Supreme Court Decides Commil USA v. Cisco Systems

On May 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc., a case that dealt with inducement to infringe. More specifically, the issue considered by the Supreme Court was whether a good faith belief of patent invalidity is a defense to a claim of induced infringement. In a 6-2 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court ruled that belief of invalidity is not a defense to a claim of induced infringement.

Justice Kennedy started his substantive analysis with a discussion of direct infringement, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Thomas, who joined in the majority with respect to Parts II-B and III, did not join the majority relative to the background discussion. Justice Thomas did not write a separate opinion so we can’t know for sure, but it seems  that Thomas chose not to join parts of the decision that were historical in nature (Part I) and the part of the decision where the majority discussed substantive legal issues not specifically germane to the issue presented.

Moving beyond direct infringement being a strict liability offense, and inducement requiring direct infringement, Justice Kennedy ultimately reached the question presented, namely whether a good faith belief of patent invalidity is a defense to a claim of induced infringement. Kennedy explained: “[B]ecause infringement and validity are separate issues under the Act, belief regarding validity cannot negate the scienter required under §271(b).” Kennedy concluded: “Were this Court to interpret §271(b) as permitting a defense of belief in invalidity, it would conflate the issues of infringement and validity.”

Kennedy seemed sympathetic to those who argue that an invalid patent cannot be infringed, which seems to make common sense. But he went on to explain that logic and semantics sometimes must give way to interpretation of an otherwise clear statutory framework:

[T]he questions courts must address when interpreting and implementing the statutory framework require a determination of the procedures and sequences that the parties must follow to prove the act of wrongful inducement and any related issues of patent validity. “Validity and infringement are distinct issues, bearing different burdens, different presumptions, and different evidence.” 720 F. 3d, at 1374 (opinion of Newman, J.). To be sure, if at the end of the day, an act that would have been an infringement or an inducement to infringe pertains to a patent that is shown to be invalid, there is no patent to be infringed. But the allocation of the burden to persuade on these questions, and the timing for the presentations of the relevant arguments, are concerns of central relevance to the orderly administration of the patent system.

In addition to the statutory language that Kennedy found clearly on point, he explained that there were also several practical reasons why a good faith defense should not be allowed. For example, if someone believes that a patent is invalid, they should file a declaratory judgment action (assuming they have standing) or could file a petition for inter partes review with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).

Kennedy also specifically explained that the Court is mindful of abusive litigation tactics employed by so-called patent trolls. Raising the issue seemed wholly out of place and a bit odd given that Kennedy also quickly explained that in this case the parties raised no issue of frivolity. The issue of patent trolls must be weighing on the Court very heavily for it to be inserted by Kennedy in a decision where no one was alleged to have been a patent troll.

A Primer on the PATENT Act

The Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship (PATENT) Act, introduced on April 30, 2015, by Senator Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Leahy (D-VT), is the Senate version of the Innovation Act in the House. The PATENT Act would establish higher pleading standards for patent infringement complaints, which the sponsors say would give defendants real notice of the claims against them. The bill also contains a controversial “customer stay” provision similar to the one found in the Innovation Act. This could prove to be a huge stumbling block because, the way the provisions are written, even the largest tech companies could move to indefinitely stay patent litigation; they are often themselves consumers (i.e., they have purchased something from another manufacturing company). While the Senate Judiciary Committee’s summary of the PATENT Act says that the “customer stay is available only to those at the end of the supply chain,” like the coffee shop, the language found in the bill is actually far broader in scope. (more…)

Software Patents and the Internet of Things

The “Internet of Things” is a concept that just a few years ago seemed like science fiction, but today seems to be an impending science reality that promises to change the way that we are connected to and use information.

The speedy evolution of the“Internet of Things” (“IoT”) is why the phrase is frequently called a concept, but it really is much more than that. IoT is used to describe the not-too-distant future where ordinary, everyday objects are connected to the Internet. That means that those objects, which can range from wearable devices to washing machines to lamps and coffee makers, will not only be able to relate to the user, but will be able to relate to one another and act in unison.

As with any technology market predicted to rapidly grow, there has been a lot of innovation from a variety of leading technology companies, including IBM, Apple, Google, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and many more. There have also been many exciting innovations from both individuals and start-up companies. Of course, patents can be found whenever there is a technology revolution, and connecting the world through both traditionally high-tech and low-tech devices is absolutely a revolution. But it is a revolution where the technical magic, such as it is, will come in the form of software.

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USPTO Still Accepting Applications into Glossary Pilot

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that it is continuing to accept applications into the Glossary Pilot. The Glossary Pilot will run until June 2, 2015, or until the USPTO accepts 200 grantable petitions, whichever occurs first. To date, the USPTO has granted more than 100 petitions and has more than 50 others pending.

Beginning on January 2, 2014, the Patent Office initiated the so-called “Glossary Pilot Program” to study how the inclusion of a glossary section in the specification of a patent application at the time of filing the application would improve the clarity of the patent claims and facilitate examination of patent applications by the USPTO. There is no requirement that a glossary section be provided by an applicant as part of the patent application specification, and terms that are not defined are given their ordinary plain meaning as would be understood by one of skill in the art. In order to participate in the Glossary Pilot Program, an applicant is required to include a glossary section in the patent application specification to define terms used in the patent application. Applications accepted receive expedited processing by placing them on an examiner’s special docket prior to the first Office action, and will have special status up to issuance of a first Office action.

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Understanding the Rules of the Game for Doing Business in China

There are significant hurdles to doing business in China. But with a population over 1.4 billion people, the Chinese marketplace is one that rightfully attracts attention from those interested in doing business abroad.

If your business does not quality as a “small entity” at the USPTO, then you absolutely should be doing business in China. But if you own a truly small business or start-up company, you almost certainly do not have the resources necessary to be doing business in China in a proper and responsible way. Where the threshold is between too small for China and too big not to be doing business in China is hard to say, but it is fair to say that all businesses of all sizes should at least investigate the realities of doing business in China and have a China strategy in place.

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