On May 22, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important and long-awaited Opinion in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, a case that centered on where a patent infringement suit can be filed. In a resounding 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court put an abrupt end to the decades-old practice of forum shopping in patent cases.
For almost 30 years, patent venue law allowed patent owners to file infringement suits in federal judicial districts in which the accused infringer is subject to the district court’s personal jurisdiction. This flexibility opened the doors to a patent owner’s home court and to distant courts that are perceived to be friendly to patent owners. Observers believe that this flexibility was being abused, especially by non-practicing entities or “patent trolls.” Non-practicing entities generate revenue by licensing and enforcing their patents as opposed to making or selling their own products.
If you’ve filed for patents in any industry – be it biotech, high tech, manufacturing, or another sector altogether – you’ve likely been faced with a decision on whether to file a “continuation” application at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In simple terms, a “continuation” application is a new patent application allowing one to pursue additional claims based upon the same description and priority date(s) as a pending “parent” application. Continuation applications are a flexible tool, useful for furthering numerous business objectives.
The Hon. F. Dennis Saylor, IV of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts recently denied a petitioner’s request under 28 USC § 1782 to take discovery related to patent inventorship in connection with an Opposition proceeding pending before the European Patent Office (EPO). The court, in exercising its discretion under the U.S. Supreme Court’s so-called Intel factors set forth in Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 542 US 241, 264 (2004), denied the petitioner’s request for discovery because the EPO generally does not allow the type of discovery requested by the petitioner in an Opposition proceeding, thus the petitioner’s requested discovery would have no place in an EPO Opposition.
- This case illustrates the need for inventors to be familiar with patent laws, procedures, and proceedings in foreign jurisdictions.
- The District of Massachusetts will focus on Intel’s discretionary factors when making decisions about whether to allow discovery for use in foreign tribunals under 28 USC § 1782.
A party can raise lack of subject-matter jurisdiction at any time during a litigation. Illustrating this point, recently in Joao Control & Monitoring Systems, LLC v. Telular Corporation a patentee saved its unasserted patent claims from the Court’s invalidity order by arguing that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the unasserted claims.
In 2014, Joao Control & Monitoring Systems, LLC sued Telular Corporation for allegedly infringing two patents related to systems for remotely monitoring property. Joao’s complaint asserted that Telular infringed one or more claims from each patent, but did not identify any specific claims. Telular counterclaimed for declaratory judgment of invalidity for both patents.
Defendants in patent litigation frequently mount an invalidity defense under 35 U.S.C. § 101 by arguing that asserted claims are directed to abstract ideas, which are not eligible for patent protection under the first step of the Alice test. Often, these defendants fail to account for significant aspects of the asserted claims, resulting in an oversimplification that doesn’t accurately articulate what the claims are actually directed to. This was precisely the government’s error in Thales Visionix Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cir. 2017), where the Federal Circuit found, contrary to the government’s characterization of the claims (which the Claims Court adopted), the asserted claims were not directed to an abstract idea.
On March 27, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in TC Heartland v. Kraft, a case that centers on where patent infringement lawsuits can be filed.
- If the Supreme Court sides with TC Heartland, patent infringement hotbeds like the Eastern District of Texas would likely see a drastic reduction in filings because cases would be limited to the state of incorporation of the defendant, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.
- Because many corporations select Delaware as their state of incorporation, a ruling in favor of TC Heartland would likely cause a sharp increase in patent infringement filings in that district.
- Switching the heavy patent infringement case load from the Eastern District of Texas to the District of Delaware will not solve TC Heartland’s concern about one judicial district handling a disproportionate majority of patent infringement cases.
- If the Supreme Court sides with Kraft Foods, the status quo will be maintained and patent owners will have flexibility in selecting venue for infringement actions.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion, SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, in which it held that laches cannot be used as a defense to a claim of patent infringement. The opinion had been anticipated ever since the Court’s decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 572 U.S. ___ (2014) struck down the defense in copyright cases, using reasoning that appeared to apply to all federal actions involving causes of action subject to statutes of limitations.
Q: Why is the technology industry following TC Heartland v. Kraft so closely?
Paul Cronin: The Supreme Court recently agreed to take up TC Heartland, a case that will address the issue of where patent infringement lawsuits can be filed. The tech industry wants the Supreme Court to end the practice of “forum shopping,” or filing lawsuits in venues that are historically favorable to patent owners. The technology industry wants the law changed so patent infringement lawsuits must be filed in the accused infringer’s state of incorporation or where its headquarters is located. If this change occurs, “home court” advantage will shift from the patent owner to the accused infringer. Software, smart phones, and other technology companies have been among the hardest hit in terms of fighting patent litigation. The industry is looking to shut down the patent-friendly venues by forcing patent owners to file suit in the home district of the accused infringer.
On February 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention qualifies as an infringing act under 35 USC §271(f)(1) of the U.S. Patent Act. In its decision in Life Technologies Corp. v. Promega Corp., the Court found that “a single component does not constitute a substantial portion of the components that can give rise to liability under §271(f)(1).” In doing so, the Court overturned the Federal Circuit’s prior holding that a single component could be sufficiently important to the invention to meet the criteria for being a “substantial portion.”
In Zircore, LLC v. Straumann Manufacturing, Inc. (E.D. Tex. 2017), as in many patent litigations since Mayo, Myriad, and Alice, the defendant moved to dismiss the infringement allegations contending that the patents in suit are ineligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101. Here, despite Straumann’s assertion that Zircore’s U.S. Patent No. 7,967,606 was invalid under § 101 as directed to an abstract idea, the court found that the claims were patent eligible under § 101 as directed to a method of manufacturing a physical object.
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.