Tag Archives: pittsburgh intellectual property litigation

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.

Further Discussion of Judge Wettick’s Opinion on Discovery of Social Media

by: Kelly A. Williams, a partner at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

As a follow up to Robert Wagner’s post, “Discovery of Facebook Accounts,” I will take a closer look at the analysis by Judge Wettick in Trail v. Lesko, No. GD-10-0172249 (July 3, 2012) for determining what a party needs to establish before Judge Wettick will order disclosure of non-public Facebook, or other social networking, content.  I will also provide an update on whether other courts have relied upon Judge Wettick’s opinion.

At the outset, Judge Wettick notes that no appellate court in Pennsylvania has addressed discovery requests for information contained within an individual’s Facebook profile.  He reviews the approach of other trial judges in Pennsylvania to date and concludes that most Pennsylvania “courts recognize the need for a threshold showing of relevance prior to discovery of any kind, and have nearly all required a party seeking discovery in these cases to articulate some facts that suggest relevant information may be contained within the non-public portions of the profile.  To this end, the courts have relied on information contained in the publicly available portions of a user’s profile to form a basis for further discovery.”

Judge Wettick also found the decisions of other state and federal courts to be largely in line with Pennsylvania case law.  As in Pennsylvania, other courts agree that the content posted by someone on Facebook is not privileged, either because communications with “Friends” are not privileged or because, if the communications were privileged, such privilege was waived by sharing the content with others.  On the other hand, the courts disfavor “fishing expeditions” and tend to require some evidence suggesting the existence of relevant information prior to ordering access to a person’s non-public social media information.  According to Judge Wettick, courts from other jurisdictions have taken more steps than Pennsylvania courts, however, to require more narrowly tailored discovery orders or have even relied on counsel to review his or her client’s profile for relevant information in the first instance.

Trail v. Lesko was a personal injury case arising from a motor vehicle accident which was allegedly caused by defendant’s drunk driving.  Judge Wettick indicated that he was basing his rulings on Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 4011(b), which provides that “[n]o discovery or deposition shall be permitted which . . . (b) would cause unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden or expense to the deponent or any person or party . . . .”   Judge Wettick reasoned that a court order that gives an opposing party access to another’s non-public Facebook page “is intrusive because the opposing party is likely to gain access to a great deal of information that has nothing to do with the litigation and may cause embarrassment if viewed by persons who are not “Friends.”   Because such discovery is intrusive, it is protected by Rule 4011 “where the party seeking discovery has not shown a sufficient likelihood that such discovery will provide relevant evidence, not otherwise available, that will support the case of the party seeking discovery.”

However, Judge Wettick did acknowledge that the level of intrusiveness for a Facebook page, containing information made available to others who have no obligation to keep it confidential, is likely to be low.  Therefore, someone seeking to obtain such information will only need to show that the discovery “is reasonably likely to furnish relevant evidence, not available elsewhere, that will have an impact on the outcome of the case.”

Applying this reasoning to the facts of the case before him, Judge Wettick found that neither party had shown sufficient need for discovery of each other’s non-public Facebook pages.   Plaintiff was not entitled to the information because defendant had already made admissions in response to requests for admissions that made the request for Facebook content unnecessary, and defendant was not entitled to the information because the photos from plaintiff’s public page did not contain any information that suggested plaintiff’s personal injury claims were called into question.

With this opinion, Judge Wettick is informing litigators that while he is not opposed to permitting discovery of non-public social media, parties need to show that the social media that a person otherwise assumes is directed solely to a limited audience, i.e. their “friends,” is reasonably likely to be relevant to the claims in the case and is not available elsewhere.  In short, Judge Wettick attempts to balance a person’s privacy interests with those of a party seeking to prove or defend his or her case.

So far, no other courts have cited Judge Wettick’s opinion.  We will continue to watch for Pennsylvania court opinions following or rejecting Judge Wettick’s approach and for any rulings from the Pennsylvania appellate courts on the issue of discovery of social media.

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.

Western District of Pennsylvania Adds Two New Designated Patent Judges

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

As reported earlier, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania was chosen to be one of 14 District Courts nationwide to participate in a 10-year Patent Pilot Program to study the effects of providing specialized patent judges on patent litigation. On October 12, 2011, the Court issued an order setting forth the procedures it will use in implementing this program. Among other things, the Court identified four judges who are designated as the official Designated Patent Judges for the Court:

Under the Court’s guidelines, patent cases are still randomly assigned to all Judges in the District, regardless of whether they are Designated Patent Judges. However, a non-Designated Patent Judge has the option of declining the case. If he or she does so, the case will be randomly reassigned to one of the Designated Patent Judges.

Since the Court’s implementing order, it has added two new Designated Patent Judges:

The Court has created a special Patent Pilot Program page on its website, which has a variety of information about the program, including the Court’s Local Patent Rules.

Federal Circuit Holds That Isolated Genes Are Patent Eligible — Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics

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

The patentability of genes and genetic testing remains a controversial topic, enough so that the Supreme Court granted cert in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories to address some of these issues. (See our prior post). On Friday, the Federal Circuit issued a lengthy and fractured 105-page decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. (No. 10-1406) that held that claims to an isolated DNA molecules were patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Judge Lourie delivered the decision of the Court, Judge Moore concurred in part, and Judge Bryson concurred and dissented in part.

Background

The patents at issue are directed a test to screen for mutations in BRCA genes that correlate with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The inventors identified markers in DNA sequences from individuals with inherited breast and ovarian cancers. This knowledge allowed Myriad to create diagnostic testing services for women.

Myriad began sending cease-and-desist letters to doctors who performed testing that it believed infringed its patents. A number of doctors and researchers then filed a declaratory judgment action against Myriad Genetics, Inc., claiming that certain claims in seven of Myriad’s patents were invalid because they contain patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs and invalidated all fifteen challenged claims. The Federal Circuit reversed as to three of the claims (in a 2–1 decision) and unanimously affirmed the district court’s decision as to the remainder.

The Claims at Issue

Myriad’s claims fell into three broad categories: (1) three composition claims, (2) a screening method claim, and (3) eleven comparing/analyzing method claims. The Federal Circuit found that the first two types were patent-eligible under § 101, but the third type was not.

The composition claims were for two “isolated” human genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) that are free-standing portions of a larger, native DNA molecule and synthetic complementary DNA molecule (cDNA). In essence, these isolated genes are sections of DNA that has been cleaved from a naturally-occurring DNA molecule. Myriad isolated the portions of the naturally-occurring DNA molecule that correlated with the cancer and patented it.

The screening method claim recites the steps of growing host cells transformed with an altered BCRA gene in the presence of a potential cancer therapeutic, determining the growth rate of these cells, and comparing the growth rate of the host cells. The comparing/analyzing method claims, on the other hand, simply call for comparing samples from a tumor of the isolated genes from a patient with a non-tumor sample.

The Court Finds the Composition Claims Are Patentable Subject Matter

Before making its determination, the Court traced the state of the law regarding § 101 by looking at the Supreme Court’s decisions in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980) and Funk Borthers Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 U.S. 127 (1948). These decisions involved whether man-made, living microorganisms are patentable under § 101.

Ultimately, the Federal Circuit concluded that § 101 requires that a composition’s identity must be “markedly different” in comparison with what exists in nature for the composition to be patent-eligible:

The distinction, therefore, between a product of nature and a human-made invention for purposes of § 101 turns on a change in the claimed composition’s identity compared with what exists in nature. Specifically, the Supreme Court has drawn a line between compositions that, even if combined or altered in a manner not found in nature, have similar characteristics as in nature, and compositions that human intervention has given “markedly different,” or “distinctive,” characteristics.

Judge Lourie found that Myriad’s composition claim satisfied this test because the isolated genes, while they could be found inside a naturally-occurring DNA molecule, had distinct chemical identities and natures different from the DNA molecule once they were removed. The isolated genes are not the same molecules as exist in the body, and the creation of these isolated genes requires human intervention. He rejected the argument that the isolated genes are merely purified forms of a natural material.

Judge Moore, in her concurrence, reached the same result. She found that a fragment of a DNA sequence has different properties and different physical characteristics than the parent DNA from which it is obtained. In addition, the cDNA gene is entirely different than the naturally-occurring DNA molecule because introns are removed and it contains the opposite (complementary) sequence of RNA. The exact cDNA gene is not found in nature, so it is easily patent-eligible.

In his dissent, Judge Bryson sharply disagreed with respect to the non-cDNA composition claims. He would have held that any gene that is found in nature, even if found within a larger DNA molecule, is unpatentable. Judge Bryson analogized these genes to minerals discovered in the earth. Simply extracted a naturally-found mineral is not patentable, so simply extracting a naturally-found gene from DNA should not be patentable.

The Method Claims

The decisions with respect to the method claims were much easier for the Court, and the Judges unanimously agreed. The comparing/analyzing claims were not patent eligible because they amounted to nothing more than the mental steps of comparing two genes. There was no transformation involved, so they were not patent eligible. The screening method claim, on the other hand, had a number of transformations central to the purposes of the claimed process. Thus, it was patent eligible.

Standing to Bring the Action

A significant part of the decision also addressed whether any of the plaintiffs had standing to bring the claim under the Declaratory Judgment Act. All three Judges agreed that at least one of the doctors did have standing. For those interested in standing issues and what is sufficient under the Declaratory Judgment Act, this decision is an interesting read.

The Takeaways

The Federal Circuit seems to have a different test for genetic materials than other compositions. All three Judges agreed that extracting a naturally-found mineral or element from a rock would not be eligible for patent protection. Under the majorities’ holding, however, extracting genetic material from a naturally-occurring DNA molecule is eligible for patent protection (assuming the other requirements of the Patent Act can be met). The decision maintains a long history of allowing patents in the field of genetics.

It will be interesting to see if this case is addressed en banc or whether the Supreme Court will weigh in on these issues in its upcoming case in Mayo Collaborative Services. Given the sharp dissent in this case, and the importance of these types of patents, it is unlikely that we have seen the last of these decisions.

Federal Circuit Hears Oral Arguments on Constitutionality of Patent False Marking Statute

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

Yesterday, the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in FLFMC, LLC v. Wham-O, Inc. (No. 2011-1067) to decide whether the patent false marking statute (35 U.S.C. § 292) is constitutional under the “Appointments” and “Take Care” clauses of the United States Constitution (Article II, Sections 2 and 3). The panel is comprised of Judges Linn, Dyk, and Prost, and attorneys representing FLFMC, Wham-O, the US government, and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America argued before the Court. An audio recording of the argument can be heard here.

The district court below (from the Western District of Pennsylvania) dismissed FLFMC’s lawsuit, finding that it lacked standing to bring the action, and FLFMC appealed to the Federal Circuit.

It is difficult to predict how the Court will rule from the argument yesterday, but we can get an idea of some of the key issues that the Court is wrestling with. The argument chiefly focused on two key issues—(1) is there a sufficient government notice requirement in the statute and (2) does the government have sufficient control over the litigation to satisfy its constitutional obligations?

Does § 292 Require Notice to the Government?

As to the first issue, counsel for FLFMC noted that there is a provision for giving the USPTO notice of any lawsuit involving a patent (35 U.S.C. § 290) and many plaintiffs are giving the government notice as a matter of routine practice. Counsel for Wham-O countered that many plaintiffs are not giving notice under § 290 or otherwise and that § 290 only requires notice within 30 days of filing suit, by which time many cases have been settled and dismissed. In either case, the government is not getting adequate notice to fulfill its constitutional obligations. The government conceded that the notice under § 290 does not specifically indicate that the lawsuit involves allegations of false marking, so the government would have to specifically investigate every patent case filed to determine whether it involved false marking, as opposed to infringement, for example.

The Court clearly was concerned about the apparent lack of notice, and the panel questioned whether it could create a notice requirement to preserve the constitutionality.

Does the Government Have Sufficient Control of the Litigation?

The other key issue was the government’s ability to intervene and control the litigation. On its face, the statute is silent about government control and intervention. Counsel for FLFMC argued that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure give the government the right to intervene because it has a stake in the outcome of the lawsuit, and that the Court can look to these Rules in determining the constitutionality. The Court seemed to accept this argument. Counsel for Wham-O countered that while the government may be able to intervene, it has no ability to control the litigation. It cannot force a dismissal of the lawsuit or reject a settlement. It can only ask the Court for assistance, which puts the government in no better a position that any other amicus or intervenor. There was also some dispute over whether civil litigants should be precluded from bringing suit if the government has already filed a criminal action.

What’s Next?

Given the tenor of the argument, it seems safe to say that the Court has some concerns about the constitutionality of the false marking statute. Whether those concerns rise to the level of invalidating the statute is another question. What will be interesting is how the decision in this case will affect the legislation pending in Congress that rewrites the false marking statute (HR 1249, § 16 and S 23, § 2(k)). Should the Court hold that the current false marking statute is unconstitutional, it may require Congress to revisit the amendments to that statute.

Additional Materials

  • The parties’ Federal Circuit briefs can be found here.
  • The District Court order finding no standing can be found here.

Public Domain May Not Be So Public After All–The Warner Bros. v. X One X Decision

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

Materials that have fallen into the public domain should be free of any claims of copyright infringement, right? Not so fast says the Eighth Circuit. As with many issues surrounding copyright law, the answer is not so clear cut. It depends on whether other copyrights exist and how one uses the public domain materials in relation to the other copyrights.

In Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. v. X One X Productions (No. 10-1743), Warner Brothers sued a number of defendants for allegedly infringing its copyrights in characters and images from the films Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, as well as numerous short films featuring the cartoon characters “Tom & Jerry.”

Studio Releases Marketing Materials Without Copyright Notice

At the time of these movies’ release in 1939, the copyright laws required that materials be marked with a copyright notice in order to gain the protection of the copyright laws. Materials that failed to comply with the notice requirements of the 1909 Copyright Act in effect at that time forfeited any copyright protections and fell into the public domain. Prior to releasing the films, the studios distributed marketing materials (posters, photographs, lobby cards, etc.) with images of the actors in costume on the sets. None of these materials complied with the copyright notice requirements, and, thus, fell into the public domain. When the movies were released, the studio properly marked the movies and continues to hold a valid copyright in them.

Defendants used these public domain images on shirts, lunch boxes, music box lids, playing cards, and three-dimensional models and figurines. In some cases, defendants added features to the images, such as signature phrases from the movies, or combined the images to create new scenes, sometimes reminiscent of scenes from the movies.

Warner Brothers Sues for Copyright Infringement

Warner Brothers sued, arguing that defendants were only entitled to reproduce the public domain images in their entirety and in the same form without any modifications (i.e., only reproduce the posters as posters). Anything else, it argued, violated its copyrights in the movies and the right to create derivative works.

The Eighth Circuit agreed that the underlying images from the marketing materials were in the public domain, but found that the use of those materials was limited by other copyrights.

In other words, if material related to certain characters is in the public domain, but later works covered by copyright add new aspects to those characters, a work developed from the public domain material infringes the copyrights in the later works to the extent that it incorporates aspects of the characters developed solely in those later works.

The Court then looked at the original books, the movies, the public domain materials, and the defendants’ products to see whether defendants’ use infringed Warner Brothers’ copyrights. In particular, the Court looked to the images in the marketing materials and found that the visual appearance was not sufficiently consistent to have thrown the characters themselves into the public domain by virtue of the release of the marketing materials. Instead, the Court found that only the exact images were in the public domain.

Eighth Circuit’s Holding

Taking this all together, the Eighth Circuit found that defendants were not limited to merely reproducing the public domain materials in exactly the same form as they originally existed. Instead, it found that defendants could reproduce any portion of the public domain materials in any two-dimensional format they chose.

The Court did prohibit defendants from combining public domain images into a new composite work, though. This, it felt, created a “new increment of expression of the film character that was not present in the separate images” and, therefore, infringed Warner Brothers’ copyrights. Similarly, the Court prohibited defendants from taking the two-dimensional images and recasting them in three-dimensional form. This too created a new increment of expression that violated Warner Brothers’ copyrights.

What Does This Case Mean?

The takeaway from this case is that there are no simple answers when it comes to materials that are both copyrighted and in the public domain. One has to look carefully at the facts of the case to determine the nature and scope of the materials in the public domain and in the copyrighted materials. For example, do the public domain materials convey properties and characteristics of the characters or are they just isolated images? How much is in the public domain versus how much is still copyrighted? Has the copyrighted material added anything over the material in the public domain?

While not a complete victory for the studio, Warner Brothers obtained much of what it wanted in this case. Defendants cannot create new works based on the material in the public domain. Instead, they are limited to reproductions (either in full or in part) of the public domain material. It will be interesting to see if either side tries to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

Will Patent False Marking Litigation Flame Out?

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

With the House and Senate passing versions of the America Invents Act that will reform the patent laws as we know them, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how patent false marking litigation burst onto the scene in 2010 and how it appears to be flaming out now in 2011. In the last two years, the patent world has been abuzz with claims of false marking brought by individuals against some of the largest companies in America. There were fears that this litigation would result in monstrous penalties where there was little “wrongful” action. As typically happens, these fears appear to have been overblown. While certainly a headache for those companies that were sued and for those companies that have gone to great lengths to verify compliance with the statute, the result seems to be more of a short-term inconvenience.

History of False Marking Law

False patent marking has been around for a long time, first appearing in the Patent Act of 1842, which prohibited the false marking of products with the intent to deceive the public with a fine of not less than $100. Later, in 1952, Congress changed the statute to impose a penalty of not more than $500 per offense:

(a) Whoever, without the consent of the patentee, marks upon, or affixes to, or uses in advertising in connection with anything made, used, offered for sale, or sold by such person within the United States, or imported by the person into the United States, the name or any imitation of the name of the patentee, the patent number, or the words “patent,” “patentee,” or the like, with the intent of counterfeiting or imitating the mark of the patentee, or of deceiving the public and inducing them to believe that the thing was made, offered for sale, sold, or imported into the United States by or with the consent of the patentee; or Whoever marks upon, or affixes to, or uses in advertising in connection with any unpatented article, the word “patent” or any word or number importing that the same is patented for the purpose of deceiving the public; or Whoever marks upon, or affixes to, or uses in advertising in connection with any article, the words “patent applied for,” “patent pending,” or any word importing that an application for patent has been made, when no application for patent has been made, or if made, is not pending, for the purpose of deceiving the public– Shall be fined not more than $500 for every such offense.

35 U.S.C. § 292(a). Prior to 2009, courts interpreting these statutes held that the penalty should not be imposed for each article falsely marked, but rather should be imposed for the decision to falsely mark a product line. See, e.g., London v. Everett H. Dunbar Corp., 179 F. 506 (1st Cir. 1910). As a result, there was little incentive for a litigant to bring a false marking claim and few cases were filed.

Pequignot v. Solo Cup and Forest Group v. Bon Tool

In 2007, things began to change. Matthew Pequignot, a patent attorney, filed suit against Solo Cup for falsely marking its plastic cup lids with expired patent numbers. Pequignot argued that the prior holdings were incorrect and that penalties should be imposed per article. Because there were potentially over 21 billion cups that were falsely marked, Solo Cup theoretically faced more than $10 trillion in potential penalties under Pequignot’s interpretation.

As the case was winding its way through the courts, the Federal Circuit heard an appeal in an unrelated case Forest Group, Inc. v. Bon Tool Co., 590 F.3d 1295 (Fed. Cir. 2009) that would ultimately spark a huge new cottage industry. Forest Group had a patent covering stilts commonly used in construction and sued Bon Tool for infringement of its patent. Bon Tool counterclaimed, alleging that Forest Group falsely marked its stilts. The court found that (1) Bon Tool did not infringe; (2) Forest Group had falsely marked some of its stilts and fined it $500 for a single offense of false marking; and (3) the case was not exceptional, so the court did not award attorney fees. Bon Tool appealed the last two findings, and the Federal Circuit determined that the fine under the false marking statute applies to each article falsely marked, not the decision to mark as the district court had held. (The Federal Circuit affirmed the decision not to award attorney fees). On remand, the district court imposed a fine of $180 for each of the 38 stilts that were falsely marked. Thus, the case that lit the false marking industry on fire and resulted in thousands of subsequent lawsuits was ultimately over a $6,840 fine.

Forest Group Launches a Thousand Suits

From 2007 to 2009, only 47 false marking cases had been filed in federal courts, but after the December 28, 2009 decision in Forest Group, patent attorneys and litigants stormed court houses across the country, filing almost 1,500 cases in the next year and a half. Given the potential $500 per article fine, companies that mass produced products were understandably concerned about facing potentially huge liability for wrongly marking their products.

Because false marking is a qui tam action and the statute appeared to authorize anyone to file suit, there was no need for patent attorneys to find clients who had been actually injured by the alleged false marking. Instead, patent attorneys were filing suit on their own or creating their own corporations to file suit against alleged false markers. The lawsuits tended to focus on products that had expired patent numbers, rather than products that were marked with inappropriate, but still valid, patent numbers. The reason was obvious—there was no need to go through the costly exercise of proving that the patent did not cover the product when the patent had expired. One could immediately jump to the question of whether the product was falsely marked with the intent to deceive the public.

Two later decisions by the Federal Circuit only intensified the flames sparked by the Forest Group decision. In Pequignot v. Solo Cup Co., 608 F.3d 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2010), the Court confirmed that marking a product with an expired patent number fell within the scope of the false marking statute (although it affirmed the judgment against Pequignot because he could not prove that Solo Cup acted with an intent to deceive). And, in Stauffer v. Brooks Brothers, Inc., 619 F.3d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2010), the Court confirmed that anyone had standing to bring suit under the false marking statute, even if they did not suffer any direct personal injury.

The Federal Circuit appeared to be showing no inclination to beat back this fire. All indications were that a new form of patent “trolling” litigation was here to stay.

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Federal Circuit Affirms District Court Limiting the Number of Claims a Patentee Can Assert–Stamps.com Inc v. Endicia, Inc.

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

In an interesting nonprecedential opinion issued this week in Stamps.com Inc. v. Endicia, Inc. (No. 10-1328), the Federal Circuit affirmed (among other things) the District Court’s decision to limit the number of claims a patentee could bring against an accused infringer. The Court held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in arbitrarily limiting Stamps.com to asserting 15 claims against Endicia, as long as the District Court gave the patentee an opportunity to assert additional claims for good cause shown. While not a ground-breaking decision, the case is instructive for parties involved in litigating large numbers of patent claims.

The Case Below

Stamps.com sued Endicia for allegedly infringing 629 claims in 11 patents. Endicia moved the court to limit the number of claims, and the court agreed, limiting Stamps.com to 15 claims. The court did state, however, that it would remain flexible and revisit the limitation if Stamps.com could show good cause for needing to assert additional claims. The court then construed 10 claim terms in 15 claims from 7 patents. After briefing on summary judgment, the court invalidated the 7 claims.

Stamps.com then moved the court to pursue additional claims, which the court denied when it granted judgment for Endicia. Stamps.com appealed to the Federal Circuit, which affirmed and rejected Stamps.com’s challenge to the court’s 15-claim limitation, because of the “good cause” outlet the District Court provided.

Take Aways From This Case

This case confirms that trial courts have great discretion to manage their dockets, including limiting the number of claims that can be adjudicated, as long as the court provides some mechanism for a patentee to show good cause for adding additional claims. Thus, a defendant faced with allegations that it infringes hundreds or thousands of claims should consider moving the court to limit the number to a more manageable amount. At the same time, a patentee that finds itself limited to a subset of claims should take care to both choose the best claims to assert and be ready to show good cause for why additional claims may be necessary. Unfortunately, the Court did not identify what “good cause” would be sufficient to expand the number of claims asserted. Nonetheless, a patentee should begin to develop facts and arguments to be ready to use, if necessary.