Supreme Court Upholds Brulotte Rule Preventing Post-Expiration Patent Royalties

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Kagan, the United States Supreme Court in Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC (No. 13-720) upheld the long-standing rule previously announced in Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U. S. 29 (1964), that patentees cannot charge royalties for the use of an invention after the patent covering the invention has expired. Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, dissented and would have abolished the rule announced in Brulotte.

We previously discussed the Ninth Circuit’s decision in this case here.

Background

Web BlasterIn 1990, Kimble developed a web-shooting toy that allowed children to shoot foam strings from their hands like Spider-Man. He obtained a patent (U.S. Pat. No. 5,072,856) on his invention and offered it to Marvel Entertainment. Marvel declined, but soon afterwards came out with a similar toy. Kimble sued Marvel for patent infringement, and the parties ultimately settled the case. As part of the settlement, the parties entered into a license agreement that provided an up-front lump sum payment to Kimble along with a perpetual 3% royalty.

Some time later, Marvel discovered the Brulotte decision, which neither side was aware of during the settlement discussions, and moved for a declaration that its obligation to pay royalties expired when the patent expired. The district court, citing Brulotte, sided with Marvel, as did the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit, however, criticized the rationale of Brulotte, and the Supreme Court took up the case.

Analysis

The patent statute provides that patent owners have exclusive rights to the use and sale of their inventions for a limited period of time. Once that time expires, the invention falls into the public domain and can be used freely by anyone in this country.

The rule in Brulotte was announced as a way of preventing patent owners from extending their exclusive rights beyond the lifetime of the patent. The concern was that patent owners could use license agreements to force others to pay royalties long after the patent expired, which would artificially extent the lifetime of the patent.

Recently, economists have challenged the anti-competitive basis for the Brulotte ruling and noted that in some instances, allowing post-expiration royalties allows the user to obtain lower royalty rates (albeit spread out of a longer time), which can be pro-competitive behavior.

Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, ultimately decided that the principle of stare decisis controlled the outcome of the case. Brulotte was decided back in 1964 and represented the Court’s interpretation of the patent statute. In the case of statutory construction issues, the Court is disinclined to reverse itself without a significant reason for doing so. She noted that in the more than 50 years since the decision, Congress has not chosen to use its legislative powers to overrule this decision. She also noted that the economic concerns were far from conclusive.

The majority also noted that there were several ways that parties can construct license agreements that meet the limitations of Brulotte. For instance, parties can agree to spread out payments after the expiration of the patent, as long as the use/sale giving rise to the royalty occurred before the patent expired. Parties can also create hybrid agreements that include royalties for other intellectual property (such as trade secrets) if the royalty amount decreases after expiration of the patent.

In the end, the majority felt that there was not a sufficient reason to overrule Brulotte. Therefore, it affirmed the lower court’s rulings that the post-expiration royalties were barred.

The Dissent

The dissent took a different view. They felt that the economic rationale behind Brulotte was flawed and did not deserve deference. They also questioned the notion that Brulotte was decided by construing the patent statute. Instead, they felt that the decision was improper policymaking that should be overruled.

With respect to the particulars of the this case, they were concerned that the parties negotiated a resolution being unaware of the Brulotte rule, only to have Marvel come in afterwards and upset the prior agreed arrangement once it learned of Brulotte. Had the parties been aware of Brulotte during negotiations, they might have reached a different arrangement.

Conclusion

The Kimble decision does not change the state of the law. In a rather unusual move for the Supreme Court in the patent arena, they have maintained the bright-line rule that patent royalties based on actions that occur after a patent expires are not enforceable. Practitioners should be aware of this rule when crafting royalty agreements to structure them in a way to avoid this issue.

Pittsburgh Court Rules on Data Breach Class Claims – Denying Cause of Action

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

537047_70437721A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Judge has ruled at the trial court level that there is no private cause of action for the alleged failure of a major hospital network to secure and protect PII and PHI. Denying Class claims, Judge Wettick has ruled that because the legislature has not created such a right, that only the Pennsylvania Attorney General has the right to bring a claim in this circumstance. See the Legal Intelligencer article here: http://tinyurl.com/nphostc  We will get more details on this case and pass them along with our analysis.

No Good Faith Invalidity Defense to Induced Infringement, Supreme Court Holds

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

SupremeCourtImage_1The Supreme Court issued another patent law opinion today; this time focusing on whether a good-faith belief that a patent is invalid can be a defense to a claim of induced infringement. In Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc. (No. 13-896), the Court concluded in a 6-2 decision that the answer is no, reversing the Federal Circuit. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for the Court, and Justices Scalia and Roberts dissented. (Justice Breyer took no part in the decision.)

Background

Commil holds a patent relating to short-range wireless networks (Patent No. 6,430,395). It sued Cisco under direct and in6430395 Imageduced infringement theories, contending that Cisco directly infringed by making and using network equipment and induced others to infringe by selling them the network equipment that they used in an infringing manner. Eventually, after significant motion practice, a reexamination at the Patent Office, and multiple trials, Commil prevail on both theories. The Federal Circuit reversed on two grounds. First, it found an error in the jury instructions regarding induced infringement that would have allowed a finding in Commil’s favor based on negligence, instead of actual knowledge. And, second, it found that the district court improperly barred Cisco from arguing as a defense that it had a good-faith belief that the patent was invalid.

The first point was not at issue before the Supreme Court. Only the second issue, whether a good-faith (but ultimately incorrect) belief that a patent is invalid is a defense to a claim of induced infringement. The Supreme Court found that it is not a defense.

Holding

The Court first looked at the induced infringement statute, 35 U.S.C. § 271(b), which provides that “[w]hoever actively induces infringement of a patent
shall be liable as an infringer.” Citing its previous decision in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S. A., 563 U. S. ___ (2011), the Court stated that to be liable for induced infringement, a patentee must show that the defendant knew both of the patent and that the induced acts constituted infringement of the patent.

Before considering the good-faith defense, the Court took time to specifically reject Commil and the government’s position that induced infringement only requires knowledge of the patent. Under Global-Tech, induced infringement requires both the knowledge of the patent and the knowledge that the induced acts infringe the patent. Therefore, a good-faith belief that there was not infringement can be a defense to induced infringement.

Having dispensed with that argument, the Court next turned to the heart of the matter–whether a good-faith belief that the patent is invalid can be a defense. The Court started with the language of the statute, which only is concerned with infringement, and it noted that patent infringement and invalidity are separate issues. It further considered the effect that allowing such a defense might have on patent owners. Under the Patent Act, all issued patents are presumed valid and to allow such a defense would undermine that presumption and its effect. The Court noted that an invalidity defense is not a defense to infringement; it is a defense to liability (although it did note the truism that an invalid patent cannot be infringed). Finally, the Court was concerned that allowing such a defense would only increase the burdens of litigation.

Taken together, it concluded that knowledge or intent regarding invalidity was not relevant to whether someone induced another to infringe.

Dissent

Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, dissented. First, they agreed with the majority’s opinion relating to the Global-Tech decision and that induced infringement requires proof that the defendant knew of the patent and knew that the induced acts infringed the patent. They disagreed over the central issue in the case and would have found that a good-faith belief that the patent was invalid is a defense to a claim of induced infringement.

The dissent rejected the majority’s analysis based primarily on the truism that only valid patents can be infringed. If a defendant has a good-faith belief that the patent is invalid, then it would have a good-faith belief that the acts were not causing infringement of a valid patent.

Business Leaders Rank Cyber Risk #2 on List of Main Concerns

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Travelers Business Risk ImageTravelers Indemnity and Insurance released its annual Business Risk Index, which is a survey of the concerns of business leaders and decision makers. Not surprisingly, for 2015, Cyber Risk moved up to the number 2 concern on that list, right behind rising healthcare costs. In some industry sectors it is the number 1 concern. The Banking and Financial Services, Professional Services, and Technology sectors each ranked cyber risks as the main driver of sleepless nights.  The chart on page 3 of the survey is very instructional as to the different concerns between small, medium and large businesses. Small businesses have less concern about data breach than larger businesses, but perhaps small businesses are overlooking their vulnerability and attractiveness as targets. If they care less, they will likely protect less, and become easy targets for hackers. It should be a huge concern for all businesses in all industries as no one appears immune. If you data store or deal in Personal Identifiable Information (PII) or Personal Health Information (PHI) as part of your business, then you are a valuable target. If you have financial or credit information, or trade secrets to protect, then perhaps your competitors, foreign governments and political hackers want to look inside your data. Many insurers are now offering Cyber Risk Insurance to provide defense and indemnity against these risks. Every business should have a data breach prevention and response team of employees and outside consultants and lawyers to audit the company’s vulnerability and to set the plan for a response when a breach occurs.  See the complete Travelers Business Risk Index at: https://www.travelers.com/prepare-prevent/risk-index/business/index.aspx

Updated Resources and Link Section

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

PSMN LogoWe’ve updated our Resources and Links page with more links to helpful intellectual property resources and references for practitioners, inventors, and artists.  If you haven’t looked at this section recently, you should see what we’ve added.

USPTO and US Copyright Office Offer New Tools for Practitioners

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

ComputerThe US Patent and Trademark Office and the US Copyright Office recently announced that some new tools are available to practitioners and interested individuals and companies to help individuals be better aware of recent patent applications and to help explain the fair use doctrine.

The USPTO, in partnership with Reed Technology and Information Services, created an alert system (the Patent Application Alert Service) that allows individuals to receive email alerts whenever a patent application publishes that contains certain keywords. After signing up for the service, a user can set “alerts” based on keywords found in the title, abstract, description, drawings, claims, CPC classification, applicant, inventor, or assignee fields (or combination of these fields). The system then sends out weekly emails whenever an alert criteria has been satisfied.

This system will enable individuals and companies to be better aware of what their competitors are attempting to patent, as well as to keep abreast of changes in the field. The USPTO also hopes that this service will lead to better patents being issued because interested individuals in the relevant fields can monitor patent applications and help identify prior art for pre-issuance submission to the USPTO.

The US Copyright Office has also been busy, creating a Fair Use Index, which is a searchable database of court opinions indexed by category and type of use. The Index currently has decisions reaching back to 1841 and provides a link to the opinion, the relevant court information, the type of medium (photograph, text, etc.), and the outcome. The US Copyright Office created the Index to help the public understand the contours of the fair use doctrine as applied to copyright law. While useful for the public, the Index will also be a useful resource for practitioners.

Parties’ Settlement Can’t Stop Inter Partes Reexamination

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

USPTOThe Federal Circuit issued an interesting decision in Automated Merchandising Systems, Inc. v. Lee, (No. 2014-1728), regarding the USPTO’s decision not to stop an inter partes reexamination proceeding after the parties settled a parallel patent infringement action in federal court. The Court concluded that the USPTO’s decision to continue was not a final action by the agency, so the Court did not have the authority to overrule the USPTO.

Background

The case involved a dispute between Automated Merchandising Systems, Inc. (AMS) and Crane Co. AMS sued Crane for allegedly infringing four of AMS’s patents. During the court proceedings in the Northern District of West Virginia, Crane instituted an inter partes reexamination of the patent at the USPTO, which the USPTO granted. As often occurs, AMS and Crane settled the dispute and requested that the district court enter and order dismissing the case. In that order, which the court entered, the parties stipulated that the four patents were valid, the case was being dismissed with prejudice, and the judgment was final.

After the court entered the order, AMS asked the USPTO to stop the reexamination proceedings under 35 U.S.C. § 317(b), arguing that there was a final judicial decision that the patents were valid. The USPTO disagreed, finding that there had been no actual decision on the merits and that it had an obligation to continue reviewing the patents once it had determined that there was a substantial question of patentability.

AMS filed suit against USPTO in district court in the Eastern District of Virginia, seeking to have the court overturn the USPTO’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Declaratory Judgment Act, and the court’s inherent mandamus power. The court entered summary judgment against AMS because it also found that there had been no final decision on the merits. AMS then appealed to the Federal Circuit.

Holding

The APA places limits on what courts can review:

[a]gency action made reviewable by statute and final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court are subject to judicial review. A preliminary, procedural, or intermediate agency action or ruling not directly reviewable is subject to review on the review of the final agency action.

5 U.S.C. § 704.

So, the Federal Circuit first considered whether it the USPTO’s decision was a final agency action, sufficient to invoke the APA. The Federal Circuit concluded that it was not. Final agency actions are those that mark the end of the agency’s decision-making process and are such that rights, obligations, or legal consequences flow from the decision.

Here, neither of those elements were found to exist. The USPTO’s decision did not mark the end of its involvement. To the contrary, the USPTO determined that the reexamination should continue. In addition, the USPTO had not made any final determinations on the merits of the reexamination, so no legal consequences flowed from its decision, other than to continue the reexamination. The Court found that the continuation of legal process was not the type of consequence required under the APA, especially because additional appellate remedies existed if the USPTO reached a decision unfavorable to AMS.

Having determined that the APA did not give grounds for the Court to reverse the USPTO’s decision, the Court also concluded, for basically the same reasons, that the Declaratory Judgment Act and the court’s inherent mandamus powers did not provide relief for AMS. The Federal Circuit, therefore, affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against AMS.

Conclusion

This decision highlights a concern that patent owners need to be aware of that once a reexamination has been filed, it can be very difficult for a patent owner to unilaterally end the process. Unlike the court system, the USPTO has a separate obligation to verify the appropriateness of patents it issues when there has been a legitimate challenge to the validity of the patent. Just because the parties wanted to end the dispute does not mean that the USPTO has the same interest. Litigants will need to keep this in mind when determining whether and how to settle a patent infringement lawsuit that also has an ongoing inter partes reexamination.

Supreme Court Holds That Issue Preclusion Applies to Some TTAB Decisions

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

SupremeCourtImage_1The Supreme Court handed down a decision today in B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc. (No. 13-352), in which it reversed an Eighth Circuit ruling regarding whether a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) during an opposition proceeding that there was a likelihood of confusion between two marks could have a preclusive effect in a subsequent trademark infringement lawsuit in a district court. In a 7-2 decision, authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court held that in certain circumstances, final decisions by the TTAB can preclude re-litigation of those issues in later forums. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented, stating that they did not think that TTAB decisions should have preclusive effects.

Background

B&B Hardware registered its trademark “SEALTIGHT” with the USPTO in 1993, which was used with threaded and unthreaded metal fasteners and other related hardware. In 1996, Hargis sought to register its own mark, “SEALTITE” for self-piercing and self-drilling metal screws. B&B Hardware opposed the registration, contending that the marks were confusingly similar.

Although not described in detail, the Court noted that the parties had been involved in disputes before the USPTO and courts in the Eighth Circuit for the last twenty years, including three trips to the Eighth Circuit and two jury verdicts in infringement actions.

Relevant to this case, the parties were before the TTAB on an opposition proceeding brought by B&B Hardware. B&B Hardware successfully argued to the TTAB that the USPTO should not register the SEALTITE mark because it was confusingly similar to its SEALTIGHT mark. While the Lanham Act provides that a decision of the TTAB can be appealed to either a district court or the Federal Circuit, Hargis declined to seek any judicial review, and the decision of the TTAB to not allow registration of the SEALTITE mark became final.

While the opposition proceeding was occurring, B&B Hardware brought a trademark infringement action against Hargis in district court. Once the TTAB decision became final, B&B Hardware argued before the district court that Hargis could no longer contest the issue of likelihood of confusion based on the doctrine of issue preclusion. The district court disagreed, and a jury ultimately concluded that there was no likelihood of confusion. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court ultimately reversed both the Eighth Circuit and the district court.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

Issue preclusion is a doctrine that prohibits the redetermination of issues in a later action that have been finally decided in a prior action. In general, it applies “[w]hen an issue of law or fact is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, the determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties, whether on the same or a different claim.”

In deciding whether issue preclusion could apply to a TTAB decision, the Court first concluded that issue preclusion is not limited to proceedings involving two courts. It is possible that agency decisions (such as a TTAB decision) can be given preclusive effects unless Congress clearly indicates otherwise. In this case, the Court found that Congress did not indicate in the Lanham Act that TTAB decisions should not be given preclusive effect, so it concluded that issue preclusion is potentially available.

Next, the Court considered whether the TTAB and the district court were, in fact, deciding the same issue in order for issue preclusion to be available. It reviewed the standards applied by both tribunals and concluded that the same likelihood-of-confusion standard applies to both the registration of marks and the question of infringement.

Hargis argued that issue preclusion should not apply because the TTAB considers whether the marks “resemble” each other, while the district court considers how the marks are used in commerce, and that these are different tests. The Court rejected that argument, stating that while the two tribunals may not consider the same usage of the marks, that did not mean that they applied different standards to the usage. It is at this point that the Court noted some important limitations on whether a TTAB decision could be given preclusive effect:

If a mark owner uses its mark in ways that are materially the same as the usages included in its registration application, then the TTAB is deciding the same likelihood-of-confusion issue as a district court in infringement litigation. By contrast, if a mark owner uses its mark in ways that are materially unlike the usages in its application, then the TTAB is not deciding the same issue. Thus, if the TTAB does not consider the marketplace usage of the parties’ marks, the TTAB’s decision should “have no later preclusive effect in a suit where actual usage in the marketplace is the paramount issue.” 6 McCarthy §32:101, at 32–246.

In addition, the Court reiterated that if the TTAB considers a different mark than is at issue in the litigation or has decided a different issue than is before the district court, there can be no issue preclusion.

Because Hargis decided not to appeal the TTAB decision, it was a final judgment. And, because the likelihood of confusion issue was the same in both tribunals, the Court concluded that issue preclusion applied. Thus, the Court reversed the Eighth Circuit and remanded the case.

Issues not decided by the Supreme court

There were a couple of issues that the Court touched on, but did not rule because either the parties had not preserved the issues or they had not been adequately presented. In both instances, the majority noted that the constitutional issues were not before it, but it seems unlikely from what was said that they would have been successful even if they had been.

For instance, the Court noted that it has never had the occasion to determine whether issue preclusion from an agency decision violates the separation of powers in Article II and III of Constitution. In addition, the Court indicated that Hargis failed to preserve a Seventh Amendment challenge that giving preclusive effect to an non-jury, agency decision denied it a right to a jury.

It will be interesting to see if those challenges are raised with more care in future cases before the Court.

Conclusion

As seems to be typical in intellectual property cases before the Supreme Court, the Court did not set down a bright-line rule. The Court held that in some appropriate circumstances, decisions by the TTAB can be given preclusive effect in subsequent litigation in Article III courts. The Court caveated its determination, though, so litigants in the TTAB will need to carefully consider what the risks might be if they do not seek judicial review of a TTAB decision in either a district court or before the Federal Circuit. This uncertainty will likely give rise to more challenges to TTAB decisions, especially where there is a risk that those decisions have aspects that are similar to issues being raised in court (such as likelihood of confusion).

For further discussion of this case, the Likelihood of Confusion blog has some good coverage.

 

Target Agrees to Settle Class Claims Over 2013 Data Breach for $10M

Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response Team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Data Breach broken_security_lock photo Target Corp. agrees to settle the 2013 data breach class claims prior to argument on class certification. Lead plaintiff’s counsel admitted the uphill battle he faced to obtain class certification due primarily to the difficulty in these consumer data breach cases of proving commonality of claims. This settlement, which still needs court approval for its proposed $10M payout, will not settle claims by commercial entities, but only individual consumer claims. Here is a good article with more detail from the National Law Journal. We will continue to follow this settlement and the handling of the commercial claims as this blog increases our focus on Cybersecurity and Data Breach Prevention and Response issues.

See this link to the NLJ for more info:  http://tinyurl.com/kxwjrb9

 

 

Cybersecurity (CISA) Bill Moves out of Congressional Committee

j0402514Posted By Henry M. Sneath, Chair of the Cybersecurity and Data Breach Response team at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Privacy concerns continue to dog the CISA (formerly CISPA) bill, but it easily passed out of the  Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday.  Pundits claim that the bill pits “big government – NSA, Homeland Security et al allegedly aided by Big Tech Companies” against privacy advocates who want less regulation of data and the internet. I’m not sure if it lines up that neatly however. See this short article with a summary of the committee process from Wired.Com.

Here is an advocacy website piece which supports defeat of he bill.

We will continue to monitor the path of the bill to see if it makes it to the Senate Floor for a vote. For the complete text of the bill, view it at this link.

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Henry M. Sneath on Google+ or see his PSMN ® bio.