Last month, following a jury verdict in federal district court in Delaware awarding Plaintiff Idenix Pharmaceuticals LLC $2.54 billion in damages—“the largest damages verdict ever returned in a patent [infringement] trial”—Chief Judge Leonard Stark denied Idenix’s motion for enhanced damages. Idenix Pharm. LLC v. Gilead Scis., Inc., No. 14-CV-00846, at *2, 15 (D. Del. Sept. 22, 2017). Chief Judge Stark determined that even though the jury concluded that Defendant Gilead Sciences, Inc. willfully infringed Idenix’s patent directed to novel treatments of the Hepatitis C Virus (“HCV”), the totality of the circumstances did not warrant the award of enhanced damages. He based the denial of the motion on the public health benefit of the accused products and on the amount of the jury award.
The public version of ALJ Shaw’s Initial Determination (ID) in U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation Certain Magnetic Data Storage Tapes and Cartridges Containing the Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-1012 (1012 Investigation), provides important guidance on enforcement of standard-essential patents (SEPs) in the ITC. Respondent and accused infringer Sony argued that several of the patents asserted by patentee Fujifilm wereessential to the LTO-7 standard (relating to “linear tape open” magnetic media) and therefore that Fujifilm had waived its right to injunctive relief and was obligated to license its patents on FRAND terms. ALJ Shaw ultimately found that Sony had not met its burden of demonstrating essentiality, but he nevertheless provided helpful instructions on the quantum of proof necessary to make out such a claim, as well as other factors relevant to ITC enforcement of SEPs, all of which affirmed that the ITC is a viable forum for enforcement of SEPs. In sum he ruled that:
- The party arguing that a patent is essential bears the burden of proof on that point;
- Unless a patent is, in fact, essential to a given standard, there can be no breach of the standard-setting organization (SSO) agreement(s) giving rise to the FRAND obligation at issue;
- Breach of an SSO agreement and of forum selection clauses are not valid defenses in ITC investigations; and
- Respondents bear the burden of proving that a complainant/patentee relinquished its rights to equitable relief by joining the SSO in question.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Aqua Products Inc., v. Matal materially changes the burden of proof associated with the patentability of amended claims during an inter partes review (“IPR”), shifting the burden from the Patent Owner seeking the amendment to the IPR Petitioner opposing it.
Prior to the Aqua decision, if a Patent Owner sought to amend claims during an IPR, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (the “Board”) placed the burden on the Patent Owner to prove that the proposed amended claims were patentable. When Patent Owner Aqua attempted to amend its claims during an IPR challenge to its U.S. Patent No. 8,273,183, the Board found that Aqua had not met its burden and denied Aqua’s motion to amend.
The Federal Circuit yesterday issued an opinion in In re: Smith Int’l, Inc., No. 2016-2303 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 26, 2017) reversing an affirmance by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the rejection of several claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,732,817 being challenged in ex parte reexamination. In so doing, the Court held the Board’s construction of “body” in the ’817 Patent claims to be unreasonable as inconsistent with the specification.
The ’817 Patent concerns a downhole drilling tool for oil and gas operations. In affirming the examiner, the Board found it “perfectly reasonable” to interpret the “body” of the tool as encompassing other components because neither the claims nor the specification explicitly limit the scope of the term. Even though the specification describes the body as separate from other elements, the Board reasoned that it doesn’t expressly define “body” or otherwise preclude the examiner’s interpretation. But according to Smith, the ’817 Patent consistently refers to and depicts the body as a component distinct from other components of the drilling tool – like the “mandrel” or “piston” located inside the drilling tool – and should be interpreted simply as an “outer housing.”
The United States Supreme Court decided earlier this year that a 1957 opinion is still valid and still limits venue choices for patent infringement actions under 28 U.S.C. § 1400. See TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, 581 U.S. ___ (2017) (citing Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 226 (1957)). In its extensively-covered TC Heartland decision issued in May, the Court held that “[a]s applied to domestic corporations, ‘reside[nce]’ in § 1400(b) refers only to the State of incorporation,” where the accused infringer has a “regular and established place of business” in the venue. While framed as merely confirmation of precedent from the 1950s, many practitioners and commentators viewed this decision as a dramatic change in the patent litigation landscape.
Since TC Heartland came down, lower courts have applied the new paradigm in differing ways. As trends have developed in recent months, we thought it useful to provide a sampling of the various approaches to venue issues post-TC Heartland. These issues include, for example, whether defendants who did not contest venue prior to the TC Heartland decision waived the defense of improper venue because the case was—or was not—an “intervening change” in the law, and how to assess whether a defendant has regular and established place of business in a particular venue.
Late last week, the Federal Circuit granted a writ of mandamus in In re Cray, 2017-129 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 21, 2017), overturning Judge Gilstrap’s four-factor test for determining whether a defendant possesses “a regular and established place of business” in a district such that the defendant could be sued for patent infringement in that district. In re Cray provides useful guidance because it is the first time since the Supreme Court’s TC Heartland decision that the Federal Circuit has weighed in on what constitutes a “regular and established place of business.” The patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), provides that venue is proper in a patent infringement lawsuit only where the defendant (1) resides or (2) has “committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.” TC Heartland clarified that a defendant “resides” only in the state in which it is incorporated. It did not address the second prong, however, which is an alternative way of establishing venue. More frequently patent owners are looking to the second prong to determine the locus of an appropriate venue now that the first prong of the statute has been interpreted narrowly.
On August 25, 2017, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issued a precedential opinion in Ex Parte McAward, reaffirming the Patent Office’s use of a lower pre-issuance threshold for indefiniteness distinct from the Supreme Court’s Nautilus standard.
A Tale of Two Standards
Under 35 U.S.C. § 112(b), the specification must conclude with “one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter” regarded as the invention. This definiteness requirement “secure[s] to the patentee all to which he is entitled” and “apprise[s] the public of what is still open to them.” Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 373 (1996).
During examination, the Patent Office applies the broadest reasonable interpretation of a claim and thereafter determines indefiniteness using the In re Packard standard, in which a claim is indefinite when it contains words or phrases whose meaning is unclear. See In re Packard, 751 F.3d 1307, 1310 (Fed. Cir. 2014)(per curium).
After an eight-year battle through the Federal Courts, the fight over attorneys’ fees in Octane Fitness v. ICON Health & Fitness has likely reached its end with the Federal Circuit upholding the hotly disputed $1.6 million award to Defendant Octane Fitness. This case previously made it up to the Supreme Court, which overturned the Federal Circuit’s prior standard for determining exceptional cases under 35 U.S.C. § 285. Following a remand to the District Court applying the new totality-of-the-circumstances test established by the Supreme Court, the parties again appealed to the Federal Circuit.
The decision in U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation Certain Magnetic Data Storage Tapes and Cartridges Containing the Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-1012 (“1012 Investigation”), is still confidential, but the ITC has issued a notice stating that ALJ Shaw has ruled in favor of patentee Fujifilm against Sony and recommended that an exclusion order be issued. This is important because it is the first time the ITC has issued an exclusion order on standard-essential patents (SEPs), and may be the first time any U.S. tribunal has issued exclusionary or injunctive relief on patents which were declared standard essential. In the opinion, which should become public in a few weeks, ALJ Shaw, who presided over the case, is expected to address a number of key issues relating to the assertion of SEPs in general, and at the ITC specifically. In this case many of Sony’s affirmative defenses relate to the alleged essentiality of the asserted patents and the Administrative Law Judge was asked to answer a number of questions relating to SEPs generally and the ability to enforce them at the ITC.
Last week, the Federal Circuit held computer memory system patent claims not abstract and thus patent-eligible under Section 101, reversing a lower court dismissal of the case under Rule 12(b)(6). Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., No. 2016-2254, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 15187 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 15, 2017).
U.S. Patent No. 5,953,740 (“the ‘740 patent”) describes a memory system that can be tailored for use with multiple different processors without reducing performance. Id. at 3. The ‘740 patent explains that when “the [memory] system is turned on, information about the type of processor is used to self-configure the programmable operational characteristics.” Visual Memory, No. 2016-2254, slip op. at 4. “For example, depending on the type of processor, internal cache 16 can store both code and noncode data, or it can store only code data.” Id. at 4. Claim 1 recites the following: