Patent News:

Fed. Cir. reverses 101 invalidity on "self referential database" (posted 05/17/16)

On May 12, 2016, in Enfish v. Microsoft Corp., the Fed. Cir. reversed a district court ruling of invalidity under § 101 of a claim directed to a self referential database.

§ 101 eligibility - Key Holdings

  • “We . . . see no reason to conclude that all claims directed to improvements in computer-related technology, including those directed to software, are abstract and necessarily analyzed at the second step of Alice, nor do we believe that Alice so directs.”
  • “[t]he first step in the Alice inquiry . . . asks whether the focus of the claims is on the specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities . . . or, instead, on a process that qualifies as an “abstract idea” for which computers are invoked merely as a tool.”

The Fed. Cir. held that, in finding that Enfish's claims were directed simply to “the concept of organizing information using tabular formats”, the district court oversimplified the self-referential component of the claims and downplayed the invention's benefits. Contrasting the facts of this case with Versata Development Group v. SAP America, the court rejected the argument that the claims are doomed under Alice because the invention can run on a general-purpose computer. For similar reasons, the court rejected the idea that because the improvement is not defined by reference to “physical” components, the claims are invalid under Alice, refusing to resurrect the bright-line machine-or-transformation test of Bilski.

Benefits of the Invention: The court, in several places and in particular in oral arguments expounded on the benefits the invention brings to the art. Stated the court: “Moreover, our conclusion that the claims are directed to an improvement of an existing technology is bolstered by the specification's teachings that the claimed invention achieves other benefits over conventional databases, such as increased flexibility, faster search times, and smaller memory requirements. [. . .] In finding that the claims were directed simply to 'the concept of organizing information using tabular formats,' . . . the district court oversimplified the self-referential component of the claims and downplayed the invention's benefits.”

The opinion refers to a large extent to points made in oral arguments:

§ 112 definiteness

The court rejected Microsoft's argument that the means-plus-function element in claim 17 is indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, finding that the district court's 4-step algorithm sufficiently identified a structure for a person of skill in the art to implement the function of “configuring said memory according to a logical table.”

Stated the court:

  • “The fact that this algorithm relies, in part, on techniques known to a person of skill in the art does not render the composite algorithm insufficient under § 112 ¶ 6. Indeed, this is entirely consistent with the fact that the sufficiency of the structure is viewed through the lens of a person of skill in the art and without need to 'disclose structures well known in the art,' 1).

Oral Arguments on validity of last-day filed continuation applications (posted 05/09/16)

In Immersion Corp. v. HTC Corp, a federal circuit panel heard oral arguments on whether a continuation application filed on the same day that its parent application is granted satisfies the “before” requirement in the statute.

Laches question still unsettled (updated 05/03/16)

Supreme Court grants petition

On May 2, 2016, the S.Ct. granted a petition in SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC. to address the question: “whether and to what extent the defense of laches may bar a claim for patent infringement. . . .”

At the Federal Circuit

In an en banc majority opinion authored by Chief Judge Prost, the Federal Circuit, in SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, found that § 282 defenses provision of Title 35 includes laches (even though it is not mentioned) and that case law (pre-dating the Supreme Court's decision last year in Patrella) shows that laches is a defense to legal liability and hence a defense to patent infringement for prior damages, in contravention of the plain meaning of Patrella in view of § 286. Confused? Read on . . .

Background

In this case has an interesting background:

  • On October 31, 2003, patent holder SCA notifies defendant First Quality of infringement of Patent 6,375,646.
  • On November 21, 2003, First Quality informs SCA that it thinks SCA's patent is invalid because it is anticipated by prior patent 5,415,649, and therefore it is not infringing
  • On July 7, 2004, SCA requests reexamination of the '646 patent in light of the '649 patent. SCA does not notify or communicate with First Quality regarding the reexamination or otherwise, after the initial exchange.
  • On March 27, 2007, the PTO confirmed patentability of all 28 original claims and issued several other claims SCA added during reexamination.
  • On August 2, 2010 – over three years after reexamination concluded and nearly seven years since the original communication – SCA filed a complaint alleging First Quality of infringing the '646 patent.
  • The district court granted First Quality's summary judgment motion on latches and equitable estoppel.
  • SCA appealed and in an earlier panel decision, the summary judgment was affirmed the district court's analysis.
  • SCA filed a petition for rehearing en banc, posing the following questions:
    1. In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 2), should A.C. Aukerman Co. v. R.L. Chaides Constr. Co. 3), be overruled so that the defense to latches is not applicable to bar a claim for damages based on patent infringement occurring within the six-year damages limitation period established by 35 U.S.C. § 286?
    2. In light of the fact that there is no statute of limitations for claims of patent infringement and in view of Supreme Court precedent, should the defense of latches be available under some circumstances to bar an entire infringement suit for either damages or injunctive relief?

Status Quo

35 U.S.C. 286 Time limitation on damages:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no recovery shall be had for any infringement committed more than six years prior to the filing of the complaint or counterclaim for infringement in the action.

In the case of claims against the United States Government. . . .

The majority opinion discussed judicial history of laches and equitable estoppel vis-à-vis the precedent set by Aukerman. Stated the court: ”Aukerman was motivated by preserving the distinction between laches – which bars only pre-suit damages – and equitable estoppel – which bars the entire suit. Estoppel, which does not necessarily involve delay in bringing the suit, requires 'statements or conduct of the patentee which must communicate in a misleading way that the accused infringer will not be disturbed by the plaintiff patentee in the activities in which the former is currently engaged“ (internal quotes and citations removed).

The court explained that although Auckerman controlled the operation of laches in patent cases for over two decades, the recent Petrella decision in the Supreme Court upset the status quo by holding that laches was not a defense to legal relief in copyright law. Petrella calls portions of Aukerman's reasoning into question, necessitating this en banc reconsideration. Specifically, In Petrella, the Supreme Court reasoned that the copyright statute of limitations itself takes account of delay, crowding out the judiciary's power to decide whether a suit is timely. Therefore, the Supreme Court found, “laches is a defense developed by courts of equity; its principal application was, and remains, to claims of an equitable cast for which the Legislature has provided no fixed time limitations.”

Holdings

The en banc opinion held that, under Petrella, Section 286 acts as a prescription by Congress of a time period for recovery of damages. Characterizing Section 286 as a statute of limitations or a limitation on damages is not dispositive or a relevant consideration. Because patent infringement is a continuous tort, there is no relevant functional difference between a damages limitation and a statute of limitations. However, the majority opinion held that, based on a “sufficiently reliable source on the meaning of § 282,” the defenses provision, that that section uses inclusive language, and hence includes within it codification of laches as a statutory defense to patent infringement. This is consistent with prior interpretations of § 282.

The question remained:

If laches as codified in § 282 is a defense only against only equitable relief, Petrella prohibits judicial application of laches to bar legal damages. If, however, laches as codified operates as a defense to both legal and equitable relief, patent law's statutory scheme–like the Lanham Act . . . – does not implicate Patrella. In that case § 286 obligates us to apply laches as a defense to a legal relief, notwithstanding § 286's time limitation on the recovery of damages.

Based on tenuous at best logic, the court further held, ”[i]n sum, the case law strongly supports the availability of laches to bar legal relief. In applying laches to ongoing relief, the court held awarding ongoing relief requires that the court act within its equitable discretion, which, according to eBay must be exercised consistent with traditional principles of equity. This means following the four-fact test laid out in eBay.

Dissent

In a dissent-in-part authored by Judge Hughs, joined by Moore, Wallace, Taranto, and Chen, Judge Hughes writes:

In Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., the Supreme Court emphasized that it had never approved the use of laches to bar a claim for legal damages brought within a statutory limitations period. The majority reasons that Petrealla is not controlling here because Congress specifically incorporated laches as a defense to legal damages into the Patent Act of 1952. But the majority has no sound basis for finding that Congress intended to displace the uniform limitations period in § 286 with the case-specific doctrine of laches. The majority's key logic – that Congress adopted the view of some lower courts that laches could bar legal relief in patent cases – requires us to presume that Congress ignored the Supreme Court. For in 1952, the Supreme Court had already recognized the common-law principle that laches cannot bar a claim for legal damages. I know of no precedent for inferring a congressional departure from a common-law principle recognized by the highest court based solely on aberrational lower-court decisions.

S.Ct. hears oral arguments on broadest reasonable interpretation standard stands (updated 04/25/16)

At the Supreme Court

  • Questions Presented
    1. whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that PTAB can use BRI claim construction standard rather than plain and ordinary meaning, and
    2. whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that the PTAB's decision to institute an IPR proceeding is judicially reviewable.

Oral Arguments

On April 25, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments.

Opinion below: Federal Circuit

In a 6-5 decision, In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC., the full Federal Circuit denied en banc review of its prior panel decision to let stand broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) claim construction by the BPAI during inter partes review. Judge Dyk, joined by Lourie, Chen, and Hughes, authored a concurring opinion finding (1) the PTO has applied BRI standard in proceedings for more than a century, and (2) the AIA does not indicate congressional intent to change the prevailing BRI standard.

Judge Prost, joined by Newman, Moore, O'Malley, and Reyna, dissented, arguing that IPR is a new, court-like proceeding designed to adjudicate validity of issued patent claims and in such proceeidngs claims are given their actual meaning, not BRI. According to Prost, the AIA “is a new statutory regime” and Congress' silence as to the proper claim construction standard does not suggest congressional intent one way or the other on this new proceeding.

Newman wrote a separate dissent, highlighting the outlier nature of the majority opinion, noting that “[a]ll of the amici curiae criticize the panel majority position and urge en banc attention to this “matter of exceptional importance.” Separately she argues that “the legislative purpose [of the AIA] fails if the PTO applies different law than is applied in the courts” and again lists from her panel dissent the reasons BRI is improper in AIA proceedings.

Delaware rejects Alice arguments (posted 04/15/16)

In a pair of cases, the U.S. District court for Delaware rejected defendant's arguments that patent claims pertaining to network technologies were invalid under Alice.

SRI's claim 1 of U.S. Patent 6,711,615:
1. A computer-automated method of hierarchical event monitoring and analysis within an enterprise network comprising:

deploying a plurality of network monitors in the enterprise network;

detecting, by the network monitors, suspicious network activity based on analysis of network traffic data selected from one or more of the following categories: {network packet data transfer commands, network packet data transfer errors, network packet data volume, network connection requests, network connection denials, error codes included in a network packet, network connection acknowledgements, and network packets indicative of well-known network-service protocols};

generating, by the monitors, reports of said suspicious activity; and

automatically receiving and integrating the reports of suspicious activity, by one or more hierarchical monitors.

Network Congestion claim 1 of U.S. Patent 6,826,620:
1. A method for alleviating congestion in a communication network, the communication network enabling the flow of data to and from a plurality of end user devices that are connected to the network through a plurality of communication devices, the method comprising the steps of:

monitoring data flows to and from the plurality of end user devices for indications of congestion; and

controlling the data rate of at least one end user device in response to said congestion indications.

In SRI International, Inc. v. Cisco Systems Inc., the Delaware district court held that a patent claiming automated monitoring of a network. Quoting DDR 4), Judge Robinson held, “the claims (informed by the specification) must describe a problem and solution rooted in computer technology, and the solution must be (1) specific enough to preclude the risk of pre-emption, and (2) innovative enough to 'override the routine and conventional' use of the computer.” Judge Robinson rejected Cisco's argument that the claims are directed to the abstract idea “of monitoring and analyzing data from multiple sources to detect broader patterns of suspicious activity,” holding instead that:

“That Cisco can simplify the invention enough to find a human counterpart (or argue that a human could somehow perform the steps of the method) does not suffice to make the concept abstract as '[a]t some level “all inventions . . . embody, use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas” [quoting Alice quoting Mayo].' [. . .] The claims at bar are, therefore, more complex than 'merely recit[ing] the performance of some business practice known from the pre-Internet world along with the requirement to perform it on the Internet,' and are better understood as being 'necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks'” (quoting DDR).

In Network Congestion Solutions, LLC v. United States Cellular Corp (combined with Network Congestion Solutions, LLC v. WideOpenWest Finance, LLC) Judge Robinson again turned to DDR Holdings for guidance, but noted that, ”[s]ince providing that explanation, the Federal Circuit has not preserved the validity of any other computer-implemented invention under § 101“ and specifically called out Intellectual Ventures 5). Judge Robinson quoted paragraph from Intellectual Ventures in which the Fed. Cir. distinguished that case from DDR, which concluded: “The patent claims [in Intellectual Ventures] do not address problems unique to the Internet, so DDR has no applicability.”

Judge Robinson rejected Defendants' characterization of the claim as directed to the abstract idea of “resource control management, namely managing resource flow by monitoring the usage of a resource, and then controlling that usage based on that monitoring” which defendants analogized to resource management by a TSA worker at an airport checkpoint or factory line supervisor of widgets down a production assembly line. Stated the court:

“The claims address the problem of 'network congestion' in a defined environment, which includes end user devices and communication devices. Although defendants argue that the environment and devices are well known in the prior art and cannot provide an inventive concept, the claim as a whole (the equipment recited and steps claimed) provides the requisite degree of specificity. Moreover, the claims are directed to a solution for a problem that arises in the computer context. This specificity also suffices to alleviate concerns of pre-emption.”

Fed. Cir. reverses PTAB invalidity finding (posted 04/07/16)

In Cutsforth v. MotivePower, the Fed. Cir. reversed PTAB's invalidity finding, looking specifically at two limitations that the BPAI construed unreasonably broadly in its determination that the claims were anticipated by two separate references.

"projection"

The Fed. Cir. first addressed the claim limitation, “a brush release exte4nding from the mounting block . . . said brush release is a projection extending from the mounting block.” The Board rejected Cutsforth's proposed construction “a structure that protrudes outwardly from the mounting block” as not supported by the specification and contended that the phrase is not limited only to projections extending outwardly from the mounting block. The Federal Circuit held that, while claims are given their broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) in IPR proceedings, claim interpretation “must be reasonable in light of the claims and specification” (quoting PPC Broadband Inc. v. Corning Optical Commc'ns RF, LLC (Fed. Cir. Feb. 22, 2016). Held the court: “The Board's interpretation of 'a projection extending from the mounting block' far exceeds the scope of its plain meaning and is not justified by the specification. We hold that the Board's interpretation, which encompasses a structure that recedes into themounting block rather than jutting out from it, is unreasonable.”

"coupled to"

The Federal Circuit also addressed a second limitation reciting, “a brush catch coupled to the beam.” The BPAI held despite this limitation, the “brush catch” may be a sub-component of the “beam” and still be considered to be “coupled to the beam.” The Federal Circuit again sided with Cutsforth's argument that the claim requires a “bursh catch” to be a physical structure that is separate from, and not a sub-component of, the claimed, “beam.” It goes beyond the plain meaning of “coupled” to say that a sub-component (e.g., an engine in a car) is “coupled to” the component as a whole (e.g., the car).

Inventorship presumed correct

In Meng and Hor v. Chu, the Federal Circuit held that ”[b]ecause issued patents are presumed to correctly name their inventors, the burden of proving nonjoinder of inventors is a 'heavy one,' which must be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.“ Quoting Symantec Corp. v. Computer Assoc s. Int'l, Inc., 6) the court added ”[a]n alleged co-inventor's testimony, standing alone, cannot rise to the level of clear and convincing evidence; he must supply evidence to corroborate his testimony“ In this case, collaborators Meng and Hor failed to adequately corroborate allegations that they contributed more than that of a person of ordinary skill to the idea of completely substituting Gadolinium for Yttrium in developing high temperature superconducting material and should therefore be added as inventors to U.S. Patents 7,709,418 and 7,056,866.

1) Biomedino, 490 F.3d at 952
2) 134 S.Ct. 1962 (2014)
3) 960 F.2d 1020 (Fed. Cir. 1992)
4) DDR, 773 F.3d at 1257
5) 792 F.3d 1363
6) 522 F.3d 1279, 1295 (Fed. Cir. 2008)
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