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
We are pleased to announce that the Pit IP Tech Blog has been named one of the Top 100 IP blogs on the net by Feedspot. The Pittsburgh law firm of Houston Harbaugh looks forward to continuing our coverage of IP and technology news and hope that you will continue to read our blog. Thanks for making us a Top 100 blog!
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.
In a continuing trend of rejecting bright-line rules and multi-faceted tests created by the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court last week issued an opinion in Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc., (No. 14-1513) in which the Court unanimously vacated and remanded the Federal Circuit’s decision affirming the District Court’s decision not to award enhanced damages under the Federal Circuit’s precedent in In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.ed 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc). The Court found that the Seagate test was too rigid and did not give trial courts sufficient discretion to award enhanced damages under 35 U.S.C. § 284. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the decision for the Court.
The Patent Act provides that the Court “the court may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.” 35 U.S.C. § 284. In response to this language, the Federal Circuit has created various tests for courts and litigants to following, culminating with its most recent pronouncement in Seagate. Under the Seagate test, “a 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,”without regard to “[t]he state of mind of the accused infringer.” This objective prong is not satisfied if the accused infringer later developed a reasonably defense at trial, even if that defense was not known or relied on during the time of the infringing conduct.
If the patentee can demonstrate objective recklessness, it must show by clear and convincing evidence that the risk of infringement “was either known or so obvious that it should have been known to the accused infringer.” If the patentee meets this subjective prong, the court is entitled to award enhanced damages.
The Supreme Court Rejects this 2-step Process
While initially recognizing that “[t]he Seagate test reflects, in many respects, a sound recognition that enhanced damages are generally appropriate under § 284 only in egregious cases,” it found that the test “is unduly rigid, and it impermissibly encumbers the statutory grant of discretion to district courts.”
In particular, the Court was troubled by the fact that an accused infringer could avoid enhanced damages in cases where it intentionally ignored the patentee’s patent if its lawyers could later develop a reasonable defense during litigation that was never relied on previously. Under the Seagate test, a patentee could never get past the first objective prong.
Having said that, the Court also stressed that enhanced damages should still be the exception, and not the rule. It traced the history of enhanced damages and noted that they were typically reserved for egregious cases and were “vindictive or punitive” in nature. The Court cautioned that a trial court’s discretion to grant enhanced damages is not boundless and that the Federal Circuit is in a unique position to evaluate the exercise of that discretion based on its long history of dealing with patent cases.
Finally, the Court rejected a clear and convincing evidentiary standard for proving entitlement to enhanced damages. Under § 284, only a preponderance of the evidence is necessary to obtain enhanced damages.
The Court concluded by stating:
Section 284 gives district courts the discretion to award enhanced damages against those guilty of patent infringement. In applying this discretion, district courts are “to be guided by [the] sound legal principles” developed over nearly two centuries of application and interpretation of the Patent Act. . . . Those principles channel the exercise of discretion, limiting the award of enhanced damages to egregious cases of misconduct beyond typical infringement. The Seagate test, in contrast, unduly confines the ability of district courts to exercise the discretion conferred on them. Because both cases before us were decided under the Seagate framework, we vacate the judgments of the Federal Circuit and remand the cases for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Justice Breyer’s Concurrence
While agreeing with the majority’s opinion, Justice Breyer wrote separately to caution that awards of enhanced damages should be made only in egregious circumstances.
He also noted that an award of enhanced damages requires conduct beyond simple knowledge of a patent by the infringer. Justice Breyer explained that there are several legitimate reasons why an infringer may be aware of a patent that do not rise to the level of willful misconduct required. He also noted that opinions of counsel of non-infringement or invalidity are not required to defeat a claim for enhanced damages. For one thing, they can be extremely expensive and can deter legitimate innovation or otherwise upset the proper balance between the patent laws and promoting the progress of the science and useful arts.
Finally, he noted that enhanced damages are not a mechanism for compensating patentees for litigation expenses or other infringement-related costs. There are difference statutory provisions that address those concerns.
This is yet another case in which the Supreme Court has struck down a bright-line rule or multi-faceted test developed by the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit has tended to create these rules and tests in an effort to provide more clarity and certainty in the patent arena, even if these rules and tests lack a strong statutory basis. In contrast, the Supreme Court seems less concerned about clarity and certainty, and is more concerned in treating the patent laws like any other area of the law. It has repeatedly rejected efforts by the Federal Circuit to treat the patent laws as somehow different than other laws or not bound by the same rules and procedures. The Halo decision is another decision that brings the patent laws closer to the rest of the law.
In the wake of the Apple v. Samsung cases, the importance of design patents has become more visible. Whether a product infringes a design patent can sometimes be difficult to determine because design patents only protect the ornamental aspects of a design, and not the functional aspects. The Federal Circuit, in Sport Dimension, Inc. v. The Coleman Company, Inc. (No. 2015-1553) recently considered the interplay between ornamentation and functionality in a design patent.
Coleman sells a variety of outdoor sporting equipment, including personal flotation devices. One of its products, a flotation device with two arm bands and a torso piece, is protected by US Design Patent No. D623,714.
Sport Dimension also sells personal flotation devices, including its line of Body Glove products that also have two armbands and a torso section.
Coleman brought suit against Sport Dimension, alleging infringement of the ‘714 patent.
The trial court adopted Sport Dimension’s claim construction, which expressly excluded the arm bands and side torso tapering as elements of the claim, because functional elements not protected by the patent. Coleman then moved for entry of a judgment of non-infringement in favor of Sport Dimension so that it could appeal the claim construction ruling.
The Federal Circuit reversed the claim construction, vacated the judgment of non-infringement, and remanded.
The Federal Circuit began by noting that it is often difficult to use words to describe a design, which is why illustrations are an important part of design patents. Despite the limitations of words, the Court noted that it is often constructive for courts to construe design patents in order to guide the fact finder in determining infringement.
The Court then noted the law of infringement of design patents–a design patent cannot protect purely functional designs, but it can protect designs that are not primarily functional even if certain elements have functional purposes. Thus, design patents can be used with products that have elements that are both functional and non-functional, but the design patent will only protect the non-functional elements that are shown in the patent. Of particular interest to design patent litigators, the Court reviewed the key cases in the design patent arena.
In analyzing the patent in dispute and the trial court’s claim construction, the Federal Circuit found that the trial court went too far in excluding entirely the arm bands and tapered side torso from the scope of the patent. The Court agreed that these elements had functional aspects, but concluded it was improper to entirely exclude these elements. The test for infringement of a design patent is not an element-by-element comparison. Instead, infringement is to be assessed based on the overall design, excluding the functional aspects of certain elements (as opposed to excluding the elements entirely).
Based on this faulty claim construction, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded.
This case highlights the difficulty that design patents present for courts and fact finders. Sometimes, the functional/ornamental aspects are difficult to distinguish and apply. Nonetheless, design patents are still an important piece of intellectual property for many companies and should not be discounted lightly.
Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esq. – Chair of the Intellectual Property Group at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (PSMN® and PSMNLaw®) in Pittsburgh, Pa. He may be contacted at email@example.com or 412-288-4013. Website www.psmn.com or www.psmn.law
From “ars technica“* publication: One of the largest patent verdict cases ever was obtained by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh Federal District Court in 2012 in the courtroom of the Hon. Nora Barry Fischer as presiding judge. CMU won a $1.17 billion jury verdict in 2012 and the court enhanced the verdict to $1.54 Billion. The Federal Circuit cut the win significantly, by reducing the damages and eliminating the enhanced damages award, but kept the main verdict intact. The case was just settled here in Pittsburgh for $750 Million. It will allegedly be the second largest payment ever in a technology patent case. A thorough article on the matter with good links to the case history appears at web publication ars technica*(http://tinyurl.com/zwb26wg ).
The Supreme Court’s decisions from Alice and Mayo are beginning to really have their impact. A few examples:
Walker Digital v. Google (D. Del. September 2014) (data processing patent invalid under 101 as an abstract idea) (Judge Stark).
Genetic Tech v. LabCorp and 23AndMe (D. Del. September 2014) (method of predicting human performance based upon genetic testing invalid under 101 as a law of nature) (report and recommendation from Magistrate Judge to Judge Stark)
Ex parte Cote (P.T.A.B. August 2014) (computer method and hardware for ‘phase shifting’ design data invalid under 101)
Ex parte Jung (P.T.A.B. August 2014) (diagnostic method associated with epigenetic risk factors invalid under 101).” Patently-O.
To view the entire post – please visit Patently-O at this link: http://tinyurl.com/otj6v6n
As we noted earlier, the United States Supreme Court has taken a renewed interest in intellectual property and patent cases as of late. In Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., No. 12-1184, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit’s long-standing standard for determining whether to award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party in a patent infringement action. Now, prevailing parties need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that the case was “simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.” And, this decision lies in the sound discretion of the trial court.
In Octane Fitness, ICON sued Octane Fitness for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,019,710. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Octane Fitness, but declined to award attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285, finding that the infringement claims were not frivolous, objectively baseless, or brought in bad faith. Octane Fitness appealed, arguing that the Federal Circuit’s standard for awarding fees under § 285 was too restrictive, but the Federal Circuit disagreed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the standard.
In a unanimous decision written by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court looked to the statute, which reads in its entirety:
The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.
Finding that the Patent Act provides no definition or guidance beyond this statement, the Court looked to the common understanding of the term “exceptional” and to when the provision was enacted and the standards that it was meant to codify.
“Exceptional,” the Court found, was meant to encompass things that are out of the ordinary, unusual, or special. The Court further concluded that Congress intended that courts be given discretion to determine when something was exceptional.
Putting these together, the Court held that courts have the discretion to award attorneys’ fees when a case “stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position (considering both the governing law and the facts of the case) or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.”
The Court rejected the Federal Circuit’s more rigid approach of limiting fee awards only when there has been litigation misconduct or if the party’s position was brought in bad faith and was objectively baseless. Moreover, the Court found no basis to require the prevailing party to prove its entitlement to fees by clear and convincing evidence.
This decision may have substantial consequences going forward in patent cases, for both plaintiffs and defendants. Because the Court has emphasized that this decision is left to the discretion of the trial court, and the standard is much more flexible, one would expect to see more courts awarding fees. In theory, this will act as a deterrent for bringing frivolous patent claims and may reduce some of the more objectionable patent troll cases. But, it may also put more pressure on defendants with weaker defenses to settle, rather than to litigate at all costs. Only time will tell to see what effects come from this decision.
Yesterday, Judge Nora Barry Fischer issued her opinion in the Carnegie Mellon University v. Marvell Technology Group, Ltd. patent infringement lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Case No. 2:09-cv-00290-NBF) and awarded an additional 23% in enhanced damages above and beyond the jury’s $1.17 billion award. In total, with all enhancements and interest awards, Marvell is facing at least a $1,535,889,387.60 damage award with an ongoing $0.50/chip royalty for the lifetime of the patent.
The jury returned a $1.17 billion award in December 2012, finding that Marvell willfully infringed two of CMU’s patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 6,201,839 and 6,438,180). It awarded a royalty of $0.50 per chip Marvell sold using the patented technology. In September 2013, the Court denied Marvell’s post-trial motions and determined that Marvell’s infringement was willful. The Court yesterday determined that some enhancement of the damage award was appropriate, although not to the extent requested by CMU (who wanted an additional 200% in damages).
In weighing the parties’ arguments as to whether the damage award should be enhanced, Judge Fischer appeared to focus primarily on three factors. First, she was concerned that a double or triple award of damages could cripple Marvell. Second, she was concerned about CMU’s “inexcusable” delay for almost 6 years after learning of Marvell’s infringement before taking action. Finally, she balanced these factors against Marvell’s willful infringement and its actions before CMU filed suit.
Weighing all of these factors (and the others under the Read test), Judge Fischer concluded that a 23% enhancement properly balanced all of the relevant interests.
In this decision, Judge Fischer also awarded damages on the sales of additional infringing products that were not part of the jury’s verdict but occurred before entry of judgment (this was uncontested), established a post-judgment royalty rate of $0.50 per infringing chip sold, and set a 0.14% post-judgment interest rate. She denied CMU’s motion for a permanent injunction and for prejudgment interest, finding that neither were warranted under the circumstances.
Given the amounts at issue, one expects that these decisions will not be the final word in this case, and that at least the Federal Circuit will be looking at this case on appeal.
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