Monthly Archives: December 2014

Fed Circuit Reverses Willful Infringement Finding

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

(Cross-posted at DRI Community Page)

The Federal Circuit on Friday issued an opinion that struck a judge’s finding of willful infringement and the corresponding award of triple damages in Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc. (No. 13-1668). The Court concluded that the defendants’ defenses were not objectively unreasonable, even though they were unsuccessful at trial. Chief Judge Prost wrote the opinion, which was joined by Judges Newman and Hughes.

Background

US06179807-20010130-D00000Stryker and Zimmer are competitors in the medical device industry, and, in particular, the orthopedic pulsed lavage device market. Three patents were in suit (Nos. 6,022,329, 6,179,807, and 7,144,383); all of which involved pulsed lavage devices that deliver pressurized irrigation for certain medical therapies, including orthopedic procedures and cleaning wounds. The patents claimed portable, handheld, battery-powered devices that represented an improvement over the older systems that were larger and more cumbersome to use.The district court granted summary judgment of partial infringement of the ‘807 and ‘383 patents, and the jury found infringement of the ‘329 patent. The jury rejected Zimmer’s invalidity defenses and then awarded $70 million in lost profits, which the district court trebled after finding that Zimmer willfully infringed. The Federal Circuit affirmed both the infringement findings, although it noted that the questions were close, and the non-invalidity findings. It did, however, reverse the district court’s finding that Zimmer willfully infringed.

Willful Infringement Discussion and Analysis

For purposes of this post, I am going to focus on the willful infringement discussion by the Federal Circuit. The Court started off with the standard recitation of the In re Seagate Tech., LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc) test. First, the patentee must show by clear and convincing evidence that the infringer acted despite an “objectively high likelihood that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent.” The state of mind of the infringer is not relevant to this inquiry, so the fact that an infringer may not have be aware of or was not considering these defenses while it was infringing is not relevant. If the infringer’s position is “susceptible to a reasonable conclusion of non infringement,” the patentee has failed to prove the objective prong. If the patentee can show that the infringer was objectively reckless, then it must also show by clear and convincing evidence that the “objectively-defined risk (determined by the record developed in the infringement proceeding) was either known or so obvious that it should have been known to the accused infringer.”

The district court did not analyze the objective nature of the infringement, but, instead, focused on the subjective portion. It concluded that Zimmer acted willfully because: (1) Zimmer “all but instructed its design team to copy Stryker’s products”; (2) Stryker’s patents were pioneering; and (3) the secondary considerations of non-obviousness “made it dramatically less likely that Zimmer’s invalidity arguments were reasonable.” The Federal Circuit found this approach to be in error, because the district court failed to analyze the objective prong of the Seagate test first.

Under Seagate, the Federal Circuit started with the objective prong. It considered Zimmer’s defenses to each patent and ultimately concluded that none of them were unreasonable. As such, Stryker failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Zimmer was objectively reckless, which meant that the district court’s willful infringement finding had to be reversed.

For example, the Federal Circuit noted that in order to prove infringement of the ‘329 patent, Stryker had to obtain a broad construction of one of the terms in the patent (“handle”), which was not explicitly supported by the specification. It then had to convince the jury that a component of the infringing device (a motor) was located in the handle, even though it was not precisely located in the handle. And, Stryker had to overcome some statements during prosecution that were relevant to the location of the motor. Ultimately, the Federal Circuit found Zimmer’s position was not unreasonable.

With respect to the ‘807 patent, Stryker also had overcome prior art that was very close to the claims of the patent and had to overcome a non-infringment position that was not unreasonable. Finally, with respect to the ‘383 patent, Zimmer relied on an obviousness defense based on references identified by the PTO examiner during prosecution of a related patent. The Federal Circuit concluded that it was not unreasonable to believe that the claims were invalid based on these references.

Conclusions

This case highlights some important factors for accused infringers. Courts must be made aware of the fact that the objective prong should be considered in isolation from the accused infringer’s conduct and knowledge. It is to be assessed based on the objective record developed during the entire course of the litigation, which may include defenses that were not known to the accused infringer until after the litigation began. This segregation can be especially important where, as it appears was the situation in this case, there is strong evidence of copying.

The Federal Circuit also looked to what PTO examiners were doing during the prosecution of related patents. The Court did not go so far as to say that a PTO examiner’s rejection forms a reasonable basis that would prevent a finding of objective recklessness (which it likely could not given that the prosecution was of a related patent, and not the patent in suit), but it did look at what was being done in its objectiveness analysis. Finally, the Court seemed to put an emphasis on the fact that the infringer’s defenses were based on the plain meaning of the claim terms, as opposed to more convoluted meanings. Developing strong infringement defenses is always important, but it becomes doubly so when willful infringement is at issue.

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What Is a Copyright?

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

PSMN What Is...? SeriesIn the next installment of our continuing “What Is?” series, we are going to discuss copyrights. One of the core intellectual property rights that exists under U.S. law is a copyright. In a nutshell, it is a legal right that provides authors of certain types of original and expressive works that have been fixed in a tangible medium the right to prevent others from using the work without the author’s permission. Obviously, there is a lot more detail behind this, so we will only cover some of the basics in this post.

First, only certain types of works are eligible for copyright protection. They include (1) literary works, (2) musical works, (3) dramatic works, (4) choreographic works, (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works, (7) sound recordings, and (8) architectural works. In addition, the work must have been fixed in a tangible medium to be eligible for a copyright—e.g., written down, put on film, or written in a computer. Certain things cannot be copyrighted, such as (1) things that have not been fixed in a tangible form (e.g., thoughts in your head or speeches that are not recorded or written down), (2) titles, names, and short phrases, (3) ideas, methods, inventions, or systems, and (4) standardized and commonly known information, such as standard calendars, tape measures, and lists or tables of publicly known information.

Second, in order to be eligible for a copyright, the work must be original. But, it does not have to be novel. In other words, the author must show that he or she created the work (and did not copy it from someone else), but the author does not have to show that he or she was the first to ever think of the work.

If an author can satisfy these requirements, he or she has a copyright. Under the change in federal law in 1976, a copyright exists under federal law the moment an author fixes an original expressive work in a tangible medium. There is no longer the need to affix a copyright symbol to the work or register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. But, and this is a big but, there are a number of important advantages to registering a work with the Copyright Office that can be lost if not done timely. So, it is best for an author to consult an intellectual property attorney if there is the possibility that the work may be valuable or need to be protected.

A copyright gives an author a number of substantive legal rights, such as the ability to control who (1) reproduces or distributes copies of the work, (2) creates derivative works based on the original, and (3) performs or displays the work publicly. An author can sue an individual or company that violates these rights and collect damages, statutory penalties, or obtain a court order preventing the infringer from violating these rights in the future. In some cases, copyright infringement can even be a crime.

Because a copyright is a property right, it can be sold, transferred, or licensed like other types of real and intellectual property.

As of January 1, 1978, a copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. If the work was made for hire or was published anonymously/psuedonymously, the copyright lasts for the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.

For more information about copyright, you can read this nice summary by the United States Copyright Office.

In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about some other issues involving copyrights, such as the fair use defense, what kind of remedies are available to authors whose works have been improperly copied, and the work-for-hire doctrine, among other things.

Federal Circuit Confirms Invalidity of Reissue Patent Claims That Violated Original Patent Requirement

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

If an inventor discovers that he or she has failed to claim all that he or she could have in an issued patent, the patent statute provides a mechanism for going back and adding additional claims during a reissue proceeding. Certain requirements must be met before the patent office will allow such a correction. As the patent holder found out in a recent decision by the Federal Circuit in Antares Pharma, Inc. v. Medac Pharma Inc. (No. 2014-1648), failure to comply with these provisions can render the new claims invalid and unenforceable.

Background

USRE44846The inventor in Antares developed an automatic injection device to self-administer pharmaceuticals that involved using a needle to puncture the skin of a patient before administering a dose of medication. All of the claims in the original patent involved a “jet injection” limitation. Almost two years after the patent issued, Antares realized that it had failed to include claims directed to safety features on the injector. Because two years had not passed yet, Antares initiated a reissue proceeding with the USPTO under 35 U.S.C. § 251, which allows a patent holder to broaden or narrow claims if initiated within two years of the patent being issued. Antares then added a number of claims to cover safety features on general injection devices, and not just jet injection devices (see No. RE 44,846).

Antares filed suit against Medac, alleging that, among other things, it infringed some of the new claims that emerged from the reissue proceeding. Antares sought a preliminary injunction, but the district court denied the request after concluding that the new claims did not satisfy the original patent requirement of the reissue statute. Antares appealed, and the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Reissue Statute Requirements

Under § 251, a patentee that wants to add new claims that broaden the scope of the claims of an already issued patent must satisfy a number of requirements: (1) the reissue application must be filed within two years of the issuance of the patent; (2) the new claims must not violate the recapture rule (i.e., claiming scope that was surrendered during prosecution); (3) the new claims must not violate the original patent requirement; and (4) no new matter may be added to the specification. At issue in this case was the third requirement—the original patent requirement.

The original patent requirement requires that the specification adequately support and fully describe the new claims. It is not sufficient if the new, broader claims are “merely suggested or indicated in the original specification.” So, hints, suggestions, or mere indications are not enough. As with many things relating to the understanding of the scope of a patent, “the essential inquiry under the ‘original patent’ clause of § 251 . . . is whether one skilled in the art, reading the specification, would identify the subject matter of the new claims as invented and disclosed by the patentees.”

The Patent at Issue

Antares’ patent specification only described the safety features being on jet injection devices and repeatedly stated that the invention related to jet injectors. It did not generically describe how to use the safety devices with other types of injectors. Based on the limited nature of the specification, the Federal Circuit agreed that the new claims were invalid because they were directed to safety features on generic injectors that were not explicitly and unequivocally disclosed in the specification.

The Federal Circuit contrasted this result with that of another case, In re Amos, 953 F.2d 613 (Fed. Cir. 1991). In the Amos case, the patentee broadened his claims that were directed towards an invention for holding down work pieces on a moving table using rollers. In the specification, the patentee described how the rollers could be raised via mechanical or electronic means, but only claimed the mechanical version. During reissue, the patentee added claims directed towards the electronic version, which the Court found acceptable because the specification explicitly discussed that embodiment.

Conclusion

The reissue statute is a powerful tool to add new claim scope to issued patents. Care must be taken, however, to file the reissue application within the two-year period and to make sure that the new claims do not add scope that is not well-supported by the specification. This decision is another reason that patent drafters need to be careful when drafting the specification. The patent statute provides some opportunities for fixing claims, but it is difficult to fix a specification if it is lacking and the consequence can be losing claim scope that could have been otherwise available with better drafting.