Articles Posted in Federal Circuit

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Digitech Image Technologies (“Digitech”) asserted U.S. Patent No. 6,128,415, directed to the generation and use of device profiles for digital image processing system against numerous defendants, including Xerox and Fujifilm Corporation. Digitech appealed the district court’s finding on summary judgment that the asserted claims were invalid under 35 U.S.C. §101. Specifically, Digitech argued that the district court erred in finding (1) that the device profile claims are directed to a collection of data that lacks tangible or physical properties and (2) that the asserted method claims encompass an abstract idea not tied to a specific machine or apparatus. The Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court.

The ‘415 patent was aimed at reducing distortion of an image’s color and spatial properties caused by imaging devices (e.g. digital cameras, TVs, printers) due to the fact that such devices differ in the range of colors and spatial information that they utilize. According to the court, independent claims 1 and 26 described a device profile as “a collection of information; specifically, a description of a device dependent transformation of spatial and color information”:

1. A device profile for describing properties of a device in a digital image reproduction system to capture, transform or render an image, said device profile comprising:

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Accused infringers have long relied on the Declaratory Judgment Act (“the Act”) to bring actions against patent owners to clear any cloud over their accused business activities. To that end, the Act has served as a powerful tool. Accused infringers do not even have to wait to be named as a defendant in an infringement lawsuit before bringing their own cause of action, as a plaintiff, for declaratory relief that the patent-at-issue is invalid, unenforceable, or not infringed. The Act, however, requires that the party seeking declaratory relief establish that a “case or controversy” exist from the moment it files its action. Although many courts, including the Supreme Court, have provided guidance as to where to draw the line above which a sufficient case or controversy exits, that line is still a murky one. What actions must a patent owner take–and when must it take those actions–to trigger the requisite case or controversy allowing an accused infringer to file its action first?

Well, the Federal Circuit recently added further guidance on the issue. In Danisco US, Inc., v. Novozymes A/S, a unanimous panel of the Federal Circuit reversed a district court and held that the patent holder’s conduct prior to the issuance of the patent can form a sufficient case or controversy for declaratory relief.

The relationship between the parties in the case provides important background. The declaratory judgment plaintiff, Danisco, and defendant, Novozymes, compete to develop and supply Rapid Starch Liquefaction (“RSL”) products. Since about 2001, Novozymes had sued Danisco for patent infringement numerous times. In one of those suits, Novozymes amended a pending patent application to claim one of Danisco’s new products, then sued Danisco on the same day the patent issued.

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In a long-awaited decision, the Federal Circuit ruled en banc to uphold the the de novo standard for appellate review of claim construction issues, which was previously established in another en banc decision, Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc. 138 F.3d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

The facts and procedural background of the case presented a prime opportunity for the Federal Circuit to revisit the question of what deference, if any, it should give to a district court’s claim constructions. During the district court proceedings, the parties disputed the meaning of “voltage means.” As per usual, the district court analyzed the patent’s intrinsic evidence relating to the claim term. However, the district court also accepted testimony from expert witnesses and the inventor. After analyzing the different types of evidence, the district court sided with the patentee and ruled that the term should be given its plain meaning, as opposed to a more specific meaning as a means-plus-function term.

Applying the non-deferential Cybor standard of review, a panel from the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s claim construction. The panel held that the term is a means-plus-function term and required disclosure of sufficient corresponding structure in the patent specification. Based on that conclusion, the panel invalidated the claims for indefiniteness. The patentee requested rehearing, arguing that the interpretation of documents is a fundamentally factual exercise and, therefore, a district court’s interpretation of patent claims requires some deference on appeal. In this case, the patentee argued that, on a deferential review, the district court would not, or should not, have been reversed. The Federal Circuit undertook rehearing en banc for the purpose of reconsidering the standard of appellate review of claim construction.

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Plaintiffs Transunion Intelligence LLC and Trans Union LLC (collectively, “Transunion”) filed a patent infringement action against Search America over two patents that are directed to a computer-implemented method and software that is used to access a person’s eligibility to receive financial assistance for healthcare services. Transunion asserted both direct infringement and inducing infringement of one of the patents-in-suit.

Search America moved to dismiss the inducing infringement claim, asserting that Transunion had failed to plead that Search America had the specific intent to infringe the patent-in-suit. The district court disagreed. “As discussed at he hearing on Search America’s motion, however, the Court believes that Transunion has pleaded a plausible claim of induced infringement against Search America. In its complaint, Transunion pleads that Search America knew of the ‘937 patent, and Transunion pleads specific facts in support of that allegation – namely, that Search America studied the ‘937 patent to distinguish it from Search America’s own patent application. Fourth Am. Compl. para. 11. Transunion also alleges that Search America performed all but one of the steps of the ‘937 patent and that either Search America or a customer working with Search America performed the remaining step – namely, the inputting of patient data. Fourth Am. Compl. Ex. B at 2. Transunion further alleges that Search America’s customers performed the ‘inputting’ step by populating an on-line form created, controlled, and provided by Search America. Id.”
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With the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Akamai Techs., Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 18532 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 31, 2012), the elements for proving inducing infringement changed significantly. As a result, we can expect that a number of plaintiffs in pending patent cases will seek to amend their complaints to take advantage of the new standard. Whether amendment will be granted or not will vary depending on the stage of the case.
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In June 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California enjoined Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone because it likely infringed Apple’s 8,086,604 patent (the “‘604 patent”) and because Apple was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. Apple prevailed at the district court level based on claim 6 of the ‘604 patent — which is practiced by Siri, Apple’s popular voice search companion.

Independent claim 6 is directed to an apparatus for “unified search” using heuristic modules to search multiple data storage locations. As explained by the Federal Circuit, “[u]nified search refers to the ability to access information on more than one data storage location through a single interface. For example, a device equipped with unified search allows the user to search the local memory of the device as well as the Internet by entering a single search query.”
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a Delaware court’s finding that Medtronic Inc. did not infringe Boston Scientific patents relating to cardiac rhythm therapy (CRT) devices known as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Medtronic, Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., No. 2011-1313 (Fed. Cir. September 18, 2012). The Federal Circuit found that the lower court had improperly placed the burden of showing non-infringement on the patent owner instead of on the declaratory judgment plaintiff-licensee.

The patents at issue (RE38,119 and RE39,897) were owned by Mirowski Family Ventures LLC (MFV) and exclusively licensed to Guidant Corp., which was acquired by Boston Scientific Inc. Medtronic had a sublicense to the ‘119 patent, which allowed it to challenge its validity, enforceability and scope via a declaratory judgment action. As per the sublicense, Medtronic began paying royalties. It also challenged the patent’s validity. A Litigation Tolling Agreement (LTA) was entered, which stayed litigation and called for MFV to identify Medtronic products that it believed were covered by the ‘119 patent. Under the LTA, if Medtronic disagreed with the list of patented products it had the right to retain the license but was required to seek declaratory relief of non-infringement in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The fact that Medtronic remained a licensee meant that MFV could not counterclaim for patent infringement. Medtronic did disagree with MFV’s listing of patented products, thus giving rise to the lower court action.
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Last December, the district court in the Northern District of California denied Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Apple had moved for the preliminary injunction based on alleged infringement of three design patents and one utility patent. After the denial of the preliminary injunction motion, Apple appealed the order to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed most of the district court’s order denying the preliminary injunction but remanded to the district court for further proceedings on one of the design patents. On remand, the Federal Circuit directed that the district court consider the balance of hardships and whether the public interest favored an injunction with respect to the one design patent.

The district court had found that Apple had established that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 likely infringed the design patent and that Apple was likely to suffer irreparable harm as a result of the infringing conduct. But the district court denied the motion because it found that the design patent was likely invalid based on several prior art references. The Federal Circuit upheld the findings of infringement and irreparable harm, but reversed the district court’s finding of invalidity as to one design patent.
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On remand to the district court after the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Therasense v. Becton, Dickinson and Co., the district court reviewed the procedural posture of the case and the landmark Therasense decision. The district court noted that “Therasense worked a seismic shift in the law of inequitable conduct,” and particularly that “materiality would henceforth use a but-for definition, meaning that submission of the withheld item would have led to a rejection.” The district court also analyzed the decision including the closeness of the vote on the new standard, stating that “[d]espite the closeness of the decision and the importance of the question to our patent system and national economy, no petition for certiorari was filed in the Supreme Court.”

Before applying the facts to the new standard articulated by the Federal Circuit, the district court noted the Federal Circuit’s instructions on remand (1) that the “district court should determine whether there is clear an convincing evidence demonstrating that Sanghera or Pope knew of the EPO brief, knew of their materiality, and made the conscious decision not to disclose them in order to deceive the PTO” and (2) the “district court should determine whether the PTO would have granted the patent but for Abbott’s failure to disclose the EPO briefs. …”
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Defendant American Master Lease LLC (“AML”) appealed the decision of Judge Guilford of the Central District of California holding that all claims of U.S. Patent No. 6, 292,788 were invalid for failing to meet the subject matter eligibility requirements of Section 101 of the Patent Statute. The Federal Circuit (in a panel consisting of Circuit Judges Prost, Schall and Moore) affirmed the invalidity of the claims based on the district court’s pre-In re Bilski application of the machine or transformation test.

The claims at issue relate to an investment tool to enable property owners to buy and sell property without incurring tax liability pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 1031 (“1031 Exchange”). All claims in the ‘788 patent are method claims, with claim 1 being representative:

1. A method of creating a real estate investment instrument adapted for performing tax-deferred exchanges comprising:

aggregating real property to form a real estate portfolio;

encumbering the property in the real estate portfolio with a master agreement; and
creating a plurality of deedshares by dividing title in the real estate portfolio into a plurality of tenant-in-common deeds of at least one predetermined denomination, each of the plurality of deedshares subject to a provision in the master agreement for reaggregating the plurality of tenant-in-common deeds after a specified interval.
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