The Federal Circuit recently overturned a decision estopping the plaintiff from pursuing its infringement claims in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and clarified the effect of reexamination on equitable estoppel and laches. In John Bean Technologies Corporation v. Morris & Associates, Inc., the Federal Circuit held that District Court abused its discretion applying equitable estoppel to bar John Bean Technologies Corp.’s (“John Bean”) infringement action without considering the impact of an intervening ex parte reexamination on the claims of the asserted patent.
The Federal Circuit’s decision in Vanda Pharm. Inc. v West-Ward Pharm. Intl. Ltd. (2016-2707, 2016-2708 April 13, 2018) provided some good news on the subject matter eligibility front for innovators and other stakeholders in the personalized medicine space, as discussed in a previous post. So there is some hope for getting issued claims that will withstand a validity challenge under the Mayo/Alice framework. But what about enforcement? How does one prove infringement of claims that require various discreet steps that can, and typically are, performed by separate actors?
On April 16, 2018 in a precedential opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma v. Emcure Pharms., Nos. 2017-1798, -1799, -1800, affirmed the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey by construing the claimed chemical structure diagram to encompass at least the specific enantiomer depicted, refusing to limit the claim to only cover a racemic mixture of the (+) and (–) enantiomers, absent clear indication that the depicted enantiomer should be excluded from the claim.
The Federal Circuit provided a welcome boost for stakeholders in the field of personalized medicine with its recent decision in Vanda Pharm. Inc. v West-Ward Pharm. Intl. Ltd. (2016-2702, 2016-2708 April 13, 2018). Vanda Pharma’s asserted claims relate to a method of treating schizophrenia patients with iloperidone in which the dose is adjusted based upon the patient’s CYP2D6 genotype. The Federal Circuit agreed with the court below that these claims were both directed to patent eligible subject matter and infringed.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in February that it was wrong for a judge to rule that a patent was ineligible under the Alice standard because there were underlying factual disputes that could not be resolved on summary judgement. The case is Berkheimer v. HP Inc., case number 17-1437, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
We thank Gary Gutzler, of AlixPartners, for co-authoring this post.
On January 12, 2018 in Exmark Manufacturing Co. Inc., v. Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group, LLC, the Federal Circuit once again addressed the issue of apportioning damages, an area of the law that continues to evolve. The parties in Exmark are competitors in the commercial lawn mower market. The patent-in-suit related to a lawn mower with an improved “baffle” that more efficiently directed air flow and grass clippings when the mower was operating. At the conclusion of the jury trial, the defendant’s mower was found to infringe and the jury awarded the plaintiff over $24 million in damages. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the method of apportionment utilized by the Plaintiff’s expert, but rejected the expert’s application of that method.
On Monday, November 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in SAS Institute v. Matal.
Whether 35 U.S.C. § 318(a) requires that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) issue a final written decision as to every claim challenged by a petitioner, or does it allow the Board to issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of only some of the patent claims challenged by the petitioner.
On September 14, 2012, ComplementSoft sued SAS in the Northern District of Illinois for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,110,936. On March 29, 2013, SAS filed a petition with the PTAB for inter partes review (IPR) of the ‘936 Patent, challenging patentability of all 16 claims of that patent. The PTAB instituted IPR as to 9 claims (1 and 3-10) of the ‘936 patent and on August 6, 2014 issued a final written decision under 35 U.S.C. § 318(a), holding that claim 4 was not invalid over prior art, whereas claims 1-3 and 5-10 were unpatentable. SAS’ request for rehearing before the Board was denied. On June 10, 2016, the 2-1 divided Panel of the Federal Circuit Rejected SAS’s argument that the Board must address all claims challenged in an IPR petition in its final written decision, and affirmed the PTAB’s decision, except vacated with respect to claim 4. The Panel consisted of Judges Stoll, Chen, and Newman, with Judge Newman dissenting in part. As Judge Stoll stated, there is “no statutory requirement that the Board’s final decision address every claim raised in a petition for inter partes review. Section 318(a) only requires the Board to address claims as to which review was granted.” The Federal Circuit reasoned that 35 U.S.C. § 314 and 35 U.S.C. § 318(a) are different and that § 318(a) “does not foreclose the claim-by-claim approach the Board adopted [in Synopsys] and in this case.” In a dissenting opinion, Judge Newman stated that 35 U.S.C. § 314(a) required USPTO either refuse to institute IPR entirely, or to review all challenged claims when “there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail with respect to at least 1 of the claims challenged in the petition.”
On November 21st, the PTAB issued guidance on motions to amend based on the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Aqua Products, Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017). In view of the Aqua Products decision, the PTAB will not place the burden of persuasion on the patent owner with respect to the patentability of substitute claims presented in a motion to amend. Instead, after the patent owner files a motion to amend, the Board will determine whether the substitute claims are unpatentable by a preponderance of the evidence based on the entirety of the record, including the opposition by the petitioner.
In an interesting development in the post-TC Heartland world, it appears that the Federal Circuit will soon answer the question whether the Supreme Court’s venue decision was a change in the law, or merely a course-correction to honor preexisting law. Here, in a case arising out of the Eastern District of New York, the Federal Circuit ordered AlmondNet, Inc., Datonics, LLC, and Intent IQ, LLC to respond to a petition for a writ of mandamus submitted by Yahoo Holdings, Inc. In its petition, Yahoo argued that the District Court erred in denying its motion to transfer, and specifically that it waived the right to challenge venue on the basis that TC Heartland did not change the law of venue.
In Vecco Instruments Inc. v. SGL Carbon, LLC, No. 17-CV-2217 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2017), Judge Pamela Chen in the Eastern District of New York recently granted Vecco’s motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining SGL Carbon. The requested injunction sought to prevent SGL Carbon’s further actions related to its likely indirect infringement of Vecco’s asserted patents. Notable in this extensive and detailed 76-page decision is the Court’s discussion of how “long-term and second-order” effects of the accused infringer’s actions can satisfy the “irreparable harm” requirement of the preliminary injunction analysis.
Plaintiff Vecco designs, manufactures, and services LEDs, power electronics, hard drives, and other electronic devices. It also owns patents related to metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) reactors, a technology that enables high-volume fabrication of metal-organic semiconductor wafers that can be turned into LEDs. Vecco enjoys a large share of the MOCVD market due, in large part, to a distinctive feature of its MOCVD reactors: a removable wafer carrier, typically made of graphite that is mounted on a spindle centrally positioned within the reactor. Vecco authorized SGL Carbon to manufacture these wafer carriers for Vecco and its customers, but in 2013, SGL Carbon began manufacturing wafer carrier for a new entrant into the MOCVD market. Vecco claims this constituted infringement of its MOCVD patents, and sought a preliminary injunction to stop this activity during the pendency of the patent litigation case.