Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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The rock group “The Slants,” chose that name to dilute the term’s denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asians. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied an application for registration of the name under 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), which prohibits the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit in finding the clause unconstitutional. The Court first rejected an argument that the clause applies only to natural or juristic persons. The Court then held that the clause is subject to the Free Speech Clause, which does not regulate government speech. Trademarks are private, not government speech. "If trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.” The disparagement clause denies registration to any mark that is offensive to a substantial percentage of the members of any group. That is viewpoint discrimination. The “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.” The disparagement clause cannot withstand even “relaxed” review. It does not serve a “substantial interest,” nor is it “narrowly drawn.” View "Matal v. Tam" on Justia Law

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The Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, concerning FDA approval of a drug that is biosimilar to an already-licensed biological “reference product,” 42 U.S.C. 262(k), treats submission of a biosimilar application as an “artificial” patent infringement. An applicant must provide its biosimilar application and manufacturing information to the reference product’s sponsor. The parties collaborate to identify patents for immediate litigation. Second phase litigation is triggered when the applicant gives the sponsor notice at least 180 days before commercially marketing the biosimilar. Amgen claims patents on methods of manufacturing and using filgrastim. Sandoz sought FDA approval to market a biosimilar, Zarxio, and notified Amgen that it had submitted an application, that it intended to market Zarxio immediately upon receiving FDA approval, and that it did not intend to provide application and manufacturing information. Amgen sued for patent infringement and asserted that Sandoz engaged in “unlawful” conduct under California law by failure to provide its application and manufacturing information and by notification of commercial marketing before obtaining FDA licensure. The FDA licensed Zarxio. Sandoz provided Amgen another notice of commercial marketing. The Supreme Court unanimously held that section 262(l)(2)(A) is not enforceable by injunction under federal law, but the Federal Circuit should determine whether a state-law injunction is available. Submitting an application constitutes artificial infringement; failing to disclose the application and manufacturing information does not. Section 262(l)(9)(C) provides a remedy for failure to turn over the application and manufacturing information, authorizing the sponsor, but not the applicant, to bring an immediate declaratory-judgment action, thus vesting in the sponsor the control that the applicant would otherwise have exercised over the scope and timing of the patent litigation. An applicant may provide notice under section 262(l)(8)(A) before obtaining FDA licensure. View "Sandoz Inc. v. Amgen Inc." on Justia Law

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Lexmark holds patents on the components of toner cartridges that it manufactures and sells. Lexmark allows consumers to buy a cartridge at full price, with no restrictions, or to buy a cartridge at a discount through Lexmark’s “Return Program,” by signing a contract agreeing to use the cartridge only once and to refrain from transferring the cartridge to anyone but Lexmark. Remanufacturers acquire empty Lexmark cartridges—including Return Program cartridges—from purchasers in the U.S. and overseas, refill them, and resell them in the U.S. Lexmark sued remanufacturers with respect to Return Program cartridges that Lexmark had sold within the U.S. and cartridges that Lexmark had sold abroad and that remanufacturers imported into the country. The Federal Circuit ruled for Lexmark with respect to both. The Supreme Court reversed. Lexmark exhausted its patent rights (35 U.S.C. 271(a)) in all of the cartridges. A patentee’s decision to sell a product exhausts all of its patent rights in that item, regardless of any restrictions the patentee purports to impose. If a patentee negotiates a contract restricting the purchaser’s right to use or resell an item, it may be able to enforce that restriction as a matter of contract law, but may not do so through a patent infringement lawsuit. The exhaustion doctrine is not a presumption about the authority that comes along with a sale; it is a limit on the scope of the patentee’s rights. The Patent Act just ensures that the patentee receives one reward—of whatever it considers satisfactory compensation—for every item that passes outside the scope of its patent monopoly. View "Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc." on Justia Law

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The “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of a “design of a useful article” are eligible for copyright protection as artistic works if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article,” 17 U.S.C. 101. Plaintiffs have copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs, consisting of lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes, appearing on cheerleading uniforms that they design, make, and sell. They sued a competitor for infringement. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. That test is satisfied here. The feature cannot be a useful article or “[a]n article that is normally a part of a useful article,” nor the replica of a useful article in another medium. While plaintiffs have no right to prevent anyone from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform that is identical in shape, cut, or dimensions to the uniforms at issue here, an artistic feature that is eligible for copyright protection on its own does not lose that protection simply because it was first created as a feature of the design of a useful article, even if it makes that article more useful. View "Star Athletica, L. L. C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

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Promega sublicensed a patent, which claims a toolkit for genetic testing, to Life Technologies for the manufacture and sale of kits for use in licensed law enforcement fields worldwide. One of the kit’s five components, an enzyme, was manufactured by Life Technologies in the U.S. and shipped to the United Kingdom, where the other components were made, for combination there. When Life Technologies began selling kits outside the licensed fields of use, Promega sued, citing section 271(f)(1) of the Patent Act, which prohibits the supply from the U.S. of “all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” for combination abroad. The district court held that the section did not encompass the supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention. The Federal Circuit reversed, reasoning that a single important component could constitute a “substantial portion” of the components of an invention. The Supreme Court reversed. The supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention for manufacture abroad does not give rise to liability under section 271(f)(1), which refers to a quantitative measurement. The Court rejected Promega’s proffered “case-specific approach,” which would require a factfinder to decipher whether the components at issue are a “substantial portion” under either a qualitative or a quantitative test. When a product is made abroad and all components but a single commodity article are supplied from abroad, the activity is outside the statute’s scope. View "Life Technologies Corp. v. Promega Corp." on Justia Law

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The Patent Act prohibits the manufacture or sale an “article of manufacture” to which a patented design or a colorable imitation thereof has been applied and makes an infringer liable “to the extent of his total profit,” 35 U.S.C. 289. A jury found that Samsung smartphones infringed Apple's design patents, which covered a rectangular front face with rounded edges and a grid of colorful icons on a black screen. Apple was awarded $399 million—Samsung’s entire profit from the sale of its infringing smartphones. The Federal Circuit affirmed the award. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed and remanded. In the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant “article of manufacture” for a section 289 damages award need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product. The Court noted Patent Act section 171(a), which makes certain “design[s] for an article of manufacture” eligible for design patent protection and permits a design patent that extends to only a component of a multicomponent product. The term “article of manufacture” is broad enough to embrace both a product sold to a consumer and a component of that product, whether sold separately or not. The Court declined to resolve whether the relevant article of manufacture for each design patent at issue is the smartphone or a particular smartphone component. View "Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law

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Marvel Entertainment’s corporate predecessor agreed to purchase Kimble’s patent for a Spider-Man toy in exchange for a lump sum plus a 3% royalty on future sales. The agreement set no end date for royalties. As the patent neared the end of its statutory 20-year term, Marvel discovered Brulotte v. Thys Co., in which the Supreme Court held that a patentee cannot continue to receive royalties for sales made after his patent expires and sought a declaratory judgment that it could stop paying Kimble royalties. The district court granted relief. The Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed, adhering to Brulotte. A patent typically expires 20 years from its application date. 35 U S.C. 154(a)(2). At that point, the unrestricted right to make or use the article passes to the public. The Brulotte rule may prevent some parties from entering into deals they desire, but parties can often find ways to achieve similar outcomes. Congress, moreover, has had multiple opportunities to reverse Brulotte and has even rejected bills that would have replaced Brulotte’s per se rule with the rule of reason standard. Congress, not the Court, gets to make patent policy. View "Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC" on Justia Law

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Akamai is the exclusive licensee of a patent that claims a method of delivering electronic data using a content delivery network (CDN). Limelight also operates a CDN and carries out several of the steps claimed in the patent, but its customers, rather than Limelight itself, perform a step of the patent known as “tagging.” Under Federal Circuit case law, liability for direct infringement under 35 U.S.C. 271(a) requires performance of all steps of a method patent to be attributable to a single party. The district court concluded that Limelight could not have directly infringed the patent at issue because performance of the tagging step could not be attributed to it. The en banc Federal Circuit reversed, holding that a defendant who performed some steps of a method patent and encouraged others to perform the rest could be liable for inducement of infringement even if no one was liable for direct infringement. The Supreme Court reversed. A defendant is not liable for inducing infringement under section 271(b) when no one has directly infringed. The Federal Circuit’s contrary view would deprive section 271(b) of ascertainable standards and require the courts to develop parallel bodies of infringement law. Citing section 271(f), the Court stated that Congress knows how to impose inducement liability predicated on noninfringing conduct when it wishes to do so. Though a would-be infringer could evade liability by dividing performance of a method patent’s steps with another whose conduct cannot be attributed to the defendant, a desire to avoid this consequence does not justify fundamentally altering the rules of inducement liability clearly required by the Patent Act’s text and structure. View "Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Techs, Inc." on Justia Law

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A patent specification must “conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as [the] invention,” 35 U.S.C. 112. The 753 patent involves a heart-rate monitor used with exercise equipment; it asserts that prior monitors were often inaccurate in measuring the electrical signals accompanying each heartbeat (ECG signals) because of the presence of other electrical signals generated by the user’s skeletal muscles that can impede ECG signal detection. The invention claims to improve on prior art by detecting and processing ECG signals in a way that filters out the interference. Claim 1 refers to a “heart rate monitor for use by a user in association with exercise apparatus and/or exercise procedures.” The claim comprises a cylindrical bar fitted with a display device; electronic circuitry including a difference amplifier; and, on each half of the bar, a “live” electrode and a “common” electrode “mounted ... in spaced relationship with each other.” The exclusive licensee alleged that Nautilus, without obtaining a license, sold exercise machines containing its patented technology. The district court granted Nautilus summary judgment on the ground that the claim term “in spaced relationship with each other” failed the definiteness requirement. The Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that a patent claim passes the threshold so long as the claim is “amenable to construction,” and, as construed, is not “insolubly ambiguous.” The Supreme Court vacated. A patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in light of the patent’s specification and prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention. Section 112’s definiteness requirement must take into account the inherent limitations of language. The standard mandates clarity, while recognizing that absolute precision is unattainable. The Federal Circuit inquired whether the claims were “amenable to construction” or “insolubly ambiguous,” but such formulations lack the precision section 112 demands. To tolerate imprecision just short of that rendering a claim “insolubly ambiguous” would diminish the definiteness requirement’s public-notice function and foster the innovation-discouraging “zone of uncertainty.” The Court remanded so that the Federal Circuit can reconsider, under the proper standard, whether the relevant claims in the 753 patent are sufficiently definite. View "Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc" on Justia Law

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Lexmark sells the only type of toner cartridges that work with its laser printers; remanufacturers acquire and refurbish used Lexmark cartridges to sell in competition with Lexmark’s new and refurbished cartridges. Lexmark’s “Prebate” program gives customers a discount on new cartridges if they agree to return empty cartridges to the company. Every Prebate cartridge has a microchip that disables the empty cartridge unless Lexmark replaces the chip. Static Control makes and sells components for cartridge remanufacture and developed a microchip that mimicked Lexmark’s. Lexmark sued for copyright infringement. Static Control counterclaimed that Lexmark engaged in false or misleading advertising under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and caused Static Control lost sales and damage to its business reputation. The district court held that Static Control lacked “prudential standing,” applying a multifactor balancing test. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying a “reasonable interest” test. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. The Court stated that the issue was not “prudential standing.” Whether a plaintiff comes within a statute’s zone of interests requires traditional statutory interpretation. The Lanham Act includes in its statement of purposes, “protect[ing] persons engaged in [commerce within the control of Congress] against unfair competition.” “Unfair competition” is concerned with injuries to business reputation and sales. A section 1125(a) plaintiff must show that its injury flows directly from the deception caused by the defendant’s advertising; that occurs when deception causes consumers to withhold trade from the plaintiff. The zone-of-interests test and the proximate-cause requirement identify who may sue under section 1125(a) and provide better guidance than the multi-factor balancing test, the direct-competitor test, or the reasonable-interest test. Static Control comes within the class of plaintiffs authorized to sue under section 1125(a). Its alleged injuries fall within the zone of interests protected by the Act, and it sufficiently alleged that its injuries were proximately caused by Lexmark’s misrepresentations. View "Lexmark Int’l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc." on Justia Law