As the 2018-2019 Supreme Court term nears its end, several consequential patent law petitions still await certiorari rulings before the Justices recess for the summer, while other patent cases are scheduled to be briefed and ready for oral argument when the Court reconvenes for a new term in October. To mark the end of this term, here’s a list of 5 Patent Law Petitions to Watch at the Supreme Court as we look ahead to 2019-2020.
On January 22, the Supreme Court clarified an important issue of patent law that had been left open since the enactment of the America Invents Act several years ago.
The patent laws bar a person from receiving a patent on an invention that was “on sale” before the effective filing date of the patent application claiming that invention. The Supreme Court had previously announced that the “on sale bar” came into effect when the invention was “the subject of a commercial offer for sale” and was “ready for patenting”—that is, it must be sufficiently developed that a patent application could be filed, and there must be a commercial offer for sale. If these conditions are met, the offer can bar a subsequent patent application. The appeals court confirmed that this is true even when the offer for sale was confidential.
On June 22, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in WesternGeco LLC v. ION GeoPhysical, which addresses the ability of a patent owner to collect lost profits from sales abroad for infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(2). Under this subsection of the Patent Act, it is an act of infringement to supply components of an invention to be combined overseas in an infringing device. The Court—in a 7-to-2 decision—held that lost profits are available from foreign sales for a patent owner who proves such infringement.
Nutter lawyers Heather Repicky and Alison Casey recently contributed an article to IPWatchdog that addresses changes in Massachusetts local patent rules. In the article, “What You Need to Know About the District of Massachusetts’ New Local Patent Rules,” Heather and Alison discuss how the new set of rules aims to make the Commonwealth a more attractive venue for patent litigation by streamlining patent cases. Please contact the authors if you’d like to learn more about this topic.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank in 2014, there has been an increasing trend in district courts granting pretrial dispositive motions to effect early dismissal of patent infringement cases under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Last month, however, the Federal Circuit issued two patent-friendly decisions that preclude such early dismissal when there are factual disputes that underlie the ultimate legal conclusion of patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
The District of Massachusetts is poised to overhaul its local patent rules with the objective of making the Commonwealth a more attractive venue for patent litigation. The new proposed rules aim to streamline patent cases by focusing on efficiency, reaching outcomes more quickly, and achieving consistency across the entire bench. The prior version of Local Rule 16.6 acted more like a guide, suggesting issues that the parties should consider and offering a template for a schedule. That template, however, was not mandatory and resulted in a case-by-case approach by both the bench and the bar. In contrast, the proposed local patent rules require a schedule that, absent extraordinary circumstances, will apply. In addition, the proposed rules bring this district in line with several other courts around the country that have adopted patent-specific rules.
In a stinging decision that will impact its patent portfolio, Arthrex recently suffered a setback in a patent dispute over suture anchors with Smith & Nephew. The Federal Circuit upheld a PTAB judgment entering adverse judgment against claims 1-9 of Arthrex’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,821,541, which S&N challenged in a 2016 IPR. This decision will affect the related patent portfolio because of the estoppel provisions of 37 CFR 42.73.
Q: What are the central issues in Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group?
Rory P. Pheiffer: The central issue is whether inter partes reviews (IPRs) are constitutional as administrative proceedings or if patent invalidity necessarily must be decided in accordance with Article III of the Constitution, and thus must be decided by the judicial branch. The constitutionality inquiry extends further to the Seventh Amendment—whether questions of fact related to patent invalidity should be decided by a jury. An underlying central issue used to support the respective positions for and against IPRs is whether a patent constitutes a private or public right. Oil States, the patentee who is arguing against the constitutionality of IPRs, considers patents to be private property, leaving questions of law and fact for the judiciary and jury, respectively. Greene, on the other hand, considers patents to be a public right, meaning Congress has the power to authorize an administrative body, like the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), to grant patents and conduct IPRs as a mechanism to correct any errors that may have occurred in granting patents.
The Federal Circuit rejected the patent venue test recently established by Judge Rodney Gilstrap of the Eastern District of Texas, the judge who has been reported to preside over about one quarter of all patent infringement cases in America. The three judge panel held that Judge Gilstrap abused his discretion and applied an incorrect legal standard in Raytheon Co. v. Cray Inc. when he refused to transfer the patent suit after applying his own four-factor test and determined defendant Cray maintained “a regular and established place of business” in the district where only one of its employees worked from home. As a result of its findings, the Federal Circuit ordered the case to be transferred.
Written opinions of counsel are gaining renewed interest as a valuable tool for avoiding enhanced damages for willful patent infringement following the Halo decision. A written opinion may set forth the factual and legal basis for finding a third party patent not infringed, invalid, and/or unenforceable. However, to be effective, the timing of the opinion may be critical.
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.