Archive for the ‘intervening rights’ Category

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.

 

More Inter Partes Patent Reviews Filed on the PTAB PRPS

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

As of 01:00 on September 27, the number of petitions for covered business method (CBM) patent reviews remained at 6, but five more petitions for inter partes reviews (IPRs) were filed, making a total of 17 IPRs.  The total number of pending potential trials is now at 23 (actual trials have not be instituted yet, as these are still preliminary proceedings and the Board must decide whether they meet the requisite standard).

The most recent filings were by Sony (IPR2012-00033), Nissan North America (IPR2012-00037 and IPR2012-00035), and Synopsys, Inc. (IPR2012-00042 and IPR2012-00041).

Some of these recent filings are petitions for review of relatively few claims.  In certain matters grounds for unpatentability under 35 US.C. § 102 are made, with backstop arguments under 35 US.C. § 103.  In some such cases, the obviousness rejections are not supported by declaration evidence, so the Petitioner must feel fairly confident in the scope of the cited prior art.  When few claims are presented for review, more detailed assertions of prior art can be made in the 60 page maximum for the petition.  See IPR2012-00035 for one such example.  Of course, it is too early to tell if the Board will institute an inter partes review using such an approach and whether the Petitioner’s approach will be ultimately sucessful.  But time will tell, unless such matters settle before proceedings go further.

En Banc Decision in Marine Polymer v. HemCon: Amended or New Claims are Candidates for Possible Intervening Rights

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

In my earlier post, I summarized the panel opinion in Marine Polymer Technologies, Inc. v. Hemcon, Inc.  On September 26, 2011, a panel of the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, concluding that HemCon had acquired intervening rights in the ‘245 patent based on actions taken in a reexamination proceeding.   That opinion was vacated and Marine Polymer’s petition for rehearing en banc was granted on January 20, 2012.  In a divided decision, the Federal Circuit en banc affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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Marine Polymer Technologies v. HemCon, Inc. and Intervening Rights

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Marine Polymer Technologies, Inc. v. HemCon, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2011) is a widely reported case that raises some questions about the scope of the application of intervening rights.  It involves a matter where the literal language of a claim was not amended, yet absolute intervening rights were still found to apply to the accused infringer.  Marine Polymer owns U.S. Pat. No. 6,864,245 (the ’245 patent), which claims a polymer p-GlcNAc that accelerates hemostasis (the process which causes bleeding to stop) and is useful in trauma units for treating serious wounds.  Marine Polymer sued HemCon, alleging that HemCon infringed claims 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 17, and 20 of the ’245 patent.  (more…)

Federal Circuit Decision in In re Tanaka

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

You might recall that we discussed the BPAI decision in In re Yasuhito Tanaka in an earlier post.  On April 15, the Federal Circuit reversed the BPAI decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings in accordance with the opinion.  The Federal Circuit held  that a patent owner that retains original patent claims and adds new narrower claims in a reissue application does indeed present a type of error correctable by reissue under 35 U.S.C. § 251.   (more…)