In March 2013, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued three informative opinions in Ex parte Erol, Ex parte Lakkala, and Ex parte Smith. In each opinion, the same PTAB panel of five administrative patent judges construed a “processor” as a means-plus-function claim limitation despite both the presumption against such an interpretation when the term “means” is not explicitly used and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s historical treatment of “processor” claims. Specifically, the Board found that the “processor” elements overcame the presumption against means-plus-function treatment and that the claims were indefinite pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §112, second paragraph, (pre-AIA) because the specifications disclosed insufficient structure for the processors to perform the recited functions. The Board’s designation of these opinions as “informative” sends a signal regarding the Board’s intent to provide guidance on how “processor” claims will be interpreted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) going forward.
In a highly anticipated decision issued on June 13, 2013 in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that isolated DNA sequences are not eligible for patent protection. The Court simultaneously held that cDNA can be patent eligible subject matter – as long as it is distinguishable from natural DNA. Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, clarified that the mixed ruling did not implicate methods, applications of knowledge about genes or alteration of sequences. The Court’s holding affects composition claims for patent owners and applicants, but both patent owners and applicants can take various actions to best protect their interests in view of Myriad.
In early July 2013, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) passed one of the last checkpoints on the path to introducing new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) by promulgating a registry agreement that will be entered into by successful gTLD applicants prior to delegation of the new domain space. This means that ICANN could delegate the first of the approved gTLDs (of which there are over 1000!) very soon, consistent with its earlier estimation that the first of the new domains would be operational by the end of July, 2013. Applicants interested in registering their marks in any of the new gTLDs, or those concerned about defending against cyber-squatting or other misappropriation of their marks, should consider submitting their marks to the recently created Trademark Clearinghouse as soon as possible.
In the second U.S. Supreme Court opinion this term to address the “exhaustion” of intellectual property rights, the Court unanimously held that the doctrine of patent exhaustion does not permit purchasers of certain types of patented, self-reproducing articles to reproduce the patented articles without the patent owner’s permission. The case, Bowman v. Monsanto Co., involved a farmer, Bowman, who planted and harvested soybeans that were the progeny of first generation soybeans embodying Monsanto’s patented technology. Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, explained that Monsanto’s sale of the first generation soybeans only exhausted its rights in that generation, not in subsequent generations.
When Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, respectively, relatively little was known about their positions on intellectual property (“IP”) law. Nutter’s IP Bulletin provided IP records for both Justices prior to their Court appointments in November 2009 (Sotomayor) and September 2010 (Kagan). In the past few years, both Justices have taken part in several decisions involving intellectual property law. Their decisions have generally broadened patent rights post issuance, but the Justices have hesitated to extend patent rights too broadly.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.