Willful Infringement Center Stage at Federal Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently issued a unanimous panel decision in Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc. This decision may have more far-reaching implications for patent reform than any other decision reached by any court in recent memory. The issue of particular interest in this case was willful infringement, and in a concurring opinion, Judges O’Malley and Hughes wrote that the majority was constrained by the Federal Circuit’s precedent in In re Seagate and Bard Peripheral Vascular v. W.L. Gore, but that recent Supreme Court decisions call into question the continued viability of that precedent. As such, Judges O’Malley and Hughes urged the Federal Circuit to reconsider en banc the standard for awarding enhanced damages under 35 U.S.C. 284.

The case came to the Federal Circuit on an appeal by Halo Electronics, Inc. (“Halo”), who appealed from multiple decisions of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. First, Halo appealed the granting of summary judgment that Pulse Electronics, Inc. and Pulse Electronics Corp. (collectively “Pulse”) did not sell or offer to sell within the United States the accused products they manufactured for delivery to buyers outside the United States. Second, Halo also appealed the granting of summary judgment that Pulse did not directly infringe Halo’s U.S. Patents 5,656,985 (the “’985 patent”), 6,297,720(the “’720 patent”), and 6,344,785 (the “’785 patent”) (collectively “the Halo patents”). Finally, Halo appealed the holding that Pulse’s infringement of the Halo patents with respect to certain accused products that Pulse sold and delivered in the United States was not willful.

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Federal Circuit Affirms Inequitable Conduct Against Apotex

Apotex Inc. and Apotex Corp. (collectively, “Apotex”) appealed the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida finding that Apotex’s U.S. Patent No. 6,767,556 (“the ’556 patent”) is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct. Apotex likewise appealed the district court determination that the asserted claims were indefinite, that they disclaimed coverage of the accused products from the scope of the ’556 patent’s claims, and any recovery of pre-suit damages was barred by laches. In an opinion authored by Judge Reyna (with Judges Wallach and Hughes joining), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding inequitable conduct, and on that basis alone, affirmed the district court’s judgment. See Apotex, Inc. v. UCB, Inc. (August 15, 2014).

The ’556 patent is generally directed to a process for manufacturing moexipril tablets. Moexipril is an angio-tensin-converting enzyme (“ACE”) inhibitor used to treat hypertension. To improve stability, the ’556 patent discloses a process of making moexipril tablets consisting mostly of moexipril magnesium obtained by reacting moexipril, or its acid-addition salts, with an alkaline magnesium compound.

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CAFC Reverses Summary Judgment for Lack of Adequate Written Description

In ScriptPro, LLC v. Innovation Associates, the Federal Circuit recently addressed the sufficiency of a disclosure vis-a-vis the patent claims issued.

The dispute arose when ScriptPro, LLC and ScriptPro USA, Inc. (collectively, “ScriptPro”) sued Innovation Associates, Inc, alleging infringement of claims 1, 2, 4, and 8 of U.S. Patent No. 6,910,601. The district court granted summary judgment for Innovation Associates, holding that the asserted claims were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 112(a) because the specification describes a machine containing “sensors” and the claims at issue describe a machine that does not need to have “sensors.” ScriptPro appealed and the Federal Circuit, per Judge Taranto (with Judges Bryson and Hughes) reversed, finding summary judgement inappropriate.

Generally speaking, the ’601 patent describes as the invention a “collating unit,” which works with an “automatic dispensing system” that automatically fills and labels pill bottles or other prescription containers. The collating unit has a number of storage positions (e.g., slots) into which containers are placed as they emerge from the dispensing system. The claims at issue do not require “sensors,” although other claims of the ’601 patent do require the use of a “plurality of sensors.”

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Chief Judge Rader Apologizes for Recusals

On Friday, May 23, 2014, right before the long holiday weekend, news began to circulate that Chief Judge Rader had announced that he would be stepping down as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Immediately, the Wall Street Journal and Law.com began speculating that Judge Rader’s decision to step down was tied to an email endorsing attorney Edward Reines, a patent lawyer at Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and president of the Federal Circuit Advisory Council. This speculation picked up when Rader released a letter (see below) to the public addressed to the other members of the Federal Circuit apologizing for the appearance of impropriety associated with his email to Reines (whom he did not name directly), which necessitated his several recent recusals.

I find myself speechless, which doesn’t happen often. On the one hand, those that know Judge Rader know that he is extremely strong-willed and always eager for a vigorous substantive debate. The thought that any familiarity with someone who appears before him would lead to any advantage strikes me as thoroughly nonsensical. On the other hand, ethics for lawyers and even more so for judges is not about truth, but rather appearances.

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CAFC: Robot Patents Not Infringed, but Valid

In Intouch Technologies, Inc. v. VGo Communications, Inc., the patent dispute was about robots. InTouch and VGo both manufacture remote telepresence robot systems. In 2012, InTouch filed a First Amended Complaint in the Central District of California alleging that VGo’s remote telepresence robot system infringed several of its patents, including U.S. Patent Nos. 6,346,962 (“the ’962 patent”), 6,925,357 (“the ’357 patent”), and 7,593,030 (“the ’030 patent”). The asserted patents generally relate to remote telepresence technology regarding camera movement, arbitrating control of a robot, and a call back mechanism to notify a previously denied user that the robot is now available. VGo counterclaimed for declaratory judgment of non-infringement and invalidity.

After a jury trial, the jury returned a verdict of non-infringement of all three asserted patents. It also found claim 79 of the ’357 patent and claim 1 of the ’030 patent invalid based on obviousness. The district court subsequently denied motions for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial regarding non-infringement, invalidity, and evidentiary rulings.

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