Archive for the ‘Federal Circuit’ Category

Supreme Court’s Stryker/Halo Decision Makes it Easier for Courts to Award Enhanced Damages In Patent Infringement Cases

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

The recent Supreme Court decisions in the Stryker and Halo cases just made it easier for courts to award enhanced damages in patent infringement cases, discarding Seagate’s “objective recklessness” test.

The Seagate Test

In 2007, the Federal Circuit announced a test for enhanced damages whereby a plaintiff seeking enhanced damages had to show that the infringement of his patent was “willful.”  In re Seagate Technology, LLC,  497 F. 3d, 1360, 1371.  The Federal Circuit set forth a two-part test to establish such willfulness: First, “a patentee must show by clear and convincing evidence that the infringer acted despite an objectively high likelihood that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent,” without regard to “[t]he state of mind of the accused infringer.” Id., at 1371. This objectively defined risk is to be“determined by the record developed in the infringement proceedings.” Ibid. “Objective recklessness will not be found” at this first step if the accused infringer, during the infringement proceedings, “raised a ‘substantial question’ as to the validity or noninfringement of the patent.” That bar applied even if the defendant was unaware of the arguable defense when he acted.

Second, after establishing objective recklessness, a patentee had to show by clear and convincing evidence the risk of infringement “was either known or so obvious that it should have been known to the accused infringer.” Seagate, 497 F. 3d, at 1371. Only when both steps were satisfied could the district court proceed to consider whether to exercise its discretion to award enhanced damages. Ibid. 

Stryker / Halo Decisions Restore Courts’ Discretion to Award Enhanced Damages

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Stryker and Halo cases discarded the Seagate test and restored courts’ discretion to award enhanced damages.  The Court held “[t]he Seagate test is not consistent with §284.”  The relevant language of § 284 contains “no explicit limit or condition on when enhanced damages are appropriate, and this Court has emphasized that the “word ‘may’ clearly connotes discretion.”  So the Court found no explicit requirement for Seagate’s “objective recklessness” test.

The Court also found Seagate unnecessarily required a finding of “objective recklessness” even when wrongdoing was demonstrated by the facts of a case.  The Court also disagreed with Seagate’s requirement of a “clear and convincing evidence” standard for showing recklessness, and held that the proper standard for enhanced damages was a “preponderance of the evidence” — the same standard as for patent infringement determinations.

The Court explained that its decision did not contradict § 298, that failure to present advice to the court may not be used to prove willful infringement:

Section 298 provides that “[t]he failure of an infringer to obtain the advice of counsel” or “the failure of the infringer to present such adviceto the court or jury, may not be used to prove that the accused infringer willfully infringed.” 35 U.S.C. § 298. Respondents contend that the reference to willfulness reflects an endorsement of Seagate’s willfulness test. But willfulness has always been a part of patent law, before and after Seagate. Section 298 does not show that Congress ratified Seagate’s particular conception of willfulness. Rather, it simply addressed the fallout from the Federal Circuit’s opinion in Underwater Devices Inc. v. Morrison-Knudsen Co., 717 F. 2d 1380 (1983), which had imposed an “affirmative duty” to obtain advice of counsel prior to initiating any possible infringing activity, id., at 1389–1390. See, e.g., H. R. Rep. No. 112–98, pt. 1, p. 53 (2011).

Consequently, nine years after Seagate, the Supreme Court has made it easier for courts to make a determination of enhanced damages.  Time will tell if this decision will spur additional patent opinion practice, such as prior to the 2007 Seagate decision.

PTAB Relies on the Federal Circuit’s Recent § 101 Decision to Deny CBM Institution

Monday, June 6th, 2016

On May 12, 2016, the Federal Circuit issued a decision on 101 patent eligibility  that overturned a summary judgment finding of § 101 invalidity for software used for databases.  Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 2015-1244, 2016 WL 2756266 (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2016).  The Enfish v. Microsoft decision interpreted the “abstract idea” first prong of patent eligibility under the Mayo/Alice line of cases.  It reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement based on § 101, finding that the data storage and retrieval system for a computer memory recited by five claims on appeal of U.S. Pat. No. 6,151,604 were patent-eligible.

Two weeks later, in a CBM review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied institution on the reviewed claims of U.S. Pat. No. 6,006,227 on § 101, referencing Enfish v. Microsoft.  Apple v. Mirror World Technologies, CBM2016-00019, Paper 12, May 26, 2016.  Mirror World’s ‘227 patent covers a “Document Stream Operating System,” as represented by claim 13:

13. A method which organizes each data unit received by or generated by a computer system, comprising the steps of:

generating a main stream of data units and at least one substream, the main stream for receiving each data unit received by or generated by the computer system, and each substream for containing data units only from the main stream;

receiving data units from other computer systems;

generating data units in the computer system;

selecting a timestamp to identify each data unit;

associating each data unit with at least one chronological indicator having the respective timestamp;

including each data unit according to the timestamp in the respective chronological indicator in at least the main stream; and

maintaining at least the main stream and the substreams as persistent streams.

The Board determined that the ‘227 was a covered business method patent eligible for review under AIA § 18, but that the claims do not recite an abstract idea.  The Board based its decision on a number of reasons, including:

  • Patent Owner demonstrated that the claims recite a solution to a problem that is “necessarily rooted in computer technology,”
  • Patent Owner identified a number of problems solved by the claimed invention that did not exist in the pre-computer world, and
  • The Board was persuaded by Patent Owner’s assertion that the claims cannot be performed entirely by the human mind or with pen or paper, and that certain steps of the claims specifically call for operations that must be performed by a computer.

The Board then relied on this excerpt from Enfish:

We do not read Alice to broadly hold that all improvements in computer-related technology are inherently abstract and, therefore, must be considered at step two. Indeed, some improvements in computer-related technology when appropriately claimed are undoubtedly not abstract, such as a chip architecture, an LED display, and the like. Nor do we think that claims directed to software, as opposed to hardware, are inherently abstract and therefore only properly analyzed at the second step of the Alice analysis. Software can make non-abstract improvements to computer technology just as hardware improvements can, and sometimes the improvements can be accomplished through either route. We thus 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. Therefore, we find it relevant to ask whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea, even at the first step of the Alice analysis.

Decision at p. 16 citing Enfish v. Microsoft at *4,  (emphasis added).

The Board concluded that the first prong of the Mayo/Alice test was not met.  The Board also went on to find that the second prong of the Mayo/Alice test was not met, noting DDR Holdings.  Consequently, the Board issued its order denying CBMR.

As noted in earlier posts, the Board has been known to rapidly adopt decisions from the courts, and this case demonstrates the velocity at which decisions are integrated into practice before the Board.

Federal Circuit Employs Phillips Claim Construction to Measure Claims Amended in Reexamination for Possible Intervening Rights

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

When patent owners sue an accused infringer for patent infringement, one way for the accused infringer to avoid liability is to show noninfringement of the patent claims.  But if the claims are extremely broad, the accused infringer may find it difficult to prove noninfringement and instead may have to rely on a showing of invalidity to avoid liability.  However, a showing of invalidity requires clear and convincing evidence, which is a high standard.  Enter post-grant proceedings, which provide the petitioner (or “requester,” when employing reexamination) a lower evidence standard for patent challenges.

Should the patent be subject to review under post-grant proceedings, the patent owner will likely want to avoid amendment if possible, because amendment that results in substantive changes to the claimed invention can trigger intervening rights, which may provide some reduction of infringement liability for the accused infringer should the claim be substantively narrowed in the post-grant proceeding.  Stakeholders want to know how to determine substantive amendment, triggering intervening rights.  For example, is substantive amendment to be measured by the claim construction standard typically used in the post-grant proceeding (currently “broadest reasonable interpretation,” but pending review by the Supreme Court in Cuozzo), or the claim construction standard used in district court (Phillips)?  The Federal Circuit recently addressed this question when considering amendments made in reexamination for using the Phillips standard in Convolve, Inc. v. Compaq Computer Corp. (Fed. Cir., 2014-1732, Feb. 10, 2016).

Convolve sued Compaq and others in 2000 for infringement of its U.S. Patent No. 6,314,473 relating to minimization of vibrations of a disk drive for quieter operation.  Convolve’s patent ultimately was reexamined and in 2008 certain words were added to the claims during the reexamination.  The court considered whether the amended claims were substantively identical to decide if intervening rights would apply:

“A patentee of a patent that survives reexamination is only entitled to infringement damages for the time period between the date of issuance of the original claims and the date of the reexamined claims if the original and the reexamined claims are ‘substantially identical.’” R & L Carriers, Inc. v. Qualcomm, Inc., [ ]. “[I]t is the scope of the claim that must be identical, not that identical words must be used.” Slimfold Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Kinkead Indus., Inc., [ ]. As a result, amendments made during reexamination do not necessarily compel a conclusion that the scope of the claims has been substantively changed. [ ] This is true even where the claims at issue were amended during reexamination after a rejection based on prior art. Laitram Corp. v. NEC Corp., [ ] Rather, “[t]o determine whether a claim change is substantive it is necessary to analyze the claims of the original and the reexamined patents in light of the particular facts, including the prior art, the prosecution history, other claims, and any other pertinent information.” Laitram[ ].

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit employed a Phillips standard when reviewing the claim amendments:

In determining the scope of the claims, we apply the traditional claim construction principles of Phillips v. AWH Corp.,[ ] (en banc), paying particular attention to the “examiner’s focus in allowing the claims” after amendment. R & L Carriers [ ]; see also Laitram Corp. v. NEC Corp., [ ] (When an amendment is made during the reexamination proceedings to overcome a prior art rejection, that is a “highly influential piece of prosecution history.”).

In one example, the original claims recited “acoustic noise,” but were amended in reexamination to “seek acoustic noise.”  The issue that the Federal Circuit considered is whether this narrowing was a substantive amendment for purposes of its intervening rights analysis.  It could have been deemed the amendment to have been a substantive change, because other types of motor noises could have been ruled out by the amendment, but instead the court considered:

  • the specification, which focused on the seek process and the noise it generates;
  • the claims, which relate “acoustic noise” to the seek time and seek process; and
  • the original prosecution history of the patent, where the patent owner argued that the reason for the amendment.

It concluded:

On their face, the original claims recite only “acoustic noise,” which could encompass any manner of acoustic noise, including that generated from the spindle. But when read in conjunction with the remaining claim limitations and in light of the specification and prosecution history, a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claims to be limited to seek acoustic noise.

Consequently, the Federal Circuit decided the claim amendments resulted in substantively identical claims before and after amendment, and therefore intervening rights do not apply:

In sum, we conclude that the addition of the term “seek” before “acoustic noise” did not alter the scope of the claim.  [] Here, the language of the claims, read in light of the specification and prosecution history, especially the applicant’s 2001 remarks and amendment, compel a conclusion that the claims as originally drafted were limited to seek acoustic noise despite the lack of an express recitation in the claims.

The Federal Circuit reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement based on the lower court’s determination that liability was precluded by intervening rights.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the claim scope prior to the amendment would have been interpreted to be the same as the scope after amendment using a Phillips construction based on the specification, claims, and prosecution history.  Had the court instead relied upon the broadest reasonable interpretation from reexamination as its gauge, the claims would presumably have been deemed substantively different and the district court summary judgment would have been affirmed.  Convolve allows patent owners an opportunity to avoid intervening rights when amended claims would obtain the same Phillips claim construction as the claims prior to amendment.

 

Patent Trends to Watch in 2016

Friday, January 29th, 2016

2016 is starting off with a bang!  A number of interesting new developments have occurred as we enter into this new year:

AIA 2015 Stats

 

So we will monitor practices by the courts, the PTAB, stakeholders, and patent practitioners to observe the effects and interplay of these decisions and actions over the course of the year.  In particular, it will be interesting to see how the Board and the courts handle claim construction issues knowing that BRI may be revised by the Supreme Court.  Also of great interest is how parallel patent infringement trials will be impacted by the PTAB proceedings on the underlying patents.

 

Federal Circuit Interprets Board’s Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard – Part II

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

In Microsoft Corp. v. ProxyConn, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, Intervenor (Fed. Cir. cases 2014-1542 and -1543), the Federal Circuit reversed claim constructions made by the Board in the underlying IPRs.  One of the claim constructions that was reversed related to the interpretation of components of a packet-switched network.  In particular, the claims recite a gateway that is “connected to the packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers pass through [the gateway],” as stated in claim 6 of U.S. Patent No. 6,757,717:

6. A system for data access in a packet-switched network, comprising:

a gateway including an operating unit, a memory and a processor connected to said packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers pass through it;

a caching computer connected to said gateway through a fast local network, wherein said caching computer includes an operating unit, a first memory, a permanent storage memory and a processor;

said caching computer further including a network cache memory in its permanent storage memory, means for a digital digest and means for comparison between a digital digest on data in its network cache memory and a digital digest received from said packet-switched network through said gateway.

The Federal Circuit referenced Figure 11 of the patent to show one embodiment where the caching computer is connected to the gateway, and the gateway is connected to receiver and sender computers:

FIG 11

The interpretive issue is whether the “two other computers,” could be any two computers, including the caching computer recited in claim 6 immediately after the gateway.  This interpretation is important because the asserted prior art arguably included a gateway connected to at least one other computer and the caching computer, but not a gateway connected to receiver and sender computers and a caching computer.  Microsoft argued for the broader interpretation, which included the caching computer as potentially one of the two connected computers.  But ProxyConn argued for the narrower interpretation that the “two other computers” referred only to the sender and receiver computers.  The Board adopted the  broader interpretation, and decided the prior art rendered such claims unpatentable.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s construction, first by analyzing the claim language:

The Board erred in concluding that the “two other computers” could include the caching computer.  Beginning with the language of the claims, claim 6 recites a system comprising a gateway, a caching computer, and “two other computers.”  ’717 patent col. 10 l. 54–col. 11 l. 12. Not only are the “two other computers” recited independently from, and in addition to, the gateway and caching computers, the word “other” denotes a further level of distinction between those two computers and the specific gateway and caching computers recited separately in the claim.

Then the Federal Circuit turned to the specification:

The specification confirms that the phrase “two other computers” is limited to the sender/receiver and computer/receiver.  Other than in claim 6 itself, the phrase “two other computers” is used three times in the specification, each time as part of the embodiment containing the gateway and caching computer intermediaries.  [cites omitted]  And in each instance where it is used, the phrase “two other computers” describes components that are separate and distinct from the gateway and the caching computer.  [ ]

For example, the specification states: “Gateway 60 is connected to a wide-area packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers 42 and 46 pass through the gateway 60.  The caching computer 62 uses a part of its permanent storage memory for network cache memory 66.”  [cites omitted] (emphases added).  As shown in referenced Figure 11, the “two other computers 42 and 46” in this passage are the sender/computer and receiver/computer, respectively.  Read together with labeled Figure 11, this portion of the specification makes clear that the gateway, the caching computer, and the “two other computers” are each separate and distinct components of the overall system.  The Board’s construction, which expands the “two other computers 42 and 46” to include the separately identified caching computer, is unreasonably broad in light of the language of the claims and specification.

The Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s findings of unpatentability of claims 6, 7, and 9, and remanded “for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Some takeaways from this portion of the appellate decision are:

  • The Federal Circuit supports the PTO’s adoption of the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) standard for IPRs, consistent with Cuozzo.
  • It will actively provide guidance on what constitutes a proper BRI for IPRs.
  • A BRI determination may be guided by analysis of the claim language and the patent specification, including the drawings.

We will explore more about the claim constructions and decision on the Patent Owner’s motion to amend in future posts.

Federal Circuit Interprets Board’s Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard – Part I

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

We know from the Federal Circuit’s decision in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, that the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) standard applies in IPRs, but in a recent appeal decision, the Federal Circuit has announced limits to the application of BRI.

Microsoft had filed two separate IPR petitions challenging certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,757,717, which were later joined.  The Board ultimately found all but one of the challenged claims unpatentable as being either anticipated or obvious.  The Board also denied Proxycomm’s motion to amend its claims, concluding it hadn’t established the patentability of its claims.  Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., IPR2012-00026 and IPR2013-00109.

On June 16, 2015, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s constructions, and thereby vacated and remanded its determinations of unpatentability of certain claims, but upheld its decision to deny Proxyconn’s motion to amend.  Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee,  Intervenor (Fed. Cir. cases 2014-1542 and -1453).  

Some of the interesting points of the Federal Circuit’s decision are:

  • The Federal Circuit followed its earlier decision in Teva Pharmaceuticals USA v. Sandoz, Inc., to review the Board’s ultimate claim constructions de novo and its underlying factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence for substantial evidence.  The Court stated that to the extent the Board relied on extrinsic evidence to construe the claims, it “need not consider the Board’s findings on that evidence because the intrinsic record is clear.”  (Id. at p. 6.)
  • The Federal Circuit clarified that even though BRI was properly adopted by PTO regulation in Cuozzo, that does not allow the Board to “construe claims during IPR so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.”
    • It cited In re Skvorecz and In re Suitco Surface, Inc. to clarify that BRI cannot result in an unfettered or legally incorrect interpretation. (Id. at p. 6.)
    • The Court also advised that “[t]he PTO should also consult the patent’s prosecution history in proceedings in which the patent has been brought back to the agency for a second review,” citing Tempo Lighting Inc. v. Tivoli LLC, In re NTP, Inc. and Suitco.  (Id. at p. 7.)

The Federal Circuit then proceeded to analyze the Board’s claim constructions and decision denying Proxyconn’s motion to amend.  These will be covered in future posts.

In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies: Federal Circuit Affirms Board Finding of Unpatentability in First IPR

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

The Federal Circuit affirmed the final determination of the Board in the first inter partes review under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA).   Garmin petitioned for IPR of claims 10, 14 and 17 of U.S. Patent No. 6,778,074 owned by Cuozzo Speed Technologies.  The Board found these claims obvious and denied Cuozzo’s motion to amend the ’074 patent by substituting new claims 21, 22, and 23 for issued claims 10, 14, and 17.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s final determination of obviousness, upheld the Board’s application of the broadest reasonable interpretation standard (BRI), and the Board’s denial of Cuozzo’s motion to amend.

One irony of this case is that Cuozzo challenges the Board’s adoption of BRI as an interpretive standard, yet Cuozzo asserts a construction of the phrase “integrally attached” that is broader than the definition adopted by the Board in the IPR:

Claim 10 includes the following limitation: “a speedometer integrally attached to said colored display.” ’074 patent col. 7 l. 10. Cuozzo argues that the board improper-ly construed the phrase “integrally attached.” The Board construed “integrally attached” as meaning “discrete parts physically joined together as a unit without each part losing its own separate identity.” J.A. 9. Cuozzo contends that the correct construction of “integrally attached” should be broader—“joined or combined to work as a complete unit.” Appellant’s Br. 33. Before the Board, Cuozzo stated that its construction would cover “a display that both functionally and structurally integrates the speedometer and the colored display, such that there only is a single display.” J.A. 10. Cuozzo argues that the Board’s claim construction improperly excludes a single-LCD embodiment of the invention wherein the speedometer and the speed limit indicator are on the same LCD.

Some may be confused by a patent owner who complains of the USPTO’s use of a broader interpretative standard, but simultaneously asserts a broader construction than the USPTO for a phrase.  Cuozzo needed the broader interpretation to argue that its amended claims should have been entered by the Board.   Cuozzo’s amended claims were directed to a particular embodiment of the invention employing a speedometer and speed limit indicator on the same LCD; however, the Board’s interpretation of “integrally attached” excluded that particular embodiment.  The Board relied on its claim construction to deny Cuozzo’s amended claims and the Federal Circuit upheld the Board’s narrower claim construction:

We see no error in the Board’s interpretation. The word “attached” must be given some meaning. As the Board explained, it would “be illogical to regard one unit as being ‘attached’ to itself.” J.A. 9. The specification further supports the Board’s construction that the speedometer and the speed limit are independent—it repeatedly refers to a speed limit indicator independent of any speedometer and states that “the present invention essen-tially comprises a speed limit indicator comprising a speed limit display and an attached speedometer.” ’074 patent col. 2 ll. 52–54. The Board did not err in its claim construction.

The majority opinion (filed by Judge Dyk, and joined by Judge Clevenger) and the dissent (by Judge Newman) reach several additional post-grant topics, which will be discussed in future posts.

Federal Circuit Dismisses Appeals by Petitioners Who Were Denied Inter Partes Reviews

Friday, April 25th, 2014

The Federal Circuit issued two orders on April 24, 2014 dismissing appeals by petitioners in proceedings where the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied institution of inter partes review (IPR).  Each appeal is summarized as follows:

St. Jude Medical, Cardiology Div. v. Volcano Corp. & Michelle K. Lee (as Deputy Director) – Appeal of Denial of IPR Petition

St. Jude brought suit against Volcano for patent infringement of five patents in 2010.  St. Jude Med., Cardiology Div., Inc. v. Volcano Corp., No. 10-cv- 631 (D. Del. filed July 27, 2010).  Volcano counterclaimed alleging patent infringement of its U.S. Pat. 7,134,994 in September of 2010.  More than two years later, the district court dismissed all claims relating to the ‘994 patent (based on stipulations by the parties).

About a half year after the district court dismissal, St. Jude filed a petition for IPR of the ‘994 patent.  IPR2013-00109.  But that petition was dismissed by the Board (acting as a delegee of the Director) based on the one-year bar for IPR petitions.  35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  In a case of first impression, the Board determined that a counterclaim alleging infringement of a patent asserted over a year before the filing of the IPR petition triggered the 315(b) bar.  St. Jude appealed the Board’s decision not to institute IPR to the Federal Circuit.  Volcano and the PTO Director moved to dismiss St. Jude’s Federal Circuit appeal.

The Federal Circuit dismissed St. Jude’s appeal, holding that it may not hear appeals from the Director’s denial of petition for inter partes review.  In making its decision, the Court applied 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) and explained that an appeal to the Federal Circuit of a decision on IPR lacks jurisdiction unless the Board institutes trial:

Chapter 31 authorizes appeals to this court only from “the final written decision of the [Board] under section 318(a).” Id. § 319. Likewise, section 141(c) in relevant part authorizes appeal only by “a party to an inter partes review . . . who is dissatisfied with the final written decision of the [Board] under section 318(a).” Id. § 141(c). What St. Jude now challenges, however, is the Director’s non-institution decision under section 314(a) & (b). That is not a “final written decision” of the Board under section 318(a), and the statutory provisions addressing inter partes review contain no authorization to appeal a noninstitution decision to this court.  . . .

The statute thus establishes a two-step procedure for inter partes review: the Director’s decision whether to institute a proceeding, followed (if the proceeding is instituted) by the Board’s conduct of the proceeding and decision with respect to patentability.  . . . The statute provides for an appeal to this court only of the Board’s decision at the second step, not the Director’s decision at the first step.

The Federal Circuit’s position on direct appeals from the Director’s decision whether to institute an inter partes review is summarized in the next paragraph:

In fact, the statute goes beyond merely omitting, and underscoring through its structure the omission of, a right to appeal the non-institution decision. It contains a broadly worded bar on appeal. Under the title, “No Appeal,” Section 314(d) declares that “[t]he determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.” Id. § 314(d). That declaration may well preclude all review by any route, which we need not decide. It certainly bars an appeal of the non-institution decision here.

The Court’s holding in St. Jude Medical was also used to dismiss the next appeal which requested mandamus relief:

In re Dominion Dealer Solutions, LLC. – Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the USPTO

Dominion Dealer Solutions filed several IPR petitions to challenge the patentability of several patents owned by AutoAlert, Inc.  IPR2013-00220, -00222, -00223, -00224 and -00225.  The Board denied institution of trial for five of the IPR petitions.  Dominion filed requests for rehearing, but they were also denied by the Board.  Dominion then filed an action in the Eastern District of Virginia to challenge the Board’s decision under the Administrative Procedures Act (see my earlier post).  Dominion also filed a “Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the Director” with the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit denied the petition for mandamus.  In denying Dominion’s appeal, the Federal Circuit referenced the St. Jude Medical decision made that same day:

In another Order issued today, we dismiss an appeal by a patent challenger seeking review of the Director’s decision not to institute an inter partes review. See Order Dismissing Appeal, St. Jude Med., Cardiology Div., Inc. v. Volcano Corp., No. 2014-1183 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 24, 2014). We explain that such a challenger may not appeal the non-institution decision to this court. We conclude that such an appeal is precluded by the statutory provisions addressing inter partes review, including section 314(d)’s broad declaration that the Director’s decision “whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable,” and by our jurisdictional statute. See St. Jude, slip op. at 5-6.

Those conclusions require denial of Dominion’s petition for mandamus relief. At a minimum, given our conclusions about the statutory scheme, Dominion has no “clear and indisputable” right to challenge a noninstitution decision directly in this court, including by way of mandamus. That is all we need to decide.

The Court noted Dominion’s appeal in the Eastern District of Virginia, and its dismissal on April 18, 2014, but concluded “[w]e need not decide that issue here.”

_______

These decisions remind petitioners that they should take every reasonable measure to obtain institution of trial, because appeals of Board decisions denying institution of trial will not easily survive a motion for dismissal in light of the holding in St. Jude Medical. It will be interesting to see whether Dominion will decide to appeal the district court’s dismissal of its APA challenge now that the Federal Circuit has rejected mandamus relief under the St. Jude Medical holding.

Eastern District of Texas Denies SAP’s Motion to Vacate the Judgment in the Versata Patent Infringement Case

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

SAP recently learned that the Eastern District of Texas denied its motion to set aside or stay a district court judgment in favor of Versata for infringement of its U.S. Pat. 6,553,350 (Versata Software, Inc v. SAP America, Inc., No. 2:07-cv-00153 (E.D. Tex)).  On April 20, 2014, Judge Roy S. Payne dismissed SAP’s motion despite its successful patentability challenge of Versata’s ‘350 patent last year in the PTAB.  Could SAP’s win in the first covered business method patent review be too late to rid itself of the judgment?

History of the Patent Infringement Suit and PTAB CBM Proceeding

The patent infringement suit by Versata started when it sued SAP for alleged infringement of its U.S. Patent Nos. 6,553,350 and 5,878,400 in 2007 (Versata Software, Inc v. SAP America, Inc., No. 2:07-cv-00153 (E.D. Tex)).

A first jury trial was held in 2009, and a second jury trial was held in 2011.  In the first trial, the jury found both patents directly infringed and inducement of infringement of one claim of the ’350 patent.  Shortly after the first trial, the Court granted JMOL of noninfringement of the ’400 patent.  A second trial was held on the ’350 patent and a jury found the ’350 patent infringed, resulting in a $392 million judgment and an injunction dated September 9, 2011 (stayed pending appeal).

SAP filed its petition for covered business method patent review on the first day it was available via the AIA:  September 16, 2012.  The petition included grounds for challenging the ’350 patent under 35 USC §§ 101, 112, and 102.  This was the the first covered business method patent review under the America Invents Act (CBM2012-000001).

About a month later, SAP filed a notice of appeal of the district court decision in the Federal Circuit (filed on October 11, 2011).  Briefing was completed some months later, and oral arguments were held on February 4, 2013.  About a month before the oral arguments (January 9, 2013), the PTAB instituted trial on the challenges under 35 USC §§ 101 and 102, but declined review on the challenges under 35 USC § 112.  So as of January, 2013, the dispute was being pursued both in the Federal Circuit and in the PTAB.

Based on a series of communications between the parties and the PTAB, SAP agreed to drop its challenge under 35 USC § 102 in exchange for an expedited trial on its challenges under 35 USC § 101.  The PTAB trial was held on April 17, 2013, where both parties presented their arguments concerning 35 USC § 101.

On May 1, 2013, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court jury decision on infringement and damages awards and vacated part of the trial court’s permanent injunction and remanded for further proceedings based on the opinion.

In June of 2013, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decided that Versata’s U.S. Pat. 6,553,350 was unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

After the Patent Office decided that the claims challenged in the related covered business method patent review were unpatentable, SAP motioned for a stay of proceedings in the Federal Circuit.  In a simple, one page document, the Federal Circuit denied that motion for stay on July 5, 2013 without providing further comment or opinion.  The Supreme Court denied certiorari of SAP’s petition on January 21, 2014.

Current Stay Motion

A “Motion of SAP America, Inc. and SAP AG For Relief From Judgment Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) or 60(b) Or For A Stay” was filed on January 21, 2014, and renewed on March 27, 2014 in the E.D. Tex. action.  Judge Payne’s denial of the stay observed:

The Court finds that all four of these [stay] factors counsel against a stay in this case. There are no remaining issues in this case to simplify. The trial has been held and the appeal is completed. A stay would clearly unduly prejudice the nonmoving party and provide a clear tactical advantage for the moving party. Moreover, a stay would not reduce the burden of litigation on the parties or the Court. Finally, the fact that the Federal Circuit has already denied Defendants’ request for a stay pending completion of the PTAB proceedings weighs heavily against Defendants’ request. Accordingly, the request for a stay is DENIED.

Judge Payne also denied the request to vacate under Rule 60(b):

Defendants have taken advantage of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the validity of the patent before this Court, before the jury, and before the Federal Circuit, even pursuing a writ to the United States Supreme Court. To hold that later proceedings before the PTAB can render nugatory that entire process, and the time and effort of all of the judges and jurors who have evaluated the evidence and arguments would do a great disservice to the Seventh Amendment and the entire procedure put in place under Article III of the Constitution. The proceedings before the PTAB are not even final at this time, but this Court does not believe that later finality will change this calculus. Indeed, it is the finality of the judgments issued by the Federal Courts that is at stake here. Unlike the situation before the Court in Fresenius USA, Inc. v. Baxter Intern., Inc., 721 F.3d 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2013), the judgment in this case is final and there are no further issues to be resolved. That fact also clearly distinguishes this case from that before the Fifth Circuit in Bros. Inc. v. W. E. Grace Mfg. Co., 320 F.2d 594 (5th Cir. 1963).

Thus, Judge Payne distinguished the present matter from the Baxter case at least in part because the Baxter judgment was not final.  Apparently, the court is of the opinion that once certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court the district court judgement became final.  It will be interesting to see SAP’s response to this decision in the upcoming months.

Divided Federal Circuit Panel Finds Computer System Claims Not Patent-Eligible

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Posted:  September 8, 2013

On September 5, 2013, the Federal Circuit affirmed a District court holding that a computer system claim was not patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  In Accenture Global Servs., GmbH v. Guidewire Software, Inc., a divided panel affirmed a District of Delaware decision finding system claims 1-7 of U.S. Patent 7,013,284 not patent-eligible on summary judgment.  (Accenture Global Servs., GmbH v. Guidewire Software, Inc., 800 F. Supp. 2d 613, 621-22 (D.Del. 2011).)  Judge Lourie authored the majority opinion of the panel (Judges Lourie, Reyna, and Rader), and Judge Rader filed a dissenting opinion.

District Court Action Results in Summary Judgment of Invalidity Based on 35 U.S.C. § 101

Accenture sued Guidewire for infringement of the ‘284 patent in late 2007.  In 2011, the District court found claims 1-22 of the ‘284 patent invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on summary judgment.  The District court decided the summary judgment motion after the Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decisions in In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943 (Fed. Cir. 2008)(en banc) aff’d on other grounds sub nom. Bilski v. Kappos, 560 U.S. ____, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010).

Federal Circuit Appeal

Accenture appealed the District court determination only as to claims 1–7, directed to a system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, but did not appeal similar method claims 8–22.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the District court in a 2:1 split panel decision by leveraging the finding of patent ineligibility of method claims 8-22 that were not appealed:

We conclude that the district court’s decision on patent-ineligibility of the system claims must also be affirmed, both because the system claims offer no meaningful limitations beyond the method claims that have been held patent-ineligible and because, when considered on their own, under Mayo and our plurality opinion in CLS Bank, they fail to pass muster. Although the issue of the patent eligibility of the method claims is not before us, as it has not been appealed, it is plain to us that, as the district court held, those claims are ineligible for patent.

Because the ’284 patent’s method claims have been found to be patent ineligible, we first compare the substantive limitations of the method claim and the system claim to see if the system claim offers a “meaningful limitation” to the abstract method claim, which has already been adjudicated to be patent-ineligible. CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1291. Under this analysis, we compare the two claims to determine what limitations overlap, then identify the system claim’s additional limitations. Essentially, we must determine whether the system claim offers meaningful limitations “beyond generally linking ‘the use of the [method] to a particular technological environment.’” Id. (quoting Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3230).

According to the majority, one must consider if the method claims are similar enough to the apparatus claims to warrant a conclusion that the apparatus claims are equally not patent-eligible.

More about the ‘284 Patent

The ‘284 patent claims describe a computer system and method for handling insurance-related tasks.  The Federal Circuit decision summarized the claims as follows:

Claim 1 is a claim to a system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization. The system stores information on insurance transactions in a database. Upon the occurrence of an event, the system determines what tasks need to be accomplished for that transaction and assigns those tasks to various authorized individuals to complete them. In order to accomplish this, the claimed system includes an insurance transaction database, a task library database, a client component for accessing the insurance transaction database, and a server component that interacts with the software components and controls an event processor, which watches for events and sends alerts to a task engine that determines the next tasks to be completed.

Claim 8 claims a method for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization. The method takes an insurance transaction and applies rules to that transaction to determine tasks to be completed. These tasks are made accessible to authorized individuals who then complete the task.

The text of claim 1 and claim 8 are provided for comparison:

1.  A system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, the system comprising:

an insurance transaction database for storing information related to an insurance transaction, the insurance transaction database comprising a claim folder containing the information related to the insurance transaction decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format;

a task library database for storing rules for determining tasks to be completed upon an occurrence of an event;

a client component in communication with the insurance transaction database configured for providing information relating to the insurance transaction, said client component enabling access by an assigned claim handler to a plurality of tasks that achieve an insurance related goal upon completion; and

a server component in communication with the client component, the transaction database and the task library database, the server component including an event processor, a task engine and a task assistant;

wherein the event processor is triggered by application events associated with a change in the information, and sends an event trigger to the task engine; wherein in response to the event trigger, the task engine identifies rules in the task library database associated with the event and applies the information to the identified rules to determine the tasks to be completed, and populates on a task assistant the determined tasks to be completed, wherein the task assistant transmits the determined tasks to the client component.

Claim 8 reads as follows:

8.  An automated method for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, the method comprising:

transmitting information related to an insurance transaction;

determining characteristics of the information related to the insurance transaction;

applying the characteristics of the information related to the insurance transaction to rules to determine a task to be completed, wherein an event processor interacts with an insurance transaction database containing information related to an insurance transaction decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format;

transmitting the determined task to a task assistant accessible by an assigned claim handler, wherein said client component displays the determined task;

allowing an authorized user to edit and perform the determined task and to update the information related to the insurance transaction in accordance with the determined task;

storing the updated information related to the insurance transaction; and

generating a historical record of the completed task.

Federal Circuit Majority Compares Apparatus Claims to Method Claims

The majority compared the method and system claims of the ‘284 patent:

It is not disputed by the parties that the ’284 patent’s system claim 1 includes virtually the same limitations and many of the same software components as the patentineligible method claims. Both claims are for “generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization.” . . .  Both the claimed system and the claimed method contain an insurance transaction database containing information relating to an insurance transaction “decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format.” . . . Additionally, claim 1 and claim 8 both contain: a client component, . . . a task assistant, . . . and an event processor, . . . . The system claims are simply the method claims implemented on a system for performing the method.

Accenture only points to system claim 1’s inclusion of an insurance claim folder, a task library database, a server component, and a task engine in attempting to show that the system claim is meaningfully different from the ’284 patent’s method claims. However, these software components are all present in the method claims, albeit without a specific reference to those components by name. (underlining added)

The majority decision further determined that the ‘284 patent does not distinguish the system and method claims:

Indeed, even the specification of the ’284 patent makes little distinction between the system and method claims. The patent describes the invention as “[a] computer program . . . for developing component based software capable of handling insurance-related tasks.” Id. col. 3 ll. 23–25. The patent then discloses detailed software descriptions of the various software components without differentiating between the system or method claims. Further, although the patent’s Figure 1 shows a schematic diagram of the invention, one that includes computer hardware, the schematic’s hardware is merely composed of generic computer components that would be present in any general purpose computer. . . .  The patent thus discloses that the representative hardware for the ’284 patent is a generic computer. In fact, other than the preamble to claim 1 stating that it is a system claim, the limitations of system claim 1 recite no specific hardware that differentiates it from method claim 8. Indeed, in this case “[t]he system claims are [akin] to stating the abstract idea [of the method claim] . . . and adding the words: ‘apply it’ on a computer.” CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1291 (plurality opinion) (citing Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1294).

Because the system claim and method claim contain only “minor differences in terminology [but] require performance of the same basic process,” id. at 1291, they should rise or fall together. Accenture only cited four additional limitations in system claim 1, and we have already indicated why those limitations do not meaningfully distinguish the abstract idea over the patent ineligible method claim. While it is not always true that related system claims are patent-ineligible because similar method claims are, when they exist in the same patent and are shown to contain insignificant meaningful limitations, the conclusion of ineligibility is inescapable. Thus, like the unappealed method claims, the system claims of the ’284 patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Federal Circuit Majority Reviews the System Claims “On Their Own”

The majority decision included a separate section to analyze the claims on their own, stating that the system claims are ineligible for patenting because they fail to include limitations that set them apart from the abstract idea of handling insurance-related information.  The majoried identified this “abstract idea” of the claim:

The abstract idea at the heart of system claim 1 of the ’284 patent is “generating tasks [based on] rules . . . to be completed upon the occurrence of an event.” ’284 patent col. 107 ll. 25, 38–39. Although not as broad as the district court’s abstract idea of organizing data, it is nonetheless an abstract concept. Having identified the abstract idea of the claim, we proceed with a preemption analysis to determine whether “additional substantive limitations . . . narrow, confine, or otherwise tie down the claim so that, in practical terms, it does not cover the full abstract idea itself.” CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1282 (citing Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1300; Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3231; Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. at 187); see also Ultramercial, 2013 WL 3111303, at *8 (“[T]he relevant inquiry is whether a claim, as a whole, includes meaningful limitations restricting it to an application, rather than merely an abstract idea.” (citing Prometheus, 132 S. Ct. at 1297)).

The majority decided that Accenture’s position (that the claim is limited by being applied in a computer environment and within the insurance industry) was not sufficient to adequately “narrow, confine, or otherwise tie down the claim,” citing Bilski, Diamond v. Diehr, and Parker v. Flook. The decision noted that the specification was complex, but deemed the claims to recite only “generalized software components arranged to implement an abstract concept on a computer.”

Federal Circuit Majority Compares the ‘284 Patent Claims to the Ultramercial Claims

The majority differentiated claim 1 of the ‘284 patent from the claims in the Ultramercial patent (which were found to be patent-eligible by the Federal Circuit panel only recently) by finding that claim 1 is more abstract than the claims upheld in Ultramercial.  Furthermore, the majority found that the instant case raise different procedural issues than the Ultramercial case, because in Ultramercial the claims had not been interpreted and were the subject of dismissal on a 12(b)(6) preanswer motion to dismiss.

Judge Rader Dissents

Judge Rader’s dissent made the following points:

  • Judge Rader cited his decision in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 2010-1544, 2013 WL 3111303 at *8 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2013) for the proposition that (1) any claim can be simplified to an abstract idea if stripped of its concrete and tangible limitations, and (2) it is not proper for a court to go hunting for abstractions by ignoring claimed concrete and tangible limitations.
  • He disagreed with the majority’s characterization and use of CLS Bank, stating: “[N]o part of CLS Bank, including the plurality opinion, carries the weight of precedent. The court’s focus should be on Supreme Court precedent and precedent from this court.”
  • He disagreed with the majority’s position that Accenture’s failure to appeal the finding of invalidity of the method claims estopped it from arguing that the elements therein are directed to patent-eligible subject matter.
  • He countered the logic set forth by the majority that the invalidity of the method claims urged similar invalidity of system claims by citing an excerpt from the CLS Bank decision.  That excerpt stated that just because one or more method claims was invalid under § 101, that does not dictate that all associated system claims must be likewise invalid.
  • Judge Rader would have held that the specific combination of computer components rendered the claim patent-eligible under § 101.

The dissent recalled an earlier quote by the Court prior to grant of en banc review of CLS Bank:  “[N]o one understands what makes an idea abstract.”  Judge Rader finished by reiterating his view that the statute should be consulted, which offers broad categories of patent-eligible subject matter.

Observations

It seems that the Federal Circuit could not be more divided on the subject of patent eligibility than it is today.  As long as the basics of patent-eligibility remain uncertain parties will have less knowledge about the strength of their patents and will expend a lot of resources posturing and briefing on these issues.  That will impact the resources of the courts.  Regardless of your position on patents and patent-eligibility, I think we all agree that what is needed is a patent system that is as uniform, fair, and predictable as possible.  It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court is going to take this opportunity to again weigh in on patent-eligibility.