Once-in-a-generation patent reform was introduced in our country about five years ago. Similar to many major initiatives, it may have reaped a few unintended consequences as well. Andrei Iancu, current nominee for USPTO Director, has written about one of these consequences that affects certain procedures at the Patent Office. Among his many other writings, he also has written substantively concerning the patentability of software. This post examines Mr. Iancu’s writings on both topics, and offers some thoughts on how his thinking could affect future patent cases.
THE SUBSTANTIVE: WHEN SHOULD SOFTWARE BE PATENTABLE?
There is not and never has been a bright line rule on the patentability of software-based systems. Rather, patentability depends on the nature of the problem the system solves and the extent of the improvements over existing technology present in the solution.
Although most cases addressing the software issue begin by citing the 2014 Alice case by the Supreme Court, Mr. Iancu was Continue reading →
Having been sworn in as the Forty-Fifth president of the United States, Donald Trump will now appoint individuals who will leave their fingerprints on the intellectual property landscape. Although it might not happen overnight, at some point in 2017 the President is expected to appoint a Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and a new Supreme Court justice to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia. These are at least two of the significant appointments by President Trump related to intellectual property.
The USPTO Director sets the tone for hiring and promoting administrative judges, examiners, and supervisors – individuals who, collectively, exercise great power with respect to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. Also, the Director serves as the principal advisor to the President on domestic and international intellectual property policy matters.
Undoubtedly, the criteria for USPTO Director candidates will revolve around jobs. The President has expressed the need for strengthening U.S. patents worldwide and preventing misappropriation of intellectual property as substantial factors in protecting jobs in this country. Candidates who do not go to sleep at night thinking about Continue reading →
Steve Hall, an experienced patent lawyer and litigator, and member of Wyatt’s Intellectual Property Protection & Litigation Service Team, was recently quoted in the February 2016 issue of The Lane Report. The article, “Many Options to Protect Intellectual Property,” draws upon the knowledge of local experts in the field and describes various ways to ensure a company’s intellectual property is protected.
On December 18, Congress adjourned for the year without enacting any new patent legislation. This is despite the fact that late in 2014, members of Congress stated that patent reform was a priority for the 114th Congress, and particularly for 2015. Many commentators believed that significant patent reform was likely for 2015. This appeared to be the case as, in 2014, new patent legislation had made it out of the House of Representatives but was ultimately killed in the Senate. Then, at various times throughout 2015, at least 4 bills, (1) The Innovation Act (H.R. 9) (the one previously killed in the Senate in 2014); (2) The TROL Act (H.R. 2045); (3) the STRONG Patents Act (S. 632); and (4) the PATENT Act (S. 1137), were introduced in either the House or Senate dealing with some aspect of patent reform. However, no law has gone into effect and it now appears that the momentum for patent reform that was prevalent early in 2015 has subsided and there are questions as to whether patent reform will even take place in 2016.
The last major patent reform happened in 2011 with the America Invents Act. However, prior to that, there had been over 50 years since any substantive patent reform. With the Supreme Court continuing to take more patent cases and the continued presence of non-practicing entities, a.k.a. “trolls,” it will be interesting to see whether patent reform will be at the top of Congress’ priorities in 2016, as it appeared to be at the beginning of 2015.
Steve Hall, member of Wyatt’s Intellectual Property Protection & Litigation Service Team, will be speaking at the Defense Research Institute‘s (DRI) Intellectual Property Seminar on the topic “Using the AIA’s First to File Rule and the Written Description Requirement to Invalidate Patents” on May 6, 2016 in Nashville. Mr. Hall’s presentation will teach attendees how to use the “written description” requirement, along with recent amendments to the Patent Act, to challenge a patent’s validity in a way that was not available to defendants before 2013, when the First-to-Invent features of the America Invents Act went into effect.
Rarely has such a short word or phrase influenced patent claims to such a degree as the phrase, “means for.” This phrase sits at the intersection of function (what an invention accomplishes) and structure (the materials for accomplishing it). 35 U.S.C. § 112, para. 6 is the basis for its use in patent claims:
An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specific function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.1
With this provision, Congress created a balance by permitting patentees the option to claim inventions with functional language, which tends to require fewer words. But in exchange for brevity in the claims, the specification must Continue reading →
Just over a year ago, on April 29, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two landmark patent opinions—Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc.1and Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. System, Inc.2Both cases dealt with the Federal Circuit’s application of 35 U.S.C. § 285, which permits courts to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in “exceptional” patent cases. Prior to these decisions, the Federal Circuit made “exceptional case” determinations under a fairly specific standard, finding an “exceptional case” only if it involved “material inappropriate conduct” or was both “objectively baseless” and “brought in subjective bad faith.” Further, to establish the “exceptional” nature of the case, the parties were required to produce clear and convincing evidence—and the Federal Circuit reviewed a lower court’s award of attorney’s fees de novo. In Octane Fitness and Highmark, however, the Supreme Court drastically changed these standards. As a result of these changes, many believed that a grant of attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 would be much easier to attain.
As an initial matter, in Octane Fitness, the Court rejected the Federal Circuit’s “overly rigid” formula for exceptionality findings. According to the Court, the formula “superimposes an inflexible framework onto statutory text that is inherently flexible.” The Court instead held that Continue reading →
A recent opinion by a Federal Circuit panel demonstrates that three years can be a long time in the smartphone industry. MobileMedia Ideas, LLCv. Apple, Inc. targeted Apple’s iPhone products and determined, for now at least, the fate of claims in two patents owned by MobileMedia, a non-practicing holding company partially owned by Nokia and Sony. (Fed. Cir. 2014-1060, 2014-1091.) Rulings on two separate patents hinged on whether a skilled artisan would have been motivated to combine multiple references.
The determination of obviousness is a legal question based on juror fact findings. In the case at hand, two references in combination taught Continue reading →
Could a case on the boxing classic Raging Bull lead to a patent litigation prizefight of sorts? In an en banc hearing ordered on December 30, 2014, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court with special jurisdiction over patents and trademarks, will decide whether the Supreme Court’s essential elimination of a litigation defense involving copyright cases should also apply in patent cases.
The defense in question is the doctrine of laches. Laches is an equitable defense that bars recovery when a party claims it has been legally injured, but unreasonably delays pursuing any legal action in a way that prejudices the opposing party. The defense has been asserted in many kinds of cases, including contract, tort, copyright, and patent cases.
A Supreme Court case involving a copyright and the laches defense, Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1962 (2014), has triggered a ripple effect that may reach into patent law. In that case, Paula Petrella, daughter of the co-author of the screenplay that evolved into Raging Bull, alleged copyright infringement against MGM. MGM countered that Petrella delayed too long in bringing the action, as she had renewed the copyright in 1991 and first threatened suit in 1998. However, the Supreme Court rejected MGM’s position and held that Continue reading →
This is the third and final post of a three-part series on written description requirements and the developing case law under the America Invents Act (AIA).
“Genus”: a class, kind, or group marked by a common characteristic(s)
“Species”: a logical subdivision of a genus marked by a specific attribute
Taxonomy (classifying things according to genus and species) also has a parallel in patent law. A patentee may use narrow species claims to distinguish against prior art, while at the same time seeking the broadest possible “right to exclude” with a genus claim(s). But there are trade-offs. First, the Patent Office can reject a broad genus claim if only one member of the genus was known in the art. Second, the patentee must provide a level of description proportional to the scope of the claim. In litigation, defendants accused of Continue reading →