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When Are Compulsory Copyright Licenses Compulsory?

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially affirmed a district court’s summary judgment order holding that audiovisual recordings of live concerts do not fall within the scope of the Copyright Act’s compulsory license provision while purchasers of audio-only recordings obtain a compulsory license in the copyright of the work fixed by their predecessors/sellers. ABKCO Music, Inc. et al. v. Sagan et al., Case No. 20-3816 (2d Cir. Oct. 6, 2022) (Jacobs, Wesley, Menashi, JJ.)

In 2002, William Sagan purchased, through Norton, a collection of audio and audiovisual live concert recordings from Bill Graham Archives. All three parties are named defendants in this case. The agreement conveyed all intellectual property that the Archives held (from a transaction with Sagan) and included a disclaimer stating that record company and artist approval was required to exploit the recordings. The defendants’ subsequent purchases of other recordings contained similar limited assurance language regarding intellectual property rights. In 2006, the defendants made the entire collection publicly available online for a streaming and downloading fee. A year later, the defendants began using a third-party licensing agent to obtain compulsory licenses under 17 USC § 115 and negotiated licenses from plaintiff music publishers in the audio and audiovisual live concert recordings.

Section 115 of the Copyright Act requires persons seeking to make and distribute phonorecords of a previously published musical work to obtain a compulsory license by providing notice to the copyright owner before distribution and paying government-prescribed royalties. (§ 115(a)(1), (b), (c).) The Copyright Act defines phonorecords as “[m]aterial objects in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, are fixed.” (§ 101.) Section 115’s substantive requirements for duplications of audio/sound recordings fixed by another include requirements that the sound be fixed lawfully, and that duplication be authorized by the copyright owner. (§ 115(a)(1).)

In 2015, the music publishers sued defendants for copyright infringement of 197 musical works posted online without valid compulsory licenses. The music publishers alleged that the defendants did not obtain compulsory licenses for audiovisual works as required by § 115 and that the defendants failed to comply with § 115 substantive compulsory licensing requirements for audio-only works. Defendants argued implied license and equitable estoppel as affirmative defenses. The publishers sought damages and a permanent injunction pursuant to the Copyright Act.

The district court, on summary judgment, ruled that the defendants had no valid license authorizing the reproduction and distribution of the musical works in either audio or audiovisual format, that the defendants had neither an implied license nor any basis for estoppel, and that Sagan (a principal in several of the defendant streaming services) was liable for direct infringement. The district court denied the publishers’ request for an injunction but granted the publishers an award of attorneys’ fees. The defendants appealed from the summary judgment order and the order granting fees and costs. The plaintiffs cross-appealed denial of an injunction.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the defendants infringed each musical work [...]

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Bayou Jambalaya: Sanction Motions, Motions to Vacate and Trade Dress Injunctions

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a three-part ruling that affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to vacate as void the judgment based on Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the earlier state and district court decisions were not “inextricably intertwined,” affirmed the district court’s permanent injunction because the district court based it on the Fifth Circuit’s prior decision, and affirmed the denial of a motion for Rule 11 sanctions because the filed motion was different from the Rule-11-mandated notice that was originally served. Uptown Grill, L.L.C. v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc., Case No. 21-30639 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2022) (Higginbotham, Higginson, Oldham, JJ.)

This dispute arises from three agreements between Uptown Grill and Camellia Grill: the “Cash Sale, the Bill of Sale and the License Agreement. The Cash Sale and Bill of Sale transferred property from Camellia Grill to Uptown Grill. The License Agreement granted a license to Uptown Grill to use certain trademarks and trade dress. In 2011, Camellia Grill sued Uptown Grill for breach of the License Agreement in state court. The state court found that the appellee breached the license and restored to the appellant all rights to the marks. The court did not, however, construe the Bill of Sale.

While the state court litigation was on appeal, Camellia Grill sued Uptown Grill in federal court for trademark infringement. The district court found that the Bill of Sale transferred the trademarks to Uptown Grill before execution of the License Agreement, and therefore found that Camellia Grill’s infringement claim failed. However, the district court also found that the License Agreement limited Uptown Grill’s use of the trade dress to a single restaurant, and the court issued an injunction to that effect. The Fifth Circuit affirmed these findings in a 2019 decision in Uptown Grill, LLC v. Camellia Grill Holdings, Inc., but remanded the issue of whether Uptown Grill’s use of the Camellia grill trade dress at the new restaurant location constituted a breach of the License Agreement.

On remand, Camellia Grill moved for summary judgment that Uptown Grill breached the License Agreement by using the Camellia Grill trade dress after the termination of the License Agreement. Uptown Grill moved for partial summary judgment on the trade dress injunctions, arguing that Camellia Grill lacked standing since Uptown Grill was not using any trade dress at any new locations. Camellia Grill also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which “inferior federal courts do not have the power to modify or reverse state court judgments’ except when authorized by Congress.” Finally, Uptown Grill moved for sanctions against Camellia Grill for “abusive and harassing conduct.” The district court denied both Camellia Grill’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and Uptown Grill’s motion for sanctions. The district court determined that Uptown Grill had breached the License Agreement’s post-termination provisions. The court also decided that the trade dress elements should be limited to that which is protectable under [...]

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Veil Piercing Under Lanham Act Requires Specific Showing of Liability

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court decision granting summary judgment of liability under the Langham Act, finding that the plaintiffs failed to apply the correct standards for piercing the corporate veil and individual liability in a false advertising and false endorsement dispute. Edmondson et al. v. Velvet Lifestyles, LLC, Case No. 20-11315 (11th Cir. Aug. 4, 2022) (Jordan, Pryor, Marcus, JJ.)

Miami Velvet operated as a swingers’ nightclub in Miami, Florida. Miami Velvet was owned, operated and managed by Velvet Lifestyles, LLC. Joy Dorfman was the president, manager and a salaried employee of Velvet Lifestyles. My Three Yorkies, LLC, was the managing member of Velvet Lifestyles, and Dorfman was, in turn, the managing member of Yorkies. She was also the president of Yorkies and received the management fees that Velvet Lifestyles paid Yorkies. Approximately 30 individuals sued Velvet Lifestyles, My Three Yorkies and Dorfman for false advertising and false endorsement under the Lanham Act. The individuals alleged that Velvet Lifestyles, My Three Yorkies and Dorfman used the individuals’ images in advertisements without their consent, without any compensation and in such a way that implied they were affiliated with and endorsed Miami Velvet.

The district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Velvet Lifestyles, My Three Yorkies and Dorfman’s use of the plaintiffs’ images constituted false advertising and false endorsement. The plaintiffs’ motion treated all three defendants as effectively a single entity, and the district court made no finding that either My Three Yorkies or Dorfman had any direct involvement in the advertising. The district court did not apply the individual liability standard to Dorfman and instead treated all three defendants as a single entity as the plaintiffs’ motion had done. A jury awarded damages at trial. After post-trial motion practice, My Three Yorkies and Dorfman appealed.

The plaintiffs argued on appeal that My Three Yorkies and Dorfman had not properly preserved these issues for review on appeal. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s argument, finding that because the plaintiffs did not properly plead the standards for piercing the corporate veil and individual liability, My Three Yorkies and Dorfman were not obligated to raise or respond to those issues and, therefore, any procedural failures on their part were inconsequential.

Turning to the merits, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the finding of liability on summary judgment. The Court explained that in order for My Three Yorkies to be liable for the actions of Velvet Lifestyles, the plaintiffs had to show that My Three Yorkies was directly involved in the violation of the Lanham Act. The Court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that My Three Yorkies took any action regarding the management of the club or the advertisement in question, and that therefore the plaintiffs had failed to establish that the corporate veil should be pierced. The Court further explained that in order for Dorfman to be liable as an individual, the plaintiffs had to show that she actively participated as the [...]

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Too Little Too Late: No Tenable Misappropriation Claim Based on 11-Year-Old Prototype

In a dispute between an employer and a former employee, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment against an employer asserting trade secret misappropriation and breach of implied-in-fact contract claims relating to an 11-year-old prototype developed by a former employee. The Court also affirmed the district court’s finding of litigation misconduct by the former employer but vacated the lower court’s award of attorneys’ fees, remanding the case for a more detailed justification for the considerable award. REXA, Inc. v. Chester, Case Nos. 20-2953; -3213; -2033 (7th Cir. July 28, 2022) (Wood, Hamilton, Brennan, JJ.)

Mark Chester is a former employee of Koso America, a manufacturer of hydraulic actuators. Chester participated in a 2002 project at Koso that sought to develop a new flow matching valve for Koso’s actuators. While the project team failed to design a new flow matching valve, they did manage to develop an experimental prototype of an actuator with solenoid valves. Koso abandoned the new design because of the improbability of commercial success, and the prototype was disassembled. Chester—who had never signed a confidentiality or employment agreement with Koso—resigned from Koso in 2003 and later joined MEA Inc. in 2012. In 2013, 11 years after developing the Koso prototype, Chester helped MEA design a new actuator with solenoid valves and an improved motor. MEA filed a patent application in 2017 claiming the actuator, and the US Patent & Trademark Office issued a notice of allowance in 2018 based on the improved motor limitations.

REXA, a successor company to Koso, sued Chester and MEA for misappropriation under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA) and for breach of an implied-in-fact contract. REXA alleged that MEA and Chester misappropriated the 2002 designs by filing the 2017 patent application and by incorporating the 2002 designs into MEA’s Hawk brand actuator, and that Chester breached an implied-in-fact obligation to assign any patent rights associated with the 2017 application to REXA. Chester and MEA accused REXA of improper conduct during discovery after REXA appended a confidentiality agreement that Chester had never received to Chester’s 2002 bonus letter and used the manipulated document during Chester’s deposition. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The district court ruled for Chester and MEA and awarded them almost $2.4 million in attorneys’ fees for REXA’s litigation misconduct. REXA appealed.

Misappropriation of Trade Secrets

The Seventh Circuit first considered the trade secret misappropriation claim, specifically whether REXA had identified a trade secret with enough specificity. The ITSA requires that a plaintiff “present a specific element, or combination of elements, that is unknown to the trade and was allegedly misappropriated.” Applying this standard, the Court found that REXA had not identified any protectable trade secrets because it had broadly asserted that the “2002 designs” qualified as trade secrets without explicitly identifying an element that was not well known in the industry.

The Seventh Circuit further concluded that even if REXA had identified a specific and protectable trade secret, [...]

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Court to Counsel: Be Frivolous at Your Own Risk

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may “award just damages and single or double costs to the appellee” under the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 if an appeal is frivolous as filed or as argued. In a non-precedential decision, the Court granted-in-part and denied-in-part a party’s motion for sanctions and request to hold the opposing party’s counsel jointly and severally liable. Pop Top Corp. v. Rakuten Kobo Inc., Case No. 21-2174 (Fed. Cir. July 14, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Newman, Stoll, JJ.) (per curiam). (Newman, J., dissenting). The Court granted attorneys’ fees and double costs, although it lowered the requested amount for attorneys’ fees.

Pop Top owns a patent describing methods and systems related to enabling highlighter functionality on web pages. The patent’s claim requires an “internet document [that] includes code for invoking a highlighting service to operate with the internet document.” Pop Top alleged that Kobo’s e-books on an app infringed as they are “highlightable” and “include code.” Kobo explained that all highlighting-related code was in the app, not the e-books, an assertion supported by a declaration from its chief technology officer. The district court granted summary judgment of noninfringement.

Pop Top appealed, arguing that the district court erred by not resolving the parties’ alleged claim construction dispute regarding the limitation “code for invoking,” and by deciding that Pop Top’s citation of the Kobo declaration and the infringement contentions (for the first time on appeal) was insufficient evidence of infringement to survive summary judgment.

An appeal is frivolous as filed if “the judgment by the tribunal below was so plainly correct and the legal authority contrary to appellant’s position was so clear that there really is no appealable issue.” The Federal Circuit decided that the appeal was frivolous as filed, explaining that there was no reasonable basis to appeal the summary judgment. The district court had determined that Pop Top offered “no evidence whatsoever” that the e-books included “code for invoking a highlighting service” but relied solely on the Kobo declaration, which stated that the app, not the e-books, contained the highlighting functionality.

An appeal is frivolous as argued if “the appellant engages in misconduct in arguing the appeal.” The Federal Circuit decided that Pop Top’s appeal was frivolous as argued because it “blatantly misconstrue[d] Kobo’s position” when arguing disputed scope for “code for invoking.” Kobo explained that there was no dispute; even under Pop Top’s construction, there was no infringement because the e-books do not contain code invoking the highlighting service. Pop Top further compounded its misconduct in arguing that it presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment, failing to explain how any cited evidence, such as the Kobo declaration, showed that Kobo’s e-books contain code related to highlighting.

The Federal Circuit explained that it may hold that counsel be jointly and severally liable for a sanctions award if “an appeal is frivolous due to the nature of the advocacy in support of it.” Because Pop Top’s appeal was frivolous “entirely because of the baseless [...]

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A Work of Art? Ninth Circuit Analyzes Foreign Judgments and Fair Use

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed the fair use doctrine of US copyright law in a dispute for recognition of a 2001 French judgment relating to a finding of copyright infringement of certain photographic works featuring the art of Pablo Picasso. The Court’s analysis ultimately resulted in a reversal of the district court’s ruling for the defendants against whom the French judgment was sought. Vincent Sicre de Fontbrune et al; v. Alan Wofsy et al, Case Nos. 19-16913; -17024 (9th Cir. July 13, 2022) (Hurwitz, VanDyke, JJ.; Ericksen, Distr. J.) The Court remanded for further proceedings for an examination of the enforceability of the judgment under California’s Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgment Recognition Act (California Recognition Act).

In 1979, Yves Sicre de Fontbrune acquired the business capital and intellectual property rights to Cashiers d’Art, a complete published catalog of the works of Pablo Picasso. The catalog was created in 1932 by photographer Christian Zervos and featured almost 16,000 photographs of Picasso’s works. In 1991, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts obtained permission from the estate of Pablo Picasso to publish The Picasso Project, a work illustrating and describing Picasso’s works. The Picasso Project contained reproductions of certain photos from Cashiers d’Art.

Sicre de Fontbrune sued Wofsy in France for copyright infringement after The Picasso Project was offered for sale at a book fair in Paris and French police seized two volumes of the work. A trial court in France first found the photographs to be documentary in nature and ineligible for copyright protection. In 2001, however, the French Court of Appeal determined that the photographs at issue were not mere copies of Picasso’s works but added creative elements through deliberate choices of lighting, lens filters and framing. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, found Wofsy “guilty of infringement of copyright” and entered judgment in favor of Sicre de Fontbrune.

A long and complex procedural process followed the Court of Appeal’s ruling, during which appeals and new lawsuits were filed. Wofsy failed to appear on several occasions while also filing a review proceeding in the French courts. Before Wofsy filed the French review proceeding, however, Sicre de Fontbrune brought an action in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County, seeking recognition of the original French judgment. Wofsy removed that action to district court, which dismissed the case with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding the French judgment to be not a penalty but a sum of money cognizable under the California Recognition Act.

On remand, the parties submitted cross motions for summary judgment on eight defenses under the California Recognition Act. The district court granted summary judgment for Wofsy on only one of the defenses, finding that the French judgment was “repugnant to public policy.”

On appeal of the international diversity case, the Ninth Circuit explained that the enforceability of foreign judgments is governed by the law of the state in which enforcement is sought, making the California Recognition [...]

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No Harm, No Foul: No False Advertisement Where Trade Association Failed to Show Injury

The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a home inspector association on a false advertising claim brought by a competitor, finding no evidence of injury or harm and explaining that harm could not be presumed merely from the fact that the parties compete for members. Am. Soc’y of Home Inspectors, Inc. v. Int’l Ass’n of Certified Home Inspectors, Case No. 21-1087 (10th Cir. June 14, 2022) (Tymkovich, C.J.; Carson, Rossman, JJ.)

The International Association for Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) are competing national organizations that offer memberships with benefits such as advertising, online education and logo design to independent home inspectors. InterNACHI brought a false advertisement claim under the Lanham Act against ASHI, its sole national competitor, for featuring the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified.” on its website. InterNACHI alleged that ASHI’s tagline was misleading because ASHI’s membership includes “novice” inspectors who are not trained or certified. These “novice” inspectors are promoted on ASHI’s online “find-an-inspector” tool, where home buyers can find a local inspector and view their contact information, qualifications and membership level (associate, inspector or certified inspector). According to InterNACHI, ASHI’s misleading slogan coupled with its public promotion of novice members as inspectors caused InterNACHI to lose potential members. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding that InterNACHI failed to show that it was injured by the tagline as required under the Lanham Act. InterNACHI appealed.

InterNACHI argued that the district court incorrectly concluded that no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was harmed by the slogan and improperly refused to presume harm from the parties’ relationship as direct competitors. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, explaining that a plaintiff claiming false advertising under the Lanham Act must plead “an injury to a commercial interest in sales or business reputation proximately caused by the defendant’s misrepresentations.” In support of its claim, InterNACHI offered the following:

  • A survey showing that consumers may be deceived by the slogan
  • Data showing an increase in ASHI associate membership following implementation of the slogan
  • A declaration by InterNACHI’s founder attesting to the harm caused to InterNACHI as a result of ASHI’s slogan.

The Tenth Circuit reasoned that consumer confusion does not bear on whether home inspectors are more likely to join ASHI instead of InterNACHI because of the slogan. The Court also declined to infer harm from ASHI’s increase in associate membership, which was likely attributable to other factors, such as the institution of reduced student membership fees or the closure of another national association for home inspectors around the time the slogan was introduced. The Court further noted that inspectors can join both organizations and that InterNACHI had not shown that its own membership levels decreased because of ASHI’s slogan. With respect to the declaration by InterNACHI’s founder that “use of th[e] slogan in connection [...]

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Game Reset: Extrinsic Evidence Can’t Limit Claim Scope Beyond Scope Based on Unambiguous Intrinsic Evidence

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement after concluding that the district court erred by relying on expert testimony to construe a claim term in a manner not contemplated by the intrinsic evidence. Genuine Enabling Tech. LLC v. Nintendo Co., Ltd., et al., Case No. 20-2167 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 1, 2022) (Newman, Reyna, Stoll, JJ.)

Genuine owns a patent directed to a user interface device (UID) that, in the process of synchronizing and merging data streams into a combined data stream, directly receives microphone speech input and transmits speech output via a speaker. During prosecution, the inventor distinguished “slow varying” physiological response signals discussed in a prior art reference from the “signals containing audio or higher frequencies” in his invention, arguing that the latter posed a signal “collision” problem that his invention solved. In distinguishing the prior art, the inventor explained that his invention “describes, in its representative embodiments, how to combine the data from a UID (mouse) and from a high-frequency signal, via a framer, which is unique and novel.”

Genuine subsequently filed a lawsuit against Nintendo, accusing Nintendo’s Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Nunchuk, WiiU GamePad, Switch Joy-Con Controller and Switch Pro Controller of infringing the patent. During claim construction, the parties asked the district court to construe the term “input signal.” Genuine proposed the construction of the disputed claim term to be “a signal having an audio or higher frequency,” whereas Nintendo proposed the narrower construction of “[a] signal containing audio or higher frequencies.” Relying on expert testimony, Nintendo also argued that the inventor “disclaimed signals that are 500 [Hz] or less . . . generated from positional change information, user selection information, physiological response information, and other slow-varying information.”

The district court found that the inventor’s arguments amounted to a disclaimer. Crediting Nintendo’s expert testimony, the district court construed “input signal” as “signals above 500 Hz and excluding signals generated from positional change information, user selection information, physiological response information, and other slow-varying information.” The district court subsequently granted summary judgment of noninfringement, finding that the accused controllers produced the types of slow-varying signals that the inventor had disclaimed during prosecution. Genuine appealed.

Genuine argued that the district court erred in construing “input signal” by improperly relying on extrinsic evidence and improperly finding that the inventor disclaimed certain claim scope during prosecution. The Federal Circuit agreed, reiterating that although extrinsic evidence can be helpful in claim construction, “the intrinsic record ‘must be considered and where clear must be followed,’” such that “where the patent documents are unambiguous, expert testimony regarding the meaning of a claim is entitled to no weight.” In this case, although the parties agreed that the inventor had disavowed claim scope during prosecution, there was a dispute as to the scope of the disclaimer beyond signals below the audio frequency spectrum.

The Federal Circuit explained that for a statement made during prosecution to qualify as a disavowal of claim scope, it [...]

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Multiple Purchasing Options Overpower Use of “Quotation” in Finding Offer for Sale

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment of no invalidity under the on-sale bar, finding that the completeness of relevant commercial sale terms, including multiple purchase options, was not an invitation to further negotiate but rather was multiple offers for sale. Junker v. Medical Components, Inc., Case No. 21-1649 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 10, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Stoll, JJ.)

Larry Junker designed a sheath that makes it easier for doctors to grasp the sheath during catheter insertion. After designing the sheath, Junker inquired about manufacturing and eventually began a business relationship with James Eddings and his company, Galt Medical, to manufacture the product. Eddings also started a new company, Xentek Medical, to help with the development, manufacture and sale of the product. In January 1999, Eddings, through Xentek, communicated with Boston Scientific Corporation about the sheath products and sent a letter detailing bulk pricing information for the products. The letter concluded by noting Eddings’ appreciation for “the opportunity to provide this quotation.” In February 2000, Junker filed a design patent directed to an “ornamental design for a handle for introducer sheath.”

Junker sued MedComp in 2013 for infringement of the claimed design. In response, MedComp asserted invalidity, unenforceability and noninfringement defenses, as well as counterclaims. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment for several issues, including invalidity under the on-sale bar. The primary dispute regarding the on-sale bar was whether the January 1999 letter to Boston Scientific was considered an offer for sale of a product embodying the claimed design. The district court found that it was not an offer for sale because it was a preliminary negotiation and not a definite offer. The district court reasoned that although the letter included many specific commercial terms, the repeated use of the word “quotation” and the invitation to discuss specifics rendered the letter a preliminary negotiation. The district court proceeded with a bench trial, ultimately finding in favor of Junker and awarding damages. MedComp appealed.

A patent claim is invalid under § 102(b) if the invention was on sale more than a year before the application date and the claimed invention was the subject of a commercial offer for sale and was ready for patenting. There was no dispute that the January 1999 letter was sent more than one year before the patent’s filing and that the claimed design was also ready for patenting. As a result, the only issue on appeal was whether the letter was a commercial offer for sale of the claimed design.

The Federal Circuit determined that the letter was a commercial offer for sale. The Court found that the statement that Xentek was responding to a “request for quotation” signaled that the letter was more than just an unsolicited price quote and was instead a specific offer to take further action. The Court found that the letter contained many necessary terms typical in a commercial contract, including prices for bulk shipments, specific delivery conditions and payment terms. The Court [...]

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Magazine Reload: Claim Construction Error Requires Reversal and Remand

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment ruling based on a claim construction error because nothing in the claims or specification of the asserted patent supported the district court’s overly narrow interpretation of the disputed claim term. Evolusion Concepts, Inc. v. HOC Events, Inc. d/b/a Supertool USA, Case No. 21-1963 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 14, 2021) (Prost, Taranto, Chen, JJ.); Evolusion Concepts, Inc. v. Juggernaut Tactical, Inc., Case No. 21-1987 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 14, 2021) (Fed. Cir. Jan. 14, 2021) (Prost, Taranto, Chen, JJ.).

Evolusion owns a patent directed to a device and method for converting a semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine to one with a fixed magazine. A detachable magazine allows a user to fire the weapon until the magazine is depleted, then release the magazine, insert a new magazine and resume firing. In contrast, a fixed magazine can be removed and replaced only by disassembling certain nonmagazine parts of the firearm, which slows the rate of fire. The specification states that firearms with detachable magazines are likely to face increased legal restrictions, noting that bills recently introduced in US Congress would have banned semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines. The claims of the patents recite, among other limitations, a “magazine catch bar.”

Evolusion sued Juggernaut for infringement. Juggernaut asserted invalidity and noninfringement. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment relating to infringement of the device claims, agreeing that the question of infringement depended entirely on whether the claimed “magazine catch bar” included a factory-installed (OEM) magazine catch bar. The district court concluded that the term “magazine catch bar,” as used in the claims and specification, excluded an OEM magazine catch bar. The court’s conclusion was based primarily on the sentence in the specification that states: “The invention is a permanent fixture added to a semi-automatic firearm by removing the standard OEM magazine catch assembly and installing the invention.” The court reasoned that the “magazine catch bar” of the invention could not be an OEM magazine catch bar since the OEM magazine was one of the components removed to install the invention. Based on the construction, the court concluded that Juggernaut did not literally infringe the patent. The court also found that Juggernaut could not infringe under the doctrine of equivalence because Evolusion had dedicated a factory-installed magazine catch bar to the public by disclosing, but not claiming, this embodiment.

Evolusion also sued Supertool for infringement. When Supertool failed to respond to the complaint, the district court clerk entered a default under Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. With the requests for relief not yet adjudicated, Evolusion moved for a “default judgment” under Rule 55(b), but the court denied the motion. In its denial, the court, citing its ruling in the Juggernaut case, stated that Evolusion failed to state a viable claim for infringement against Supertool because its products also required reusing the factory-installed magazine catch bar. Evolusion appealed the Juggernaut and Supertool rulings.

The Federal Circuit reversed the noninfringement [...]

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