All materials are copyright of Green-Arrow Network Incorporated 2011
By Dennis Crouch
If it exists, the patent heat in Congress right now is focused on "curbing abusive patent litigation." A variety of bills have been introduced, including the SHIELD Act that would introduce a one-way fee shifting system that would require losing plaintiffs to pay the attorney fees of successful defendants. H.R. 845. The Bill also requires that the patentee plaintiff (or DJ Defendant) post a bond early in the lawsuit to ensure that the fees will be paid. Under its current structure, the bill is limited to cases where (1) the party asserting the patent is not the original inventor or original assignee; (2) the party asserting the patent is not exploiting the patent "through production or sale of an item covered by the patent" and (3) the party asserting the patent is not a University or the US Government. If the patentee meets any one of those prongs then they escape the fee shifting. At the conclusion of the case if the patentee loses then the court must award the prevailing party "full costs … including reasonable attorney's fees."
Senator Cornyn this week introduced another bill – the Patent Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 (S.1013). According to Cornyn's press release, the bill "would require plaintiffs to disclose the substance of their claim and reveal their identities when they file their lawsuit; allow defendants to hale into court interested parties; bring fairness to the discovery process; and shift responsibility for the cost of litigation to the losing party."
Transparency In Enforcement: S.1013 proposes that the initial complaint must also "the identity of any person with a direct financial interest in the outcome of the action, including a right to receive proceeds, or any fixed or variable portion thereof; and a description of any agreement or other legal basis for [the] financial interest."
Presumption of Attorney Fees: As with the SHIELD Act, S.1013 would more readily shift attorney fees. This time, however, the fees would be balanced and awarded to the prevailing parties regardless of whether that be a plaintiff or defendant. However, no attorney fees would be awarded when the non-prevailing party's "position and conduct … were objectively reasonable and substantially justified" or where the exceptional circumstances make the award unjust. If the patent plaintiff cannot pay the attorney fees, the bill would allow for those fees to be paid by others with an interest in the litigation. Defendants would also be permitted to join interested parties into the litigation.
Heightened Pleading Requirements: S.1013 proposes that a complaint must draw a link between particular asserted patent claims and any accused products if such a link "is known." In addition, the bill would require a complaint to include "detailed specificity" as to "how the terms in each asserted claim[s] … correspond to the functionality of the accused instrumentality." The Bill would also require the Supreme Court to review model complaint Form 18 to ensure that it conforms with the law.
Discovery After Claim Construction: S.1013 proposes to limit discovery until after claim construction has been complete.
Additional Major Limits on Discovery: Perhaps the most dramatic changes proposed in the bill would be statutory limits on discovery and a cost-shifting regime.
It will be interesting to see how these develop moving forward.
In CivPro II (a 2-hour course), we covered civil procedure issues related to class actions, discovery, summary judgment, JML, new trial, appellate jurisdiction, and preclusion. Here is the two-hour exam. – Dennis
Dent sued Baker in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri alleging patent infringement. After receiving the complaint, Baker had his production manager (Morgan) review the product sales history. Morgan delivered an internal memorandum to Baker indicating that Baker sold 10,000 allegedly infringing sunglasses in the past year for a total revenue of $85,000. The report was marked "Confidential."
a) What information regarding the sales must Baker include in his initial disclosures under Rule 26(a)? (5 points)
b) Under what circumstances would a Court Order Baker to turn over the report to Dent? (10 points)
c) Assuming that the court has issued what Baker believes is an erroneous order forcing Baker to turn-over the report to Dent. Can Baker appeal that order? (5 points)
= = = =
After trial, a jury returns a verdict for Dent and against Baker (finding infringement). Dent then sues Campbell in the same court also alleging patent infringement.
d) Can Dent assert either claim preclusion or issue preclusion in the case against Campbell? (10 points)
= = = =
In the patent case against Campbell, patent infringement must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. During discovery, Dent's expert provides testimony that Campbell's products infringe the patent while Campbell does not provide any competing evidence of non-infringement. Dent then moves for summary judgment of infringement. In response, Campbell only argues that a jury will find the expert testimony untrustworthy.
e) Should the court order summary judgment? (15 points)
= = = =
The United States later brings a criminal prosecution against Baker for criminal counterfeit in United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
f) Can the US Government assert either claim preclusion or issue preclusion in the case against Baker? (5 points)
= = = =
Assume that Dent lost the lawsuit against Campbell based on a jury finding that Dent's patent was invalid. Thus, there is one case where the patent was enforced (against Baker) and another where the patent was found invalid (against Campbell). Dent then sued Haseltine in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Texas again alleging infringement of the patent.
g) Can Haseltine rely on either claim preclusion or issue preclusion in the case against Dent? (10 points)
h) How can we know if the court was correct to send the question of validity to a jury rather than have that question be decided by the judge? (5 points)
= = = =
The patent right is later fully and finally revoked by the US Patent Office. This means that the knock-off versions are actually legal to manufacture and sell in the US. In reaction, Vincent then files a class action lawsuit on behalf of all sellers of knock-off versions of Dent's sunglasses. The complaint alleges unfair competition based upon Dent's assertion of invalid patent rights and demands that the court force Dent to stop all enforcement activity and compensate businesses who suffered under the enforcement strategy. Vincent's information shows that there are more than 1,000 companies that stopped selling knockoffs because of Vincent's enforcement activities even though Baker, Campbell, and Haseltine were the only entities actually sued.
i) What are the two most likely sections of Rule 23 that would be used to deny class certification in this case? (15 points)
By Jason Rantanen
Motiva, LLC v. International Trade Commission and Nintendo Co., Ltd. (Fed. Cir. 2013) Download 12-1252.Opinion.5-9-2013.1
Panel: Newman, Prost (author), O'Malley
In order to bring a section 337 action in the International Trade Commission to prevent the importation of a product that infringes a patent, the plaintiff must establish that a domestic industry exists or is in the process of being established for the articles protected by the patent. Earlier this year, a Federal Circuit panel consisting of Judges Bryson and Mayer held that:
section 337 makes relief available to a party that has a substantial investment in exploitation of a patent through either engineering, resale and development, or licensing. It is not necessary that the party manufacture the product that is protected by the patent, and it is not necessary that any other domestic party manufacture the protected article. As long as the patent covers the article that is the subject of the exclusion proceeding, and as long as the party seeking relief can show that it has a sufficiently substantial investment in the exploitation of the intellectual property to satisfy the domestic industry requirement of the statute, that party is entitled to seek relief under section 337.
InterDigital v. USITC and Nokia, 707 F.3d 1295, 1303-4 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (emphasis added). You can read more about Interdigital here. Based on this holding, the InterDigital majority sided with the ITC plaintiff. Writing in dissent, Judge Newman viewed the domestic industry requirement as necessitating domestic manufacture.
In Motiva v. ITC and Nintendo, a panel consisting of Judges Newman, Prost and O'Malley have limited InterDigital to some extent. In Motiva, the panel concluded that the domestic industry requirement is not satisfied by a plaintiff whose only activities at the time of filing its complaint consisted of its litigation against the ITC defendant when those activities were "not an investment in commercializing Motiva's patented technologies that would develop a licensing program to encourage adoption and development of articles that incorporated Motiva's patented technology." Slip Op. at 10.
Motiva’s investment in the litigation against Nintendo could indeed satisfy the economic prong of the domestic industry requirement if it was substantial and directed toward a licensing program that would encourage adoption and development of articles that incorporated Motiva’s patented technology. See InterDigital Commc’ns, LLC v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 707 F.3d 1295, 1299 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (clarifying that efforts directed toward licensing a patent can satisfy the domestic industry requirement where they would result in the production of “goods practicing the patents”)….
However, the ALJ found that Motiva’s litigation against Nintendo was not directed at developing such a licensing program. Relying on extensive documentary evidence and witness testimony, the ALJ concluded that the presence of the Wii in the market had no impact on Motiva’s commercialization efforts or ability to encourage partners to invest in and adopt its patented technology. And Motiva was never close to launching a product incorporating the patented technology—nor did any partners show any interest in doing so, for years before or any time after the launch of the Wii. Motiva’s only remaining prototype was a product far from completion, and a multitude of development and testing steps remained prior to finalizing a product for production. Moreover, the evidence demonstrated that Motiva’s litigation was targeted at financial gains, not at encouraging adoption of Motiva’s patented technology. The inventors looked forward to financial gains through Motiva’s litigation, not hopes of stimulating investment or partnerships with manufacturers.
Slip Op. at 10 (emphasis added).
Timing of the domestic industry analysis: The Federal Circuit also held that the date of the filing of Motiva's ITC complaint is the "relevant date at which to determine if the domestic industry requirement of Section 337 was satisfied." Slip Op. at 11. Thus, irrespective of Motiva's earlier attempts to develop a domestic industry for its technology before 2007, there was "no evidence in the record relating that development activity to Motiva’s efforts to establish a domestic industry at the time Motiva chose to file its complaint three years later." Id.
By Shubha Ghosh
Without any surprise, even to those who wrote amici in support of the farmer in Bowman v. Monsanto, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto last week. During oral arguments in February, the Court made it clear that it would find against Bowman because he had made an unauthorized copy of Monsanto's patented seed. Since oral argument, the focus has been on how the Court would rule in favor of Monsanto. The final ruling, while narrow in its language, is a potentially confusing one. In this post, I write about the implications of Bowman for the future.
Towards the end of her opinion for a unanimous court, Justice Kagan states that the ruling applies only to the facts at hand. The Court leaves open how the exhaustion doctrine applies to other self-replicating technologies. As a co-author of an amicus for the American Antitrust Institute on behalf of Bowman, I was relieved to read Justice Kagan's rejection of the broad exception to the exhaustion doctrine for self-replicating technologies adopted by the Federal Circuit. Such a broad holding would mean that first sale and other applications of exhaustion would have no place in biotechnology or digital technologies. Contrary to the Federal Circuit, and citing treatment of software under copyright, the Court acknowledges that patent rights may not extend to necessary, but incidental copying, or to situations where copying occurs outside the control of the purchaser. Similar limitations may exist for making under patent law in the exhaustion doctrine.
What is more troubling, and somewhat confusing, is the Court's treatment of making under the patent act. Bowman's act of infringement was simply the act of planting the seed for another generation. This broad construal of infringement expands the scope of patent infringement to include the sort of incidental infringement that the Court acknowledges as possibly protected by exhaustion. During oral argument, the Court asked Monsanto's counsel about inadvertent infringement, but there was no engagement. Whether inadvertent or not, it appears from the Court's decision is that planting by itself is infringement. That conclusion is inconsistent with precedent and with previous cases.
The Court cites its 1962 decision, Wilbur-Ellis Co. v. Kuther, for the proposition that a purchaser cannot make another version of the patented item under the exhaustion doctrine. However, the Court did not mention that Kuther involved a situation in which the purchaser was not found liable for patent infringement. Specifically, the purchaser retrofitted a patented sardine-canning machine so that it could handle larger sizes of cans. Although the patent owner claimed this retrofitting to be an unauthorized reconstruction of the patented machine, the Court held that in adjusting and putting together the unpatented parts the purchaser was engaging in authorized repair.
Bowman argued that by planting the seed, he was harnessing the unpatented reproductive capacity of the seed. The Court dismissed this argument as the "blame the bean defense." Admittedly, the argument might mean a broad exhaustion doctrine for self-replicating technologies, a conclusion that is equally troubling as the Federal Circuit's broad exemption from exhaustion for such technologies. But the Court dismissed this argument too quickly. By concluding that planting is by its very nature reconstruction, the Court ignores the unpatented natural processes that are embodied in the act of planting. The use of the unpatented natural processes is discounted completely. In ruling against Bowman, the Court relied on a precedent that in some of its elements favored the purchaser.
The Court also relied on its 1882 decision, Cotton-Tie Company v. Simmons. In this case, the patentee distributed its patented tie for bundles for free with the cotton bales it sold under the express licensing term that the ties be used only once. The defendant collected the used ties and reconstructed them. The Court held that the defendant infringed the patent. The facts of Bowman are similar to that of Simmons. Both bought used versions of the patented product and reused them. But there are key differences. The Court's finding of infringement in Simmons rested on a clear application of the claims of the patent which covered precisely the reconstruction of the patented ties. In Bowman, however, the Court relies on a dictionary definition of the work make to conclude that since the patented gene was part of the next generation of seeds grown by Bowman, the farmer had made the patented invention. The Court does not consult the language of the claims. Instead the Court concludes that planting is making and, under the Patent Act, any making is an infringement.
But the Bowman Court seems to be confused on when exactly making is infringement. In footnote 3, the Court considers the hypothetical of a farmer buying the patented seeds from Monsanto without an express licensing term that allowed the farmer to plant the seeds. The Court says that in such a scenario, the farmer would have an implied license to plant the seed once. But if planting is infringement, from where does this implied license arise? The Court seems to be saying that the implied license is inherent to the transaction. Why else would a sane farmer buy the seed from Monsanto except to plant?, the Court implicitly asks. The Court, of course, gives an answer to this question when it acknowledges that there are uses of the seed that would be protected from infringement under patent exhaustion: as feed for livestock or even for personal consumption. The Court's hypothetical raises the question of when the license to plant is implied and when it is not. This confusion raises the question of the legal basis for determining when a planting of a seed is a making of the patented gene.
The Court's legal basis ultimately rests in policy. It states that its concern is with the unlimited reproduction of the patented gene which would prevent Monsanto from developing a meaningful business model for the distribution of its seed after the first sale. But exhaustion does not remove all remedies for patent owners. Breach of contractual restrictions can give rise to contract remedies, ones that may be less draconian than a patent injunction or treble damages. During oral arguments, the Court characterized this argument as having contract substitute for patent. That is a mischaracterization. Contract remedies can supplement patent remedies, particularly in cases of exhaustion. Contract remedies do not eviscerate a patent, and they do not serve as a poor substitute for a patent. Instead, contract remedies in the case of exhaustion serve to balance the rights of patent owners with those of consumers, business people, and inventors that make use of patented articles. The Court affirmed this notion in footnote 7 of its 2008 Quanta decision, which remains good law after Bowman.
What is the most revealing about the Court's opinion is its frequent reference to the "patent monopoly." When I first read that phrase, which appears four times in a ten page opinion, I kept thinking of the bad old days of Justice Douglas, who viewed patents as inherently anti-competitive. The Court in Bowman, however, uses the term of patent monopoly to refer to the patentee's exclusive rights in the specific patented article that is sold. According to the Court, the monopoly in that particular article is broad and is compromised if unauthorized making is allowed. The Court sees that threat in Bowman. Unfortunately, in reaching its decision the Court based its decision almost exclusively on the interests of the patent monopolist without thorough consideration of its own precedent, the analysis of the underlying unpatented natural processes, and the relationship among planting, making, and implied license. With the patent at issue about to expire, perhaps the impact of the decision is minimal. However, with the next generation of Round Up Ready and genetically modified seed currently under review in the USPTO, the impact of the decision will undoubtedly be felt by the next generation of inventions and users.
Shubha Ghosh is The Vilas Research Fellow & Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School.