On May 17, 2017, the International Trade Commission (ITC) reversed an ALJ’s ruling and found a violation of Section 337 in Certain Air Mattress Systems, Components Thereof and Methods of using the Same (“Certain Air Mattress Systems”), Inv. No. 337-TA-971, due to the importation of certain air mattresses, and components of air mattresses, by the named respondents. The public version of the Commission opinion has been released and provides future ITC litigants with guidance regarding the proper allocation of expenses for domestic industry purposes, and how the Commission views certain types of products for public interest consideration.
In a move that could drastically change the patent law landscape, the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group LLC, No. 16-712, to answer the question whether the inter partes review (IPR) process violates the U.S. Constitution by “extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”
In 2001, Oil States Energy Services LLC (“Oil States”) was granted U.S. Patent No. 6,179,053 for a lockdown mechanism to ensure a mandrel is locked in an operative position during fracking. Oil States sued Greene’s Energy Group LLC (“Greene’s Energy”) in the Eastern District of Texas in 2012 for infringing this patent, and in turn, Greene’s Energy petitioned the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to institute an IPR on the patent. This petition was granted. After the proceedings, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the administrative body of the USPTO that handles IPRs, concluded the challenged patent claims were invalid. Oil States appealed to the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the decision, and Oil States then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.
This article is first in a series focusing on various issues related to Patent Term Adjustment. Part 1 is a general overview of how to calculate patent term adjustment, without addressing the numerous factors that can affect patent term adjustment that will be examined in future articles.
Why PTA Exists
Under the pre-GATT regime, Patent Term Adjustment (“PTA”) did not exist in the U.S. because patent term was 17 years from issuance. Consequently, any delay during examination, on the part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) or Applicants, was not a concern. In fact, during this time, Applicants were in a way incentivized to, and sometimes would, delay examination to prolong their effective patent term, particularly since at the time publication of applications did not occur until issuance of the patent. However, in 1995 GATT was adopted in an effort to harmonize U.S. patent term with the rest of the world, with patent term in the U.S. now being limited to 20 years from the earliest effective filing date. As a result, any delays during examination would now erode a patent’s period of enforceability, which could cost Applicants millions of dollars or more. Unfortunately, the onus was only on Applicants to avoid delays during examination, resulting in USPTO delays costing Applicants days or years of patent term without any recourse. In an effort remedy this, Congress created PTA.
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) issued Final Written Decisions regarding Cisco’s U.S. Patent Nos. 6,377,577 (the “’577 Patent”) and 7,023,853 (the “’853 Patent”) on May 25, 2017 and U.S. Patent No. 7,224,668 (the “’668 Patent”) on June 1, 2017. The PTAB found the ’577 and ’668 Patents invalid but upheld the validity of the ’853 Patent. The Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) proceedings were brought by Arista Networks in retaliation to Cisco’s accusations of infringement brought in multiple venues, including at the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”), which had just a few weeks earlier upheld the validity of these very same patents and determined that Arista infringed the ’577 and ’668 Patents, and issued exclusion and cease and desist orders accordingly. Since the IPR decisions issued Arista has filed a petition asking the ITC to suspend its limited exclusion order regarding the ’577 Patent based on the PTAB’s decision and is expected to file a similar request with respect to the ’668 Patent. On the other side, Cisco plans to appeal the PTAB’s decisions to the Federal Circuit. The uncertainty created by these inconsistent outcomes is an issue for patent owners, and it will be interesting to see how these cases are resolved. In addition, this case shows that even though the ITC does not stay its investigations for IPRs, IPRs may still impact ITC proceedings.
In a unanimous decision issued on June 12, 2017, the Supreme Court for the first time interpreted key provisions of the 2010 Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (“BPCIA”). See Sandoz Inc. v. Amgen Inc., No. 15-1195 (U.S. June 12, 2017). The Court’s decision grants more flexibility to biosimilar companies and filers of abbreviated Biologics License Applications (“aBLAs”), holding that (1) a reference product sponsor is not entitled to injunctive relief under federal law for an applicant’s refusal to provide a copy of its aBLA and manufacturing information during the information exchange period contemplated by the BPCIA, and (2) an applicant may provide statutory 180-day pre-launch notice of commercial marketing before its proposed biosimilar product is licensed by FDA. An overview of the parties’ oral arguments before the Court on these issues can be found here.
A flurry of activity from various courts this past week on “exceptional cases” under Section 285 of the Patent Act provided notable guidance for practitioners and patent owners, with a particular emphasis on the motivation and conduct of the litigants. We provide a short synopsis of these cases.
By way of context, in 2014, the Supreme Court in Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1749 (2014), instructed courts to apply a totality of the circumstances test when evaluating whether a case is “exceptional” under 35 U.S.C. § 285. If a case is found to be exceptional within the meaning of the statute, monetary sanctions and fee-shifting may be imposed. This totality of the circumstances analysis was a substantial departure from the previous Federal Circuit tests, which were uniformly viewed as more rigid. Some of the factors the Supreme Court suggested district courts could consider included “frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness (both in the factual and legal components of the case) and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.” Our previous discussion of exceptional cases under Section 285 can be found here.
In keeping with recent erosion of patent rights, patent owners’ power to control the post-sale use and sale of their patented products was severely limited this week by the U.S. Supreme Court in the highly anticipated case regarding the patent exhaustion doctrine, Lexmark Int’l, Inc. v. Impression Prods., Inc., No. 15-1189.
As we reported earlier here and here, the Federal Circuit previously provided patent owners with some power to control their patented products—even after an authorized sale. Specifically, the Federal Circuit held, in an en banc decision, that a patent owner’s patent rights are not exhausted if a patented product is sold with a clearly communicated restriction and that an authorized foreign sale of a product does not exhaust the patent owner’s U.S. patent rights to exclude associated with that product.
A recent decision in the Northern District of Illinois gave life to the inevitable disclosure doctrine under the Defend Trade Secrets Act. Inevitable disclosure is a common law doctrine by which a court can prevent a former employee from working for a competitor of his or her former employer where doing so would require the employee to depend upon his or her former employer’s trade secret information. See, e.g., PepsiCo, Inc. v. Redmond, 54 F.3d 1262 (7th Cir. 1995). To date, some commentators have suggested that the inevitable disclosure doctrine is not available under the DTSA because of language in the statute indicating that any injunction granted under the statute to prevent trade secret misappropriation may not “prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship,” and that any conditions placed on employment must be based on “evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows.” The Northern District of Illinois’s decision in Molon Motor and Coil Corp. v. Nidec Motor Corp., No. 16 C 03545 (N.D. Ill. May 11, 2017), however, suggests that the inevitable disclosure doctrine may continue to be useful for trade secret plaintiffs asserting claims under the DTSA.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC on May 22, 2017, a patent infringement case that has garnered national attention for its implications on venue. This case originated with a motion to transfer an action filed in the District of Delaware to the Southern District of Indiana, where the Defendant accused of patent infringement is headquartered. However, the national attention has focused on the possibility that a significant amount of other patent litigation may now shift to the District of Delaware. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari at the end of last year and heard oral arguments in March to address the question of “where proper venue lies for a patent infringement lawsuit brought against a domestic corporation.” The Court has now provided a response to this key question, although a few issues still remain.
On May 10, 2017 and following a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) reexamination decision upholding certain claims, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in Cisco Systems, Inc. v. Cirrex Systems, LLC that all of the appealed claims of a fiber optic patent held by Cirrex are invalid for lack of a written description support required by 35 U.S.C. § 112. The panel applied its own construction of a key claim term requiring that a recited functional limitation take place in a specific location which the specification failed to describe.