On May 13, 2015, the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs will go into effect in the United States. The Hague system will, in effect, introduce a design patent analog to the current Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) international patent application and Madrid Protocol international trademark registration systems. Rather than filing for design patent protection in foreign jurisdictions individually, applicants will be able to file a single application at the USPTO to pursue protection in multiple jurisdictions. Other participating countries at the time of writing include the European Union and South Korea. Japan will adopt the agreement on the same date as the U.S., and Canada, China, and Russia are all said to be exploring the possibility of participation.
On February 4, 2015, in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC the Federal Circuit decided the first appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) regarding an Inter Partes Review (IPR). Inter Partes Review is a United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) proceeding created by the America Invents Act (AIA) meant to offer a more expeditious and less expensive alternative to district court litigations on validity.
Giles Rich, the former Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit, once famously stated that “the name of the game is the claim.” Meaning, the patent claims themselves define the scope of the property right held by a patent owner. However, three recent Federal Circuit decisions may be shifting the spotlight away from the claims alone and shining a light onto the patent as a whole. The cases, Lexington Luminance v. Amazon.com, Fenner Invs., Ltd. V. Cello P’ship, and Pacing Tech. LLC, v. Garmin Int’l, Inc., place a stronger focus on the specification in the first instance—above even the plain meaning of the claims.
The general proposition that the courts should look to the intrinsic evidence (i.e., the specification, the figures, and the prosecution history) is not new. For example, in Phillips v. AWH Corp. the CAFC stated that the claims “are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning” as understood by persons skilled in the field of invention. The Phillips decision also stated that, in addition to looking at the plain meaning of the claims, the specification and the prosecution history may be consulted to ascertain the meaning of the claims. In Lexington Luminance, Fenner, and Pacing Tech., however, the CAFC appears to take this one step further.
As discussed in the previous article in Nutter’s IP Branding Series, monitoring competitors’ use of your marks and marks possibly akin to your marks, and enforcing your rights in your marks against those competitors, is an important aspect of protecting and building your brand. Equally important is policing your own use of the mark, the use of your mark by licensed third parties, and the use of the mark by third parties that are neither competitors nor licensees. The graveyard of brands that were arguably too successful because the brand name became genericised is fraught with lessons to be learned in protecting the use of your mark. Dilution is also a concern, although it is becoming increasingly more difficult to successfully show that your mark is being diluted or tarnished.
On January 20, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., which presented the question of the proper standard of review for factual findings by district courts during patent claim construction. The CAFC has long held that claim construction rulings, including underlying factual findings, are reviewed de novo (that is, without deference to the district court). The Supreme Court has now partly upended that rule, holding that determinations of fact made by district courts must be reviewed for abuse of discretion, which is more deferential to the district court. The Court left alone, however, the existing de novo standard of review for the ultimate legal determination of patent claims' meanings.
In mid-January, the USPTO published a notice that its Extended Missing Parts Pilot Program would continue through the end of 2015. Originally introduced in 2010, the Extended Missing Parts Pilot Program allows applicants to delay the payment of fees required for examination (i.e., the search fee, examination fee, any excess claims fees, and surcharges for late fee payment) by up to 12 months, allowing a sort of “extension” to the term of a provisional patent application. To take advantage of the program, applicants must submit a certification and request to participate when filing a nonprovisional or plant application that validly claims the benefit of a provisional application (applicants also must not have filed a nonpublication request). The Extended Missing Parts Pilot Program can be an effective tool to further delay costs associated with filing and prosecuting a patent application, thereby allowing funds to be put toward commercial development. However, the program does not affect the 12-month priority period for foreign filing under the Paris Convention, so applicants should be careful to complete any desired foreign filings within 12 months of their provisional application filing date.
Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued subject matter eligibility guidelines for determining whether a patent claim amounts to “significantly more” than an abstract idea. The agency has now issued follow-on guidance in the form of eight fact patterns intended to demonstrate the abstract idea analysis in further detail. The fact patterns highlight some familiar themes that have emerged in the case law both pre- and post-Alice.
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.