What makes this “no Bilski day” at the Supreme Court particularly interesting and noteworthy is the fact that the Supreme Court did issue a terrorism and First Amendment decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project today, a decision that many if not most would have thought to be harder and more important than the Bilski case. Given that the Supreme Court has issued a decision in what society as a whole will undoubtedly view as a far more important decision than Bilski, and since Bilski has been on the Supreme Court docket since oral arguments back on November 9, 2009, it seems virtually assured that the decision will slip to the final day of the Court’s 2009 term, or it will be held over.
From the standpoint of appropriate judicial process within our system of government the Bilski case is an easy one. If the Court were predisposed to do what they are supposed to do, a stretch I know, they would exercise judicial restraint and actually only decide the case before them. At this point unless the case is held over because no decision can be reached it seems a virtual certainty that the Supreme Court will say more than they should, which will lead them to create problems that they never envisioned. Saying too much and not appreciating the unforeseen (at least to them) consequences just so happens to be a Supreme Court specialty, at least when it comes to patent law.
There is some irony that on the day we mark the 30th anniversary of the decision that launched the modern biotechnology industry we are still awaiting a decision on a patentable subject matter case — Bilski v. Kappos. Bilski has the potential to not only kill business methods, but also the software industry, the biotechnology industry and much of the medical innovation we see growing by leaps and bounds. So for today I toast the Supreme Court decision that launched the biotech industry, created millions of jobs and has lead to innumerable cures and treatments. I just hope that tomorrow (or whenever the Supreme Court issues its Bilski decision) it is not all for naught.
In Perquignot v. Solo Cup Co., the stakes were truly mind-boggling: about $10.8 trillion in total. Approximately $5.4 trillion of that bounty would be the federal government’s share which the Federal Circuit characterized as “sufficient to pay back 42% of the country’s total national debt.” High stakes indeed! But unfortunately for the bounty hunter (Pequignot) in Perquignot, the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court grant of summary judgment that there was no “deceptive intent” on the part of the patentee (Solo Cup), thus no approximately $5.4 trillion bounty was owed.
Last week when I wrote Broken Record, No Bilski for You Today, which was a fun combination of Soup Nazi meets LPs, I dangled the thought that perhaps the Supreme Court would not decide Bilski this term and might hold the case over. I said I refused to speculate at this point, but some of those commenting on that article asked me to engage in the speculation, as did others via e-mail and some that I have encountered in the industry since then. I still think it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hold Bilski over, just because it is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, but with only two more decision days this term (i.e., Monday June 21 and Monday June 28), it seems appropriate to at least ponder the rare occurrence of the Supreme Court holding a case over, which the Court did in Marbury v. Madison and Brown v. Board of Education.
At these types of ceremonies everyone says such nice things, but what Judges Newman, Linn and Lourie said about Judge Michel seemed particularly heartfelt, and they seemed almost saddened to see their friend choose to leave and set out to make a difference advocating rather than opining. The video also included flattering comments from Chief Judge Anthony Joseph Scirica of the Third Circuit, one of Judge Michel’s former clerks and executives of the IPO. It was extremely tasteful, gave an appropriate but not lingering recap of his career and did not linger or go on at an uncomfortable length as these things sometimes can do. Extremely well done and kuddos to the IPO.
Whenever the Supreme Court decides to issue the Bilski decision is for them to know and the rest of us to find out. In the meantime what I can say with great authority, as if I am peering at you from behind a counter and wearing a white apron and using the thickest Arabian accent I can conjure up, is this: No Bilski for you… at least not today!
On Friday, May 28, 2010, USPTO Director David Kappos gave five suggestions for practitioners on the Director’s Forum (i.e., the Kappos blog). It would be wonderful if such things could occur in the prosecution of every case, but unfortunately the Federal Circuit has effectively prevented that from happening and forced upon the USPTO and the practicing patent bar a game of hide the ball, which benefits no one. With Congress not stepping up to the plate any time soon to do anything useful for the patent system there may be only one hope left; namely to get the CAFC judges to examine patent applications, sitting by designation, so they can better understand the mess they have created.
In what is turning into a broken record, the Supreme Court once again did not issue a decision in Bilski v. Kappos. Perhaps we should be thankful that the Supreme Court is taking so long and treating it as the overwhelmingly important case we know it to be. On the other hand, perhaps we should be afraid that the Supreme Court is giving it so much scrutiny. Let’s face it, the Supreme Court has not done much over the last decade to evidence anything other than glib familiarity and vague understanding of patent law. I sure hope they break with that tradition in Bilski.
As I’ve said before, no one could rightly accuse me of being biased against patents. But, as I also pointed out in this article on Judge Rader’s dissent in Media Technologies Licensing, LLC v. The Upper Deck Company, I don’t believe every patent is “bullet proof,” or to use Judge Plager’s phrase, that some patents aren’t built on “quicksand.” In fact, I agree with Judge Plager’s dissent in the denial of rehearing en banc in Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Applera Corp., issued May 26, 2010, which argues that the “definiteness” requirement in the second paragraph of 35 U.S.C § 112 needs more “teeth” than Federal Circuit precedent appears to give it.
While this patent statute of limitations is an extraordinarily long statute of limitations by legal standards there is another very important piece to the puzzle that needs to be appreciated by those who would choose not to pursue infringers; namely the doctrine of laches, which can prevent recovery against a defendant even if infringement is conclusively proven. So those who are patent owners don’t usually have to worry too much about the statute of limitations, but they should be mindful of the 6 year limitation period. Now one also needs to be mindful of estoppel, but don’t forget laches either. Laches and estoppel are both equitable remedies, which are related, but at least somewhat different.
After first “threatening,” then being “silent” for over three years, the patentee in Aspex Eyewear was barred by the defense of equitable estoppel from getting any relief for patent infringement. What’s even worse, after the initial “threat” of infringement the patentee in Aspex Eyewear created this ticking estoppel time bomb by failing to mention (in follow up exchanges) the two patents for which suit was filed, while mentioning three other patents which were not involved in the suit that was filed.
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court denied Microsoft Corporation’s petition for writ of certiorari in Lucent Technologies, Inc. v. Gateway, Inc. et al, with Microsoft being among the “et al.” While the Federal Circuit affirmed the validity and infringement aspects of the underlying decision of the United States Federal District Court for the District of Southern California, the Court vacated and remanded the damages portion to the district court for further proceedings because the damages calculation lacked sufficient evidentiary support. Despite the Federal Circuit vacating and remanding of the damages award of $357.69 million Microsoft appealed to the Supreme Court, an appeal that will never happen with the denial of the petition for writ of certiorari.
For most of us patent prosecutors, Judge Newman is our hero. She is one of us. On some occasions the patent planets even align and Judge Newman gets to write the majority opinion in a Federal Circuit case. And fortunately for us patent prosecutors, In re Vaidyanathan is one of those cases where Newman waxed very eloquent in saying: “Obviousness is determined as a matter of foresight, not hindsight.” More importantly for us prosecutors, she provided us with useful case law precedent to challenge rejections which are long on conjecture and speculation, but extremely short on facts, evidence, logic, or reasoning. In short, Judge Newman flattened a factually unsupported and badly reasoned obviousness rejection under 35 U.S.C. § 103 in Vaidyanathan.
Today the United States Supreme Court issued four decisions, and none of them were Bilski v. Kappos. If you look back at the lag time between oral argument and decision over the last 17 Supreme Court patent decisions the average is 2.82 months. KSR was 5.07 months and as of today Bilski is 6.29 months. Does this mean Bilski will be more earth shattering than KSR, which is the biggest patent decision of at least the last generation?