Saturday, May 30, 2020

Mueller - Patent Law Sixth Edition 2020

Janice Mueller's Patent Law (2020, Sixth Edition) was released on May 18, 2020. It looks like another useful edition. It is an introduction to US patent law with lots of detail (1296 pages). It also looks complete based on my review of the table of contents.  I am not affiliated with the author nor her publisher and only post because it has merit for those that need an introduction or review of US patent law. I like the Kindle version so its on several devices, but if you like things in paper here's the link. To get a Kindle version just click on the e-textbook tab.

Copyright © 2020 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Professor Lemley - Without Preamble

Professor Mark Lemley's article Without Preamble (2019-2020) relates to the topic of claim construction, which can determine the outcome of patent litigation.

As background, a US patent claim has three parts: (1) a preamble, which states what the invention is or its environment, (2) a transitional term (e.g., comprising), and (3) a body that lists the steps of a method or the structure of a system. Generally, courts hold a preamble is a claim limitation "if it gives life, meaning and vitality" to the claim or recites essential structure or steps. Yes, it's a case by case determination. Perhaps a more practical test is whether the preamble is referenced repeatedly in the body. If so, the preamble is a claim limitation, i.e., for purpose of determining validity and infringement. See Mueller, Patent Law (2020).

Turning to Professor Lemley's Abstract:

"The Federal Circuit is ignoring a significant share of the words of patent claims. That's a bad idea as a matter of policy. It is virtually impossible to tell when the court is going to do it. And it’s inconsistent with the idea that the claims define the scope of the invention, and with how the Supreme Court thinks about claim construction and its closest analogies, statutory interpretation and construing contracts.

The culprit is a labyrinthine set of rules the Federal Circuit uses to decide whether or not to include the 'preamble' to a patent claim as a part of the claim. The words of the preamble, which can sometimes amount to more than half of the whole claim, might or might not be treated as part of the invention depending on a complex of factors, including whether the claim reads as a complete sentence without it, whether the same words are used in both the preamble and the body of the claim, whether the body of the claim includes the magic word 'said,' whether the preamble merely claims a use, benefit, or environment for the claim, and whether the preamble 'is necessary to breathe life and meaning into the claim.'

In Part I I discuss the bizarre body of law around patent claim preambles and how the law got to its current confused state. In Part II I suggest that the rule serves no useful purpose, and that if and when the Supreme Court gets such a case it should and will sweep the rule away. Patent applicants should be drafting patents with that fact in mind, and the rest of us should be interpreting claims with one eye on the fact that this is a doctrine whose days are numbered."

In short, this article asks courts drop the case by case determination test we use today on whether the preamble is a part of the claim just as much as the body of the claim. Saying the preamble always counts as proposed removes uncertainty, but means more patent claims will be held to not infringe. Further, this helps defendants rather than patent owners since a non-infringement defense is preferred to proving invalidity in court.

Copyright © 2020 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 25, 2020

National Law Review - To promote Innovation, Congress Should Lessen Restrictions on Injunctive Relief for Patent Owners

In a National Law Review article: To promote Innovation, Congress Should Lessen Restrictions on Injunctive Relief for Patent Owners, Paul Michel, retired Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit, tackles the issue of injunctive relief for valid and infringed US patents.

Read the article for the argument, but here are a few of his observations:

"For much of our country’s history, permanent injunctions were the norm once patent infringement and validity were proven at trial by the patent owner. And getting an injunction depended on facts, not the patent owner’s business model – for example, whether they manufactured or licensed their invention. The practice was stable for all of that time – until recently."

"In 2006, in the Supreme Court’s eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C. decision, the Court upended this settled practice, ruling that injunctions should not be automatically issued in patent cases and clarifying that courts must apply a four-part test to determine whether an injunction should be granted."

"For some years after, the pattern of injunction grants changed little. But eventually, it shifted greatly, as lower courts began to make injunction determinations based primarily on the patent owner’s identity. Those who manufacture products continued to get injunctions, while those who chose to license their patents instead, no longer did."

Copyright © 2020 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Federal Circuit - Uniloc v. LG - Software Claims Not Patent Ineligible

In Uniloc v. LG, the Federal Circuit held the claims were not patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

As background, Uniloc sued LG for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,993,049 ('the 049 patent) and LG moved to dismiss the complaint under FRCP 12(b)(6) arguing the claims of the '049 patent are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Section 101 provides that whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof may obtain a patent, but the Supreme Court has held that "abstract ideas are not patent eligible." Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 573 U.S. 208, 216 (2014).

In Alice, the Supreme Court stated two-steps for determining patent eligibility. A court: (1) determines whether the claims are directed to an abstract idea; and (2) if so, considers the claim elements individually and as an ordered combination to determine whether the additional elements transform the claim into a patent-eligible application.

In cases relating to software, step one often turns on whether the claims focus on specific improvements in computer or network capabilities or instead focus on a process or system that is an abstract idea for which computers are invoked merely as a tool.

The Federal Circuit reminded it has "routinely held software claims patent eligible under Alice step one when directed to improvements in the functioning of computers or network platforms itself."  The Federal Circuit then buttressed this statement by summarizing some of its patent eligibility decisions: DDR Holdings v., Enfish v. Microsoft, Visual Memory v. NVIDIA, Ancora v. HTC, Data Engine v. Google, Core Wireless v. LG.

The Federal Circuit then held the claims are directed to a patent-eligible improvement to computer functionality, namely the reduction of latency experience in parked secondary stations in communications systems.

The Federal Circuit explained:

"The claims at issue do not merely recite generalized steps to be performed on a computer using conventional computer activity. Instead, they are directed to 'adding to each inquiry message prior to transmission an additional data field for polling at least one secondary station.' See, e.g., ’049 patent at Claim 2. And this change in the manner of transmitting data results in reduced response time by peripheral devices which are part of the claimed system.

As the patent explains, for secondary stations joining a piconet in the prior art systems, “it could take half a minute or more from the time a user moves a mouse to a cursor moving on a screen.” Id. at 2:10–12. Because polling was “suspended during this cycle, for up to 10.24 seconds at a time,” parked secondary stations in prior art systems could experience similar delays after each period of inactivity. Id. at 2:13–16. The claimed addition of a data field for polling to the inquiry message significantly reduces the response time, enabling secondary stations to respond a fraction of a second later. See, e.g., ’049 patent at 5:36–41. Even LG concedes that this reduction in latency 'is the very reason for polling during the inquiry process in the first place.' Appellees’ Br. 54 (citing, e.g., J.A. 1375–77, 1394). To the extent LG argues that the claims themselves must expressly mention the reduced latency achieved by the claimed system, LG is in error.

Claims need not articulate the advantages of the claimed combinations to be eligible. We conclude that the claims at issue are not directed to the abstract idea of performing additional polling in wireless communication systems or performing additional polling using inquiry messages. These claims are directed to a specific asserted improvement to the functionality of the communication system itself.

The claimed invention’s compatibility with conventional communication systems does not render it abstract. Nor does the fact that the improvement is not defined by reference to “physical” components."

As a patent attorney, Uniloc and its predecessors define a significant patent eligibility space for claims directed to "computer and network specific improvements."

Copyright © 2020 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.