Federal Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment in Golf Club Infringement Case

On September 16, 2010, Nassau Precision Casting Co., Inc., owner of U.S. Patent No. 5,486,000, entitled “Weighted Golf Iron Club Head,” brought a patent infringement lawsuit accusing Acushnet of infringing claims 1 and 2 of the ’000 patent by making, offering to sell, and selling its Cobra S9, Cobra S9 Second Generation, King Cobra UFi, and Cobra S2 clubs. The ’000 patent describes what it says is an improvement in the distribution of weight within the head of a golf club. The purpose of the invention is to achieve “sweet spot-enhancement, i.e. significant improvement in the ball-striking efficacy of the club head, while maintaining the same starting overall weight of the club head.”

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted summary judgment of non-infringement to Acushnet. On June 6, 2014, the Federal Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded after determining that, based on the district court’s claim interpretation, the only element found lacking from the accused device relative to claim 2 was in fact present in the accused device. See Nassau Precision Casting v. Acushnet Company, Inc.

Claim 1 of the ’000 patent reads:

1. In a golf iron club head of a type having a ball-striking body of weight-imparting construction material inclined at a selected angle for driving a struck golf ball a corresponding selected height during its trajectory, said body having spaced-apart top and bottom surfaces bounding a ball-striking surface therebetween, the method of improving weight distribution comprising removing construction material from said top surface, relocating said removed construction material from said top surface to clearance positions below said top surface located adjacent opposite ends of said bottom, surface whereby said removed construction material from a location not used during ball-striking service of said golf iron, is of no adverse consequence thereto and said removed construction material in said relocated positions contributes to increasing said height attained by a struck golf ball.

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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 Sends Dismissed Interference Back to Board

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently decided a case arising out of an interference proceeding before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) relating to drug treatments for spinal nerve injuries. See Tobinick v. Olmarker (Fed. Cir., May 19, 2014).

Kjell Olmarker and Bjorn Rydevik (collectively “Olmarker”) are the named inventors on U.S. Patent Nos. 7,708,995 and 7,811,990. In order to provoke an interference, Edward Tobinick copied claims from the ’995 patent and the ’990 patent into his patent application.

In the USPTO proceeding, the Board construed “administered locally” as administering the claimed therapeutic compound “directly to the site where it is intended to act, that is, to the location where the nucleus pulposus is causing the symptoms of the nerve disorder.” Based on this construction, the Board found that Edward Tobinick’s patent application did not contain written description support for the interference count. Therefore, without written description support for the count, the Board concluded that Tobinick lacked standing for the interference proceeding, and dismissed the interference.

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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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CAFC: Pre-AIA 102(g)(2) Captures Reduction in US on Invention Conceived in Russia

On February 12, 2014, the Federal Circuit issued its decision in Solvay S.A. v. Honeywell International. In this case, Solvay S.A. appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware in favor of defendant Honeywell International. The district court held that asserted claim 1 of Solvay’s U.S. Patent No. 6,730,817 was invalid under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. § 102(g)(2). The question at the heart of this appeal, as dictated by the specific factual scenario, was whether an invention conceived by a foreign inventor and reduced to practice in the United States qualifies as prior art under § 102(g)(2). This was the operative question because engineers working at the Russian Scientific Center for Applied Chemistry (“RSCAC”) first conceived the invention, which was reduced to practice in this country by Honeywell personnel pursuant to the RSCAC’s instructions, and they did not abandon, suppress, or conceal it.

At trial, Honeywell argued that the invention was conceived by Russian inventors outside the United States and reduced to practice in the United States by Honeywell personnel following the Russian inventors’ instructions before the ’817 patent’s priority date. As a result, Honeywell argued, the invention qualifies as §102(g)(2) prior art. A jury ultimately determined that, as required by § 102(g)(2), the Russian Scientific Center for Applied Chemistry did disclose the invention of claim 1 in the 1994 Russian patent application, which means that they did not abandon, suppress, or conceal the invention. Based on the jury verdict, the district court entered judgment for Honeywell, finding asserted claim 1 invalid under § 102(g)(2).

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