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.
Earlier this week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) published a new rule governing when privilege exists for communications between clients and their domestic or foreign patent attorneys and patent agents before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”). For context, the originally proposed amendment sought to resolve ambiguity as to when privilege extends to USPTO patent practitioners during PTAB discovery proceedings in light of prior Federal Circuit, District Court and PTAB decisions. The now-published rule codifies the PTAB’s intent to protect communications between patent agents and clients from discovery, stating that:
“communication[s] between a client and a USPTO patent practitioner or a foreign patent practitioner that is reasonably necessary and incident to the scope of the patent practitioner’s authority shall receive the same protections of privilege under Federal law as if that communication were between a client and an attorney authorized to practice in the United States, including all limitations and exceptions[;]”
“USPTO patent practitioners and foreign jurisdiction patent practitioners shall receive the same treatment as attorneys on all issues affecting privilege or waiver, such as communications with employees or assistants of the practitioner and communications between multiple practitioners.”
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.
Following a lengthy and extensive litigation that began in 2011 that culminated in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in December of 2016, smartphone industry titans Apple and Samsung will again find themselves in Federal District Court Judge Lucy Koh’s courtroom on remand to determine appropriate damages for Samsung’s infringement of Apple’s design patents.
US Design Pat. No. 593,087
US Design Pat. No. 604,305
US Design Pat. No. 618,677
As we have written before, Apple originally filed this patent infringement action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 2011, alleging that, in relevant part, Samsung’s smartphones infringed three of Apple’s design patents. Judge Koh presided over the dispute. The jury found infringement of all three design patents, and the district court entered final judgment awarding $399 million attributable to Samsung’s infringement of the design patents. The Federal Circuit upheld the lower court’s judgment on the amount of damages for infringement of the design patents, and Samsung filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court seeking reversal.
In a precedential opinion issued on October 11, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Patent Trial and Appeals Board’s (“PTAB”) finding of non-obviousness where the prior art taught away from some, but not all, of the embodiments covered by the challenged claims. In Owens Corning v. Fast Felt Corp., No. 2016-2613 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 11, 2017), the panel held that the PTAB had applied an unreasonably narrow construction to the exclusion of embodiments that were not taught away from by prior combinations disclosing all of the claim elements.
PTAB’s Improper Claim Construction
Fast Felt owns U.S. Patent No. 8,137,757 (“the ‘757 patent”), which it asserted against Owens Corning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. In turn, Owens Corning petitioned for inter partes review of the claims of ‘757 patent, and the PTAB instituted trial. Owens Corning contended that the challenged claims were rendered obvious by prior art combinations disclosing all elements of the independent claims. However, in its final written decision, the Board determined that Owens Corning failed to provide a motivation to combine and upheld the patentability of the challenged claims. Owens Corning timely appealed.
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 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.
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.
On July 20, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in In re OptumInsight denied OptumInsight’s petition for writ of mandamus on privilege waiver. The court held that the District Court for the Northern District of California did not clearly abuse its discretion in evaluating the proper scope of waiver.
The ‘897 patent reexamination. In June 1994, Symmetry Health Data Systems, Inc. (Symmetry) responded to a request for proposal (RFP) from Aetna Life Insurance Co. and offered to license its healthcare analytics software, Symmetry Episode Treatment Group (ETG) Program, to Aetna. More than a year later, Symmetry filed a patent application that claims and describes the ETG Program. During prosecution, Symmetry did not disclose its RFP response regarding the software license to the patent office. Symmetry’s application eventually issued as U.S. Patent No. 5,835,897.
In a first of its kind decision with important ramifications for patentees, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) denied a petition to suspend or temporarily rescind remedial orders issued in Investigation No. 337-TA-945 pending appeal of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“PTAB”) separate finding that the patent claims at issue are invalid. The ITC has therefore decided to continue to exclude products it found to be infringing certain patents, regardless of the PTAB invalidating the very patents the exclusion order is based upon in separate IPR proceedings. While this decision aiding patentees may surprise some, it is consistent with the ITC’s practices regarding stays and of giving little deference to IPR proceedings.