Posts in US Supreme Court

Rader’s Ruminations – Patent Eligibility II: How the Supreme Court Ignored Statute and Revived Its Innovation-Killing Two-Step

The Supreme Court has never quite grasped the distinction between patent eligibility and patentability. Eligibility involves entire subject matter categories or fields of inventive enterprise, like the categories “process, machine, [article of] manufacture, or composition of matter.” 35 U.S.C. 101. Ascertaining eligibility should therefore require little more than checking the patent title and ensuring that, in the words of the venerable Judge Giles Rich, “[the invention] produces a useful, concrete and tangible result.”  State Street Bank v. Signature Fin. Group, 149 F. 3d 1368 (Fed. Cir. 1998). In simple terms, Section 101 requires little more for eligibility than a showing that an invention has applied natural principles to achieve a concrete purpose within the expansive categories articulated by Thomas Jefferson in 1793. Patentability, on the other hand, proceeds as a detailed claim-by-claim, feature-by-feature examination of “the conditions and requirements of this title.” 35 U.S.C. 101. Ironically this fundamental distinction that eludes the Supreme Court is explicit in the statutory language of 35 U.S.C. 101 itself.

Rader’s Ruminations – Patent Eligibility, Part 1: The Judge-Made ‘Exceptions’ are Both Unnecessary and Misconstrued

In supreme irony, the U.S. Supreme Court lists the three exceptions to statutory patent eligibility in Chakrabarty, Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980) — the case most famous for the observation that Thomas Jefferson’s statutory language from the 1793 Act (still in place today) covers “anything under the sun made by man.” Id. at 309. While construing Jefferson’s “broad” statutory language in 35 U.S.C. 101 with “wide scope,” the Court noted: “The laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have been held not patentable.” Id. The Court tries to support this listing with a string citation to several cases — each standing for something different than an exception from statutory language. Still, to ensure clarity, the Court gives examples: “a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter.” Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2, nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity.”  Id. So far so good, but this classic example of the Court trying to sound informed and competent out of its comfort zone reemerges 30 years later to replace (and effectively overrule) the statutory rule that governed for over 200 years and remains in Title 35.

USPTO Issues Updated Obviousness Guidance Tracing 15 Years of Case Law Following KSR

On February 27, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a notice in the Federal Register providing updated guidance for agency decision-makers on making proper determinations of obviousness under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in KSR International Co. V. Teleflex Inc. While the USPTO’s examiner guidance doesn’t constitute substantive rulemaking, it traces 15 years of case law from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to clarify several areas of confusion stemming from the Supreme Court’s calls for a flexible approach to the obviousness analysis for patent validity.

Rader’s Ruminations: The Most Striking (and Embarrassing) Legal Mistake in Modern Patent Law

The most striking (and embarrassing) mistake of law in modern patent law history occurred in the case of eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, 347 U.S. 388 (2006). This mistake led to an alarmingly incorrect outcome and a monumental disruption of U.S. innovation policy…. The traditional and longstanding remedy for trespass on a patent property right is a permanent injunction. By making removal of an established infringer/trespasser optional in eBay, the Supreme Court vastly undercut and devalued every patent’s exclusive right. This erroneous outcome is a cataclysmic policy error, but that policy miscarriage is not itself the embarrassing error of law.

DIG, Dogs and Bad Wine: Justices Float Scrapping Warner Chappell to Consider Alternate Petition on ‘Discovery Accrual Rule’ for Copyright

Oral arguments took place today in Warner Chappell Music v. Nealy, a case that asks whether a copyright plaintiff can recover damages for acts that allegedly occurred more than three years before the filing of a lawsuit. The Justices repeatedly asked the parties involved whether they should dismiss the case as having been improvidently granted (DIG) in order to first grant and decide another pending case that directly addresses a technically peripheral, but seemingly crucial, question at issue in Warner Chappell, namely, whether the so-called discovery accrual rule applies to the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations for civil claims.  

Supreme Court Denies Five IP Petitions on Issues from IPR Joinder to Contributory Trademark Infringement

On February 20, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order list that denied petitions for writ of certiorari filed in at least five intellectual property cases. While none of these cases induced large numbers of amici to ask the Court to grant cert, they do represent several current issues in IP law that remain unaddressed. From the use of joinder to evade time-bar limits in patent validity proceedings to the service of process required for a grant of preliminary injunction, the Court’s cert denials leave several open questions with which the patent and trademark community will likely grapple.

Law School Amici Urge SCOTUS to Grant Kroger Petition on Trademark Confusion and Resolve Circuit Conflict

Three law school faculty and students filed an amicus brief earlier this week urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a trademark decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit regarding the legal standard for trademark confusion. The brief asks the Court to “end the contradiction and confusion” around the different approaches taken to the likelihood of confusion analysis by federal courts.

Liquidia Urges SCOTUS to Restore Preclusive Effect to PTAB Final Written Decisions

Last week, biopharmaceutical company Liquidia Technologies filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a Federal Circuit ruling that affirmed induced infringement findings against Liquidia following the patent at issue being invalidated at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). In the petition, Liquidia argues that two previous Supreme Court rulings lead to a result contrary to the Federal Circuit’s determination that the invalidation of patent claims at the PTAB do not have preclusive effect on infringement litigation pending an appeal of the PTAB’s decision.

SCOTUS Grants Solicitor General’s Bid to Argue in Case About Retrospective Relief Under Copyright Act

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted a request by the U.S. Solicitor General to participate in oral argument as an amicus in Warner Chappell Music v. Nealy, which challenges a circuit court ruling that, under the discovery accrual rule, monetary damages for infringement under the Copyright Act are available for acts occurring outside of the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations. The Solicitor General is urging the Supreme Court to affirm the lower ruling and uphold the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation of the High Court’s ruling in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (2013) over competing interpretations in the Second Circuit.

Supreme Court Skips Case on Individual Liability for Willful Trademark Infringement

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari to Diamond J Wholesale, LLC, who petitioned the Court in December 2023 to clarify how individual liability for willful trademark infringement by a corporation should be assessed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in August 2023 backed a Georgia district court’s finding that Diamond and its owner, Raj Solomon, willfully infringed trademarks owned by Top Tobacco, L.P., Republic Technologies (NA), LLC, and Republic Tobacco, L.P. (Top Tobacco) for cigarette rolling papers. The ruling upheld an $11 million verdict in favor of the tobacco companies.

Justices Seem Split Down Party Lines as Chevron Nears Chopping Block

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in two cases that are challenging the so-called Chevron deference doctrine, which says courts should defer to administrative agencies’ interpretation of the statutes delegated to them when there is an ambiguity. While the conservative justices’ questioning largely leaned in favor of scrapping the doctrine, Justices Kagan, Sotomayor and Jackson pushed back on the petitioners’ arguments, predicting chaos, and the U.S. Solicitor General said overruling such a foundational doctrine would result in “endless litigation.”

The TRUMP TOO SMALL Case Obscures Larger Lanham Act Problems

In Vidal v. Elster, No. 22-704, the United States Supreme Court has heard argument and is expected to decide in the next several months whether Section 2(c) of the Lanham Act can prevent the federal registration of TRUMP TOO SMALL as a trademark for shirts and hats. Section 2(c) prohibits, inter alia, the registration of the name of a particular living individual without his consent. The issue in Elster is whether the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression transcends Section 2(c)…. To the extent that Section 2(c) survives, in whole or in part, and apart from weighty constitutional concerns which the Court is expected to resolve, there are numerous other problems lurking in this old, dark and dusty subsection—which  are not particularly “small” at all—which only Congress can fix.

Kroger Asks SCOTUS to Fix Circuit Inconsistencies in Likelihood of Confusion Analysis

Relish Labs LLC and the Kroger Company (who own the “Home Chef” brand and mark) petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court this week, asking the Justices to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that held Home Chef had not proven consumers were likely to confuse their marks with Grubhub and’s logo.

USPTO Says Wands Still Controls Post-Amgen in New Enablement Guidelines

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published guidelines for examiners today on the topic of enablement in light of the Supreme Court’s May 2023 decision in Amgen v. Sanofi. The Office’s view seems to largely mesh with what our guest authors concluded earlier today—Amgen isn’t getting rid of In re Wands and—at the USPTO at least—the decision has seemingly maintained the status quo.

Amgen v. Sanofi: Seven Months In, Has Anything About Patent Enablement Changed?

Last term, the U.S. Supreme Court did something strange: the Court unanimously affirmed a circuit decision, which had unanimously affirmed a trial court decision. Little about the law seemed ripe for dispute or change, nevertheless, in Amgen v. Sanofi the Supreme Court spoke. Seven months later, innovators and patent practitioners are still scratching their heads. What impact, if any, does Amgen have? Is there a sign lower courts are interpreting Amgen as signaling a change in American patent law or did it merely ratify what already existed?