There is much to write about the event, but I will start my week long coverage with an overview of the event. As the week progresses I will delve into some interesting substantive discussions that took place over this Intellectual Property weekend in the Granite State, including: (1) Chief Judge Rader tell me during the Judges’ panel: “You aren’t making any sense…”; (2) Chief Judge Rader daring anyone to come up with proof that the Supreme Court’s decision in KSR did anything to change previous Federal Circuit case law on obviousness (I’ll take that challenge!); and (3) Jon Dudas, the former Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, succinctly (and correctly) explaining that the funding of the United States Patent and Trademark Office is similar in ways to a Ponzi scheme.
Indeed, the new Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property at the University of New Hampshire School of Law will formally open with a bang! Chief Judge Randall Rader of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will deliver remarks at a dinner hosted by UNH Law on Friday, September 30, 2011, and will participate in a Judge’s panel on Saturday, October 1, 2011. Rounding out the Judges’ panel will be Judge Pauline Newman and Judge Arthur Gajarsa, both also of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Three Federal Circuit Judges at the opening event for the new IP Center is a great way to start.
That there was a majority (and a dissenting) opinion in the remand of Classen wasn’t surprising. But that there was yet a third “additional views” opinion would likely not have been predicted by anyone. And it is that “additional views” opinion, along with the majority and dissenting opinions, that will certainly generate a “firestorm” through the Federal Circuit, and which may eventually reach the Supreme Court. The judicial donnybrook on the question of what the standard is (or should be) for patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. §101 is about to begin in earnest.
In Duramed, the invention claimed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,908,638 (the “’638 patent”) involved a conjugated estrogen pharmaceutical compositions for use in hormone replacement therapies. The critical aspect of the claimed invention was the moisture barrier coating (MBC) which surrounded the composition. Claim 7 (which depended from independent Claim 1) specified that this MBC “comprises ethylcellulose.” During patent prosecution, the examiner rejected both Claims 1 and 7 for obviousness under 35 U.S.C. § 103. As a result of an interview with the examiner, Claim 1 was amended to include the recitation in Claim 7, and in due course, the ‘638 patent issued. Sounds to me like a classical instance of prosecution history estoppel coming into play and barring any application of the doctrine of equivalents.
By accepting cert. in Kappos v. Hyatt the United States Supreme Court has clearly and undeniably jumped the shark in terms of patents. This case, which raises issues of such little importance to the greater scheme of patent law, is hardly appropriate for Supreme Court consideration. All those attorneys and parties who will have your petition for cert. denied you are left with the sad reality that your case is not as important as a matter that statistically comes up in .00% of all patent applications filed at the USPTO.
The conundrum created by the Federal Circuit’s joint infringement doctrine and its impact on protecting interactive computer-based technologies got worse last week with McKesson Technologies, Inc. v. Epic Systems Corp. McKesson Technologies involved a patented interactive electronic method for communicating between healthcare providers and patients about personalized web pages for doctors. Judge Linn’s majority opinion (and a “thin” at majority at that) ruled that, because the initial step of the patented method was performed by the patient while the remaining steps were performed by the software provided by the healthcare provider, there was no infringement, direct, indirect, joint or otherwise of the patented method.
In my view, both the majority opinion, as well as Judge Dyk’s dissent, miss the real “written description” problem in Crown Packaging which has nothing to do with whether the common patent specification illustrates both solutions to the prior art problem. Instead, it relates to the follow description (see column 1, line 62 to column 2, line 5 of the ‘826 patent) at the end of the sentence stating how the claimed invention solved the problem of using less metal in the can end: “characterized [or “characterised” depending on which version of the ‘826 patent you use] in that, the chuck wall is inclined to an axis perpendicular to the exterior of the central panel at an angle between 30o and 60o and the concave [i.e., the reinforcing] bead narrower than 1.5 mm (0.060”).”
In this second installment of my interview with Don Dunner, the dean of CAFC appellate advocates, we talk about which judges on the Federal Circuit ask the most difficult questions, who he thinks are capable candidates for future federal circuit vacancies, why the Federal Circuit was created as a specialty court, continued hostility toward a purely specialty court and Congressman Issa’s attempt to create a pseudo-specialty trial court for patent issues. We also touch upon the familiar fun questions and learn that one of Dunner’s favorite movies is a well known courtroom comedy.
Yesterday the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in a split decision with Judge Lourie writing and Judge Bryson joining, took a step forward in the evolution of the law of obviousness that confirms my worst fears about obviousness in this post-KSR era. It has been argued by many that even after KSR it is not an appropriate rejection, or reason to invalidate an issued claim, that it would be “common sense” to modify elements within the prior art in a wholly new way and then combine the “common sense” modifications. I did agree that was true, at least until yesterday.
In looking at the cases filed at the Federal Circuit during 2010, 42% of the docket for the CAFC were patent cases. At the moment, the three judges who are patent attorneys on the Federal Circuit are all on active status, and by that I mean are not on senior status. Judges Newman and Lourie, however, currently qualify to move to senior status or retire, and in a matter of a few years Judge Linn could elect senior status, or to retire, as well. Thus, moving forward in the not too distant future there could be a time when none of the judges active on the Federal Circuit would be patent attorneys by training and experience. This, in my opinion, would not be at all wise.
Judge Kathleen O’Malley was confirmed by the United States Senate earlier today. O’Malley’s confirmation, along with the confirmation of 18 others in recent days, is the result of a deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans that ensured passage of 19 nominations in exchange for an agreement not to move forward with other controversial nominations, including the hotly challenged nomination of Goodwin Lui, who is Associate Dean and Professor of Law at University of California Berkeley School of Law.
On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in TiVo, Inc. v. EchoStar Corp. The case pits TiVo versus Dish, and any ruling from the Federal Circuit will necessarily define the extent to which a district court judge can rely on contempt proceedings to enforce an injunction rather than simply order a full blown new trial. In process the en banc oral argument in this case at the Federal Circuit did not substantially differ from the oral argument held at the Supreme Court the day earlier in the Costco copyright case, where the Supreme Court was struggling with the meaning of the phrase “lawfully made under this Title.” There are two phrases that will be at the center of resolving the TiVo case. The first is “fair ground of doubt,” and the second is “merely colorably different.”
In a peculiar oddity those who choose to challenge the final determinations on patentability of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) can elect to either proceed directly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or they can elect to proceed to the United States Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. The question presented and considered by the full Court at the Federal Circuit was whether new evidence (i.e., evidence not previously presented to the USPTO) can be presented to the District Court when challenging a decision of the BPAI. The short answer — YES. However, without new evidence at the District Court the Federal Circuit must continue to give deference to the USPTO on further appeal.
On Tuesday, October 19, 2010, I attended the retirement dinner and reception of the Honorable Chief Judge Paul R. Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington DC. As fate would have it, I got lost on my way to the party. Even though I thought I gave myself plenty of time to get there, I arrived right before dinner. After dinner the celebration began with a video featuring numerous speakers and a toast. What follows is a recap of the evening’s events, as well as some quotes on the record from several distinguished guests that were at the event to celebrate with Chief Judge Michel.
Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a ruling in Goeddel v. Sugano, which might be one of a dying breed should patent reform actually pass. The case dealt with an appeal from an interference proceeding where the Board awarded priority based on a Japanese application. The Federal Circuit, per Judge Newman, explained that it was inappropriate to say that the Japanese application demonstrated a constructive reduction to practice because the application merely would allow the skilled reader to “envision” the invention covered in the interference count. If patent reform passes (and yes that could really happen) cases like Goeddel would become a thing of the past, although priority determinations like this one in Goeddel will certainly not go away.