Tag Archives: intellectual property litigation

Supreme Court Holds: AIA Does NOT Change Patent “On – Sale Bar” Doctrine

There has been a nagging question regarding the status of the on-sale bar ever since passage of the AIA in 2011. The Supreme Court has unanimously answered the question in the negative in the slip opinion in Helsinn Healthcare v. Teva No. 17–1229. Argued December 4, 2018—Decided January 22, 2019. See opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1229_2co3.pdf

Justice Thomas wrote for the unanimous court to affirm the Federal Circuit ruling and the summary of same is here. Even a “secret sale” can trigger the bar. The Court framed the issue:

“We granted certiorari to determine whether, under the AIA, an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party who is obligated to keep the invention confidential qualifies as prior art for purposes of determining the patentability of the invention. 585 U. S. ___ (2018). We conclude that such a sale can qualify as prior art.”
“Held: A commercial sale to a third party who is required to keep the invention confidential may place the invention “on sale” under §102(a). The patent statute in force immediately before the AIA included an on-sale bar. This Court’s precedent interpreting that provision supports the view that a sale or offer of sale need not make an invention available to the public to constitute invalidating prior art. See, e.g., Pfaff v. Wells Electronics, Inc., 525 U. S. 55, 67. The Federal Circuit had made explicit what was implicit in this Court’s pre-AIA precedent, holding that “secret sales” could invalidate a patent. Special Devices, Inc. v. OEA, Inc., 270 F. 3d 1353, 1357. Given this settled pre-AIA precedent, the Court applies the presumption that when Congress reenacted the same “on sale” language in the AIA, it adopted the earlier judicial construction of that phrase. The addition of the catchall phrase “or otherwise available to the public” is not enough of a change for the Court to conclude that Congress intended to alter the meaning of “on sale.” Paroline v. United States, 572 U. S. 434, and Federal Maritime Comm’n v. Seatrain Lines, Inc., 411 U. S. 726, distinguished. Pp. 5–9. 855 F. 3d 1356, affirmed.”

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

BLOCKCHAIN: Is it the Next Big Step in Data Security?

From Law.Com and its Legaltech news former Microsoft CTO Adrian Clarke (Evident Proof) reports on the technology of Blockchain and its purported major security benefits for the supply ecosystem. “The blockchain is a transaction ledger that is uneditable and virtually unhackable. New information can be written onto the blockchain, but the previous information (stored in what are known as blocks) can’t be adjusted. Every single block (or piece of data) added to the chain is given an encrypted identity. Cryptography effectively connects the contents of each newly added block with each block that came before it. So any change to the contents of a previous block on a chain would invalidate the data in all blocks after it.” Clarke’s report here is perhaps some comfort for an exponentially growing sector of the world wide economy which relies on supply chain management on a massive scale. See his piece in Law Journal Newsletters at http://tinyurl.com/y7mqfnem 

Attorneys Bill Cheng and John Frank Weaver at McLane Middleton, P.A. in New Hampshire posted this piece in the NH Business Review at: http://tinyurl.com/yblh6nqp regarding the interaction between Blockchain and Bitcoin and how the GDPR for example will struggle to deal with these technologies, given the protections that GDPR attempts to provide to data owners so that they can control their personal information and data. Blockchain, particularly in conjunction with Bitcoin as the currency for a Blockchain secured transaction will prove a challenge to the GDPR rules. CTOs, Industrial Engineers and Supply Chain designers have big decisions to make in the years to come regarding security and whether Blockchain is the answer to some data protection issues. Photo courtesy of Law.Com.

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

 

 

DTSA (DEFEND TRADE SECRETS ACT) CLAIMS INCREASE DRAMATICALLY IN 2017 AND 2018

FROM DTSALaw®:  As we have previously predicted on these pages (and at www.dtsalaw.com ), the number of DTSA lawsuits has risen dramatically in 2017 and the first two quarters of 2018. Lex Machina and IPLaw 360 report that DTSA lawsuits increased from roughly 900 suits to over 1100 in 2018. In the first two quarters of 2018, the number of filings already is 581. The DTSA is still working its way into the legal community’s knowledge base and many practitioners may still be unaware of the most important benefit – of automatic Federal Court jurisdiction for trade secret cases under the 2016 DTSA that involve interstate commerce. The DTSA was signed into legislation as an amendment to the Economic Espionage Act (EEA) and with EEA is a powerful tool in the arsenal of litigation strategies in both the employment and non-employment arenas. Many DTSA claims are part of claims brought to enforce employment restrictive covenants, which restrictive covenant claims themselves are becoming disfavored by the states and their courts. As “non-compete” claims find less favor with the courts, lawyers should look carefully at the DTSA (and EEA) for civil claims that might apply. IPLaw 360 reports as well that only 19 cases filed to date have reached a conclusion on the merits of trade secret misappropriation. Results were essentially evenly split between plaintiffs and defendants. Houston Harbaugh, P.C. (www.hh-law.com) has an aggressive employment and trade secret practice and Pittsburgh is seeing a number of new cases filed in its Western District Pennsylvania Federal Court. DTSALaw® is a registered trademark of Houston Harbaugh, P.C.

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq.                                             Shareholder and Director;                                                                                      Co-Chair of the Litigation Department;                                                    Chair of the IP Department;                                                                         Houston Harbaugh, P.C.  (www.hh-law.com)                                                    Pittsburgh, Pa.                                                                                                              Please contact Mr. Sneath at 412-288-4013 or sneathhm@hh-law.com

Top Patent Decisions in 2018 per Law 360

Pullback from Alice? In February, the Federal Circuit issued its decision in Berkheimer v. Hp, Inc. ( February decision )  and seemed to pull back from what some would say is the overuse and early use of the Alice decision to invalidate patents. Key holding is that the question of whether a patent contains ineligible subject matter may involve factual questions and that Motions to Dismiss and even Summary Judgment Motions may not be the proper forum for such invalidation decisions. Law 360 reports however, that there is still apparent division on the CAFC with regard to Alice and its progeny.

 

Reinforcement of TC Heartland: In BigCommerce, Inc. v Beyond, the CAFC once again answered the simple question of how many districts  can have proper venue for a case. Answer = 1. “Principal place of business” or “state where defendant is registered to do business.” See (” overturned “). CAFC overturned Texas District Court Judge Rodney Gilstrap in this decision and the erosion of seemingly automatic jurisdiction in the Eastern District of Texas continues. See other key decisions here from Law 360

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq.                                             Shareholder and Director;                                                                                      Co-Chair of the Litigation Department;                                                    Chair of the IP Department;                                                                         Houston Harbaugh, P.C.  (www.hh-law.com)                                                    Pittsburgh, Pa.                                                                                                              Please contact Mr. Sneath at 412-288-4013 or sneathhm@hh-law.com

Business: Seeking Predictability in an Era of Uncertainty

Here is an article I wrote which was published by DRI in their IDQ (In-house Defense Quarterly) to promote the DRI Corporate Counsel Round Table meeting in Washington D.C. which was held in January. It highlights the uncertainty in business markets and the role of the courts in same. See the article at this link: http://tinyurl.com/y9mov84l 

Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq.                                                         Shareholder and Director;                                                                                    Co-Chair of the Litigation Department;                                                    Chair of the IP Department;                                                                         Houston Harbaugh, P.C.  (www.hh-law.com)                                                    Pittsburgh, Pa.                                                                                                              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.

Merger Grows Pittsburgh Business and Litigation Law Firm Houston Harbaugh, P.C.: Expands Litigation Practice

 

Pittsburgh based law firm Houston Harbaugh, P.C. has announced its merger with the former and preeminent litigation boutique Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN®) effective January 1, 2018. The merger creates a 43 lawyer firm with particular strengths in Business Law and Business Litigation, Employment, Employee Benefits/ERISA, Environmental and Energy Law, Estates and Trusts, Health Care, Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Defense, Immigration, Intellectual Property, Oil and Gas, Products Liability and Catastrophic Injury Defense, Public Finance and Real Estate. This blog will feature posts on the law and litigation of Patent, Trademark, Copyright, Trade Secrets, Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), Cyber-Security, Technology matters and updates on the tremendous growth of the technology sector in Pittsburgh. Houston Harbaugh is proud to be among the regional law firms which are poised to provide high level, efficient, cost effective legal services for the new Eds, Meds, Energy and Technology economy in Pittsburgh, Ohio and West Virginia.

For more information on the merged firm please contact Marketing Director Anna Marks at 412-281-5060. See News Release regarding the merger here at: https://www.hh-law.com/houston-harbaugh-grows-litigation-practice/

Supreme Court Reverses Federal Circuit Interpretation of Patent Venue: TC Heartland Holding Overturned

Posted by:  Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group at Pittsburgh, Pa. law firm Houston Harbaugh, P.C. Mr. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law teaching Trade Secret Law, Trademark Law and the Law of Unfair Competition. He may be contacted at sneathhm@hh-law.com or 412-288-4013. See Website www.hh-law.com .

The US Supreme Court overturned the Federal Circuit’s decision in TC Heartland v.  Kraft Foods and its longstanding interpretation of the patent venue statute and has reaffirmed that a corporation is a resident of the state in which it is incorporated. It had decided that question a long time ago, but the Federal Circuit and statutory changes to the general (non-patent) venue statutes had undermined the original decision of the Supreme Court in 1957 in Fourco Glass.  The court provided this analysis in TC Heartland:

“The patent venue statute,28 U. S. C. §1400(b), provides that ‘[a]ny civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.’ In Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U. S. 222, 226 (1957), this Court concluded that for purposes of §1400(b) a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation.” 
In overturning the Fed. Cir. decision, the Court rejected the argument that 28 U.S.C. §1400 (patent venue statute) incorporates the broader definition of corporate “residence” contained in the general venue statute 28 U.S.C. 1391 as has been allowed by the Federal Circuit for years. This changes the longstanding practice of the Federal Circuit to interpret “residence” as being any state in which a defendant corporation simply conducts business. This interpretation has allowed unfettered forum shopping which generally results in shopping and filing in the Eastern District of Texas.

“We conclude that the amendments to §1391 did not modify the meaning of §1400(b) as interpreted by Fourco. We therefore hold that a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation for purposes of the patent venue statute.” Justice Thomas authored the court’s opinion.

The big question is whether this will indeed reduce or eliminate the monopoly held by Texas on patent cases and whether it will simply shift it to Delaware where many corporations are incorporated. The court may take additional action or so too may the US Congress to prevent that simple shifting of venues from Texas to Delaware.

See the Opinion in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-341_8n59.pdf

Henry Sneath 412-288-4013 and sneathhm@hh-law.com

SCOTUS Gives Guidance Regarding Attorney Fee Awards in Copyright Cases

by: Kelly A. Williams, a Senior Attorney at Houston Harbaugh, P.C.

SupremeCourtImage_1On June 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on awarding attorneys’ fees in copyright cases for the first time in two decades and issued the first copyright case in two years. The case is Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons Inc., case number 15-375.  Section 505 of the Copyright Act provides that a district court “may  . . . award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing  party.”  The issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether a court, in exercising that authority, should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position.  The court held that it should but that courts must also give due consideration to all other circumstances relevant to granting fees.  It further held that the district courts retain discretion, in light of those factors, to make an award of attorneys’ fees even when the losing party advanced a reasonable claim or defense.

Kirtsaeng, who was from Thailand, came to the U.S. to go to Cornell University.  While there, he discovered John Wiley & Sons, an academic publishing company, sold virtually identical, English language textbooks in the U.S. and Thailand, but sold them at a much cheaper price in Thailand.  He had family and friends in Thailand buy the books, ship them to him in the U.S. and sold them at a profit.

Wiley sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement, claiming Kirtsaeng’s sale of the books violated its exclusive right to distribute its textbooks.  Kirtsaeng invoked the “first sale doctrine” as a defense, which enables the lawful owner of a book (or other work) to resell or otherwise dispose of it as he or she wishes.  Wiley countered that the first sale doctrine did not apply to books manufactured abroad.  The circuit courts were split on the issue, and the issue went up to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court agreed with Kirtsaeng and held that the first sale doctrine does allow the resale of foreign made books.

Kirtsaeng went back to the district court and sought $2 million in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party pursuant to section 505.  The District Court denied the motion, relying on Second Circuit precedent that gave “substantial weight” to the “objective reasonableness” of Wiley’s infringement claim.  The rational for that approach was that the imposition of a fee award against a copyright holder with an objectively reasonable—although unsuccessful—litigation position will generally not promote the purposes of the Copyright Act.  The District Court and the Second Circuit, on appeal, agreed that Wiley’s position was reasonable.  They also found that the other factors to be considered did not outweigh the reasonableness finding.   These non-exclusive factors were set forth in Fogerty v. Fantasy Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994).  In that case, the Supreme Court identified the non-exclusive factors as the frivolousness of the case, the loser’s motivation, the objective unreasonableness of their case, and considerations of compensation and deterrence, all of which are to be applied in a manner that’s faithful to the purposes of the Copyright Act.

In Kirstaeng, the Supreme Court explained that objective reasonableness can be only an important factor in assessing fee applications—not the controlling one.  District courts must take into account a range of considerations beyond the reasonableness of litigating positions.  Thus, a court may award fees even though the losing party offered reasonable arguments.  The Supreme Court cited as an example the situation where a court orders fee-shifting because of a party’s litigation misconduct, or the court decides to deter repeated instances of copyright infringement (i.e. copyright infringement “trolls”).  “Although objective reasonableness carries significant weight, courts must view all the circumstances of a case on their own terms, in light of the Copyright Act’s essential goals” (for instance—enriching the general public through access to creative works).

The Supreme Court concluded that the Kirstaeng matter should be remanded to the District Court because it appeared that the court had put too much emphasis on the “reasonableness” question.  Thus, the Supreme Court ordered the remand to ensure that the District Court evaluates the motion consistent with the analysis that it set forth—giving substantial weight to the reasonableness of Wiley’s litigating position, but also taking into account all other relevant factors.