On January 8, 2018, the Federal Circuit ruled en banc that judicial review is available for a patent owner to challenge the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s determination that a petitioner satisfied the timeliness requirement governing petitions for Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) codified in 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  At its core, the opinion provides that if the Director of the PTO initiates an IPR ruling in contravention of the statute of limitations, an Article III court has the power to review that initiating decision.   

By way of background, Broadcom Corp. filed three separate petitions for IPR in 2013 pertaining to certain patents owned by Ericsson.  During the pendency of the IPR, Ericsson transferred ownership of the patents to Wi-Fi One, LLC ("Wi-Fi").  In opposition to Broadcom’s petitions, Wi-Fi contended that the Director lacked authority under Section 315(b) and was precluded from initiating review on any of the three petitions because Broadcom was in privity with certain defendants that were found to have infringed the asserted claims in a jury trial in the Eastern District of Texas.  Accordingly, Wi-Fi asserted that the petitions were time-barred under 315(b) because Ericsson (the prior patent owner) had already brought infringement claims against defendants that were in privity with Broadcom more than a year prior to its petitions.  Ultimately, the Board instituted IPR on the subject claims, and issued final decisions holding that the claims were unpatentable.  In those decisions, the Board held that Wi-Fi had not demonstrated privity between Broadcom on the one hand, and the defendants in the Eastern District of Texas litigation on the other hand, and as a result, the petitions were not time-barred under 315(b).  Wi-Fi appealed those final decisions, contending that the Federal Circuit should reverse the Board's time-bar determinations.  A panel of the Federal Circuit disagreed, holding that Section 315(b)’s time-bar rulings are non-appealable and unreviewable.

On Wi-Fi’s petition for rehearing en banc, the Federal Circuit granted Wi-Fi’s request and considered whether judicial review is available for a patent owner to challenge the Board’s determination that the petitioner satisfied the timeliness requirement of 35 U.S.C. 315(b).  Section

35 U.S.C. 315(b) provides that: "an inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”

After analyzing the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (which created IPR proceedings), the Administrative Procedures Act (codifying the governing standards applicable to final decisions of the PTO), and the pertinent statutes, the Federal Circuit held that it will “abdicate judicial review only when Congress provides a ‘clear and convincing’ indication that it intends to prohibit review.”  In Wi-Fi One, however, the Court held that there was no clear and convincing indication of such congressional intent to overcome the presumption in favor of judicial review of agency actions.  Accordingly, the Federal Circuit remanded the case to the merits panel, affording Wi-Fi with an opportunity to have its arguments heard on the merits, to wit, whether Broadcom’s challenge to the subject patents were time-barred.  

Online service providers should note the approaching deadline in connection with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Many websites, mobile apps, blogs, discussion boards, and the like qualify as online service providers: “those that allow users to post or store material on their systems, and search engines, directories, and other information location tools”. The DMCA has "safe harbor" provisions that may shield online service providers from copyright infringement liability with respect to content that is posted or uploaded by their users. In order to seek to take advantage of this "safe harbor" protection, online service providers must designate an agent that will receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement with respect to user-generated content. If you have designated an agent for this purpose in the past, please note that any designation that was made using the U.S. Copyright Office’s former registration system will automatically expire on January 1, 2018. Therefore, it is critical for online service providers to file a new designation before the end of 2017. Our firm handles these filings and has been appointed as the designated agent for DMCA take-down notifications for many clients. For more information about the process, or to speak to one of our attorneys about having our firm designated as your agent for take-down notifications under the DMCA's "safe harbor” provisions, please contact our office at 305-858-8000.

Online service providers should note the approaching deadline in connection with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Many websites, mobile apps, blogs, discussion boards, and the like qualify as online service providers: “those that allow users to post or store material on their systems, and search engines, directories, and other information location tools”. The DMCA has "safe harbor" provisions that may shield online service providers from copyright infringement liability with respect to content that is posted or uploaded by their users. In order to seek to take advantage of this "safe harbor" protection, online service providers must designate an agent that will receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement with respect to user-generated content. If you have designated an agent for this purpose in the past, please note that any designation that was made using the U.S. Copyright Office’s former registration system will automatically expire on January 1, 2018. Therefore, it is critical for online service providers to file a new designation before the end of 2017. Our firm handles these filings and has been appointed as the designated agent for DMCA take-down notifications for many clients. For more information about the process, or to speak to one of our attorneys about having our firm designated as your agent for take-down notifications under the DMCA's "safe harbor” provisions, please contact our office at 305-858-8000.

This week the Eleventh Circuit ruled on service mark infringement claims brought by Savannah College of Art and Design ("SCAD") against Sportswear, Inc. for selling unlicensed apparel and other goods on its website. The district court in the Northern District of Georgia had found that though SCAD had registered marks in connection with education services, SCAD failed to establish its mark's rights extended to apparel. More specifically, in relying on precedent concerning unregistered marks, SCAD could not show common law priority because SCAD could not show prior use of the mark on apparel before Sportswear.

On appeal, Judge Adalberto Jordan published a decision reversing the district court's findings, relying on 1975 precedent Boston Prof'l Hockey Ass'n, Inc. v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., Inc., to find that SCAD's registered service mark protection may extend to goods as well. While recognizing that infringement claims under § 1114(1)(a) are based on federally-registered marks, claims under § 1125(a) can be based on federally-registered or unregistered marks, and the oft-blurred lines between both claims, both claims nonetheless required SCAD to establish the following: (1) enforceable trademark rights in the mark (validity and scope); and (2) likelihood of confusion from the infringer's unauthorized use of its mark. In informing the first part of the analysis, the Court found it instructive to follow Boston Hockey based on SCAD's registered service marks. The precedent, which is not without criticism, "extends protection for federally-registered service marks to goods, and therefore beyond the area of registration listed in the certificate." The case was therefore remanded for further proceedings under the § 1114(1)(a) and § 1125(a) claims in light of Boston Hockey.

See the full opinion here: http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201513830.pdf

Wednesday, 20 September 2017 00:16

Sovereign Immunity or a Sham Defense?

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In the inter partes review (IPR) proceeding between Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Allergan, Inc., before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), counsel representing the Patent Owner raised a defense that, if successful, could circumvent IPR proceedings and shield patents from post-grant review. Allergan, whose patents for the drug Restasis which are the subject of the IPR proceeding challenging their validity, recently struck a deal with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, transferring its patent rights in exchange for a license. Last week, counsel representing the Tribe, a sovereign nation, raised the defense of sovereign immunity, arguing its immunity places the patents at issue beyond the PTAB’s authority. The Tribe has until September 22 to file its brief on the immunity defense.      

When applying for trademark/service mark registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an examining attorney reviews the application to determine whether it complies with applicable statutes and rules. If there are any substantive, technical, or procedural deficiencies, the examining attorney will likely issue an Office Action letter explaining any of these refusals.  One of these refusals can be based on the proposed mark failing to function as a trademark because the proposed mark merely communicates information about the goods/services, uses widely used commonplace, social, political, or religious messages, or directly quotes passages or citations from religious texts. Some examples include: “I DC” for clothing items; “ONCE A MARINE, ALWAYS A MARINE” for various clothing items; “BRAND NAMES FOR LESS” for retail store services; and “PROUDLY MADE IN THE USA” for electric shavers.  

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently issued a guide for aiding in the determination of whether a proposed mark functions as mark.  The guide creates categories for types of matter that may be considered merely informational, discusses when an examining attorney must refuse registration or require a disclaimer, provides applicant response options, and illustrates case law examples. For example, under applicant response options, should the applicant receive this type of refusal, the applicant must show that the public perception of the proposed mark is that of a source indicator.  Evidence of the applicant's use as a mark or exclusive use in the relevant marketplace for the goods/services under the mark can be supportive towards overcoming this refusal.

Friday, 28 July 2017 03:53

Continued Infringement Costs Apple

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In 2014, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) sued apple for infringement of U.S. Patent No 5,781,752 (the ‘752 Patent). In a related proceeding, the USPTO declined to institute an Inter Partes Review (IPR) brought by Apple to invalidate the ‘752 Patent. The ‘752 Patent is directed to computer architecture technology that can optimize processor performance. Specifically, a “predictor circuit” may anticipate user instructions based on previously stored data. WARF had alleged that its patented technology was being used on several products made by Apple, including the iPhone. In July of 2017, a U.S. District Judge in Wisconsin, William M. Conley, ordered Apple to pay over $506 million for infringement of several claims of the ‘752 Patent.

In October of 2015, following a two-week trial, a jury issued an award of over $234 million against Apple. Judge Conley’s order adds another $282 million in supplemental damages, ongoing royalties, interests, and costs. The order specified supplemental damages at the rate of $1.61 per infringing unit sold after October 26, 2015, and ongoing royalties at the rate of $2,74 per infringing unit thereafter and until December 26, 2016, the date expiration of the ‘752 Patent. The $282 million stem from Apple’s alleged continued infringement of the ‘752 Patent after the Jury's award in October of 2015.

 

In May of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit in Helsinn Healthcare, S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., 855 F.3d 1356, clarified, to some extent, the scope of the on sale bar under the America Invents Act (AIA). The on sale bar invalidates a patent and is triggered if the invention is sold or otherwise offered for sale more than one year prior to the date of the filing of a patent application.

Helsinn owned four related patents (three pre-AIA and one post-AIA) covering a formulation of palonosetron, a drug for cancer patients that treats nausea. Approximately two years before filing a patent application at the USPTO, Helsinn entered into two different agreements for the purchase of the drug with MGI Pharma, Inc. The agreements did not specify whether the drug's dosage would be 25 mg or 75 mg. Further, the agreements were contingent upon obtaining FDA approval for the drug.

Subsequently, Teva filed an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) for a generic equivalent of palonosetron. Helsinn sued Teva for patent infringement under the Hatch-Waxman Act. The trial court found that under the AIA, a secret sale does not invalidate patent, and that the disclosure of the patent needs to be made public to trigger the on sale bar.  

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that all four patents were invalid both under the pre-AIA and post-AIA versions of the one sale bar. The Federal Circuit held that a sale of the patented goods had occurred and that the fact the agreements were contingent upon obtaining FDA approval did not alter this result. Under Pfaff v. Wells Electronics, Inc., 525 US 55 (1988), the on sale bar is triggered if an invention is the subject of a “commercial sale” and is also “ready for patenting.” Traditionally, courts have looked to the UCC to determine if there has been a commercial sale.  With regard to the second prong of Pfaff, an invention is ready for patenting when there is actual reduction to practice or when there are appropriate disclosure for an ordinary person skilled in the art to practice the invention.

Following the Pfaff analysis, the Federal Circuit held that post-AIA, the details of an invention need not be revealed to the public to trigger the on sale bar. It is sufficient that there be a public sale. Here, the Federal Circuit also found that the present invention was ready for patenting notwithstanding the fact that further testing was being conducted. The Federal Circuit did not, however, address whether a private sale implicates the on sale bar under the AIA. This decision has significant repercussions because public transactions for the commercialization of an invention can trigger the on sale bar, even if the transaction itself does not disclose the details of the product or invention.  

   

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