Justia Intellectual Property Opinion Summaries
Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc.
Truckai invented NovaSure to treat abnormal uterine bleeding using a moisture-permeable applicator head to destroy targeted cells. Truckai filed a patent application and assigned the application and future continuation applications, to his company, Novacept. Novacept and its patents and patent applications were acquired by Hologic. Truckai founded Minerva and developed a supposedly improved device to treat abnormal uterine bleeding, using a moisture-impermeable applicator head to remove cells. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) issued a patent; the FDA approved the device for sale. Hologic filed a continuation application, seeking to add claims to its NovaSure patent--one claim encompassed applicator heads generally, without regard to whether they are moisture permeable. The PTO issued the altered patent.Hologic sued Minerva for infringement. Minerva argued that Hologic’s patent was invalid because the new claim did not match the written description. Hologic invoked the assignor estoppel doctrine: Because Truckai had assigned the original application, he and Minerva could not impeach the patent’s validity. The Federal Circuit agreed.The Supreme Court vacated. Assignor estoppel is a valid defense, based on the need for consistency in business dealings, but applies only when the assignor’s claim of invalidity contradicts explicit or implicit representations made in assigning the patent. Concerns with the assignor taking contradictory positions do not arise when an assignment occurs before an inventor can make a warranty as to specific claims, such as when an employee assigns to his employer patent rights in future inventions; when a later legal development renders irrelevant the warranty given at the time of assignment; and when a post-assignment change in patent claims can remove the rationale for applying assignor estoppel. The Federal Circuit failed to recognize these boundaries, deeming “irrelevant” the question of whether Hologic had expanded the assigned claims. If Hologic’s new claim is materially broader than what Truckai assigned, Truckai could not have warranted its validity. View "Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Arthrex, Inc.
Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) conduct adversarial proceedings for challenging the validity of an existing patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), 35 U.S.C. 6(a), (c). The Secretary of Commerce appoints PTAB members, including APJs, except the Director, who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. APJs concluded that Arthrex’s patent was invalid. The Federal Circuit concluded that the APJs were principal officers who must be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate; their appointment was unconstitutional. To remedy this violation, the court invalidated the APJs’ tenure protections, making them removable at will by the Secretary.The Supreme Court vacated. The unreviewable authority wielded by APJs during patent review is incompatible with their appointment by the Secretary to an inferior office. Inferior officers must be “directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate.” While the Director has administrative oversight, neither he nor any other superior executive officer can directly review APJ decisions. A decision by the APJs under his charge compels the Director to “issue and publish a certificate” canceling or confirming patent claims he previously allowed. Given the insulation of PTAB decisions from executive review, APJs exercise power that conflicts with the Appointments Clause’s purpose “to preserve political accountability.”Four justices concluded that section 6(c) cannot constitutionally be enforced to prevent the Director from reviewing final APJ decisions. The Director may review final PTAB decisions and may issue decisions on behalf of the Board. Section 6(c) otherwise remains operative. Because the source of the constitutional violation is the restraint on the Director’s review authority not the appointment of APJs, Arthrex is not entitled to a hearing before a new panel. View "United States v. Arthrex, Inc." on Justia Law
Design Basics, LLC v. Kerstiens Homes & Designs, Inc
The Kerstiens family runs companies that build single-family homes out of Jasper, Indiana. Plan Pros and Prime Designs are home design companies that license their plans through Design Basics, which acts as a broker, serving as an intermediary between home builders and design firms. Design Basics markets the thousands of plans it holds copyrights to through trade publications, promotional materials placed in home improvement stores, and national builder associations and “has become a serial litigant,” having filed more than 100 infringement suits against home builders.In affirming the dismissal of Design Basic’s suit against the Kerstiens, the Seventh Circuit referred to “intellectual property trolls,” enforcing copyrights not to protect expression, but to extract payments through litigation. Design Basics has thin copyright in its plans because they consist largely of standard features found in homes across America. View "Design Basics, LLC v. Kerstiens Homes & Designs, Inc" on Justia Law
Yu v. Apple Inc.
Yu sued for infringement of the 289 patent, titled “Digital Cameras Using Multiple Sensors with Multiple Lenses.” The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice after concluding that each asserted claim was patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101. The court found that the asserted claims were directed to “the abstract idea of taking two pictures and using those pictures to enhance each other in some way.” The court explained that “photographers ha[ve] been using multiple pictures to enhance each other for over a century” and that the asserted claims lack an inventive concept, noting “the complete absence of any facts showing that the [claimed] elements were not well-known, routine, and conventional.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. The claimed hardware configuration itself is not an advance and does not itself produce the asserted advance of enhancement of one image by another, which is an abstract idea. View "Yu v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law
Chandler v. Phoenix Services LLC
In 2006 Heat On-The-Fly began using a new fracking technology on certain jobs. Heat’s owner later filed a patent application regarding the process but failed to disclose 61 public uses of the process that occurred over a year before the application was filed. This application led to the 993 patent. Heat asserted that patent against several parties. In 2014, Phoenix acquired Heat and the patent. Chandler alleges that enforcement of the 993 patent continued in various forms. In an unrelated 2018 suit, the Federal Circuit affirmed a holding that the knowing failure to disclose prior uses of the fracking process rendered the 993 patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.Chandler filed a “Walker Process” monopolization action under the Sherman Act, which required that the antitrust-defendant obtained the patent by knowing and willful fraud on the patent office and maintained and enforced that patent with knowledge of the fraudulent procurement, and proof of “all other elements necessary to establish a Sherman Act monopolization claim.” The Federal Circuit transferred the case to the Fifth Circuit, which has appellate jurisdiction over cases from the Northern District of Texas. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because this case does not arise under the patent laws of the United States. View "Chandler v. Phoenix Services LLC" on Justia Law
Oakwood Laboratories LLC v. Thanoo
Oakwood hired Dr. Thanoo in 1997. As Oakwood's Senior Scientist, he signed confidentiality agreements. Thanoo designed Oakwood’s microsphere process technology. Oakwood invested more than $130 million and two decades in its Microsphere Project and developed the “Leuprolide Products,” which are bioequivalent to Lupron Depot®. Aurobindo contacted Oakwood to discuss collaboration. Some of Oakwood’s trade secret information was shared under a confidentiality agreement. Negotiations failed. Aurobindo hired Thanoo six months later and began developing microsphere-based injectable products that Oakwood alleges are “substantially similar to and competitive with Oakwood’s Microsphere Project." Oakwood asserts that the product could not have been developed within the rapid timeframe without Thanoo’s assistance and the use of Oakwood’s trade secret information.The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of Oakwood's suit, asserting trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and tortious interference with contractual relations. Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. 1836(b), Oakwood sufficiently identified its trade secrets and sufficiently alleged that the defendants misappropriated those trade secrets. The “use” of a trade secret encompasses all the ways one can take advantage of trade secret information to obtain an economic benefit, competitive advantage, or other commercial value, or for an exploitative purpose, such as research or development. A trade secret plaintiff need not allege that its information was the only source by which a defendant might develop its product. Aurobindo's avoidance of substantial research and development costs that Oakwood has invested is recognized as "harm" in the DTSA. View "Oakwood Laboratories LLC v. Thanoo" on Justia Law
SpeedTrack, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc.
SpeedTrack’s 360 patent discloses a “computer filing system for accessing files and data according to user-designated criteria.” The patent explains that prior-art systems “employ a hierarchical filing structure” and “emulate commonly[ ]used paper filing systems” in that they “organize data into files (analogous to papers in a paper filing system) and directories (analogous to file folders and hanging files).” According to the patent, such systems could “become very cumbersome.” According to the patent, prior-art solutions presented additional drawbacks. The 360 patent discloses a method that uses “hybrid” folders, which “contain those files whose content overlaps more than one physical directory” and “allows total freedom from the restrictions imposed by hierarchical and other present-day computer filing systems.”SpeedTrack sued various retail website operators, alleging infringement of the patent. The Federal Circuit affirmed the stipulated judgment of noninfringement based on the district court’s construction of the term “hierarchical limitation.” View "SpeedTrack, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Hyatt v. Hirshfeld
Until 1995, a patent’s term was 17 years from the date of issuance, which incentivized certain patentees to delay by abandoning applications and filing continuing applications in their place to obtain patents at a financially desirable time. In 1995, changes in the law triggered a patent application rush. Hyatt, the named inventor on 399 patent applications, bulk-filed 381 applications during that "bubble," each a photocopy of an earlier application. Four applications relate to computer technologies, claim priority to applications filed in the 1970s and 1980s, and are atypically long and complex. Hyatt filed multiple amendments. From 2003 to 2012, the PTO stayed the examination of many of Hyatt’s applications pending litigation. The Board of Patent Appeals affirmed the rejection of the four applications.Hyatt filed suit under 35 U.S.C. 145. The district court ordered the PTO to issue the patents.The Federal Circuit vacated. Prosecution laches may “render a patent unenforceable when it has issued only after an unreasonable and unexplained delay in prosecution that constitutes an egregious misuse of the statutory patent system under a totality of the circumstances” and is a defense available to the PTO in an action to obtain a patent. The district court erred in concluding that the PTO failed to prove prosecution laches. Rather than analyze the evidence of Hyatt’s conduct, the court repeatedly placed blame on the PTO. The court held the issues invalidity for anticipation and lack of written description.in abeyance. View "Hyatt v. Hirshfeld" on Justia Law
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. v. United States International Trade Commission
Bio-Rad’s patents relate to the generation of microscopic droplets, contiguous fluid that is encapsulated within a different fluid, by using a microfluidic chip. Typically, the inner fluid is water-based, while the outer fluid is oil. The patents arise out of research conducted by inventors at QuantaLife. In 2011, Bio-Rad purchased QuantaLife, acquiring QuantaLife’s patent rights. The inventors became employees of Bio-Rad and executed assignments of their rights to applications that later issued as the 664, 682, and 635 patents. Soon after Bio-Rad acquired QuantaLife, three inventors left Bio-Rad to start 10X, which has developed technology and products in the field of microfluidics, with the goal of achieving DNA and RNA sequencing at the single-cell level. Bio-Rad alleged that 10X violated the Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. 1337, by importing into the U.S. certain microfluidic chips. The Trade Commission concluded that 10X did not infringe the 664 patent by importing its “Chip GB” but infringed the 664, 682, and 635 patents by importing its “GEM Chips.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. The construction of the term “droplet generation region” is consistent with the intrinsic evidence; substantial evidence established that the use of 10X’s GEM chips directly infringes the asserted claims. Bio-Rad proved the elements of induced and contributory infringement of the 682 and 635 patents with respect to the GEM Chips. View "Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. v. United States International Trade Commission" on Justia Law
Becton, Dickinson & Co. v. Baxter Corp. Englewood
Becton petitioned for inter partes review of claims in Baxter’s patent, directed to “[s]ystems for preparing patient-specific doses and a method for telepharmacy in which data captured while following [a protocol associated with each received drug order and specifying a set of steps to fill the drug order] are provided to a remote site for review and approval by a pharmacist.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that Becton had established that one of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to combine prior references and that Baxter’s “evidence of secondary considerations [was] weak” and concluded that none of the challenged claims were shown to be unpatentable as obvious.The Federal Circuit reversed. The Board’s determination that prior art did not teach the verification limitation is not supported by substantial evidence; a highlighting limitation would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art in view of prior art. View "Becton, Dickinson & Co. v. Baxter Corp. Englewood" on Justia Law