s standing argument, and determined that Mayborn had standing because it was injured by the GEO and the GEO was enforced by the ITC. The ITC or CBP could act to enforce the GEO at any time. Mayborn had also lost sales and incurred other harm stemming from the complainants’ threats to assert the GEO, including reputational injury, market share loss and damaged business relationships. Standing did not require the ITC to have already barred importation of Mayborn’s products.

After finding that Mayborn had standing, the Federal Circuit determined that Mayborn’s invalidity challenge was not a permissible basis to seek rescission of the GEO for two reasons. First, although patent invalidity is an affirmative defense to patent infringement, the ITC is constrained to adjudicating patent validity only when a respondent raises an invalidity defense during an [...]

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Knowledge and Control of Importation Can Lead to § 337 Violation

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a US International Trade Commission (ITC) decision that a respondent qualified as an importer under § 337 despite not being the actual importer of record, based on the respondent’s involvement in the importation. Comcast Corp. et al. v. ITC, Case Nos. 18-1450, -1653, -1667 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 2, 2020) (Newman, J).

In 2016, Rovi filed a complaint with the ITC against Comcast and its suppliers based on infringement allegations of seven patents related to digital video guide technologies. Rovi dropped one asserted patent prior to trial, and the ITC’s administrative law judge ultimately found a § 337 violation based on two of the remaining patents. In late 2017, the ITC commissioners affirmed the administrative law judge’s determination and entered an exclusion order against Comcast.

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