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.
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.
On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC to decide whether the AIA (America Invents Act) patent review program for challenging the validity of issued patents is constitutional. Specifically, the Court will decide the question of “whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”
The Supreme Court held in Matal v. Tam that the Lanham Act’s provision forbidding the registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The Court explained that “[s]peech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
According to a recent Supreme Court decision, when it comes to the applicability of patent exhaustion, “restrictions and location are irrelevant; what matters is the patentee’s decision to make a sale.” In Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., the Supreme Court confirmed that the authorized sale of a patented article by a patentee exhausts all patent rights in that article, even where the patentee and the buyer agree to post-sale restrictions on the use and resale of the article. The Court also held that the authorized sale of a patented product abroad triggers patent exhaustion, just as a sale in the U.S. does.
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.
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.”
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.