In an application of 2017 U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Impressions Products, Inc. v. Lexmark Intern., Inc., the Northern District California in International Fruit Genetics LLC v. Orcharddepot.com, No. 4:17-cv-02905-JSW, recently denied a motion to dismiss a claim of patent infringement by holding that the patent exhaustion doctrine did not apply to a sale of a patented product that was outside the scope of the license granted by the patent owner. This decision helps inform how licenses may be interpreted post-Impression Products.
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.
The Medicines Company (“MedCo”) appealed findings of no infringement made by the United District Court for the District of Delaware. Hospira cross-appealed the district court’s finding that a distribution agreement did not constitute an invalidating “offer for sale” under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). In a decision rendered by United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on February 6, 2018, the Court affirmed the district court’s non-infringement findings and remanded the case for the district court to determine if the on-sale bar applies.
MedCo asserted two patents, U.S. Patent Nos. 7,582,727 and 7,598,343, covering its Angiomax drug product against Hospira, a generic drug maker who filed Abbreviated New Drug Application (“ANDA”) with the Food and Drug Administration. Although Angiomax has been available for decades, MedCo developed a new method of formulating Angiomax to reduce impurities. This formulation was the subject of the asserted patents, both of which were filed on July 27, 2008. Prior to filing the patents, MedCo entered into a distribution agreement on February 27, 2007 with Integrated Commercialization Solutions, Inc. (“ICS”) to distribute the new Angiomax formulation. The agreement stated that MedCo “desire[d] to sell the Product” to ICS and ICS “desire[d] to purchase and distribute the Product.” Under the agreement, title passed to ICS upon receipt of the Product at the distribution center. The district court concluded that the patents were neither infringed nor invalid. The district court found that the invention was ready for patenting at the time of the agreement, but was not sold or offered for sale before the critical date of July 27, 2008 because the distribution agreement between MedCo and ICS did not constitute an offer to sell. Both parties appealed.
On December 19, 2017, an expanded panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruled that the state of Minnesota waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity to challenges to patent validity by inter partes review (IPR) by filing suit in federal court alleging infringement of the same patent being challenged by IPR. In Ericsson Inc. and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson v. Regents of the University of Minnesota (IPR2017-01186; IPR2017-01197; IPR2017-01200; IPR2017-01213; IPR2017-01214; IPR2017-01219), Petitioner Ericsson Inc. filed IPR petitions against five University of Minnesota patents covering wireless communications technology. In response, the University filed a motion to dismiss, arguing its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity exempted the patents from IPR challenge.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).