Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Patent Attorneys

Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz–Supreme Court Changes Appellate Review of Claim Constructions

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

SupremeCourtImage_1Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued another opinion in the patent arena in Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc. (No. 13-854). In this decision, the Court  considered what deference, if any, that appellate courts should have when reviewing a district court’s claim construction. In a 7–2 opinion authored by Justice Breyer (Justices Thomas and Alito dissenting), the Court reaffirmed that appellate courts review claim constructions de novo, but held that underlying factual determinations made by a district court should be reviewed under a clear error standard. Thus, this is somewhat of a mixed bag decision whose practical importance is unclear.

Reasoning of the Court

The Court started off by reaffirming its determination in Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996) that claim construction is a question of law for the courts, even when it may require evidentiary determinations. The Court then noted that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) sets the framework for an appellate court’s review of findings of fact made by a district court. Under Rule 52(a)(6), a court of appeals must not set aside a district court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Under the Court’s precedent, this standard applies to all types of factual findings made by a district court, including findings relating to subsidiary and ultimate facts. The Court then found that there was no exception to Rule 52(a) for patent cases, either by statute or based on its case law. Based on this determination, the Court concluded that appellate courts must review factual findings made by a district court during the claim construction process under a clear error standard of review, and not a de novo standard.

Unlike many Supreme Court decisions, the Court then went on and attempted to clarify how appellate courts should review claim constructions from district courts. When a court considers intrinsic evidence to the patent (the patent claims, specification, drawings, and prosecution history) when determining its construction, appellate courts are to review those determinations using a de novo standard of review. However, when a district court considers extrinsic evidence (such as expert testimony), any factual findings related to that extrinsic evidence must be reviewed on a clear error basis. Finally, the ultimate construction is still to be reviewed on a de novo basis, even if it contains issues of fact.

Consequences of the Decision

As with any decision, it is sometimes hard to predict the consequences immediately after the decision issues. But, there are some take-aways from this decision. First, district courts will likely have to do some more work, especially when they are making factual determinations relating to claim construction. District courts will now have to make those findings explicit if they expect the Federal Circuit to give the findings deference.

Second, parties will have to consider whether introducing more extrinsic types of evidence will be beneficial or harmful to their cases. It may be that in certain circumstances a party will feel so confident of its position before a district court that it will want as many factual determinations as possible to support its hoped-for ruling by the district court. On the other hand, if it ultimately loses on construction, those factual findings will make it harder for to argue for reversal. So, parties will need to be careful in thinking about what makes the most sense in their particular circumstance.

Third, it will be interesting to see what the Federal Circuit does. The Supreme Court confirmed that the ultimate decision is still made on a de novo basis. This means that the Federal Circuit may simply accentuate or minimize the factual findings as needed to affirm or reverse based on its own interpretation, which may make little practical difference in the outcomes of cases.

Many claim constructions do not turn on factual findings relating to extrinsic evidence, so this decision is unlikely to radically change how patents are litigated. In the margins, where factual determinations and understandings are truly important, it likely makes sense to give deference to the district court, especially when it had the chance to hear live testimony by experts on disputed issues and to weigh issues of credibility.

For some further initial impressions of the Court’s decision, check on this article on the Patently-O blog, in which Professor Crouch talked with a number of patent law experts for their impressions.

Federal Circuit Again Splits on Willful Infringement

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

6436135 ImageThe Federal Circuit issued another contentious decision on the subject of willful infringement on Tuesday in Bard Peripheral Vascular, Inc. v. W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., (No. 2014-1114), splitting 2-1 and with another judge calling for the Circuit to revisit the law in this area.

The Bard-Gore case has had a long and tortured past, beginning more than 40 years ago. Gore, which makes an ePTFE polymer under the brand name Gore-Tex®, invited Dr. David Goldfarb to its facilities in 1973 to participate in a study of Gore’s product for use as a vascular prosthesis. Gore was trying to find new uses for its product, including in the medical fields. Based on the materials that Gore provided to Dr. Goldfarb, Dr. Goldfarb filed a patent application on the structure of the most effective of the samples he tested back in 1974. Peter Cooper from Gore had previously filed a patent application, and the USPTO conducted an interference proceeding.

In the interference proceeding, the USPTO concluded that Cooper was the first to conceive of the subject matter of the invention, but Dr. Goldfarb was the first to reduce it to practice. Therefore, the USPTO awarded the patent to Dr. Goldfarb. The Federal Circuit affirmed, and the patent ultimately issued in 2002. During the pendency of this dispute, Gore continued to develop and sell ePTFE grafts and medical devices.

In 2003, Dr. Goldfarb and Bard sued Gore for infringement (previously, Dr. Goldfarb licensed the patent to Bard). The jury returned a verdict of willful infringement and awarded over $185 million in damages, which the district court doubled. The district court also awarded attorneys’ fees and costs. The Federal Circuit affirmed in a split panel, but the full Circuit vacated the decision in a rehearing en banc, ordering the district court to reconsider the willful infringement finding de novo. The district court reconsidered the evidence and reinstated its prior judgment. The Federal Circuit, in this decision, affirmed in a 2-1 decision with three separate opinions.

Judge Prost, writing the opinion of the Court, reviewed the evidence de novo and concluded that Gore’s defenses were not reasonable. In particular, the Court rejected the notion that the fact that a prior member of the panel at the Federal Circuit dissented does not mean that Gore’s position was reasonable. The Court did not want to create the precedent that a single dissenting view would preclude a finding of willful infringement as a matter of law.

Judge Hughes wrote a concurring opinion in which he called into question the Federal Circuit’s jurisprudence on willful infringement—in particular, the two-part objective-subjective test and the de novo standard of review. He believes that the full panel should reconsider the law in this area and should apply a deferential standard of review.

Finally, Judge Newman wrote a strong dissent in which she would have reversed the district court’s decision on willfulness. She was troubled by the majority’s failure to discuss what she believed to be relevant evidence supporting Gore’s position. She was also troubled by the fact that the district court refused to enjoin Gore from selling its products but then enhanced the damages.

This decision is another in which the judges on the Federal Circuit are openly questioning the current state of the law on willful infringement. It will be interesting to see if the Federal Circuit rehears one of these cases en banc to settle the disagreements that are brewing internally.

 

 

Fed Circuit Reverses Willful Infringement Finding

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

(Cross-posted at DRI Community Page)

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

Background

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

Willful Infringement Discussion and Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Reissue Statute Requirements

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

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

The Patent at Issue

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

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

Conclusion

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

USPTO Posts Questionable Advice for People Who Receive Demand Letters

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

Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office expanded its website to include a section to help individuals and companies to respond when receiving demand letters from patent holders. As one of our colleagues, Gene Quinn, over at IPWatchdog.com notes, this resource (albeit in “Beta” form) is fairly one-sided and offers some problematic advice to those who receive demand letters.USPTO

Much of the advice on the USPTO’s website is fairly generic, but the overall tenor of the advice seems to ignore that legitimate patent owners with legitimate and valid patents often send these demand letters to stop individuals and companies from infringing their patents. Indeed, that is one of the fundamental rights that comes with owning a patent—the ability to stop others from using your invention.

Instead, the fundamental assumption on the USPTO’s website seems to be that only patent trolls send demand letters. For instance, the USPTO suggests that one response is to simply ignore a demand letter because some patent owners send these demand letters to mislead or intimidate the recipients into paying for licenses that they do not need. While the USPTO notes that this approach carries some risk, that advice is buried at the end. Oddly, the USPTO never suggests that one option after receiving a demand letter is to simply stop infringing the patent.

The USPTO also downplays the importance of consulting with an attorney to help understand the risks and to respond to the patent owner in an appropriate manner. Patent law is not a simple subject, and most individuals simply do not have the expertise or knowledge to determine whether they are infringing, whether the patent is valid and enforceable, and what the risks may actually be.

In my years of practice, I have noticed that many individuals do not understand what the scope of a patent is unless they have significant prior experience with patents. They tend to look at the description of the invention in the specification or the drawings, rather than the claims, when trying to assess their exposure. As patent practitioners know, it is the claims that truly matter (although the specification is important to understanding those claims), and those claims are often far broader then the particular embodiments disclosed in the specification. In addition, claims are not written in a format that is simple to understand, or there are statements made during the prosecution of the patent that are important to understanding their scope, which compounds the problem. Thus, there is a very real risk that individuals will drastically underestimate the risk that they infringe unless they receive competent legal advice.

While hiring an attorney may be an expensive proposition, the consequences of not doing so may be far greater. A typical patent infringement lawsuit can easily cost more than $500,000 to defend, even where the amount at issue is small (and can cost tens of millions of dollars when significant amounts are at issue). And, once a lawsuit begins, it can be very hard for a defendant to unilaterally stop it. If an individual is truly infringing, an attorney can help the client understand the risks and suggest ways of resolving the matter before litigation begins, which potentially can save an individual hundreds of thousands of dollars. Simply ignoring a demand letter can be the last thing an accused infringer should do unless there is a very good reason for doing so because ignoring the demand letter starts to lay the groundwork for a finding of willful infringement, which potentially entitles the patent owner to triple damages and an award of its attorneys’ fees and costs.

The problem of extortionate patent trolls is very real, and I have represented numerous companies that have been the targets of these kinds of trolls. It is extremely frustrating to explain to a client the financial costs and distractions that come with defending a meritless lawsuit brought by patent troll and the fact that there often is no simple way to make the lawsuit disappear without paying some amount of money to the troll. That being said, I’ve also represented legitimate companies with patents on innovations they developed that help give them a competitive edge in the marketplace. They have spent significant time and resources in developing these innovations and bringing them to market and understandably want to protect those investments. The USPTO’s blanket advice to individuals and companies that might receive a demand letter is not particularly helpful and understates the real risks and costs that are at issue. It is somewhat disturbing that an office that is charged with issuing valid patents and supporting innovation would put out such incomplete and unbalanced advice. Hopefully, the USPTO will present more balanced and useful advice when this website moves out of its “beta” stage.

Busy IP Docket for US Supreme Court Upcoming

Sneath, Henry 2012 headshotBy: Henry Sneath, Chair of the Intellectual Property practice at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.  hsneath@psmn.com or 412-288-4013

The US Supreme Court has a very busy IP docket in the next few months. Close watchers of the court predict a continuing focus on IP cases. Our friends at AIPLA provide a nice summary of the oral argument schedule of IP cases through April. We will follow these cases and post any important decisions. See AIPLA link below: http://www.aipla.org/resources2/reports/2014/Pages/140214AIPLA-Direct.aspx

Significant Interest in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l Case at Supreme Court

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

SupremeCourtImage_1The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, (No. 13-298), to address the boundaries of what constitutes patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 and, more specifically, whether and to what extent software is patent eligible. We’ve been following this case since it was at the Federal Circuit (see our prior post here) and noted the chaos that emerged from the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision that could not decide on the proper standards for software patent eligibility.

Since Alice Corp. filed its petition for a writ of certiorari, 34 amicus briefs have been filed, indicating the importance of this case to the patent community. (To read the briefs, click here). The briefs have been circulated to the justices, and oral argument is scheduled for March 31, 2014.

As numerous commentator’s have pointed out (see, e.g., here), software has been patent-eligible subject matter for almost 50 years and accounts for a significant number of granted patents. A decision by the Supreme Court that software is not patent eligible would have huge repercussions throughout the patent and software worlds. We will be monitoring the case and will report on the oral argument, once it occurs.

Pennsylvania Senate to Consider Patent Troll Bill

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

In the continuing quest to limit or prevent patent “trolls” from filing frivolous lawsuits against alleged infringers, state legislatures are jumping into the mix and proposing state laws to discourage or prohibit this kind of conduct. Pennsylvania is among the latest to join this bandwagon. PA Senate Bill No. 1222, introduced on February 4, 2014 is an effort to limit and discourage frivolous patent infringement lawsuits. However, given the scope of the bill, and the potential conflicts with federal law, there are serious questions as to both the wisdom of the approach it takes and whether this bill will ever become law.

The Language of the Bill

Bill No. 1222 purports to prohibit bad faith assertions of patent infringement. (Section 3(a)). It allows a target of a demand letter, someone threatened with patent infringement, or a defendant in a patent infringement lawsuit to bring an action in state court (the court of common pleas) for bad faith. (Section 5(b)). If the court determines that there is a reasonable likelihood that the patentee has threatened or is litigating a patent infringement claim in bad faith, the court can require the patentee to post a bond to cover the target’s legal costs and damages, but not to exceed $250,000. (Section 4). In addition, among the possible remedies are equitable relief, damages, costs and fees, and exemplary damages of $50,000 or three times the total damages, costs, and fees, whichever is greater. (Section 5(b)).

Under the bill, the following factors may be considered as evidence that a patentee is bringing a bad faith claim of patent infringement (Section 3(b)):

  • When a demand letter fails to contain the patent number, the identity of the patent owner, or factual allegations of why the target infringes.
  • When the patentee conducted adequate due diligence before sending the demand letter.
  • When the patentee refuses to provide certain information to the target when requested to do so.
  • When the demand letter demands a response or payment within an unreasonably short period of time.
  • When the license demand is not reasonably related to what the license should be worth.
  • When the patentee knew the claim was meritless or deceptive.
  • When the patentee previously filed or threatened similar actions that were meritless or failed to disclose the kinds of information identified above.

In contrast, the following factors may be considered as evidence that the patentee is not bringing a bad faith claim of patent infringement (Section 3(c)):

  • When a demand letter includes the patent number, the identity of the patent owner, and factual allegations of why the target infringes, or the patentee provides this information on request.
  • When the patentee engages in a good faith effort to establish infringement and negotiate an appropriate remedy.
  • When the patentee has made a substantial investment in using the patent or selling products that use the patent.
  • When the patentee is the inventor, joint inventor, original assignee, or an institution of higher education (or its tech transfer office).
  • When the patentee has demonstrated successfully enforced the patent in litigation or has in good faith previously tried to enforce the patent.

Thoughts About the Merit of This Bill

Determinations of whether a patent infringement claim has been brought in good or bad faith will necessarily require a significant analysis of the underlying merits of the claim, including claim construction and the intricacies of infringement and invalidity issues. State courts have never had to deal with these issues before because federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) to hear all patent cases. Thus, this bill would place state courts in uncharted and complex waters that they have never had to deal with.

In addition, this bill purports to extend not just to demand letters sent by patentees, but also filed patent infringement lawsuits (which must be in federal court). It is unclear how state courts are to be addressing issues being litigated in federal court and what power a state court has to interfere with those parallel proceedings. One would think that a federal court that is handling the lawsuit is in a far better position to assess the good or bad faith of a patentee’s claims.

While it is a laudable goal to create disincentives to filing frivolous lawsuits, this bill seems particularly ill suited to this goal. We will be following this bill as it progresses, and will report on its progress.

Penn State Sues Samsung for Patent Infringement by Galaxy Smartphones

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

psu_logoIt’s not just Apple that is suing Samsung in the smart phone arena. Last Friday, the Penn State Research Foundation (the technology transfer office for Penn State) sued Samsung in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Case No. 4:14-cv-00124, for allegedly infringing the Foundation’s US Patent No. 6,720,572, entitled “Organic Light Emitters with Improved Carrier Injection.”

Galaxy S4In the complaint, the Foundation contends that at least Samsung’s Galaxy SIII and Galaxy S4 products infringe the ‘572 Patent. The Foundation also contends that Samsung willfully infringed the ‘572 Patent because it knew of the patent at least as early as May 12, 2010, when it was referenced by the USPTO in a office action involving one of Samsung’s patent applications.

The ‘572 Patent relates to:

A light emitting device with improved carrier injection. The device has a layer of organic light emitting material and a layer of organic semiconductor material that are interposed between first and second contact layers. A carrier transport layer, may optionally be included between the semiconductor and light emitting layers. When used as a diode, the first and second contacts are functionally the anode and cathode. The device can also be a field effect transistor device by adding a gate contact and a gate dielectric. The first and second contacts then additionally have the function of source and drain, depending on whether the organic semiconductor material is a p-type or an n-type. Preferably, the organic semiconductor is formed with pentacene.

As the case was just filed, there has been little activity in it. We will monitor this case as it progresses.

Federal Circuit Affirms Rejection by Examiner Based on Incomplete Prior Art

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

Federal CircuitThe Federal Circuit issued an interesting decision in In re Enhanced Security Research, LLC (No. 2013-1114) this week. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) affirmed an examiner’s rejection of certain claims of a patent as obvious during an ex parte reexamination based on a user manual that was missing pages and of dubious origins. The Federal Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, affirmed. What makes this case interesting is the discussion of the completeness and authenticity of the prior art considered by the Patent Office.

Background

Enhanced Security Research (“ESR”) obtained a patent for “a computer security device and method for preventing unauthorized individuals from gaining access to a local computer network.” A third party who was in litigation with ESR requested reexamination based on two pieces of prior art—a user manual to a piece of software called NetStalker and a scholarly article. The use of the manual is at the heart of the issues in this case.

ESR challenged the propriety of the examiner relying on the manual based on the fact that pages were missing, it was not clear that this particular exemplar was available to the public, and it was not clear whether the manual was a draft. The third party requester provided an affidavit from the CEO of the company that produced the software attesting to its completeness (even though pages were clearly missing) and that it was a version available to the public. The CEO was not an uninterested party, however, as he was a paid expert for the third party requester in litigation against ESR.

The examiner, relying on a page from the manual, concluded that certain claims were obvious. Interestingly, many of the missing pages came from the same chapter as the page relied on by the examiner, including the pages immediately before and after that page.

The Majority Affirms

The majority of the Federal Circuit panel affirmed the decision of the examiner and PTAB that found that the information contained in the manual, when combined with the scholarly article, rendered certain claims of the patent obvious. The majority then went on to consider whether the examiner and PTAB should have relied on the manual as prior art.

They ultimately concluded that the manual was prior art. First, they noted that the standard of what is sufficiently “available to the public” for purposes of 35 U.S.C. § 102(a)(1) is a question of law based on underlying facts. Availability does not have to mean widely available—“a single cataloged thesis in one university library” is sufficient. The Court found that there was sufficient basis to believe that the manual was available to the public in the relevant time period based on a date in the manual and the declaration of the CEO.

Next, they found that the missing pages did not disqualify the reference. Only the relevant portions of a piece of prior art need be provided to an examiner, citing 37 C.F.R. §1.510 and MPEP § 704.14(a) ¶ 7.122. The Court did note that there may be instances where the absence of key pages would disqualify a reference, such as where it is believed that those pages would be necessary to understand the reference, but that circumstance did not exist here.

The Dissent Disagrees

One of the Judges strongly disagreed with the majority’s holding. In particular, she was troubled by the circumstances present with the manual and the declaration of the CEO.

First, the CEO was not a disinterested party. He was a paid expert for the third-party requester who was also in litigation against ESR. This raised credibility concerns, especially when portions of the manual in question, including the pages immediately before and after one of the pages relied on by the examiner, were missing. She was also troubled by his declaration that the manual was “a true and correct copy” when it clearly was not.

In addition, the dissent was troubled by the declarant’s failure to particularly state that the NetStalker product was sold prior to the critical date or that this particular manual was ever provided to any customers prior to the critical date.

Finally, the dissent was concerned that the manual was only a draft, because it bore a cryptic legend on its cover, there were question marks in the index, and the last ten pages of the final chapter did not exist. She believed that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding that the manual was either a finished document or publicly available within the relevant time period.

In circumstances like these, with an incomplete reference, a biased declarant, and litigation between the patentee and third-party requester, the dissent felt that more information and testimony was required before the examiner could rely on the manual as a prior art reference.

Conclusion

In what is otherwise a relatively ordinary decision, some interesting issues arose. This case highlights the need for patentees to vigorously question references cited against them, especially when the circumstances suggest that the references may not be proper.