Category Archives: Houston Harbaugh

Supreme Court Rules That Government is Not a “Person” Under the America Invents Act

ByCarissa T. Howard of Counsel at Houston Harbaugh

Federal law has allowed for third party requests for reexamination of an issued patent on the basis on prior art since the 1980s. Under the America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA), three review processes replaced what was then known as “inter partes reexamination.” These three review proceedings enable a “person” other than the patent owner to challenge the validity of a patent post-issuance: (1) “inter partes review,” §311; (2) “post-grant review,” §321; and (3) “covered-business-method review” (CBM review). As an alternative to or in connection with a patent litigation, an interested third party, an accused infringer, or any “person,” can request one of these types of reviews.

In Return Mail v. Postal Service, the Supreme Court held that “[t]he Government is not a “person” capable of instituting the three AIA review proceedings.” https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1594_1an2.pdf (June 10, 2019)

Return Mail sued the US Postal Service (part of the US Federal Government) for infringing its mail processing patent and Postal Service petitioned for CBM review under the AIA.  The PTO agreed that the patent claimed ineligible subject matter, and cancelled the claims. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed. Now, the Supreme Court has reversed – holding that the Government is not a person under the statute and therefore cannot petition for AIA review.

Justice Sotomayor led the conservative majority joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.  Justice Breyer wrote in a dissent that was joined by Justices Ginsberg and Kagan.

The majority here started with its presumption that congressional statutes are not intended to bind or be directed to U.S. Government activity. Here, the court looked and did not find sufficient textual language to overcome that initial presumption.   In particular, the word “person” is used many times in the Patent Act (at least 18 times) and in several different ways.  There is basically no indication that this particular use of “person” was designed to include the U.S. Government. The majority also noted the awkwardness:

Finally, excluding federal agencies from the AIA review proceedings avoids the awkward situation that might result from forcing a civilian patent owner (such as Return Mail) to defend the patentability of her invention in an adversarial, adjudicatory proceeding initiated by one federal agency (such as the Postal Service) and overseen by a different federal agency (the Patent Office).

The dissent argued that the government-not-a-person presumption is rather weak and was overcome by the Patent Act.  In particular, the majority notes that Federal agencies are authorized to apply for patent protection — even though the statute states that a “person” shall be “entitled to a patent.” See 35 U. S. C. §§ 207(a)(1) and 102(a)(1).

Carissa T. Howard is an intellectual property attorney with over 16 years of experience, Carissa’s practice is focused in federal court intellectual property litigation, patent prosecution, trademark prosecution, intellectual property counseling, and contract drafting. She also has experience in intellectual property licensing and preparing due diligence, infringement and validity opinions. She can be reached at howardct@hh-law.com or 412-288-2213

Hemp And Hemp Derived-CBD Trademarks Will Now Be Accepted By USPTO

ByAmber Reiner Skovdal associate at Houston Harbaugh  

On May 2, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued an examination guide in an effort to clarify the procedure for examining marks for cannabis and cannabis-derived goods and related services following the 2018 Farm Bill.

The 2018 Farm Bill, formally known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana and permits the cultivation of industrial hemp (with the requisite permits and licenses) so long as such plants contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) concentration on a dry weight basis. This means that hemp and hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products are no longer controlled substances under the CSA. However, among other restrictions, the 2018 Farm Bill expressly preserved the Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) authority to regulate and provide guidelines for the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived (i.e., CBD) products in food and dietary supplements under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”). Under the FDCA, it remains unlawful to use CBD in foods or dietary supplements without approval from the FDA because CBD is an active ingredient in FDA-approved drugs and is undergoing clinical investigations.

In light of the intersections between the CSA, the Farm Bill (AIA), and the FDCA, the USPTO’s examination guide is a welcomed bit of clarification on how the office will proceed with what we understand to be a backlog of cannabis-related trademark applications.

Historically, the USPTO has rejected applications for registration of cannabis or cannabis derived-CBD goods and services, including both marijuana and hemp. Now that hemp has been removed from the CSA, the USPTO will begin accepting hemp-related marks. For applications filed on or after December 20, 2018, the application must specify that the goods identified contain less than .3% THC on a dry weight basis. Similarly, for service-related marks, the application must specify that services involve hemp containing .3% or less THC. For applications filed before December 20, 2018, applicants will be permitted to either amend the filing date or abandon the application and file a new application.

Given that marijuana and its derivatives are still controlled substances, any applications for marks for marijuana or marijuana derived-CBD goods or services involving marijuana-related activities will continue to be rejected as unlawful under federal law. This includes marks used in commerce in states which have legalized medical and adult-use marijuana. Further, even if your desired mark is hemp-related, it may still be rejected by the USPTO, if the related goods violate the FDCA.

As with many areas related to this industry, protecting your intellectual property continues to be a complex and evolving process.

Amber L. Reiner Skovdal has handled diverse matters involving complex commercial and business litigation, insurance and bad faith, products liability defense, employment disputes, and intellectual property litigation including trade secret disputes as well as patent and trademark infringement litigation. She can be reached at reineral@hh-law.com or 412-288-4016

Was the 2017 “NotPetya” Ransomware Attack an Act of War?

This is the question being litigated in a high-stakes cyber insurance coverage dispute between global snack food giant, Mondelez International, and its insurer, Zurich American Insurance Company, in Illinois state court. “NotPetya” was a 2017 ransomware attack in which infectious code impacted a number of global corporations, including Mondelez, encrypting computer hard drives and demanding payment for access to the data. Mondelez claims that it suffered damage to its hardware and operation software systems valued in excess of $100 million as a result of the attack. In early 2018, the U.S. and its allies publicly attributed the cyberattack to the Russian government. Russia denied the allegations. Modelez submitted an insurance claim to Zurich under an all-risk property insurance policy. Mondelez alleges that Zurich denied the claim based on a policy exclusion that excluded coverage for “loss or damage directly or indirectly caused by or resulting from … [a] hostile or warlike action … by any government or sovereign power … or agent or authority [thereof].” In October 2018, Mondelez filed suit against Zurich in Cook County, Illinois to determine whether the exclusion applies. According to the docket the case is currently pending, and working its way through the discovery process.

This case is being closely watched by corporations and insurers alike as it may have broad implications on cyberattack coverage for both traditional and specialized cyber insurance policies that contain the same or similar exclusions. What evidence will the insurer present to seek to prove that this war exclusion applies?

Pieces by Brian Corcoran on Lawfare (here) and Jeff Sistrunk on Law360 (here) each contain in-depth discussions of the case and its potential implications on the cyber insurance market. The docket for the case can be found here (select the Law Division and enter Case Number 2018-L-011008).

Posted by R. Brandon McCullough attorney at Houston Harbaugh, P.C. 401 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Brandon concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of insurance coverage and bad faith litigation, complex commercial and business litigation and appellate litigation. Please contact Mr. McCullough at 412-288-4008 or mcculloughb@hh-law.com with any questions pertaining to this article or any other legal matters.

Opinion from @Proskauer Rose: Urges More Consistency in Non-Competes. Federalization?

@Proskauer Rose Attorney Steve Kayman and Judicial Law Clerk Lauren Davis published this opinion piece on Law 360 to all of whom we acknowledge their copyright protection. http://tinyurl.com/yaaonlmd  “A Call for Nationwide Consistency on Noncompetes” rightly urges for more consistency in the construction and application of laws on Restrictive Covenants and Non-Competes in employment agreements and in the workplace. The authors correctly point out the difficulty that lawyers have in advising corporations, particularly large ones, about the enforceability of restrictive covenants especially when the business and/or employee have interstate commerce. Some states are essentially outlawing non-competes and if an employee leaves one state to work in another, the choice of law and jurisdiction issues generally erupt in any litigation. Kayman rightly points out that courts are looking to extra contractual facts to assist in making a breach of contract decision in lawsuits over these agreements. Finally – Kayman and Davis suggest a possible parallel between this issue and the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) which has now created a federal remedy for misappropriation of trade secrets. Trade secret claims are often paired with non-compete claims so this parallel, and new federal legislation might be the solution. The law on these issues is clearly in a state of flux. We thank Kayman and Davis for this opinion piece.

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esquire Co-Chair Litigation Practice Group and Chair of the IP Practice Group: Houston Harbaugh, P.C.  401 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of  Law teaching two courses; Trade Secret Law and the Law of Trademarks and Unfair Competition at Duquesne University School of Law. Please contact Mr. Sneath at 412-288-4013 or sneathhm@hh-law.com

Confession: I Have a Blackberry (Blackberry Files Patent Suit!)

Blackberry is still in the hunt. I have one. I need the keyboard. Can’t  seem to make even my skinny fingers hit the virtual keyboard letters and numbers on an iPhone. I get teased by my kids. People on airplanes pull out their Blackberrys and say “Hey – you’re a dinosaur too.” However, look at Blackberry now flexing their patent muscles and suing Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Take that big boys. Thanks to Steve Brachmann and IPWatchdog for bringing us the story at this link: http://tinyurl.com/y9drr6hk . Blackberry pleads pre-emptory claims that seek to avoid dismissal per §101 “Alice” defenses. This “getting ahead of 101” in pleading is becoming the rage in patent suits. Great article. Thanks IPWatchdog.

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. at HoustonHarbaugh P.C., Pittsburgh, Pa.    412-288-4013 or sneathhm@hh-law.com

Walmart USPTO Application for “Drone Pollinators” Published

Walmart has applied for a Drone Pollinator presented in the recently published application as “Systems and Methods for Pollinating Crops Via Unmanned Vehicles.” Here is Application # US2018/0065749 A1 at this link from FreshPatents.com:  http://images2.freshpatents.com/pdf/US20180065749A1.pdf
The PTO App abstract describes essentially the same process used by Bees, and scientists at Walmart, Harvard and many other institutions have been working to create an efficient way to pollinate many of the plants from which we get our food during the last two decades of declining bee populations. Here is a good article from Science Alert detailing and linking to some of the efforts to create a drone pollinator:   http://tinyurl.com/y93a7z7y  
Here is a photo of the Harvard latest edition drone “RoboBee” which allegedly cannot yet be remotely controlled. The Walmart patent claims such an ability. We will follow.

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. at HoustonHarbaugh, P.C. in Pittsburgh, Pa.
  Mr. Sneath can be contacted at 412-288-4013 or at: https://www.hh-law.com/professional/henry-m-sneath/ He chairs the IP Practice group at HoustonHarbaugh and is Co-Chair of the Litigation Practice Group.

From Legal Tech/Law.Com news: A Bug Bounty for Discounts on Cyber Insurance

From our friends at Law.Com: In the growing market for cyber insurance, carriers are trying to compete on price.  One carrier, Coalition is offering discounts if your company creates a partnership with a “white hat hacker” and establishes a bug bounty with that hacker. The hacker gets a bounty for finding vulnerabilities. Legal Tech author Rhys Dipshan details the program in the article at this link: http://tinyurl.com/ydck3nxg

Dipshan reports that “bug bounties” are becoming a popular weapon in combating cyber attacks. “Unsurprisingly” Dipshan reports, “bounty programs are becoming increasingly common in the tech and corporate world, with companies such as FacebookMicrosoft and Uber offering compensation for vulnerability disclosures. They also have caught on in the federal government as well, with the Department of Defense launching its “Hack the Pentagon” and “Hack the Air Force” programs.” Do you need a cyber bounty hunter?

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq.  HoustonHarbaugh, P.C. – Pittsburgh, Pa.  https://www.hh-law.com Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group and Co-Chair Litigation Practice Group. Contact at: sneathhm@hh-law.com or 412-288-4013