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After Supreme Court Remand, Copyright Infringement Claims Upheld in View of Registrant’s Unknown Inaccuracies

In February 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., that lack of either factual or legal knowledge on the part of a copyright holder can excuse an inaccuracy in the holder’s registration under the Copyright Act’s safe-harbor provision, 17 U.S.C. §411(b)(1), which governs the effect of inaccurate information in a copyright application. In light of this decision, the Supreme Court remanded the copyright dispute between textile design company Unicolors and global fast-fashion retail giant H&M Hennes & Mauritz to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings on the issue of whether Unicolors held a valid copyright in a 2011 textile design asserted in its copyright infringement claim against H&M. On remand, the Ninth Circuit concluded that under the correct standard confirmed by the Supreme Court, Unicolors held a valid copyright registration because the factual inaccuracies in its application were excused by the safe-harbor provision. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the prior jury verdict against H&M for copyright infringement and remanded with respect to the issue of damages only. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., Case Nos. 18-56253; -56548 (9th Cir. Nov. 10, 2022) (Bea, Bade, McCalla, JJ.)

The Copyright Act safe-harbor provision saves a copyright registration from invalidity when the application contains errors, except when the copyright registrant knowingly transmitted inaccurate material facts to the US Copyright Office. After the Supreme Court made it clear that “[l]ack of knowledge of either fact or law can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration,” the Ninth Circuit was charged with determining whether Unicolors submitted its copyright application with knowledge that the information therein was factually inaccurate and with knowledge that the application failed to comply with the specific governing legal requirements. The Court first analyzed the validity of Unicolors’s asserted copyright registration, then addressed the remaining issues raised by H&M on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit’s first step in the validity assessment was to determine whether Unicolors’s application did, in fact, contain an inaccuracy. As in its prior decision, the Court concluded that the application was inaccurate because Unicolors registered a collection of 31 separate fabric designs as a single-unit publication when those 31 works were not initially published as a singular bundled collection, as required under the Copyright Act.

The second step of the Ninth Circuit’s inquiry looked at whether Unicolors submitted its copyright application knowing that it contained errors. This is where the Court departed from its prior decision and affirmed the district court’s decision regarding the validity of the registration. Specifically, the Court found that the single-unit registration issue was an unsettled question of law at the time of Unicolors’s application, such that Unicolors did not know that it submitted an application containing false information because it lacked the requisite knowledge of inaccuracy and lacked an intent to defraud the Copyright Office. Finding Unicolors’s copyright registration valid, the Court determined that Unicolors could maintain its copyright infringement claim against H&M.

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Supreme Court to Consider Whether Lanham Act Reaches Foreign Defendants’ Extraterritorial Conduct

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review the geographic scope of the Lanham Act and the extent to which trademark owners can use US trademarks to police foreign sales. Abitron Austria GmbH et al. v. Hetronic International Inc., Case No. 21-1043 (Supr. Ct. Nov. 4, 2022) (certiorari granted). The question presented is as follows:

Whether the court of appeals erred in applying the Lanham Act extraterritorially to petitioners’ foreign sales, including purely foreign sales that never reached the United States or confused U.S. consumers.

In the underlying case, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld a damages award for Hetronic International based on its conclusion that the Lanham Act can affect conduct that substantially affects US commerce, such as the products Hetronic Germany and others sold to European customers.

The US Solicitor General suggested that the case is “a suitable vehicle” to clarify the Lanham Act’s geographic scope, noting that the Lanham Act provides a remedy for a foreign defendant’s use of a US trademark abroad only if that use is likely to cause confusion within the United States.




Supreme Court to Consider Enablement Requirement

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider how much a patent must disclose in order to meet the enablement requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 112. Amgen Inc., et al. v. Sanofi, et al., Case No. 21-757 (Supr. Ct. Nov. 4, 2022) (certiorari granted). The question presented is as follows:

Whether enablement is governed by the statutory requirement that the specification teach those skilled in the art to “make and use” the claimed invention, 35 U.S.C. § 112, or whether it must instead enable those skilled in the art “to reach the full scope of claimed embodiments” without undue experimentation—i.e., to cumulatively identify and make all or nearly all embodiments of the invention without substantial time and effort.

Amgen owns two patents that describe antibodies that bind to PCSK9 protein and lower LDL cholesterol levels by blocking PCSK9 from binding to LDL receptors. After a jury determined that Sanofi failed to prove that the asserted claims were invalid for lack of enablement, the district court granted Sanofi’s post-trial motion for invalidity based on lack of enablement. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the scope of the claims encompassed millions of antibodies and that the patent thus did not meet the enablement requirement because practicing the full scope of the claims would require “undue experimentation.”

The Supreme Court declined to consider the first question presented in Amgen’s petition: whether enablement should be a question of law (under current Federal Circuit precedent) or be designated a question of fact to be decided by a jury. In granting certiorari, the Supreme Court proceeded contrary to the recommendation of the US Solicitor General.




Hold That Generic, Please: Supreme Court Grants Emergency Request to Stay Federal Circuit’s Mandate

In a rare action by the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice Roberts granted Novartis’s emergency request for a stay of a mandate from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which had found a Novartis patent invalid for lack of adequate written description and would have permitted generic versions of Novartis’s multibillion-dollar blockbuster drug Gilenya to enter the market. For more information on the Federal Circuit’s prior decisions, click here and here. Novartis Pharms. v. HEC Pharm. Co., Misc. Docket 21A272 (Supr. Ct. Sept. 29, 2022) (Roberts, Chief Justice).

Novartis sued HEC and several other generic companies for infringement of a patent directed to methods of treating remitting multiple sclerosis with fingolimod or a fingolimod salt at a daily dose of 0.5 mg without an immediately preceding loading dose. In a split panel decision issued in January 2022 and authored by former Judge O’Malley with current Chief Judge Moore dissenting, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the patent was not invalid for insufficient written description of the claimed 0.5 mg daily dose or the no-loading dose negative limitation. HEC petitioned for panel rehearing. Judge O’Malley retired in March 2022, and a new panel granted HEC’s petition. The new panel now included Judge Hughes, who joined with Chief Judge Moore in the majority opinion. Judge Linn (who had joined with now retired Judge O’Malley in the original panel majority) was now the dissenter. The split panel vacated its prior decision and reversed the district court’s judgment. The new majority held that silence cannot support a later-added claim limitation that precludes loading doses. In dissent, Judge Linn argued that the majority applied a heightened written description standard requiring, not only a “reason to exclude,” but also a showing that the negative limitation was “necessarily excluded.”

On September 27, 2022, the Federal Circuit denied Novartis’s motion to stay the mandate pending a forthcoming decision on a petition for certiorari. Novartis filed an emergency application directed to Chief Justice Roberts, and two days later Justice Roberts issued an Order staying issuance of the Federal Circuit mandate (which would have issued on October 4, 2022) and ordered HEC to respond to Novartis’s emergency application.

Practice Note: The Supreme Court is currently considering another petition for certiorari resulting from a divided Federal Circuit decision on the question of whether a patent specification must expressly disclose a claim limitation to satisfy the written description requirement. Juno Therapeutics, Inc. v. Kite Pharma., Inc., Case No. 21-1566.




Oh, Fudge. TTAB Finds Curse Word Fails to Function as Trademark

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) denied registration of several US trademark applications for the mark FUCK, even though the applicant had overcome a prohibition on the registration of “immoral or scandalous” trademarks as a violation of the First Amendment in the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Iancu v. Brunetti. The applicant also had previously secured registration of the mark FUCT. The PTO nevertheless denied registration on grounds that the familiar curse word did not function as a trademark. In re: Brunetti, Ser. Nos. 88308426; 88308434; 88308451; 88310900 (TTAB Aug. 22, 2022) (Bergsman, Dunn, Lebow, Administrative Trademark Judges).

The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) issued a precedential decision affirming the PTO’s refusal to register the FUCK mark for a variety of goods and related services, including cellphone cases, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, bags and wallets. The Board found that the word FUCK expresses well-recognized sentiments and that consumers are accustomed to seeing the word in widespread use by many different sources. As a result, the word failed to create the commercial impression of a source indicator and therefore failed to function as a trademark to distinguish the goods from others.

BACKGROUND

Artist and entrepreneur Erik Brunetti applied to register the mark FUCK in relation to a wide variety of wearable goods, electronics accessories and related retail, marketing and business services in 2019 while his appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the FUCT mark was still pending. When the Supreme Court issued its decision, the FUCK applications were removed from suspension and could no longer be refused on grounds that the mark comprised “immoral or scandalous” material. The PTO examining attorney re-examined the applications and refused registration on the so-called “failure to function” ground, finding that the mark was a term that did not function as a trademark to indicate the source of the applicant’s goods or services and to identify and distinguish them from others. Brunetti appealed to the Board.

In response to Brunetti’s argument that there was no statutory basis for a failure to function refusal, the Board made clear that the PTO is statutorily constrained to register a mark on the Principal Register “if and only if it functions as a mark.” Matter that does not operate to indicate the source or origin of the identified goods or services and distinguish them from those of others does not meet the statutory definition of a trademark and may not be registered. The Board reminded applicants that not every designation adopted with the intention that it perform a trademark function necessarily accomplishes that purpose.

Matter may be merely informational and fail to function as a trademark if it is a common term or phrase that consumers are accustomed to seeing used by various sources to convey ordinary, familiar or generally understood concepts or sentiments. The critical inquiry in determining whether a proposed mark functions as a trademark is how the relevant public perceives it.

The Board described the Examining Attorney’s evidence supporting the failure to function [...]

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Claim Cancelation Limits but Doesn’t Prohibit Assignor Estoppel Defense

On remand from the Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reconsidered the boundaries of the doctrine of assignor estoppel. The Federal Circuit found that the patent assignor was estopped from challenging the validity of an asserted patent because the asserted claim was not materially broader than the specific claims assigned to the patent owner. Hologic, Inc. v. Minerva Surgical, Inc., Case Nos. 2019-2054; -2081 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2022) (Stoll, Clevenger, Wallach, JJ.)

Csaba Truckai filed a patent application for a device that was designed with a moisture-permeable head to treat abnormal uterine bleeding while avoiding unintended burning or ablation. Truckai assigned the pending patent application to his company, Novacept, which was later acquired by Hologic. Truckai then founded a new company, Minerva Surgical, and developed a new device that used moisture impermeability to avoid the unwanted ablation. Hologic subsequently filed a continuation application to expand the scope of its claims to encompass applicator heads in general, regardless of moisture permeability. The US Patent & Trademark Office issued a patent on the expanded claims in 2015, and Hologic subsequently sued Minerva for patent infringement.

Hologic argued that doctrine of assignor estoppel barred Minerva from challenging the validity of the patent claims. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment of infringement. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the summary judgment of no invalidity. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and declined Minerva’s request to discard the doctrine of assignor estoppel but clarified that it comes with limits, holding that “assignor estoppel applies only when an inventor says one thing (explicitly or implicitly) in assigning a patent and the opposite in litigation against the patent’s owner.” The Supreme Court remanded to the Federal Circuit to address whether Hologic’s claim was materially broader than the one Truckai assigned. The Supreme Court explained that if the asserted claim was materially broader than the assigned claim, “then Truckai could not have warranted its validity in making the assignment and without such a prior inconsistent representation, there is no basis for estoppel.”

On remand, the Federal Circuit considered whether Truckai warranted the assigned claim’s validity at the time of assignment and whether the assigned claim was materially broader than the asserted claim.

The Federal Circuit concluded that Truckai had represented that the assigned claim was valid. The Court explained that the assigned claim was initially rejected as being anticipated, but Truckai successfully argued for its allowance. The claim was then canceled in response to a restriction requirement, but such cancellation did not speak to the claim’s patentability because an assignee would understand that it could later prosecute the claim’s subject matter under standard patent practice. Therefore, cancelation did not nullify the claim, and it “remained viable for further prosecution.” Additionally, the assignment was not just to the rights to the application, but to the rights to any continuation, continuation-in-part or divisional patent applications not yet filed. When presenting the application, Truckai signed [...]

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Ninth Circuit Once Again Preserves Competitor’s Data-Scraping Rights

On remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its own 2019 opinion that preliminarily enjoined a professional networking platform from denying a data analytics company access to publicly available profiles. HiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corporation, Case No. 17-16783, (9th Cir., Apr. 18, 2022) (Wallace, Berzon, Berg (sitting by designation) JJ.).

Previously, the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in this case, but subsequently vacated the judgment and remanded back to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in view of its  2021 decision in Van Buren v. United States. In Van Buren, the Supreme Court attempted to clarify the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), holding that authorized computer access for arguably improper purposes likely does not constitute a violation of the CFAA. On remand, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Van Buren reinforced its determination that hiQ had raised “serious questions” about whether LinkedIn may invoke the CFAA to preempt hiQ’s claim of tortious interference.

HiQ is a data company that sells “people analytics” focused on predictive employee data. HiQ’s data is largely obtained by scraping public LinkedIn profiles with automated bots. In 2017, LinkedIn sent a demand letter to hiQ asserting that hiQ’s scraping activity was in violation of the CFAA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the California penal code and common law. HiQ immediately filed suit seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that LinkedIn could not lawfully invoke the asserted claims. Granting hiQ’s motion for the preliminary injunction, the district court ordered LinkedIn to remove, and to refrain from implementing, any technical barriers to hiQ’s access to the LinkedIn public profiles.

The Ninth Circuit stated that a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish the following:

  • It is likely to succeed on the merits.
  • It is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent the injunction.
  • The balance of equities tips in its favor.
  • The injunction is in the public interest.

This analysis required the Ninth Circuit to focus only on whether hiQ had raised serious questions on the merits of the factual and legal issues presented. The Ninth Circuit’s re-examination of these factors was nearly identical to its 2019 holding.

Starting with irreparable harm, the Ninth Circuit found that the survival of hiQ’s business was threatened since it depends on being able to access public LinkedIn member profiles. The Court also agreed, once again, with the district court’s determination that the balance of the equities tipped in hiQ’s favor. The Court found that the privacy interests of individuals who have opted to maintain a public LinkedIn profile did not outweigh hiQ’s interests in continuing its business. On this factor, the Court noted that “little evidence” suggested that LinkedIn users who choose to make their profiles public actually maintain an expectation of privacy with respect to publicly posted information. The Court also noted that LinkedIn does not own its users’ data, since users retain [...]

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Supreme Court to Consider Fair Use and Transformative Works of Art

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider the application of the fair use doctrine as it relates to transformative works. The Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith, Case No. 21-869 (Supr. Ct. Mar. 28, 2022) (certiorari granted).

In a case touching the estates of two of the world’s best-known artists, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a series of prints and illustrations of the musical artist Prince created by the visual artist Andy Warhol were substantially similar to a 1981 portrait photograph of Prince taken by the photographer Lynn Goldsmith. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Lynn Goldsmith, et al., Case No. 19-2420-cv (2d Cir. Mar. 26, 2021) (Lynch, J.) (Sullivan, J., joined by Jacobs, J., concurring) (Jacobs, J., concurring). The Andy Warhol Foundation petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the decision.

The question presented is as follows:

Whether a work of art is “transformative” when it conveys a different meaning or message from its source material (as this Court, the Ninth Circuit, and other courts of appeals have held), or whether a court is forbidden from considering the meaning of the accused work where it “recognizably deriv[es] from” its source material (as the Second Circuit has held).




“TRUMP TOO SMALL” Trademark Decision Leaves Big Questions

Revisiting jurisprudence touching on the Lanham Act and the First Amendment from the Supreme Court’s decisions in Matal v. Tam and Iancu v. Brunetti, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that applying Sec. 2(c) of the Lanham Act (which bars registration of a trademark that consists of or comprises a name of a particular living individual without their written consent) may, in certain instances, unconstitutionally restrict free speech in violation of the First Amendment. In this instance, the Federal Circuit found that the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) refusal to register the trademark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” for use on t-shirts involved content-based discrimination that was not justified by a compelling or substantial government interest. In re: Steve Elster, Case No. 20-2205 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 24, 2022) (Dyk, Taranto, Chen, JJ.)

Steve Elster filed a US trademark application in 2018 for the mark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” (a reference to a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate exchange between then- candidate Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)) for use on shirts. The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) examining attorney, and subsequently the Board, refused registration of the mark on grounds that it clearly referred to former President Trump, and that Elster did not have written consent to use former President Trump’s name in violation of Sec. 2(c) of the Lanham Act. Sec. 2(c) requires such consent when a trademark identifies a “particular living individual.” Elster argued that his trademark aimed to convey that some features of former President Trump and his policies were diminutive and appealed the Board’s holding that Sec. 2(c) is narrowly tailored to advance two compelling government interests, namely, protecting an individual’s rights of privacy and publicity and protecting consumers against source deception.

The Federal Circuit started with a brief primer on relatively recent decisions in which the Supreme Court found certain provisions of Sec. 2(a) to be improper viewpoint discrimination because they barred registration of trademarks that were disparaging or comprised of immoral or scandalous matter. The Federal Circuit found that while neither Tam nor Brunetti resolved Elster’s appeal pertaining to Sec. 2(c), the cases did establish that a trademark represents private, not government, speech entitled to some form of First Amendment protection, and that denying a trademark registration is akin to the government disfavoring the speech being regulated. The Court then examined whether Sec. 2(c) could legally disadvantage the specific “TRUMP TOO SMALL” speech at issue in Elster’s case, and whether the government has an interest in limiting speech on privacy or publicity grounds if that speech involves criticism of government officials.

The Federal Circuit did not decide the matter on whether a trademark is a government subsidy, avoiding the somewhat varying opinions of the Supreme Court on that issue. Instead, the Federal Circuit found that Elster’s mark constituted speech by a private party for which the registration restriction must be tested by the First Amendment. Regardless of whether strict or intermediate scrutiny is applied [...]

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Federal Circuit Tosses Shaw: IPR Estoppel Applies to All Grounds That Reasonably Could Have Been Raised

March 2022 Update: The Federal Circuit has issued an errata to this decision. Read about it here.

Addressing inter partes review (IPR) estoppel after the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2018 decision in SAS Institute, Inc. v. Iancu, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overruled its decision in Shaw Industries Group v. Automated Creel Systems, stating that the only plausible reading of 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) estops a party from raising all claims and grounds that reasonably could have been included in the party’s petition for IPR. The Court also rejected the district court’s two-tier damages model as contrary to customary patent damages calculations. California Institute of Technology v. Broadcom Limited, Case Nos. 20-2222; 21-1527 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 4, 2022) (Lourie, Linn, Dyk, JJ.) (Dyk, J., dissenting in part).

Background

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) filed suit against Broadcom and Apple, alleging patent infringement directed to the generation and repetition of information in a wireless data transmission system. Wireless transmission systems generally use data repetition so that the transmitted information may be decoded even when data loss occurs. The patented circuitry discloses a form of irregular data repetition in which portions of the information bits may be repeated a varying number of times.

Apple filed multiple IPR petitions challenging the validity of the claims at issue. The Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) concluded in all cases that Apple failed to show that the challenged claims were unpatentable as obvious. At the district court, Apple and Broadcom raised new arguments of obviousness not asserted in the IPR proceedings. The district court granted Caltech’s motion for summary judgment of no invalidity, precluding Apple and Broadcom from raising arguments at trial that they reasonably could have raised in their IPR petitions.

At trial, the district court instructed the jury that “repeat” means “generation of additional bits, where generation can include, for example, duplication or reuse of bits.” Apple and Broadcom argued that the Broadcom chips (which were integrated into Apple devices) did not infringe the asserted claims because they did not repeat information at all. With respect to one of the asserted patents, the district court did not provide a jury instruction relating to its construction that the claim language “information bits appear in a variable number of subsets” requires irregular information bit repetition. The jury found infringement of all asserted claims. Apple and Broadcom filed post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) and a new trial, both of which the district court denied.

The district court adopted Caltech’s proposed two-tier damages theory, explaining that Broadcom and Apple’s products were different and therefore possessed different values simply because they were “different companies at different levels in the supply chain.” The district court ultimately entered judgment against Broadcom for $288 million and against Apple for $885 million. Broadcom and Apple appealed.

The Appeal

Broadcom and Apple argued that the district court’s construction of “repeat” was inconsistent with the claim language and specification. The Federal Circuit [...]

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