Author Archives: Henry Sneath

$1Billion Pittsburgh Verdict Against Marvell Upheld on Post Trial Motions

marvell_chipPosted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq., Chair of the Intellectual Property group at Pittsburgh law firm Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

Following a December 2012 Patent verdict in favor of CMU against Marvell in the amount of just over $1 Billion, the trial Judge Nora Barry Fischer of the USDC for the Western District of Pa. has denied the post trial motions filed by Marvell. Carnegie Mellon University v. Marvell Technology Group, Ltd., Case No. 09-290 (W.D. Penn. Feb 28, 2013). She has also found that the infringement was willful, but has not determined yet whether to multiply the verdict as an enhanced award.  The lengthy opinion is attached for review. More analysis to come and we will follow what is surely to be an appeal to the CAFC by Marvell. Opinion available only on PACER at the moment but we will search for an independent copy to post.

UPDATE: The full decision of the Court is available here.

Supreme Court Decides Gunn v. Minton Patent Legal Malpractice Case – State Court It Is

Authored by Henry M. Sneath, Esq.  – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. , Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sneath, Henry 2012 headshotToday – The US Supreme Court in Gunn v. Minton decided that a patent legal malpractice case is properly brought in state court. The court held that even though the “case within a case” standard would require interpretation of a patent and other typically Federal Issues, that “case within a case” is a hypothetical case, that does not need to be in Federal Court.  Further the court wrote:

“Because of the backward-looking nature of a legal malpractice claim, the question is posed in a merely hypothetical sense: If Minton’s lawyers had raised a timely experimental-use argument, would the result in the patent infringement proceeding have been different? No matter how the state courts resolve that hypothetical “case with a case,” it will not change the real-world result of the prior federal patent litigation. Minton’s patent will remain invalid.

Nor will allowing state courts to resolve these cases undermine “the development of a uniform body of [patent] law. … Congress ensured such uniformity by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over actual patent cases in the federal district courts and exclusive appellate jurisdiction in the Federal Circuit. … In resolving the non-hypothetical patent questions those cases present, the federal courts are of course not bound by state court case-within-a-case patent rulings. … In any event, the state court case-within-a-case inquiry asks what would have happened in the prior federal proceeding if a particular argument had been made. In answering that question, state courts can be expected to hew closely to the pertinent federal precedents. It is those precedents, after all, that would have applied had the argument been made.”

We previously reported on this case and will follow for any interesting cases which actually try one of these malpractice cases in state court. Here is the opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts: http://tinyurl.com/a474okm

Supreme Court Hears Argument on Patent Legal Malpractice Case

Supreme CourtYesterday the US Supreme Court heard oral argument  in Gunn v. Minton (No. 11-1118, U.S. Sup) where the issue is the long debated question of proper jurisdiction for patent law legal malpractice cases. For more background, please see a December 3, 2012 post by my colleague Kelly Williams in this blog and to read the Amicus brief filed by the AIPLA.  Read the transcript of yesterday’s Supreme Court oral argument here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/11-1118.pdf    The central question is whether legal malpractice claims against attorneys representing the inventors, for failing to raise an “experimental use” defense to the “on-sale bar” doctrine, constituted a question of exclusive state law, or one of exclusive federal jurisdiction and law – like traditionally all Patent Law issues.  The issue turns on whether such a state court claim can create or affect Federal patent rights. Our friends at Lexis-Nexis have summarized the oral argument and issues at this link: http://t.co/GaRLnbwN

We will follow this case closely: For more information, please contact Henry M. Sneath, Esq. chair of the Intellectual Property Group at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. in Pittsburgh, Pa. 412-288-4013 or hsneath@psmn.com  Firm Website: www.psmn.com  Blog at: www.pitiptechblog.com or follow him on Twitter @picadiosneath

Large Patent Verdict in Pittsburgh – Marvell Case

marvell_chipBy Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. Intellectual Property Group. Contact him at hsneath@psmn.com

Last week a Pittsburgh federal court jury found on behalf of local university CMU against hard drive chip maker Marvell (See attached photo) on claims of patent infringement and willfulness. The $1.17 Billion award was huge by any standards and still faces post trial motions which could vacate the verdict or increase it for willfulness, which the jury found. Judge Fischer could grant any number of what will surely be multiple post trial motions including a motion for mistrial, which was made by Marvell counsel during CMU’s closing argument and on which she denied the motion without prejudice to rule on it after the announcement of a verdict. In other words, she could still grant a mistrial and vacate the one month trial and verdict. She could also increase the verdict by as much as threefold based on the willfulness finding. The article attached below indicates that no tech verdict this large has ever stood the test on appeal. Here is one of a number of good descriptions of the case as it has been written about extensively over the last week:  http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/12/jury-slams-marvell-with-mammoth-1-17-billion-patent-verdict/
Here also is an interesting video take on the case.
http://www.bloomberg.com/video/david-martin-on-carnegie-mellon-marvell-patent-case-er1U0P~yQXC616MuXqU_Hw.html

We will continue to follow this important case.

Pittsburgh Weather

Pittsburgh has so far escaped any major damage from Sandy. However, as we learn from cable reporters standing in waist deep water and TV logo monogramed wetsuits, we know that many folks in areas along the east coast have not fared so well. In Pittsburgh we have had a lot of rain and will have some river flooding, but perhaps got lucky, while surrounded by major weather issues. There are more people in West Virginia and the midwest who are still to see some nasty weather. We wish all those affected well in the days to come.

PATENT TROLLS: $29 Billion Cost!

by: Henry M. Sneath, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

Our friends at Thompson and Knight have provided the latest on the cost to businesses and society of Patent Troll litigation. The costs remain staggering.  We share their article with you and commend you to its reading. Thanks to author R. David Donoghue. See link below: http://www.retailpatentlitigation.com/2012/08/07/trolls-cost-society-29-billion-with-a-b-in-2011/#page=1

Western Pennsylvania Patent Lawsuit Filings Increase in 2012

by: Henry M. Sneath, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

The USDC for the Western District of Pennsylvania enacted local patent rules in 2005. The court has also been designated as one of a number of courts in the country that are part of a Pilot Program where patent filings will be monitored and wherein participating courts will establish certain practices for the administration of Patent cases. While patent filings have been rather flat in the Pa. Western District in the last few years, the number has skyrocketed in 2012. There were 11 Patent cases filed in 2011, but this year, through July, there have already been 28 filings, or more properly, 11 actual filings and 17 transfers of cases from the Eastern District of Texas, or which relate to those transferred cases.

These latter 17 cases have related to the same or similar patents held by a company called Maxim Integrated Products, which is suing numerous big name companies, and which is being sued in declaratory judgment actions by many other big name companies. Many of their suits were filed, not surprisingly in Texas Eastern, but were transferred to Pa. Western.

Declaratory Judgment actions followed and have been filed here by other companies whom Maxim allegedly threatened with suit. The patent (s) at issue relate to the transfer of “cash” between secure devices (eg: mobile to mobile). The Summary of the Invention in this ‘510 patent is set forth as:

“The present invention is an apparatus, system and method for communicating a cash equivalent electronically to and from a portable module. The portable module can be used as a cash equivalent when buying products and services in the market place. The present invention comprises a portable module that can communicate to a secure module via a microprocessor based device. The portable module can be carried by a consumer, filled with electronic money at an add-money station, and be debited by a merchant when a product or service is purchased by the consumer. As a result of a purchase, the merchant’s cash drawer will indicate an increase in cash value.”

We will follow these cases and report more in the future.

The Cost of IP Justice – Can Small Businesses Afford it?

Posted By: Henry M. Sneath, principal shareholder and IP Group Chair at Pittsburgh Litigation and Patent Prosecution boutique Picadio, Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013)

The Patent Reform Act of 2011 portends yet another problem for small business folks trying to develop technology, and more importantly trying to enforce it. We have written about the pending legislation in prior posts. If it passes the US Congress, and if the “first to file” patent rule is therefore adopted by the USPTO as the law, patents will go to those with superior resources, in-house legal departments and the wherewithal to file patents on a moment’s notice. Gone will be the rule that “invention” is the starting point. It will be the result of a race to the PTO.

This is only part of the current IP problem for small businesses however, and the bigger problem is litigation cost. Small businesses simply cannot afford to bring or defend intellectual property lawsuits. If they are the plaintiff, it is likely that they have been given advice by counsel on the anticipated expense of patent or trademark enforcement litigation. Legal fee costs, expert witness costs, deposition costs, demonstrative evidence for trial costs and lost opportunity time for employees can add up quickly and it is important for the client and counsel to set a budget and to discuss each phase of the litigation with a projection of costs. Sadly this cost discussion is often ignored and we have received calls from potential clients who have exhausted their litigation budgets and who are nowhere near a settlement or trial. Frustrated they seek new counsel, but often new counsel is hampered by the inability to properly fund the ongoing litigation.

More difficult perhaps is the plight of the small business (or individual) defendant in an IP suit. These litigants are often ill-prepared for the costs and rigor of defending litigation in Federal Court. Having never been sued before, but having read about the high cost of lawsuits, they frequently seek legal counsel with the plea: “Can we end this quickly as I can’t afford to be in a lawsuit?” When Plaintiff is seeking to shut down production and sale of the new defendant’s chief product line, the answer to this question may not be easy. I tell them sure – we can end it early – all you need to do is stop making  the product that is your main source of revenue, agree never to make it again, pay the plaintiff money for their alleged damages and pay all of their legal fees. These legal fees are generally not insignificant and may have been generated by one or more large law firms at enormous billing rates.

The client, who may even have solid defenses, is then faced with a difficult choice between: 1) Ignore the defenses and cave in quickly with all of the resultant cost and loss of income; 2) Engage in some litigation to try to establish some leverage for a favorable settlement or 3) Take the chance that expensive litigation will, over time, allow a favorable result and perhaps even an award of attorney’s fees to repay the defendant for the litigation cost. It is option 2 which poses the problem of delicate balancing by lawyer and client. How much litigation and cost is enough to create favorable settlement leverage? The client needs to balance the revenue/profit of the allegedly offending product or mark, against the phased cost of litigation.  We can project that phase one (investigation, pleadings, Federal Rule initial disclosures, status conference before the court etc) might cost “x” dollars. The client can decide whether that cost is appropriate against the revenue stream attributable to the product or mark, and determine when to make the settlement move. There is never, of course, any guarantee that the settlement option will work and therein lies the balancing act problem. The client may get stuck in long litigation and need to simply fight its way out. Good communication between lawyer and client is critical to making these decisions.

Boutique Law Firms and NPE Multi-Party Lawsuits

By: Henry M. Sneath, principal shareholder and IP Litigation Group Chair at Pittsburgh litigation boutique Picadio, Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (hsneath@psmn.com)

Here is an interesting post from Law.Com, an ALM company, about the thriving business of NPE suits, usually filed against multiple defendants, and the ability of those defendants to turn to patent and IP litigation boutiques for representation. Please visit the Law.Com site for more details.

i4i v. Microsoft: Patent Case of the Year? Supremes to Decide

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, a principal, shareholder and IP Group Chair, and  Robert Wagner, an intellectual property attorney, both at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

All of a sudden, the burden of proof in patent invalidity claims is under review. Where did that come from? i4i beat Microsoft in an infringement case in Texas and now Microsoft wants to change the battlefield rules. They have appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear argument this  Monday April 18, 2011, that the burden of proof on patent validity challenges should be lowered from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance of the evidence.” Clear and convincing means that the proof must be substantially more likely than not, that the evidence is true.” This is less than “beyond a reasonable doubt” employed in criminal cases, but more stringent than “preponderance” which means simply “more likely than not.” Judges will frequently tell the jury that this inquiry is best visualized like the ‘scales of justice’, and if the evidence tips ever so slightly in favor of one party, then the burden of “preponderance” is met. “Clear and convincing” is a much steeper burden than preponderance – at least according to the law. Microsoft believes that it is much too steep for patent invalidation evidence.

The issue arose at trial in Texas when Microsoft wanted to introduce the prior art of i4i’s own previously designed and used software, which Microsoft claimed invalidated the i4i patent in suit (on sale bar). By the time the lawsuit was filed, the original source code for this prior work was lost, so Microsoft had to rely on circumstantial evidence about what the prior art did. Ultimately, they did not win before the jury or the Courts, and they argued that this was because of the high burden of proof (clear and convincing).

Originally, Microsoft contended that there should be a lower burden of proof (preponderance) only for items not considered by the PTO. It did not attempt to lower the bar for everything. The case has now morphed into an overall attack on the burden of proof in all cases, not just where the PTO has not considered the prior art in question. Microsoft proposes that everything should be preponderance, and, only as a fallback, that things not considered by the PTO need only be proved by a preponderance.

We think the arguments are fairly compelling that the standard needs to apply to everything equally, whatever that standard may be. A hybrid approach where invalidity based on some items need only be proved by a preponderance, while other items would require clear and convincing will simply be unworkable.

Among the problems we see (and the numerous amicus briefers saw) with the hybrid approach are:

1. What counts as being considered by the PTO? If it was disclosed? If it was specifically mentioned by the examiner?

a. If it is everything disclosed in the record, patentees will absolute deluge the PTO with references, which will make the examiner’s job more difficult and will result in references being buried and examinations taking longer.

b. If it is only things discussed by the examiners, that will be unfair to patentees. Examiners are not required to address every reference. They only have to discuss the most relevant ones. Thus, a duplicative reference that still is important may not be mentioned, even though it contains material that the examiner thought highly relevant. Now that reference will be evaluated under a lower burden.

c. Also, examiners frequently look at a number of references in their searches that are never identified in the record. Do these count? How would you find out what was looked at?

2. What do you do with invalidity positions that involve some references that were considered and some that were not?

3. What do you do with a reference that was considered for one basis (anticipation), but not another (obviousness)?

We  think it likely that the Supreme Court will adopt a blanket approach, either preponderance or clear and convincing. If it maintains the status quo, which we think is the better argument, nothing will change in the patent world. As far as we know, this has not been a pressing or disputed issue for years. If they do change to a preponderance standard, we expect that there will be a significant shift in Courts granting summary judgment motions for invalidity. We’re not sure that juries really pay much attention to preponderance or clear and convincing, although it might make a difference in a few cases.

We think that the major corporations siding with Microsoft hope that a change will make it easier to beat back troll (NPE) cases. In particular, larger corporations are likely to be able to afford to draft better patents with more prior art searching that the individual inventors cannot do or afford. We think that they are banking on their own patents’ strength not being affected too much, but with the perhaps underfunded trolls taking a hit. Overall, a shift to preponderance will only weaken patents and their enforceability. It will likely also encourage competitors to take more risks in creating products that arguably infringe; knowing that their burden of proof for invalidity has gone down significantly. We think it is hard to say whether companies will stop applying for patents. In the end, for some products the only thing you can do to protect them is to get a patent. There really aren’t many alternatives for products that are easily reverse engineered.

For ongong coverage of this Supreme Court argument, please check back with us regularly. You may also want to follow a great source for Microsoft news at the Nick Eaton’s Microsoft Blog from Seattle PI: http://blog.seattlepi.com/microsoft/2011/04/14/microsoft-i4i-at-supreme-court-patent-law-at-a-crossroads/

Henry Sneath                  Robert Wagner