Tag Archives: Patent Claim Construction

Supreme Court Announces It Will Hear Four New Intellectual Property Cases

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

SupremeCourtImage_1The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear four additional intellectual property cases this term, which makes nine total intellectual property cases this term so far. Brief summaries of the issues presented are provided below, along with links to more information about each of these cases from our friends at SCOTUSblog.

New Cases

Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. (No. 12-786)

The issue in this case is whether a party may be liable for infringement under either 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) or § 271(b) where two or more entities join together to perform all of the steps of a process claim.

Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc. (No. 13-369)

Two issues are raised in this case. Does the Federal Circuit’s acceptance of ambiguous patent claims with multiple reasonable interpretations—so long as the ambiguity is not “insoluble” by a court—defeat the statutory requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming? And, does the presumption of validity dilute the requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming?

POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola (No. 12-761)

The issue in this case is whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a private party cannot bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

ABC, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (No. 13-461)

The issue in this case is whether a company “publicly performs” a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet.

Previous Cases

Medtronic v. Boston Scientific Corp. (No. 12-1128)

The issue in this case is is whether, in a declaratory judgment action brought by a licensee under MedImmune, the licensee has the burden to prove that its products do not infringe the patent, or whether (as is the case in all other patent litigation, including other declaratory judgment actions), the patentee must prove infringement.

This case was argued on November 5, 2013.

Lexmark International v. Static Control Components (No. 12-873)

The issue in this case is whether the appropriate analytic framework for determining a party’s standing to maintain an action for false advertising under the Lanham Act is (1) the factors set forth in Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters (“AGC”), 459 U.S. 519, 537-45 (1983), as adopted by the Third, Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits; (2) the categorical test, permitting suits only by an actual competitor, employed by the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits; or (3) a version of the more expansive “reasonable interest” test, either as applied by the Sixth Circuit in this case or as applied by the Second Circuit in prior cases.

This case was argued on December 3, 2013.

Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Management Systems (No. 12-1163)

The issue in this case is whether a district court’s exceptional-case finding under 35 U.S.C. § 285 (in a patent infringement lawsuit), based on its judgment that a suit is objectively baseless, is entitled to deference.

This case will be argued on February 26, 2014.

Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness (No. 12-1184)

The issue in this case is whether the Federal Circuit’s promulgation of a rigid and exclusive two-part test for determining whether a case is “exceptional” under 35 U.S.C. § 285 improperly appropriate a district court’s discretionary authority to award attorney fees to prevailing accused infringers in contravention of statutory intent and this Court’s precedent, thereby raising the standard for accused infringers (but not patentees) to recoup fees and encouraging patent plaintiffs to bring spurious patent cases to cause competitive harm or coerce unwarranted settlements from defendants?

This case will be argued on February 26, 2014.

Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (No. 13-298)

The issue in this case is whether claims to computer-implemented inventions—including claims to systems and machine, processes, and items of manufacture—are directed to patent-eligible subject matter within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101 as interpreted by this Court.

This case will be argued on March 31, 2014.

Federal Circuit to Reconsider De Novo Claim Construction Review–Lighting Ballast Control Order

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Federal CircuitOn March 15, 2013, the Federal Circuit issued an order in Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Electronics North America Corp, Case No. 2012-1014, -1015, stating that an en banc panel of the Court will consider whether and to what extent it should afford any deference to a district court’s patent claim construction. The Federal Circuit is determining whether it will overrule its prior decision in Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

The Supreme Court, in Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), determined that claim construction is a matter of law exclusively for the courts, and is not a factual matter for juries (although it did recognize that claim construction is somewhat of a “mongrel,” having aspects that are both legal and factual). In Cybor, the Federal Circuit considered what the implication of that finding would be on how it, as an appellate court, would review a trial court’s construction of the claims in a patent. It concluded that because claim construction is a matter of law, it would review a district court’s construction of the terms in a patent de novo, meaning without any deference to the lower court’s conclusion. This has been the state of the law for some time now.

The implications of the Cybor decision are significant to patent holders and those accused of infringement. As a practical matter, parties to a lawsuit have come to view a district court’s claim construction as a somewhat intermediate position. After all, if the Federal Circuit will give no deference to the district court’s conclusions, there is a significant possibility that those conclusions could be reversed on appeal. Fair or not, the perception of the Federal Circuit among some practitioners is that a trial court’s claim construction only has a 50/50 chance of being affirmed on appeal. (For some interesting studies of Federal Circuit reversal rates, see here, here, and here). Many have complained that this uncertainty discourages settlement, because the “losing” side on the claim construction issue often feels that it will be “vindicated” on appeal.

On the other hand, by having the Federal Circuit have the “final say” on claim construction, it promotes more consistency and, hopefully, better results, as the Federal Circuit is often far more familiar with claim construction issues than many district courts and they (and their clerks) are often better versed in the technologies described in these patents.

Patent holders are also fearful that if claim construction is not reviewed de novo, an unfavorable claim construction by a district court may be very difficult to overcome and could affect how a particular term is construed in other patents held by the patentee. If the Federal Circuit has the final say, a patentee has more options. For instance, it can appeal to the Federal Circuit a get a fresh look at the issue, or it can settle the case with a realistic hope that the Federal Circuit in a later case would not be particularly beholden to how a district court in a previous case construed a claim term.

Thus, this case will be particularly important for parties in patent litigation. It will be very interesting to listen to the oral argument in the Lighting Ballast case and see what the Federal Circuit ultimately decides. This may, in the end, be another issue that the Supreme Court will decide to weigh in on.

Fixing Obvious Drafting Errors During Litigation — The CBT Flint Partners, LLC v. Return Path, Inc. Decision

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

In the CBT Flint Partners, LLC v. Return Path, Inc. decision last week (No. 2010-1202, -1203), the Federal Circuit considered when a court can rewrite a claim during litigation to fix mistakes in drafting. The Court concluded that a district court has the authority to rewrite claims to correct obvious errors even if there are multiple ways to “fix” the claim, as long as all the possible solutions leave the claim with the same scope and meaning.

The Claim at Issue

The patent at issue in CBT Flint involved an e-mail spam filtering system. One of the claim limitations required a computer to detect and analyze an e-mail. The patent drafters forgot the word “and” between these words, which led to problems. The claim at issue (with the problematic term highlighted) read:

13. An apparatus for determining whether a sending party sending an electronic mail communication directed to an intended receiving party is an authorized sending party, the apparatus comprising:

a computer in communication with a network, the computer being programmed to detect analyze the electronic mail communication sent by the sending party to determine whether or not the sending party is an authorized sending party or an unauthorized sending party, and wherein authorized sending parties are parties for whom an agreement to pay an advertising fee in return for allowing an electronic mail communication sent by the sending party to be forwarded over the network to an electronic mail address associated with the in-tended receiving party has been made.

The district court determined that there were three possible ways to fix this problem—(1) remove the word “detect”; (2) remove the word “analyze”; or (3) add the word “and” between the words “detect” and “analyze.” Because it felt that it was debatable which solution should be used, it concluded it lacked the authority to rewrite the claim. Thus, it found the claim indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 2 and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The Federal Circuit reversed.

Case Law History for Rewriting Claims

The Federal Circuit noted that courts have long had the power to fix obvious drafting mistakes, citing to the Supreme Court’s decision in I.T.S. Rubber Co. v. Essex Rubber Co., 272 U.S. 429, 442 (1926). The Court further noted that it held in Novo Industries L.P. v. Micro Molds Corp., 350 F.3d 1348, 1357 (Fed. Cir. 2003) that“[a] district court can correct a patent only if (1) the correction is not subject to reasonable debate based on consideration of the claim language and the specification and (2) the prosecution history does not suggest a different interpretation of the claims.”

The Court determined that the district court erred because the three alternative solutions it was considering were not meaningfully different when viewed from the perspective of one skilled in the art. The concepts of “detecting” and “analyzing” were implicit in the rest of the claim, even if one of these terms was explicitly deleted. Thus, the scope and meaning of the claim were the same regardless of which solution the district court could have adopted. In these situations, the district court does have the authority to fix this kind of obvious mistake.

Practice Pointers and Takeaways From This Case

While this case suggests that courts are willing to bail out patentees and fix mistakes in claims during litigation, patentees should not rely on courts fixing their problems for them. In this particular case, the Federal Circuit found that the three possible solutions were all functionally identical. That will not always be the case, and, it is far more likely it will not be the case.

Obviously, the best practice is not to make mistakes in the first place, but that is often easier said than done. Patentees should be especially vigilant about reviewing the claims during prosecution to make sure that there are no mistakes. In addition, patentees should make sure to review the final, published version from the Patent Office, as mistakes sometimes do happen in the printing process. If a mistake happens after issuance, there are mechanisms to correct a patent (e.g., a certificate of correction). Finally, if a patentee is going to sue on a patent, it is especially important to review the patent again to make sure there are no mistakes. Don’t count on the court to bail you out!

The other takeaway from this case from the defense viewpoint is that courts may be more reluctant to find claims indefinite for obvious mistakes or typographic errors. Significant errors are still likely to doom patent claims, but it is not prudent to count on minor errors sinking them, too.

The bottom line with minor mistakes is that neither side should be confident in how a court will react. It may fix them, but it may not. And how a court will act likely depends on some very specific facts.

Senate Passes Patent Reform Bill – Small Entrepreneurs are Miffed

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, a principal, shareholder and IP Group Chair at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

From our friends at DRI Today, here is a good summary of the Patent Reform Bill that was passed by the Senate – click here. The US House claims that Patent Reform is on its agenda, but no timetable has apparently been set for a vote. Bottom line – big corporations win. Little guys lose.  Here is a link to the bill that passed:  http://www.psmn.com/CM/Custom/TOCResourceLibrary.asp

Big Patent Paydays for Pennsylvania Doctor

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, a principal, shareholder and IP Group Chairman at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. in Pittsburgh, Pa.

At the other end of the Commonwealth, there are some big paydays for a patent holder who developed a drug coated arterial stent. While a medical resident, interventional radiologist Bruce Saffran developed technology that resulted in three patents for this drug delivering arterial stent system. This is his second large verdict against major medical companies. This time, a Marshall Texas Jury awarded $482,000,000 against Johnson and Johnson and its subsidiary Cordis Corp for Patent infringement. He has previously hit Boston Scientific for $431,000,000, but settled for $50,000,000. Don’t cry however for J&J/Cordis as they are  alleged to have sold over $13,000,000,000 in these stents.  This seems to be the price of doing business these days when your due diligence on the openness of the marketplace to your product is poor or incorrect, your assessment of the patent holder’s patent validity is incorrect, or if your design around just doesn’t go far enough around. We will follow the case for any post trial opinions or posting of trial transcripts to see if there is a way to determine more details about the case and whether these issues played a part. There were some interesting pre-trial rulings on Daubert Motions and Markman Claim Construction which are interesting reading.  See below.

Here are some rulings from the court on the eve of trial in response to the Daubert motions: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1316670698427000974&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

Here is the court’s opinion on Markman issues including an analysis of the difficult state of claim construction on “means plus function” issues: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4276281445267303239&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr