Delegating Authority

CustomPlay, LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc. (Supreme Court 2022)

New challenge to inter partes review. In this case, the patentee argues: (1) anti-delegation and (2) due process. Questions:

  1. Whether the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) violated the statutory text and legislative intent of the America Invents Act (AIA) by delegating the PTO Director’s responsibility to determine whether to institute inter partes review (IPR) of issued patents to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), which is the entity that the AIA directs to render final decisions in instituted proceedings.
  2. Whether the PTO’s administration of IPR proceedings violates a patent owner’s constitutional right to due process by having the same decisionmaker, the PTAB, render both the institution decision and the final decision.

On question 1, remember that the statutory language calls for the USPTO “Director” to decide whether to institute an IPR, and then for the “Patent Trial and Appeal Board” to actually conduct the review.  35 U.S.C. 314, 316.  But, in its rulemaking, the USPTO gave authority to the PTAB to both institute and review.

https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/21/21-1527/225545/20220516181434359_21-Petition.pdf

 

The Manner in Which the Invention was Made

by Dennis Crouch

T0day’s oral arguments in Thaler v. Vidal was not too exciting. Court focused on the terms “individual” that was added to the Patent Act during the AIA and likely determinatively ends the case:

The term “inventor” means the individual or, if a joint invention, the individuals collectively who invented or discovered the subject matter of the invention.

35 U.S.C. s100(f).  I am close to 100% sure that the Federal Circuit will affirm that US law requires the patentee to identify a human inventor.

= = =

In the course of oral arguments, the government made two odd claims, neither of which were fully developed.

The first relates to the final sentence of Section 103 indicating that “patentability shall not be negated by the manner in which the invention was made.”  The Gov’t . made the following claim:

The Supreme Court in Graham against John Deere [more than] 50 years ago said that provision, that one sentence, applies only to the part of patentability that is referenced in Section 103.

Thaler Oral Arguments. In Graham, the Court did comment on the phrase and its  Congressionally intended purpose of overruling the flash-of-genius test.  However, I don’t see that the court bound the phrase to only be tied to Section 103 and obviousness.  The court wrote:

It also seems apparent that Congress intended by the last sentence of § 103 to abolish the test it believed this Court announced in the controversial phrase “flash of creative genius,” used in Cuno Engineering Corp. v. Automatic Devices Corp., 314 U. S. 84 (1941).

Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1 (1966).  Although the Graham court found a seemingly apparent Congressional intent, it did not actually interpret the provision as so limited and certainly did not indicate that it should be limited to application only in the context of obviousness analysis.

The second odd claim made by the gov’t in oral arguments is as follows: “One person’s innovation is another person’s step backwards.”  The basic underlying idea  here is apparently that Congress intended to intentionally exclude certain AI-generated inventions from patentability because they thought those innovations would have a negative societal impact.

The full oral arguments should be available shortly at this link: https://cafc.uscourts.gov/home/oral-argument/listen-to-oral-arguments/.

I am the smart one: Sideshow Patent Litigation

Tod Tumey v. Mycroft AI (8th Cir. 2022)

Tod Tumey is a Houston-based patent attorney who represents Voice Tech Corp.  Back in 2021, VoiceTech sued Mycroft for patent infringement.  The PTO has apparently determined that the asserted claims are not patentable, but that case will be appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Meanwhile, Mycroft allegedly began to a series of “cyberattacks and harassment activity” against Tumey (including hacking attempts and heavy-breathing phone calls).  It is clear that Mycroft repeatedly announced that it was fighting VoiceTech as a patent troll and that Mycroft has a strong anti-troll position:

I don’t like letting these matters go quietly. In my experience, it’s better to be aggressive and ‘stab, shoot and hang’ them, then dissolve them in acid. Or simply nuke them from orbit, it is the only way to be sure.

Troll Hunter—Mycroft’s Position on Patent Trolls (February 5, 2020).

Tumey sued Mycroft as well as Mycroft founder Joshua Montgomery and CEO Michael Lewis on several causes of action: 

  • Racketeering. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) & 1962(d);
  • Hacking. 18 U.S.C. § 1030;
  • Privacy violations. 18 U.S.C. § 2701; and
  • Additional state and federal claims.

Tumey’s case is pending in the Western District of Missouri (KC).  The lawsuit was originally handled by Judge Ketchmark, but as you’ll read below, the 8th Circuit  recently ordered the case to be reassigned to a different judge. W.D.Mo. Chief Judge Beth Phillips has taken-up the case.

In the case, Tumey requested a preliminary injunction order that Mycroft and its people cease its incitement of cyber-attacks, phishing, and harassing phone calls.  Mycroft responded with sworn declarations promising that no one associated with Mycroft was involved in the cyber-attacks or harassment.  Still, the original district court granted a preliminary injunction barring Mycroft and its people from:

  1. Engaging in, participating in, or recklessly or intentionally inciting any cyberattacks, hacking or other harassment directed at Plaintiffs, including Plaintiffs’ officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, witnesses and potential witnesses (including Chilton Webb and Christina Butler), and the family members of any of the foregoing (the “Protected Parties”); and
  2. Using or disclosing any documents, information, or other materials of any kind obtained from Plaintiffs or any other Protected Party through any unauthorized means.

On appeal, the 8th Circuit vacated the decision finding due process violations (briefing was related to 14-day TRO, but the judge transformed the hearing into a preliminary injunction hearing with only 1-hour notice); and merits problems (“there is a paucity of evidence in this record to find that Mycroft is behind the attacks”).  The appellate panel also concluded that the case should be reassigned to a different judge “[b]ecause a reasonable person aware of all the circumstances and events that have transpired so far would harbor doubts about the judge’s impartiality, reassignment to a different judge is appropriate.”  In particular, the appellate court suggested that “an objective review of the record demonstrates a degree of antagonism against Mycroft that is higher than that being applied against Tumey.”

After the district court allowed Tumey, over Mycroft’s strenuous objection, to transform his motion for a temporary restraining order to a preliminary injunction on one hour’s notice, the court further fanned the flames during the hearing by sua sponte restricting Mycroft’s access to evidence, or lack thereof, connecting Mycroft to the unlawful conduct that took place. Again, over Mycroft’s objection, the court allowed testimony about the disputes between neighbors in Hawaii when the relevance, if any, of this testimony to the current litigation is marginal and tangential. The preliminary injunction that was ultimately issued went beyond the intended use of maintaining the status quo until the claims can be resolved. When Mycroft sought reconsideration of the preliminary injunction, specifically raising claims regarding the breadth and restraint on speech and publication, the court dismissed, without analysis, Mycroft’s constitutional claims.

Slip Op.  On remand, the new district court is considering the defendants summary judgment motion that is currently being briefed.

Meanwhile, Mycroft’s founder Montgomery has sued Tumey in Hawaii alleging tortious abuse of process, conspiracy to extort, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. “Defendants’ misrepresentations and abuse of the legal and judicial systems intentionally and/or negligently caused Maj. Montgomery severe emotional distress.”  The lawsuit more interesting once we bring in Mongomery’s Hawaii next-door-neighbor, Christina Butler. After a handful of negative encounters with Mongomery, Butler located the pending Tumey lawsuit and offered to testify in support of Tumey’s case “believing she possessed bad character evidence about Montgomery that would discredit Montgomery.”  Mongomery’s Hawaii lawsuit includes Butler as a defendant and alleges:

First, Defendant Butler provided a photo of Maj. Montgomery attached to a sworn affidavit claiming that Maj. Montgomery was attempting to evade service. Then, Defendant Tumey requested and Defendant Butler provided another sworn affidavit claiming Maj. Montgomery committed criminal property damage by purposefully damaging her main water line the night after her initial affidavit was filed. Moreover, Defendant Butler claimed Maj. Montgomery was responsible for “drone harassment” and trespass, without providing a single piece of evidence to support her allegations.

Montgomery complaint.  That case is pending in Hawaii state court.

[quote source]

Thaler v Vidal: Oral Arguments on Monday

By Jason Rantanen

On Monday, June 6, the Federal Circuit will hear oral arguments in Thaler v. Vidal,  covered on PatentlyO here.  Dr. Thaler  claims that his AI system, DABUS, has invented a new technology and should be named as its inventor on the patent. Although access to the Federal Courts Building remains restricted, you can listen to the arguments live at https://cafc.uscourts.gov/home/oral-argument/listen-to-oral-arguments/. The court’s long had a practice posting recordings of oral arguments, but it’s great that they’re also making the audio available in real time.

If you’re interested in more context, students in Professor Colleen Chien’s, AI and the Law class wrote a series of blog posts covering the issue, including a post on Dr. Thaler’s legal arguments, a post on the DABUS technology, patents and patent applications, and the results of a small survey of patent prosecutors on AI in their fields.

Read more at Santa Clara’s AI and the Law for Social Impact and Equity blog!

Thanks to our Sponsor

I just hit my 15 year mark as a professor at the University of Missouri. Throughout that time my old law firm — MBHB — has been the exclusive sponsor for Patently-O.  Keeping the site clean and clear of undue ads. – Dennis Crouch

The Spirit of Lehman Brothers

by Dennis Crouch

Tiger Lily Ventures Ltd v. Barclays Capital Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2022)

LEHMAN BROTHERS has a bad name for triggering the US economic collapse in the mid 2000s.  But, as they say ‘any publicity is good publicity.’

Barclays purchases a number of Lehman Brothers businesses and accompanying goodwill back in 2008 as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.  That exchange included ownership rights of the LEHMAN BROTHERS trademarks.   But, Barclays was not using the marks and allowed their registration to expire.

At that point Tiger Lily entered the stage and applied to register the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark for its use its whisky. The spirit of the Lehman Brothers.  Barclays opposed the whisky registration and also applied to re-register its mark.  The TTAB agreed with Barclays holding particularly that (1) Barclays had not abandoned its common law mark; (2) there is a likelihood of confusion between the marks; and (3) Barclays provided sufficient evidence that it has a good faith intent to eventually begin using the mark again.

With regard to likelihood of confusion, the TTAB pointed particularly to the fact that lots of LEHMAN BROTHERS branded collectable items (including some alcohol) are still being traded by collectors–its like the new Nazi paraphernalia?  This collector  conclusion raises a number of interesting questions about the role of trademarks. Even if this is a good theory, I would suggest that collectors are among the most sophisticated buyers, always on the lookout for counterfeits and so would require a fairly high level of confusion.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed — The Whisky mark is cancelled, and Barclay’s mark remains.

It is clear here that whisky registration was seeking to free-ride upon consumer recognition of the Lehman Brothers name.  But, Tiger Lilly suggests that its case here is different because it is lampooning Lehman Brothers.  It is not trading on the “goodwill” but rather the “bad will.”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected this claim — finding “no legal support for these subtle distinctions.”  Rather, “Tiger Lily’s attempts to capitalize on the fame of the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark  weighs in favor of finding a likelihood of confusion.”

The court’s other important ruling in the case focuses on the expectation that owners of trademarks will extend their use of the mark into other fields.

[I]n modern consumer markets commercial trademarks are often licensed for use on products that may differ from the original source of the trademark. . . . As a legal principle, because the LEHMAN BROTHERS mark has achieved a high degree of fame, it is afforded a broad scope of protection. Our precedent makes clear that a famous mark “casts a long shadow which competitors must avoid.”

Slip Op.

 

 

Supreme Court Continues Preliminary Injunction of HB20 – with dissent

by Dennis Crouch

NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton, 21A720, 596 U.S. ___, 2022 WL 1743668 (U.S. May 31, 2022)

The most recent news in this case is that a 5-4 Supreme Court has sided against Texas–issuing an emergency order to reinstitute the preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Social Media Censorship law known as HB20.  The case is now back before the 5th Circuit who review the preliminary injunction order in a non-emergency fashion.

= = =

The State of Texas enacted HB20 to regulate large social media platforms (>50 million users).  The law has a number of reporting requirements and also prohibits large social media platforms from censoring users based upon  that user’s viewpoint viewpoint. Here, “censor” is broadly defined “to mean to block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.”

NetChoice is a lobbying organization controlled by large media companies, including Google, Facebook, TikTok, Amazon & Twitter.  Those companies argue that HB20 impinges upon their Constitutionally protected free speech rights.  In particular, the large social media platforms argue that the First Amendment protects their rights to operate as editors making publication decisions.

= = = =

The Supreme Court’s decision against Texas was issued without an opinion by a 5-judge majority of Chief Justice Roberts along with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh and Barrett.  Four justices dissented, including Justice Kagan who did so without any opinion. The only opinion then came from Justice Alito’s dissent that was joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.  This sort of decision here is quite wonky — it is an emergency order to vacate the 5th Circuit’s order to temporarily stay the district court’s preliminary injunction.  Here, I want to just focus a bit on Justice Alito’s First Amendment suggestions, which he notes have not been finalized at this preliminary and emergency stage.

Justice Alito’s opinion identifies the first amendment issues at stake here to be important and novel. “It is not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.”  Although editorial control is certainly within the First Amendment, the court has previously allowed requirements to be placed on broadcast and cable television and even a shopping center. See PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U. S. 74 (1980) and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 512 U. S. 622 (1994).

Next step in the case is for the 5th Circuit to decide whether to cancel the preliminary injunction.  I expect that the court will at least narrow the injunction if not entirely eliminate it.  At that point the case will move back down to the district court.  If Texas does begin enforcement then there will likely be a number of cases moving up through both State and Federal courts.

 

AI-Generated Invention at the Federal Circuit

On Monday, June 6, the Federal Circuit will hear oral arguments in the pending  AI-inventorship case of Thaler v. Vidal, Appeal No 21-2347. The court does not release the identity of the individual judges until just before oral arguments, so all we (and the parties) know is that it is Panel A in Courtroom 201.

This case raises the novel legal issue of whether a patent can be obtained for an invention created by an artificial intelligence (AI) in the absence of a traditional human inventor (“AI-Generated Invention”). The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia have barred such inventions from being patented. This ignores fundamental statutory and constitutional principles and also stymies innovation. While other countries are promoting the progress of science, the USPTO is belatedly adopting luddism.

Appellant’s brief.  In their responsive brief, the US narrowed the issue somewhat:

Whether the District Court correctly concluded that an artificial intelligence device comprised solely of source code cannot qualify as an “inventor” under the Patent Act, where the plain statutory language specifically defines “inventor” to be an “individual” and refers to an “inventor” using personal pronouns.

Appellee Brief.

That same panel is hearing two other IP cases:

  1. Samsung v. Dynamics, 21-2352.  PTAB sided with the patentee Dynamics.  On appeal, Samsung argues obviousness — that the Board failed to consider some aspects of the prior art and required motivation-to-combine be found in the primary reference.  Dynamics patents cover electronic emulation magnetic stripes (on, for instance credit cards).  The infringement argument is that Samsung’s digital wallet infringes. John O’Quinn (Kirkland Ellis) will argue for Samsung and Robert Morris (Eckert Seamans) for Dynamics.
  2.  In re A. Zeta S.R.L., 22-1178. Zeta is an Italian company seeking to register the mark PARMA COFFEE to be used for coffee, chocolate, tea, and other food/beverages.  Parma is a mid-sized city in Italy (200k people) and the goods in question apparently originate from Parma. The PTAB refused to register the mark — finding the COFFEE portion of the mark generic, and PARMA to be “Primarily Geographically Descriptive” under Section 2(e)(2) of the Lanham Act.  One issue here is about “origination” — the coffee is not grown in Parma but the PTO still argues that there is sufficient connection with the city (and also that Zeta waived that argument before the TTAB).  The parties waived oral arguments in the case and so it will be submitted on the briefs .

 

 

 

 

USPTO PPAC – Ready for Nominees

The Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) forms a board of advisors for the USPTO Director. Nine members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce for three-year terms.  Although PPAC does not have formal power to take action, the USPTO Director is required to cooperate with the committee, provide it with access to information, and consider its advice.  Congress has declared that the committee should individuals representing both small and large entities, including at least independent inventor.  The committee should also include individuals “with substantial background and achievement in finance, management, labor relations, science, technology, and office automation.”

Dir. Vidal has announced that the USPTO is seeking nominations for three new  PPAC members. Due by July 1, 2022.  For more information, contact Cordelia Zecher, Acting Chief of Staff for Director Vidal at 571-272-8600.

My four issues for this year:

  1. Outreach and cultivate the US as a flourishing innovative society rather than one that relies upon others to provide answers. 
  2. Ensure that the USPTO maintains highest quality examination practices post-COVID. 
  3. Work to transform intellectual property laws in ways that promote US investment in innovation in key industries.
  4. Manage the balance between patents and trade secrecy protection–especially as more companies have substantially shifted toward trade secrets.

Submit your nominees here [USPTO Link Currently Not Working].

PTAB on Eligibility: Four Recent Decisions

Ex parte Gillam, APPEAL 2021-002217, 2022 WL 1641777 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. May 20, 2022) (RPI – Texas Instruments). [2021002297_Mail_Decision]

9. A method for evaluating a generalized rational function on a handheld graphing calculator, the method comprising:

determining, by a processor of the handheld graphing calculator, whether or not the generalized rational function has at least one asymptote; and

displaying, by the processor, the at least one asymptote on a display screen when the generalized rational function has the at least one asymptote, the displaying includes a textual representation of the at least one asymptote.

In its decision, the PTAB issued a new ground for rejection against Claim 9 for lacking subject matter eligibility.  The Board concluded that the claim was directed to an unpatentable mathematical concept.

= = =

Ex Parte Allaway, APPEAL 2021-002898, 2022 WL 1599499 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. May 19, 2022) (Mars, Inc.).[2021002898_Mail_Decision]

1. A method of screening a foodstuff comprising:

(a) preparing a foodstuff comprising i) one or more of aspartic acid, serine, glutamic acid, glycine, alanine and praline, and ii) one or more of myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, oleic acid and linolenic acid, the foodstuff further comprising a protein to fat ratio of 1:0.27 to 1:0.63 on a gram:gram as fed or dry matter basis;

(b) feeding a cat the foodstuff, and

(c) measuring the level of margaric acid in a blood sample from the cat before and after feeding the foodstuff, wherein an increase in endogenous margaric acid levels post prandially is indicative of a foodstuff effective to prevent or reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and/or inflammation in the cat.

The Board found that the final wherein clause was directed to a potential mental process and thus an abstract idea in addition, the correlation between margaric acid and disease is a law of nature similar to that seen in Mayo.   Rejection Affirmed.

= = =

Ex Parte Mallet, APPEAL 2021-003081, 2022 WL 1641787 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. May 20, 2022) (RPI – BIOMERIEUX) [2021003081_Mail_Decision]

1. A method for detecting at least two RNA transcripts, comprising:

obtaining a biological sample that is collected from a human patient suspected of having prostate cancer; and

detecting, in the biological sample, the presence or absence of at least two RNA transcripts comprising a first RNA transcript expressed by a first nucleic acid sequence having at least 99% identity with SEQ ID NO: 1, and a second RNA transcript expressed by a second nucleic acid sequence having at least 99% identity with SEQ ID NO: 3.

The claim was not rejected under Section 101, but the PTAB included an interesting footnote suggesting that the claim may lack eligibility under Mayo/Alice, but is OK under the 2019 USPTO Examination Guidelines.

= = =

Ex Parte Bella, APPEAL 2021-002297, 2022 WL 1584710 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. May 17, 2022) [2021002297_Mail_Decision]

Maria Bella is a forensic expert who testifies in cases involving aquatics and drowning.  She created a step-by-step lifeguarding methodology that includes a series of steps and actions such as

  • staff mapping the shape of the swimming pool or body of water including any irregularities that may be present;
  • staff determining the number of submersible devices available;
  • staff determining the length of the swimming pool or body of water;
  • the staff determining the width of the swimming pool or body of water;
  • staff calculating and mapping a grid to determine the positioning of the submersible devices based on the number of submersibles, the length of the swimming pool or body of water, the width of the swimming pool or body of water and the blind spots present;
  • the staff positioning submersible devices on a bottom of the swimming pool or body of water according to the calculated grid …

The examiner rejected the claims on eligibility grounds. On appeal though the PTAB has reversed that rejection — basically finding that the submersible devices are “concrete things” that sufficiently “integrate” the mental processes “into a practical application.”

The Board did, however, issue a new ground of rejection on indefiniteness – The claim includes the following wherein clause that the Board found lacks any workable objective standard: “wherein failure to recognize the swimmer/bather in distress increases the risk of the swimmer/bather suffering a fatal drowning.”

Keys to Eligibility: Preemption, History, and Levels of Abstraction

by Dennis Crouch

The US Solicitor General has provided her input–arguing that the Supreme Court should grant American Axle’s petition and decide whether the claimed method of manufacturing a driveshaft is patent eligible. American Axle & Mfg., Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, Docket No. 20-891 (Supreme Court 2022). [USDOJ Brief]

A decade ago, the Supreme Court decided Mayo v. Prometheus, 566 U.S. 66 (2012). Mayo broadened the scope of excluded “laws of nature” and established a two-step test for judging eligibility. The court followed-up two years later with Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, 573 U.S. 208 (2014), extending Mayo‘s holdings to abstract ideas and computer implemented inventions.  In the wake of these decisions, the USPTO substantially changed its practices as did the U.S. Courts.  Thousands of claims have been denied, cancelled, or invalidated, but those involved still experience “substantial uncertainty about the proper application of Section 101.”  In American Axle, the Federal Circuit reluctantly took the law a further step by finding abstract a method of manufacturing and calibrating a mechanical structure.  The USDOJ concludes that the claim at issue here is a “paradigmatic examples of the ‘arts’ or ‘processes’ that may receive patent protection if other statutory criteria are satisfied.”

American Axle’s US Patent No. 7,774,911 claims a method of manufacturing an automobile driveshaft that operates with reduced vibration & noise.  The claims are particular directed to the use of a shaft liner that has been tuned to reduces multiple vibration modes (bending and shell mode vibrations).  Prior technology included a shaft liner, but not one tuned to multiple vibration modes.  So, the novel feature here is that the liner has been tuned to both resistively absorb shell mode vibrations and reactively absorb bending mode vibrations.

22. … tuning a mass and a stiffness of at least one liner … wherein the … liner is a tuned resistive absorber for attenuating shell mode vibrations and wherein the at least one liner is a tuned reactive absorber for attenuating bending mode vibrations.

The crux of the problem found by the Federal Circuit is that these novel features are claimed functionally–at a fairly high level of abstraction.  Rather than claiming the actual steps of tuning, the patentee has endeavored to claim all methods that achieve the claimed result. In some ways, this is like the claimed process in Diehr, but instead of using the Arrhenius equation the inventors here just use an unstated algorithm.

Broad claims like these have been typically dealt-with under the disclosure requirements–written description and enablement; as well as obviousness.  Under those doctrines, broad functional claims are permitted so long as the disclosure is sufficient and the prior art allows.   By shifting to eligibility the defense was able cut-off the broad claims straight away.  And importantly from a procedure perspective, was able to achieve this without worrying about the strictures of “evidence” or “fact finding” because eligibility is a question of law that rarely involves any underlying factual findings.

Substantial Uncertainty: The DOJ brief focuses on uncertainty created by Mayo/Alice framework, both at Step 1 and Step 2.

Clarification of both steps is especially important, both because a court’s step-two analysis often finally resolves the determination as to patenteligibility, and because the nature of the initial step-one screen logically depends in part on the inquiry that courts will apply at step two.

DOJ Brief.  The original petitioner brief focused on Alice Step 1 — asking what is the “appropriate standard for determining whether a patent claim is ‘directed to’ a patent-ineligible concept.”  The DOJ suggested that the court focus on both steps and ask more generally is it patent eligible?

Preemption: An overarching theme in patent eligibility jurisprudence has been the potential of handing-over exclusive rights  to fundamental aspects of human life and “building blocks” human ingenuity.  Avoiding improper preemption is the key goal.  But, the Alice/Mayo test does not use preemption in its decision process, and the Federal Circuit has found evidence of no preemption irrelevant to eligibility.  Rather, as the DOJ implies, preemption considerations should be fundamental to the eligibility analysis.

Levels of Abstraction: The role of patent attorneys has historically been to help inventors abstract-out their inventions to ensure that the claims cover sufficiently valuable scope.  What we know is that some abstraction is OK, too much is not.  The DOJ suggests that it would be helpful to have a bit more guidance.

Historic Exceptions: The court wrote in Bilski that these exceptions are historic and based upon longstanding precedent.  The suggestion is that they should be guided by the old precedent and not expanded further without congressional input.

Despite my earlier focus on results-based claiming, the DOJ Brief explains that the claims here go far enough in reciting:

a specific sequence of steps … taking a “hollow shaft”; “tuning” the “mass” and “stiffness” of a liner, which the district court construed to mean “controlling” the liner’s mass and stiffness “to match the relevant frequency or frequencies” of vibration of the shaft; and “inserting the” liner “into the shaft,” whereupon the liner acts as an “absorber” of two kinds of vibrations.

DOJ Brief.  These sequence of steps make the case look much more like Diamond v. Diehr than O’Reilly v. Morse.

Regarding Alice Step 2, the DOJ argues that “conventional claim elements” should not be disregarded.  Rather, the focus should continue to be on the claimed invention “as a whole.”

The petition asks a second question — whether eligibility is a question of law.  The DOJ suggests that this is a secondary question that can only be addressed once the general doctrine is established. “Answering the second question presented thus would be difficult while uncertainty about the substance of the Section 101 inquiry persists.”

Patent Case Management Goes Cross-Institutional and Global

Guest post by Peter S. Menell, Koret Professor of Law; Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology; Faculty Director, Berkeley Judicial Institute; University of California at Berkeley School of Law

Prior to the mid-1990s, patent litigation took place in district court silos.  District judges managed these cases based on their general litigation background, which rarely extended to patent cases.  Experienced patent litigators, many of whom also prosecuted patents, brought their technical and litigation experience to the table.  As a result, each patent case reinvented the patent litigation wheel to a significant extent.

With the growth of high technology patent litigation in the 1980s and early 1990s, a new breed of general litigators entered the fray.  They saw advantages to trying patent cases to juries.  In addition, the newly established Federal Circuit was getting its sea legs and began to focus on the disarray.  With the Markman decisions of the mid 1990s, the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court triggered a new patent litigation era.  Pre-trial “Markman” hearings to construe claims became the norm, and with that, the development of the Northern District of California’s Patent Local Rules for managing patent cases led by Judge Ronald Whyte.  Although initially put forth as a voluntary case management model, practitioners quickly embraced these rules.  Busy federal judges were all too happy to see the patent bar following these rules, thereby reducing the case management challenges.

It was around this time, in 1997, that I reached out to the Federal Judicial Center to offer the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology’s assistance in training federal judges in the intricacies of intellectual property law and case management.  That led to a 25 year collaboration leading annual week-long training programs, panels at FJC regional and national events, webinars, and the development of the Patent Case Management Judicial Guide (“PCMJG”).  These programs have educated much of the federal judiciary—including a substantial portion of district judges, magistrate judges, and bankruptcy judges—as well as involved Federal Circuit judges.  At the urging of former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel, I developed programs and orchestrated a patent investigation guide for the International Trade Commission.  These efforts helped to persuade ITC administrative law judges to implement Markman hearings.

These efforts spread the wisdom of a new civil procedure framework for patent litigation.  Numerous districts followed the Northern District of California’s lead, adopting patent local rules and standing orders.  I also found myself working with judges in the District of New Jersey on a new branch of patent case management rules for pharmaceutical cases, which are predominantly pursued there and in Delaware.  The advantages of standardized and coordinated patent case management became apparent and have revolutionized patent case management.

These programs and publications brought together leading practitioners and judges from the most active districts to discuss patent case management.  The Patent Case Management Judicial Guide, now in its third edition and published by the Federal Judicial Center for judges and available for free via SSRN, has been widely used and cited.  Dennis Crouch referred to it as the Bible for patent litigators.  It is now commonly assigned for teaching patent litigation and is among the most important resources for newly appointed federal judges and clerks dealing with patent litigation.

Patent Case Management Goes International

I was delighted to be invited in the summer of 2020 to assist the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in developing an International Patent Case Management Judicial Guide.  In conjunction with Eun-Joo Min, Director of the WIPO Judicial Institute, and Judge (ret.) Jeremy Fogel, Executive Director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute, I have worked over the past two years with leading judges from eight of the most significant industrial nations (Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom) to develop an international version of the Patent Case Management Judicial Guide.  Judge (ret.) Kathleen O’Malley, who served as both a district judge and Federal Circuit judge, has also advised WIPO’s efforts.  My colleague Allison Schmitt, Director of BCLT’s Life Sciences and Innovation Project, and I have developed the U.S. chapter.  WIPO anticipates publishing the International Patent Case Management Judicial Guide by December 2022.  This volume promises to promote the advantages of nuanced patent case management on a global scale, enhance the capacity of litigators and in-house counsel to assess international patent litigation, and harmonize patent systems and policies.

Patent Case Management Goes Cross-Institutional

When I agreed to collaborate on the International Patent Case Management Judicial Guide, I mistakenly thought that producing the U.S. chapter would be relatively straightforward.  After all, the PCMJG was the model for the project.  But as discussions with the other participants revealed, the U.S. patent system is far more extensive and complex than district court litigation.  Other nations employ a variety of specialized tribunals and several treat invalidity challenges in separate tribunals.  The U.S. has moved in that direction with the establishment of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s Inter Partes Review and Post-Grant Review authority.  It was time to integrate PTAB case management into U.S. patent case management.  The project illuminated the U.S.’s distinctive approaches to dealing with border control (the ITC’s Section 337 authority) and pharmaceutical patents (Hatch Waxman and the BPCIA).  It also highlighted the growing importance of SEP/FRAND issues.  Thus, the WIPO project has spurred better appreciation of the many dimensions of U.S. patent case management and highlighted lessons for improving the U.S. system.

As a way of harmonizing the presentation of patent case management regimes across the broad array of patent systems, WIPO developed the following template:

  1. OVERVIEW OF THE PATENT SYSTEM
  2. PATENT INSTITUTIONS AND ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW PROCEEDINGS
  3. JUDICIAL INSTITUTIONS
  4. PATENT INVALIDITY
  5. PATENT INFRINGEMENT
  6. JUDICIAL PATENT PROCEEDINGS AND CASE MANAGEMENT
  7. REMEDIES
  8. THREATS ACTIONS
  9. CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS
  10. ENFORCEMENT
  11. APPELLATE REVIEW
  12. BORDER MEASURES
  13. SELECTED TOPICS
  14. KEY CHALLENGES AND EFFORTS TO IMPROVE PATENT CASE MANAGEMENT

We developed a summary of PTAB case management in Chapter 2, ITC Section 337 patent investigation management in Chapter 12, and SEP/FRAND enforcement and pharmaceutical patent case management in Chapter 13.  The appendix contains a chart comparing district court patent adjudication, ITC patent investigations, and PTAB Inter Partes review.  The draft of the U.S. chapter can be downloaded by clicking on this link: WIPO International Patent Case Management Judicial Guide: United States.

This draft is undergoing review.  We welcome comments from the Patently-O community on any aspects.  Please send these comments to pmenell@law.berkeley.edu and aaschmitt@berkeley.edu.

The Future of Patent Case Management (and IP Case Management More Generally)

We are heartened to see growing interest in the study of patent (and IP) case management.  Allison and I are developing a comprehensive patent case management guide that is geared for the U.S. patent system.  We hope to finish that more extensive project by late 2022.  I am also working with other teams of practitioners and scholars on copyright, trade secret, and trademark analogs. The trade secret project is close to fruition and we hope to release a draft this summer.

These projects help to demystify and improve the functioning of intellectual property systems, which is especially important in the United States where such matters are tried to generalist judges and lay juries.  They also enable judges, practitioners, scholars, and law students to delve more deeply into the ways in which the legal system can more effectively and efficiently resolve disputes.  We are grateful to BCLT, BJI, the Federal Judicial Center, and WIPO for supporting our efforts, as well as the many practitioners and judges who have shared their experience and insights.

Three Topics: Construing AND as OR; Preserving O2Micro demand; Denying interest

by Dennis Crouch

Michael Kaufman v. Microsoft Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2022)

Kaufman’s US7885981 has a 2000 priority date and claims a method of automatically creating a database front-end for user access.  Kaufman sued Microsoft–asserting that its Dynamic Data product infringed the claims.  A jury agreed, finding the patent claims valid and infringed and awarded $7 million in damages.  Both parties appealed.

The broadest claim has three steps that basically require

  • providing an output stream from from the server that defines a user interface paradigm (including user-interaction modes, such as “create, retrieve, update and delete” and display formats for each mode)
  • scanning the database to create a data model; and
  • using the data model to construct a client application also with the user interface paradigm.

‘918 patent.

The body of the claim does not include the an “automatic” requirement, but the preamble does: “A method for operating a server comprising a processor for automatically generating an end-user interface for working with the data within a relational database … , said method comprising …”

 

Much of Microsoft’s argument focuses on the term “automatic.” During claim construction, Microsoft had asked for the term to be construed as meaning “no human labor required.” At the summary judgment motion hearing, the Judge found no disagreement about the meaning of “automatic,” but rather concluded that the disagreement was about which parts of the process had to be automatic. Microsoft’s counsel then asked, “Can we resolve the claim construction issue?” and the district court responded , “You agreed on a definition.” At that point, Kaufman’s counsel agreed with the court “I think we have resolved it.”  There was no further briefing on the issue pre trial.

Preserving o2Micro Issue for Appeal: On appeal, Microsoft argued that the district court should have resolved the claim construction issue as required by O2Micro.  The Federal Circuit has refused to consider the argument — holding that Microsoft failed to preserve the issue.

Once litigation extends beyond pre-trial and into trial, claim construction should be seen as an issue of jury instructions.  In general, pre-trial objections made during the pleadings or summary judgment stage must be reiterated during trial in order to preserve those objections for appeal. FRCP Rule 51(c) requires a timely objection on the trial record to any jury instructions (or the failure to provide sufficient instructions).  Here, the Federal Circuit holds that same approach should apply to claim construction.

A proper claim construction provides a legal standard for the jury to apply, and so the requirement of clear, timely raising of an argument for a claim construction reflects the strong requirement of timely raising of distinct objections to jury instructions.

Kaufman, Slip Op.  One problem with this panel decision is that there are quite a few cases where the appellate court has permitted claim construction appeals despite the absence of on-point jury instruction objection.  Here, the appellate panel recognized that situation as “an exception to [the] requirement” that can apply when the issue was “sufficiently raised and settled earlier.”  In particular, as the Court wrote in 02Micro, the trial-objection requirement is only preserved in a situation where the claim construction arguments had been “made clear to the district court” and then “fully litigated in and decided” by the district court in such a way that further objection would be “futile [and] unnecessary.” Id.

On appeal, Microsoft also argued that the jury verdict of infringement was not supported by substantial evidence since its Dynamic Data program required substantial user input – and thus was not automatic.  On appeal though, the Federal Circuit concluded that claim language permitted some human actions (i.e., triggering the various operations).  And, the jury heard expert testimony that separated out the human actions of setting-up the operation from the claimed automatic steps of scanning”, etc.

And: One of the more litigated claim terms is the word “and.”  Here, the claims require several display modes: “create, retrieve, update and delete.”  Later, the claims require that “each said mode display processes for representing, navigating, and managing” data relationships.  The question here is whether the claims actually require each display mode provide the user all three options: represent, navigate, and manage.  Microsoft’s product includes some modes that do not display all the options  as required by the claims and so argues that it does not infringe.

The district court concluded in a post-verdict ruling that the term “and” should be construed as including “or.” On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed. In its decision, the court particularly noted that the sole working embodiment described in the specification would only be covered by the claims under an “or” interpretation.  “A claim construction that excludes a preferred embodiment is rarely, if ever correct and would require highly persuasive evidentiary support.” Epos Technologies Ltd. v.
Pegasus Technologies Ltd., 766 F.3d 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2014).  The court also noted that the specification repeatedly used the word “and” in ways that clearly included “or.”

Infringement Affirmed.

= = =

Although Kaufman won at trial, he appealed the district court’s denial of pre-judgment interest that could potentially double the award.  The patent statute particularly identifies interest as an element of compensation:

Upon finding for the claimant the court shall award the claimant damages adequate to compensate for the infringement, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty for the use made of the invention by the infringer, together with interest and costs as fixed by the court.

35 U.S.C. § 284. “Generally, prejudgment interest should be awarded from the date of infringement to the date of judgment.” Nickson Industries, Inc. v. Rol Mfg., 847 F.2d 795 (Fed. Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court interpreted this provision in its 1983 General Motors case, concluding that prejudgment interest is “typically” awarded in patent cases.  The Supreme Court also noted that the statute indicates interest is “fixed by the court” and may be denied by a district court based upon “some justification.”  General Motors Corp. v. Devex Corp., 461 U.S. 648 (1983).  In Nickson the Federal Circuit found that undue delay by the patentee in bringing the lawsuit could justify denying interest. See also, Crystal Semiconductor Corp. v. Tritech Microelectronics International, Inc., 246 F.3d 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

Here, the district court gave two reasons for denying the award of pre-judgment interest.

  1. The jury verdict took into account the interest (because the instructions asked the jury to provide an award “discounted to present value”).
  2. Kaufman was responsible for undue delay in bringing the lawsuit.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found the denial of interest a clear abuse of discretion.  The discounting portion of the verdict was tied to testimony regarding standard discount rates, but did not include any evidence or basis for the jury to also calculate or award interest.

Regarding undue delay, the district court identified a delay, but did not identify evidence that the delay was “undue,” i.e,. that it caused some prejudicial impact on the defendant.  In particular, Microsoft indicated that it “could have” altered its product back in 2011, but did not produce evidence that it “would have” done so.

On remand, the district court will need to add up that interest (and, likely add post-judgment interest as well based upon the appeal).

NetChoice v. Paxton: Briefs are in.

NetChoice, LLC v. Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, 21A720 (Supreme Court 2022)

I previously wrote about the Texas Social Media Censorship Law known as HB20.  A portion of the case is pending before the Supreme Court on an emergency motion to vacate the 5th Circuit’s recent decision allowing the law to come into force even as it is being challenged.  After NetChoice filed its petition, Justice Alito requested responsive briefing from the state of Texas.

Those briefs have now been filed and provided below with a small excerpt or comment for each amicus brief.

= = =

  • Appendix containing lower court opinions.
  • Party Briefs:
  • Amicus Briefs Supporting NetChoice.
    • Rep Chris Cox: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice.  Cox is an author of Section 230 and provides its explanation of its importance and relevance to the case.
    • Prof. Eric Goldman: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice.  Goldman adds that the “editorial transparency requirements [of HB20] violate the First Amendment.”
    • EFF, Wikimedia, et al.: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice. “Allowing HB20 to go into effect will cause social media platforms to alter their content moderation practices in ways that will harm the public interest.”
    • Cato Institute, Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice. “The public interest is harmed by allowing the law to go into effect because most users do not want to see animal abuse, terrorist recruitment material, or racial slurs when they go on Facebook, nor do Facebook and other social media platforms want to host such material.”
    • ACLU, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, et al.: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice. The brief argues that editorial autonomy is critically important. Although HB20 applies to social media and not newspapers the brief suggests it will have a chilling effect.
    • FLOOR64: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice.  The owner of Techdirt.com.  HB20 “takes aim at the entire Internet ecosystem and its ability to facilitate any online expression at all.”
    • TechFreedom: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice. “The Fifth Circuit panel order is poised to unleash a torrent of awful content.”
    • Chamber of Progress, Anti-Defamation League, IP Justice, LGBT Tech, et al.: Amicus Brief Supporting NetChoice. The law would force publication of wasteful speech and would “render content moderation functionally impossible.”
  • Amicus Briefs in Support of Texas.
    • State of Florida, Amicus Brief in Support of Texas. Social media platforms “have supplanted the telephone for interpersonal communication, traditional television for news consumption, and the 24-hour cable news cycle in the potential to swing an election.” They should be regulated as such.
    • Professor Philip Hamburger, et al.  Amicus Brief in Support of Texas. Hamburger explains that he has studied and written “on how governments, in the seventeenth century and again today, tend to privatize their censorship, leaving their dirty work to less accountable, private actors.”  He argues that common carrier style regulation is  an appropriate mechanism to promote speech.

The Inventive Entity and Prior Publication by Another

by Dennis Crouch

Here is the setup in the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Google LLC v. IPA Techs. Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2022):

  • March 23, 1998. Cheyer, Martin, and Moran co-author academic paper describing their Open Agent Architecture (“OAA”) project being developed at Stanford’s SRI International.
  • January 5 & March 17, 1999. Cheyer & Martin (but not Moran) file for patent protection on aspects of the OAA that were not fully disclosed within the original publication.

And the Question: Does the prior publication count as prior art in an IPR obviousness analysis?

= = =

After IPA sued Google for infringement, Google petitioned for inter partes review (IPR).  Although the Board granted the petition, it eventually concluded that the prior publication was not prior art and thus sided with the patentee in its final written decision. On appeal, the Federal Circuit has vacated and remanded–asking for further fact finding on the contribution of Moran.

IPR proceedings are limited to challenges anticipation and obviousness challenges and only those based upon prior patents & printed publications.  Prior art used for  an obviousness rejection must first qualify as prior art under Section 102.  Since the patents here are pre-AIA, we focus on the old Sections 102(a) and 102(b):

Pre-AIA 102. A person shall be entitled to a patent unless —

(a) the invention was … patented or described in a printed publication … before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent, or

(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication … more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States, or

We can quickly eliminate the 102(b) time-bar because the patent applications at issue here were filed within the one-year grace period.  102(a) prior art asks whether the IPA invention was already the subject of a printed publication prior by the time the IPA inventors created their invention.  In the obviousness context, we break this down a bit further and ask whether some aspect of the invention was disclosed in a printed publication prior to the applicant’s invention date.

Courts also added a “by another” limitation into this portion of Section 102(a).  Thus, a prior publication by inventors (or a subset of the inventors) does not count as prior art under 102(a).  In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450 (CCPA 1982).

In IPA’s case, the problem is that the prior publication was by the inventors and an additional third party. If the third-party contributed fully to the publication then it counts as prior art.  But, the courts have recognized that listing of authors operates by a different norm than listing of inventors and so delve into whether or not the additional author actually contributed to the particular disclosure being relied upon.  In the context of pre-AIA 102(e) (that expressly included the “by another” provision), the Federal Circuit provided a three step process:

  1. determine what portions of the reference patent were relied on as prior art to anticipate the claim limitations at issue,
  2. evaluate the degree to which those portions were conceived ‘by another,’ and
  3. decide whether that other person’s contribution is significant enough, when measured against the full anticipating disclosure, to render him a joint inventor of the applied portions of the reference patent.

Duncan Parking Techs., Inc. v. IPS Grp., Inc., 914 F.3d 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2019).

In IPA, the Board concluded that Google had failed to show Moran had participated in the conception of the relevant portions.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the ruling — concluding that the Board had failed to “complete the full Duncan analysis” but rather disregarded testimony from Dr. Moran regarding his contribution as lacking corroboration.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit concluded that the original co-authorship represents “significant corroborating evidence.”  On remand, the court will need to actually consider the testimony and decide the factual questions of Moran’s contribution to the prior publication.

= = =

Note – the case has a few other interesting and important procedural aspects that I’m not covering in this post.

= = =

Under the AIA: Section 102 was substantially rewritten in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011.  The revised provisions no longer consider the date-of-invention as relevant.   If the patents were being considered under the AIA, we would  still first look to Section 102(a) and find that the prior publication seemingly qualifies since the publication occurred prior to the applicant’s effective filing date:

Post-AIA. (a) Novelty; Prior Art.—A person shall be entitled to a patent unless— (1) the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.

We should not expect courts to read-in the “by another” limitation into this new Section 102(a), which is more properly thought of as a modification of the pre-AIA bar of 102(b) (despite its reference to “novelty”).   Thus, any publication prior to the effective filing date qualifies for consideration under Section 102(a).  But, prior art consideration under the AIA always require consideration of the exceptions found under Section 102(b).  Importantly, prior disclosures via the inventors within 1-year of the effective filing date are excluded from prior art consideration.

Post-AIA. 102(b) Exceptions.— (1) Disclosures made 1 year or less before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.—

A disclosure made 1 year or less before the effective filing date of a claimed invention shall not be prior art to the claimed invention under subsection (a)(1) if—

(A) the disclosure was made by the inventor or joint inventor or by another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor; or

(B) the subject matter disclosed had, before such disclosure, been publicly disclosed by the inventor or a joint inventor or another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor.

The new statute does not provide any direct guidance as to how courts will treat  pre-filing disclosures akin to the one in IPA where the authors include both the listed inventors and also non-inventors.   On the one hand, the court could continue to require the same Duncan Parking analysis where we delve into the details of who conceived of the various aspects of the pre-filing disclosure. On the other hand, the court could simply whether an inventor is one of the listed authors — if so, the disclosure “was made by the inventor or joint inventor.”

The USPTO appears to largely be applying the Duncan Parking approach — its  examination guidance particularly focuses attention upon whether the 102(b)(1) disclosure is made solely by the listed inventors (or a subset).  See also Ex Parte Chowdhury, APPEAL 2020-006272, 2021 WL 4306675 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. Sept. 20, 2021) (prior publication by a subset of inventors qualifies as a 102(b)(1) exception); and MPEP 2153.01(a) (“If … the application names fewer joint inventors than a publication (e.g., the application names as joint inventors A and B, and the publication names as authors A, B and C), it would not be readily apparent from the publication that it is by the inventor (i.e., the inventive entity) or a joint inventor and the publication would be treated as prior art under AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1).”).

 

 

Means Plus Function; Nonce Words; and En Banc Petitions

by Dennis Crouch

Back in March 2022, I wrote an essay on the spectrum of structural and functional claiming, particularly commenting on the Federal Circuit’s decisions in Dyfan, LLC v. Target Corp., 28 F.4th 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2022) and VDPP LLC v. Vizio, Inc., 2021-2040, 2022 WL 885771 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 25, 2022). See, Dennis Crouch, Discerning the Purpose and Means of Williamson v. Citrix, Patently-O (March 30, 2022).

A basic question in these cases is whether the claim elements at issue recite sufficient “structure” to avoid being classified as a “means” claim under 35 U.S.C. 112(f). Patentee’s typically prefer to avoid 112(f) classification as the result is typically either (1) narrow claim scope or (2) invalid claims.  The classification is seemingly easy when a patentee uses classic “means plus function” (MPF) claim language without reciting specific structure, but patentees usually avoid that approach in favor of quasi-structural elements such as a “module,” “circuit,” or “system.” Prior to Williamson, the Federal Circuit  strongly presumed claim elements lacking traditional MPF language were not MPF elements.  Williamson eliminated that  strong presumption in favor of a weak rebuttable presumption that can be overcome with a demonstration “that the claim term fails to recite sufficiently definite structure or else recites function without reciting sufficient structure for performing that function. Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc as to Part II.C.1).  That case went on to focus attention on “nonce words” such as “mechanism,” “element,” and “device” that “typically” fail to recite sufficiently definite structure.  The problem here is discerning in any particular case what level of structure is sufficient.  Although the court used the word “definite”, it seems unlikely that they intended to tie the 112(f) here to the same reasonable certainty test used for 112(b).

In the recent cases of Dyfan and VDPP, the Federal Circuit pushed-back a bit on an expansive interpretation of Williamson.  In Dyfan, the court considered a wherein clause requiring certain actions and concluded it was implicitly tied to claimed “code” and therefore recited sufficient structure to avoid MPF designation.  In VDPP, the court indicated that the nonce word designation should be based upon “evidence that a person of ordinary skill would not have understood the limitations to recite sufficiently definite structure.”  The district court in VDPP had not required submission of “evidence” but rather had summarily concluded that the “processor” and “storage” elements were nonce words lacking structure.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed — holding that those words provided sufficiently definite structure.

Now, the accused infringers in both of these cases have petitioned for rehearing: calling for either (1) panel rehearing or (2) rehearing en banc.  The court has not yet requested responses in either case. (No response may be filed to a petition for panel or en banc rehearing unless the court orders a response).

In Dyfan, Target argues that the law was settled by Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc as to Part II.C.1) and confirmed in Egenera, Inc. v. Cisco Sys., 972 F.3d 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2020).  The petition asks the following questions:

  1. For claims that recite computer software for performing functions, what
    are the criteria for determining whether software-implemented functional claim
    language is subject to 112(6)?
  2. Can the Court ignore parts of the recited software-implemented function, or ignore such function entirely, in making the determination as to whether the claim recites sufficiently definite structure?
  3. If no, and if the software-implemented function cannot be performed by a general-purpose computer without special programming can 112(6) be avoided by claiming a general-purpose computer term (such as code or program or processor) and a software-implemented result, if a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand how to write a program to achieve this result; or is the claim required to recite an algorithm to achieve the software-implemented result to avoid the application of 112(6)?

Dyfan En Banc Petition.

As you can see, the focus of the questions tie the case to to general-purpose computers and software-implemented inventions, and thus implicitly raises overlay questions of subject matter eligibility. A group of law professor led by Mark Lemley have also filed an amicus brief in support of rehearing in Dyfan.

There is a reason Congress limited functional claiming in 1952. And that reason applies with particular force in the software industry. Many of the problems with abuse of software patents can be traced to the fact that we historically allowed patentees to claim functions, not implementations. It is broad functional claiming that leads to assertions that every part of a complex technology product is patented, often by many different people at the same time. It is broad functional claiming that puts stars in the eyes of patent plaintiffs, who can demand huge royalties on the theory that there simply is no other way to implement the technology they have patented. And it is broad functional claiming that makes most of the resulting patents invalid, since even if ten programmers developed ten different algorithms to solve a problem only one of them could be the first to solve the problem at all.

Williamson reined in those abuses by setting a clear rule: patentees can’t avoid section 112(f) simply by picking a magic word other than “means.” The panel opinion directly contradicts Williamson. This Court should grant en banc rehearing to resolve the conflict

Professor Brief in Dyfan.

In VDPP, the defendant (Vizio) asks the following questions in its petition:

  1. May a claim term that connotes structure to one of skill in the art nonetheless require means-plus-function treatment because the structure it connotes is not sufficient for performing the functions the structure is recited as performing
  2. Must the proponent of means-plus-function treatment of a claim term that does not include the word “means” adduce extrinsic or other evidence beyond the language of the claim itself, in order to meet its burden of production in rebutting the Williamson presumption—or may the proponent satisfy its burden by showing that on its face, the claim does not recite sufficient structure?
  3. May the algorithmic-disclosure requirement that this Court has erected as a bulwark against purely functional claiming for computer-implemented inventions be evaded by reciting in a claim, rather than the specification, a generic “processor adapted to” perform claimed functions?

Vizio Petition.

What is missing here:

  • The court decisions lack some clarity as to what it means to “recite sufficiently definite structure.” Is this linked to the definiteness test of 112(b)?
  • It is unclear what “evidence” is required for a court to overcome the presumption — in particular, must a court always look outside the patent document itself?
  • How should all this be handled by the USPTO during ordinary prosecution?

HB20: Social Media Censorship and the Supreme Court

by Dennis Crouch

Texas HB20 treats social media platforms as common carriers, especially those with very large number of users and market dominance.  For its purposes, the law focuses on platforms with more than 50 million US monthly users and has a number of disclosure requirements. But, the heart of the new law is its prohibition on “censorship.”

CENSORSHIP PROHIBITED. (a) A social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on: (1) the viewpoint of the user or another person; (2) the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression; or (3) a user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.

“Censor” means to block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.

HB 20.  The rule has a few exceptions. Censorship appears OK if done to protect intellectual property rights; based upon a request from “an organization with the purpose of preventing the sexual exploitation of children and protecting survivors of sexual abuse from ongoing harassment” or if user expression “directly incites criminal activity or “consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group because of their race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, sex, or status as a peace officer or judge.”  The law creates a private right of action for a censored user and also authorizes the state Attorney General to bring action.

The new law was passed by the Republican dominated Texas House and Senate and signed by Gov. Abbott back in 2021.  But, before the law became effective a Federal District Court entered a preliminary injunction against its enforcement.  Ordinarily, appeals are only proper after final judgment. One exception though is that a district court’s decision regarding a preliminary injunction is ordinarily immediately appealable.  And so the state of Texas has appealed the Preliminary Injunction to the 5th Circuit.

The news over the past two weeks: On May 9, the 5th Circuit heard oral arguments and two days later issued a 1-sentence decision staying the preliminary injunction pending appeal (as the State requested).  Here, the judges have not issued their final decision on whether the preliminary injunction was proper, but the stay suggests that their final decision will also favor Texas since a key element of relief here is likelihood of success on the merits.  Those opposing the law have filed an emergency request with the US Supreme Court to reinstate the preliminary injunction during the appeal.  Justice Alito is assigned to the Fifth Circuit region and so is set to decide the emergency petition–however, the full court could choose to weigh-in.  Briefing in the SCOTUS case from Texas is due on May 18.

So to be clear, the decisions thus far have all focused on preliminary relief — whether the law can be enforced while the trial & appeal is ongoing.

In prior cases, the Court has treated social media has an important avenue for speech. In Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), for instance, the court found that prohibiting prior sex offenders from all social media violated those individuals speech rights since social media is the “modern public square.” Id.  Here though, it is the social media platforms seeking the right to discriminate freely against viewpoints.”  Texas presents the argument that social media platforms are  not speaking through their editorial role, but rather are taking technological actions to present the speech of others.  Of course, publishing and dissemination of speech are also protected by the First Amendment, and those opposed to the law present this as an open-and-shut case.

From the moment users access a social media platform, everything they see is subject to editorial discretion by the platform in  accordance with the platforms’ unique policies. Platforms dynamically create curated combinations of user-submitted expression, the platforms’ own expression, and advertisements. This editorial process involves prioritizing, arranging, and recommending content according to what users would like to see, how users would like to see it, and what content reflects (what the platform believes to be) accurate or interesting information.

SCT Brief.

 

Supreme Court on Patent Law May 2022

by Dennis Crouch

  1. The Supreme Court has denied certiorari in the pending case of PersonalWeb Techs. v. Patreon.  The case questioned the unique patent-law preclusion doctrine known as the “Kessler doctrine.”  I previously argued that the court should hear the case and clarify the law. On the same day, the court also denied petitions in Universal Secure Registry LLC v. Apple Inc. (eligibility) and Cisco Systems, Inc. v. SRI International, Inc. (willfulness).
  2. In Olaf Sööt Design v. Daktronics, the patentee argues that unduly aggressive claim construction undermined its 7th Amendment jury trial right.  This case argues against 02Micro‘s requirement that any disputed term be construed by the court.  In a new filing, the US Solicitor General has recommended against certiorari — concluding that it is the Judge’s role to construe the claims.
  3. We are still waiting for a Gov’t brief in the pending eligibility case of American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC.  The court requested the CVSG brief on May 3, 2021–more than a year ago.  Pending follow-on cases include Ameranth, Inc. v. Olo, Inc., Spireon, Inc. v. Procon Analytics, LLC and Interactive Wearables, LLC v. Polar Electro Oy. 
  4. The parties are also awaiting the Gov’t CVSG brief in Apple Inc. v. Qualcomm Incorporated (licensee appellate standing) and Amgen Inc. v. Sanofi (written description requirement).
  5. Hyatt v. USPTO challenges the district court’s APA trial procedures as part of his effort to force the Patent Office to issue patents for applications that have been pending for decades.

Top six pending cases:

  1. Eligibility: American Axle & Manufacturing v. Neapco Holdings – pending petition for writ of certiorari awaiting CVSG amicus brief from Gov’t.
  2. Written Description: Amgen v. Sanofi – pending petition for writ of certiorari awaiting CVSG amicus brief from Gov’t.
  3. Appellate Standing: Apple . Qualcomm  pending petition for writ of certiorari awaiting CVSG amicus brief from Gov’t.
  4. Nexus Requirement for Secondary Considerations: Zaxcom, Inc. v. Lectrosonics – pending en banc petition before the Federal Circuit.
  5. Deference to Examiner on Definiteness: Nature Simulation Systems Inc. v. Autodesk, Inc. – pending en banc petition before the Federal Circuit.
  6. Level of Possession for WD negative claim limitations: Novartis Pharmaceuticals v. Accord Healthcare Inc. – pending en banc petition before the Federal Circuit.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes by Juvan Bonni

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