Posts in Litigation

Senators Tillis and Coons Express Concerns with Fourth Estate in Letter to Copyright Office

On March 14, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, sent a letter addressed to Karyn Temple, Acting Register of Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office expressing concerns that Tillis and Coons share about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC. As the letter from Sens. Tillis and Coons notes, it takes an average of about six months for the Copyright Office to fully process registration applications. Given that the Supreme Court has now ruled that these applications must be fully processed prior to the filing of a suit, Senators Tillis and Coons said the real impact of the Fourth Estate decision “will be the extended unlawful exploitation of a copyright owner’s intellectual property.”

Alden Abbott, U.S. Federal Trade Commission: 101 Confusion Threatens Competitive Process

Thank you, Gene, and your colleagues from IP Watchdog, for having invited me to address this great conference.  Today I will focus on the interaction between patent law reform and competition policy, with particular regard to questions of patentability raised by proposals to reform Section 101 of the Patent Act (“Section 101”), which specifies what subject matter is patentable.  My remarks are solely attributable to me, and should not be taken to represent the views of the Federal Trade Commission or of any individual Federal Trade Commissioner. After briefly describing the interrelationship between patent law and antitrust law, I will highlight the role of the Federal Trade Commission’s policy interest in the structure of the law bearing on patentability.  That interest is substantial, reflecting the reality that legal rules governing patents – and the use of patents in the economy – have a profound effect on the competitive process and innovation.  In particular, I will focus on how Section 101 reform might enhance the vibrancy of competition. Let me caution that my remarks are meant to be a bit provocative and speculative, aimed at furthering a broader dialogue.  I obviously cannot speak for the Patent and Trademark Office, which administers our patent law system.  

Federal Circuit Reverses Patent Ineligibility Finding at Pleading Stage in Natural Alternatives

In Natural Alternatives Int’l, Inc. v. Creative Compounds, LLC, the Federal Circuit reversed the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, which had held that a series of patents owned by Natural Alternatives International, Inc. (“Natural Alternatives”) were directed to laws of nature and lacked an inventive concept sufficient to render them patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Natural Alternatives Int’l, Inc. v. Creative Compounds, LLC, No. 18-1295, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7647 (Fed Cir. March 15, 2019) (Before Moore, Reyna, and Wallach, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Moore, Circuit Judge) (Concurring-in-part and dissenting in part, Reyna, Circuit Judge). The patents at issue were directed to the use of beta-alanine in dietary supplements to “increas[e] the anaerobic working capacity of muscle and other tissue.” After Natural Alternatives asserted the patents in multiple lawsuits in California, Creative Compounds, LLC (“Creative Compounds”) moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the motion. In performing its eligibility analysis, the district court accepted Natural Alternatives’ proposed claim construction and held that the asserted claims were patent ineligible. Natural Alternatives appealed, and the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded.

What the PTAB’s Precedential Decisions on Live Testimony and Substitute Claims Mean for PTAB Litigation

On Monday, March 18, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) designated three decisions as precedential. Two of the three decisions—K40 Electronics LLC v. Escort Inc. (“K40 Electronics”),[AIA, live testimony at oral argument] and DePuy Synthes Products Inc. v. Medidea LLC (“DePuy Synthes Prods”) [AIA, live testimony at oral argument]—explained the limited circumstances in which live testimony may be allowed during PTAB proceedings. The third decision, Amazon.com Inc. v. Uniloc Luxembourg SA (“Amazon.com”) [AIA § 316(d), grounds that can be raised against substitute claims], affirmed that the PTAB has the authority to consider whether substitute claims are patentable on more grounds than just novelty and non-obviousness. The recent designations not only provide guidance to prospective litigants in PTAB proceedings, but develop the scope of PTAB litigation as a viable alternative to district court litigation.

IP Enforcement in the Digital Age: Identifying Infringers In an Anonymous Online Environment

New technologies create novel issues and inform our understanding of existing laws. The statutes that form the basis of the U.S. IP regime are decades old and, as such, could not have contemplated how technology (and technology-assisted infringement) would evolve. As a result, traditional methods of IP enforcement often lag behind the rapidly changing online environment. Though Congress has taken steps to modernize these sometimes antiquated laws—for example, the America Invents Act made significant changes to the U.S. patent system in 2016 and the Music Modernization Act updated the music licensing and royalty framework to account for digital streaming platforms like Spotify in 2018—these updates almost always function as an ex post solution to a problem that was already present. The core questions of what is “protectable,” what is “infringement” and what is “willful” in view of the fundamental shifts in technological advancement remain squarely in the gray.

Other Barks & Bites for Friday, March 22: Vanda Action at Supreme Court, Apple Has to Pay, and Senators Express Concerns Over Fourth Estate

This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Supreme Court asks for the U.S. Solicitor General’s view on whether patents that claim a method of medically treating a patient automatically satisfy Section 101; a jury gives Qualcomm a win in its ongoing patent battle with Apple; the World Intellectual Property Office announces record-breaking totals for international patent applications and cybersquatting actions; Cisco avoids a nearly $60 million damages award at the Federal Circuit; McDonald’s appeals its loss in the EU over its Big Mac trademark; Tesla files trade secret lawsuits against former employees; Peloton faces a copyright suit from music publishers who are seeking $150 million; and Google gets another billion-dollar-plus fine from antitrust regulators in the EU.

A New Paradigm for Risk Management in Increasingly Intangible Economies

The business world has fundamentally changed, but most business people seem not to have noticed. Intangible assets and investments are increasingly dominating the leading economies. The world’s largest retailer holds no inventory; the world’s largest taxi service owns no cars; and the world’s largest hotel chain has no rooms. Property, plant, and equipment are no longer a company’s most vital assets. Intangible assets are swallowing the collective balance sheets of the strongest and most successful economies throughout the world—and are increasingly dominating investment and growth in such economies. Because the intangible revolution is only a few decades old, many companies have yet to develop or otherwise obtain robust intellectual capital management capabilities, including effective risk management of their intangible assets. Though virtually no mature businesses would consider operating without the protection of property and casualty insurance, very few companies effectively insure their intangible assets, despite such “assets that cannot be touched” often representing the most critical components of companies’ success and survival. This is partly because traditional IP insurance solutions have generally failed to meet the needs of corporate buyers.

Apple is Afraid of Inventors, Not Patent Trolls

Apple made headlines with its recent decision to close its stores in Frisco and my home town of Plano, Texas. The rumor is that Apple was afraid of the dreaded “patent troll.” However, Apple is not afraid of patent trolls. They are afraid of inventors. Whenever you hear the term patent troll, think of inventors. Inventors like my friend Bob Short, who solved an important technical problem in 1998 with his invention—a protocol that encrypts real-time audio and video transmissions. Apple wanted his technology for their FaceTime app, so they took it. Bob’s company, VirnetX, has spent six years trying to stop them and make them pay. Meanwhile Apple, Google, and other tech titans have spread propaganda and paid lawyers, academics, lobbyists, and politicians to destroy the U.S. patent system.

Alice is Due for Reversal: Science Proves Its Reasoning Unsound

Since the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Alice v. CLS Bank International, patent claims including software have faced a much higher barrier for receiving patents than any other field of invention. This has also infected specialized software, such as artificial intelligence (AI), which is both distressing and sad. It also explains why Chinese AI start-ups are receiving more funding than U.S. AI start-ups, a fact that should be sending a shockwave through Capitol Hill. Since Alice, patent examiners have presumptively classified software claims that can be implemented on a general computer as covering nothing more than an abstract idea, which means they are ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. To overcome this rejection, applicants must show why their claimed invention is something more than just a mere abstract idea.  Ironically, what constitutes something more is itself an abstract idea, and even what is an abstract idea is itself an abstract idea. In something straight from out of the Monty Python version of patent eligibility, these key terms – something more and abstract idea – have not been defined by the Supreme Court or the Federal Circuit. As a result, most applications with software are routinely denied, which is understandable when frontline decision makers (i.e., patent examiners) are left without objective guidance. Subjectivity prevails.

Consumer Technology Association Preaches Patent Troll Fairy Tale to Crowd During Fireside Chat with Iancu at SXSW

USPTO Director Andrei Iancu participated in a fireside chat, titled “The Crossroads of Technology and Innovation,” hosted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) at its sixth annual Innovation Policy Day on Tuesday, March 12 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Sitting with Director Iancu was host Michael Hayes, Sr. Manager of Government Affairs for the CTA. The chat was quite short and briefly touched on topics such as celebrating the 10 millionth-issued patent, the preparedness of the patent system for the future, artificial intelligence and patent eligibility, and the availability of patenting for all peoples. Then, in what some may consider to be an unscrupulous move, Hayes introduced the narrative of patent trolls.

Senate IP Subcommittee Hears Testimony from Iancu, Debates Hot-Button IP Issues

On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held an oversight hearing of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office featuring testimony from and questioning of USPTO Director Andrei Iancu. While this hearing was relatively short by Congressional standards, the Senate IP Subcommittee explored recent changes instituted during Iancu’s tenure as USPTO Director and also got into the debate on pharmaceutical patents—a topic that has been front and center for both houses of Congress in recent weeks.

Congressman Steve Stivers on the STRONGER Patents ACT, USPTO Reforms, and the State of U.S. Innovation

Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) introduced the Support Technology & Research for Our Nation’s Growth and Economic Resilience (STRONGER) Patents Act, which would in part restore injunctive relief as a remedy for patent infringement, in the U.S. House of Representatives in March of last year. While there has been much talk about closed-door discussions taking place on Capitol Hill recently around fixing Section 101 law, the House has not yet re-introduced the STRONGER Patents Act, and has thus far been focused on other issues this term. But Rep. Stivers seems confident that the Act has a chance this term, and says that this could be the consensus legislation the House needs. Read below for more on Rep. Stivers’ thoughts about patent reform in the 116th Congress, where the America Invents Act went wrong, and how we ensure the U.S. patent system is restored to number one.

Apple Pays for Its Patent Infringement, But Important Legal Cases Continue

n an age with instantaneous commentary on social media, the wheels of justice in courts seem to move at a glacial pace, especially in patent infringement lawsuits in the fast-paced smartphone industry. Yet, courts have been methodically receiving and meticulously reviewing the evidence in Qualcomm’s lawsuits against Apple Computer for infringing its patents. And, like the tortoise who eventually wins over the speedy hare, the judgments are just now coming out against Apple. This past December, a Chinese court issued a preliminary injunction against Apple selling iPhones that infringed Qualcomm’s patents. A week later, A German court issued an injunction against Apple selling iPhones in that country that infringed Qualcomm’s patents. Last week, a jury in the United States found Apple liable for infringing Qualcomm’s patents and awarded Qualcomm $31 million in damages.

Innovator Organizations Applaud Delrahim Action on SEPs, Plead for Restoration of Injunctive Relief for Infringement

A number of organizations, including Ericsson, Nokia, Philips, Qualcomm, the Innovation Alliance and the Licensing Executives Society, have sent two separate letters to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, USPTO Director Andrei Iancu, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stating their support for the United States’ decision to withdraw the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division’s assent to the 2013 joint DOJ-U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments” (the 2013 Joint Policy Statement). The letter sent by Ericsson, Nokia, Philips, and Qualcomm begins by explaining that those signing the letters collectively spend many billions of dollars annually to “the development of cutting-edge that substantially contribute to the social welfare and quality of life of U.S. consumers,” and “and employ tens of thousands of people in the U.S.” The letter goes on to explain that injunctions are necessary to address the widespread patent infringement that has occurred in recent years; infringement that risks innovators’ ability to continue to innovate and create next generation technologies. Without property protections it is economically irrational to invest the billions of dollars required to create cutting-edge technologies.

Federal Circuit Again Reverses PTAB’s Finding of Unpatentability in Apple IPR Challenge

The Federal Circuit recently reversed a decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) finding claims of a patent owned by PersonalWeb Technologies, LLC to be invalid.  Apple, Inc. (Apple) petitioned for inter partes review (IPR), and the Board found certain claims of the patent to be invalid as obvious in light of two references.  The Federal Circuit reversed, holding the Board provided insufficient evidence to support a finding of inherency.  Pers. Web Techs., LLC v. Apple, Inc., No. 2018-1599, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6919 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 8, 2019) (Before Moore, Taranto, and Chen, Circuit Judges) (Opinion for the Court, Chen, Circuit Judge).