Written Description Must Support Claims; Not Exclude Alternatives

In The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University v. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, [2015-2011] (June 27, 2017), the Federal Circuit vacated the PTAB’s determination in an interference that Stanford’s claims were unpatentable for lack of written description, because the Board relied on improper evidence to support its key
findings and did not cite to other substantial evidence to support its findings.

Whether a patent claim satisfies the written description requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 1, depends on whether the description clearly allows persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that the inventor
invented what is claimed.  Substantial evidence supports a finding that the specification satisfies the written description requirement when the essence of the original disclosure conveys the necessary information—regardless of how it conveys such information, and even when the disclosure’s words are open to different interpretations.

The Board determined that Stanford’s patent does not disclose the random massively parallel sequencing of nucleic acid sequences claimed in the later-added claims such that a person of skill in the art would have concluded that the Quake inventors were in possession of the method
claimed.  The Board concluded from the language of the specification that the specification referred to targeted, rather than the claimed random sequencing.  The specification specifically mentioned an Illumina sequencer, but in evaluating the specification, the Board relied upon information about a Roche sequencer.  Further the Board’s finding that the language did not exclude targeted sequencing ignores the fact the description might support both random and targeted sequencing.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board’s task was to determine whether the specification’s description discloses random sequencing, as recited
by the later-added claims, not whether the description does not preclude targeted MPS sequencing. The Federal Circuit said that the Board’s
error on this issue is compounded by its failure to explain the meaning of key sentences and phrases in the specification’s discussion of the sequencing process, and its failure to compare these statements to the claim limitations.

For these reasons the Federal Circuit vacated the interference decisions and remanded for the Board to reconsider whether Quake’s relevant patents and applications satisfy the written description requirement.  The Federal Circuit specifically instructed the Board to examine whether a person of ordinary skill in the art would have known, as of the priority date, that the specification’s reference to Illumina products meant random sequencing as recited in the claims, by examining the record evidence as
to pre-filing date art-related facts on Illumina products.  The Federal Circuit said that the Board may include an analysis of whether the record contains testimony or evidence, relevant to this written description analysis, showing that any post-filing date publications contain art-related facts on random sequencing or Illumina products existing on the filing date.


A §145 Action May Not Be As Appealing as a Trip to the Federal Circuit

In Nantkwest, Inc. v. Matal, [2016-1794] (June 23, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed the denial of attorneys fees to the USPTO in successfully defending civil action under 35 USC §145 brought by a patent applicant.  The statute provides that the applicant must pay “[a]ll of the expenses of the proceeding . . . regardless of the outcome.” The district court held that “expenses” did not include attorneys fees.

The Federal Circuit found that the ordinary meaning of “expenses” as defined in dictionaries and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of this term lend significant weight to the conclusion that when Congress used the phrase “all expenses,” it meant to include attorneys’ fees.  Accordingly, the Federal Circuit held “[a]ll expenses of the proceedings”
under § 145 includes the pro-rata share of the attorneys’ fees the USPTO incurred to defend applicant’s appeal.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case for the district court to enter an additional award of $78,592.50 in favor of the Director.

Although it may seem unfair that an applicant losing an appeal has to pay the Office’s cost in successfully defending the appeal of a rejection, as the Federal Circuit pointed out, this is how Congress chose to allocate the cost of an appeal to the district court.  What is unfair, however, is that this is how Congress chose to allocate the cost of an applicant’s successful appeal of an improper rejection as well.  Thus, an applicant faced with an improper rejection who brings an action under §145 and wins, is still on the hook for the Patent Office’s attorneys fees.  This unfair result alone might suggest that Congress did not intent to include attorneys’ fees in “expenses,” otherwise Congress is putting a high price on justice.

So why would an applicant chose to take a PTAB decision to district court, rather than appeal to the Federal Circuit?  The principal reason is that the PTAB may have pointed out an evidentiary defect in the applicant’s case.  If the applicant appeals to the Federal Circuit the record is fixed, and if the PTAB was correct about the defect, the Federal Circuit will simply affirm the PTAB.  However, in an action under §145 the applicant can introduce additional evidence, for example a declaration by the inventor, or by an expert, or perhaps even evidence of objective indicia of non-obviousness.  This could allow the applicant to obtain a patent, when an appeal would otherwise be futile.  Depending upon the importance of the invention, this might well be worth an additional $78,000 or so.

However is a §145 action the only way to obtain this result?  Perhaps not.  One might assume that if you do not appeal the PTAB decision that it becomes final and res judicata will prevent the application from ever getting the claims that the were the subject of the appeal. This would be a good reason to pursue the §145 action.  However, the underlying assumption may be wrong.  In In re Donohue, 226 USPQ 619 (Fed. Cir. 1985), the Federal Circuit held that the Patent Office should not apply res judicata where the applicant made a different record, for example by supplying a new affidavit or declaration:

Appellant has made a record different from that in Donohue I by submitting the Fields affidavit. This new record presents a new issue of patentability with respect to whether the previously sustained anticipation rejection can still be maintained. In view of this new issue, the PTO properly declined to make a formal res judicata rejection . . .

226 USPQ 621.  As long as Donohue remains good law, a patent applicant can file an RCE or even a continuation, supplement its records, and continue to prosecute claims whose rejection was affirmed by the PTAB (and not have to spend $80,000 on the the USPTO’s expenses in a §145 action.

It is still unfair that a successful applicant in a §145 action has to pay for the unsuccessful efforts of the USPTO in defending an improper rejection, but at least the applicant has an alternative route to continue to pursue the claims after an unsuccessful appeal to the PTAB.

Lack of Enablement in Provisional Application Results in Loss of Priority

In Storer v. Clark, [2015-1802] (June 21, 2017) the Federal Circuit affirmed PTAB’s decision awarding priority in an interference to Clark, on the grounds that Storer’s provisional application did not enable the interference subject matter.

The subject matter in dispute involved methods of treating hepatitis C by administering compounds having a specific chemical and stereochemical structure.  Storer was issued U.S. Patent No. 7,608,600, and Clark challenged priority of invention and moved to deny Storer the priority date of its provisional application.  Clark argued that the application did not enable the claimed compound, while Storer argued that the compounds were readily obtained based on the provisional application and the prior art.

Enablement was relevant for validity and to the issue of whether the provisional application was a constructive reduction to practice.  It is a question of law, and is reviewed without deference, although the factual underpinnings of enablement are reviewed for substantial evidence.

Analyzing the disclosure under the factors set forth in In re Wands, the Board determined that undue experimentation would be required to produced the claim compounds from the provisional application’s disclosure.

The Federal Circuit began its analysis noting that the boundary between a teaching sufficient to enable a person of ordinary skill in the field, and the need for undue experimentation, varies with the complexity of the
science.   While the specification need not recite textbook science, it must be more than an invitation for further research.  Further, while the application need not disclose what is well-known in the art, it is the specification, not the knowledge of one skilled in the art, that must supply the novel aspects of an invention in order to constitute adequate enablement.

The Federal Circuit concluded that substantial evidence supported the Board’s findings that the synthetic schemes in Storer’s provisional application did not enable a person of ordinary skill to produce the target compounds without undue experimentation.


Oh, No, Toto An Interactive Website Won’t Bring You to Kansas

In Nexlearn, LLC v. Allen Interactions, Inc., [2016-2170, 2016-2221](June 19, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a complaint for patent infringement for lack of personal jurisdiction.

NexLearn sued Allen Interactions in the District of Kansas alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,798,522 and breach of contract.  Allen Interactions, a Minnesota corporation, moved to dismiss NexLearn’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.  Allen Interactions argued it was not subject to specific or general jurisdiction in Kansas due to its limited contacts with the forum, which it argued amounted to a single sale unrelated to the accused product that represented less than 1% of its revenue over the past five years.

NexLearn did not argue general jurisdiction in its briefing, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of NexLearn, the district court held that NexLearn failed to allege that Allen Interactions had sufficient contacts with Kansas to permit the exercise of specific jurisdiction.

On appeal the Federal Circuit applied a three-part test, in which it determines whether: (1) the defendant purposefully directed its activities to the forum State; (2) the claims arise out of or relate to those activities (collectively, the minimum contacts prong); and (3) the assertion of jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.

The Federal Circuit discounted Allen Interactions’ activities prior to the patent issuance as irrelevant to patent infringement.  The Federal Circuit also agreed that forum selection provisions in an expired NDA and EULA agreement unrelated to the infringement, likewise did not subject Allen Interactions to specific jurisdiction in Kansas.

The Federal Circuit then considered Allen Interaction’s website. NexLearn argued that the fact that “Kansas” was in a drop down menu for billing address showed that Allen Interaction was targeting Kansas.  However the Federal Circuit found that Allen Interaction’s address selector may indicate its amenability to selling the accused product to Kansas residents, but it does not establish minimum contacts
arising out of or related to the infringement claim. The Federal Circuit said that while a Kansas resident could purchase the accused product from the Allen’s website, what was missing was any evidence that such
a sale has taken place, or that any Kansas resident ever even accessed the website.  The Federal Circuit explained that the website:

is conceptually no different than operating an out-of-state store. That a store would accept payment from a hypothetical out-of-state resident and ship its product there does not create a substantial connection for an infringement claim between the store and the hypothetical resident’s forum State. The store’s willingness to enter future transactions with out-of-state residents does not, without more, show purposeful availment of each State in which it would, but has not yet, provided or even offered a sale.

The Federal Circuit said that something more is needed—whether it be actual sales, targeted advertising, or contractual relationships—to
connect the defendant’s infringing acts of making, using, offering, or selling its product with the forum State. While what is sufficient may vary from case to case, the Federal Circuit said that it cannot be that the mere existence of an interactive website, like the existence of an out-of-state store, is suit-related conduct creating a substantial connection with the forum state.

The Federal Circuit also found that Allen Interaction’s email to a NexLearn employee regarding new features of the accused software product, and an offer to a NexLearn employees of a free trial of the accused software product were insufficient.  However the Federal Circuit rejected the district court’s rationale that this was because it was unilateral conduct on NexLearn’s part.  Instead, the Federal Circuit found that the email was a mass-email advertisement that did not show that that Kansas was a target market.  The mailing of one advertisement to
all of its nationwide subscribers did not create a substantial connection with Kansas.

Similarly with respect to the offer of a free trial, the Federal Circuit disagreed that this was irrelevant, but simply that single offer of a
free trial is too attenuated to establish minimum contacts with Kansas.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the patent infringement claim, and the supplemental claim for breach of contract as well.



The Board can Rely on a Party’s Arguments in an IPR, as Long as it Explains Why

In Outdry Technologies Corp. v. Geox S.P.A., [2016-1769] (June 16, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s determination that claims 1–15 of U.S. Patent No. 6,855,171 would have been obvious over a combination of prior art.

The ‘171 patents claims methods of waterproofing leather, particularly for the manufacture of shoes, clothes, or leather accessories by lining the interior surface of the leather with a semipermeable membrane.  The Board found that one reference showed all of the elements of the claimed method except for the size and density of the adhesive dots, and that the other references taught the size and density of the adhesive dots.

The Federal Circuit agreed with the Board’s construction of “directly pressing” as to mean “applying pressure without any intervening
materials or layers other than the recited adhesive.”  The Federal Circuit also discounted the “process for waterproofing leather” language of the claim, because it was in the preamble and was “simply a statement of intended use, not a separate claim limitation.”

The Federal Circuit rejected the patent owner’s argument that the Board failed to provide adequate motivation to combine the references.  After reviewing cases (Rovalma, Van Os, Arendi, Cutsforth, NuVasive, and Icon Health) where the Board did fail to provide adequate motivation, the Federal Circuit found that the Boards decision did not suffer from similar deficiencies.  The Federal Circuit said that the Board clearly articulated Petitioner’s arguments for why a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to modify the process of adhering dots to create waterproof and breathable leather with the secondary references disclosed glue patterns.  The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board engaged in reasoned decision making and sufficiently articulated its analysis in its opinion to permit review.

The Federal Circuit found that the Board’s reliance on petitioner’s arguments did not undermine its otherwise adequate explanation for finding a motivation to combine. The Federal Circuit noted that the Board did not reject the patent owner’s positions without clarity as to why it found petitioner’s arguments persuasive. It did not merely incorporate petitioner’s petition by reference, leaving uncertainty as to which positions the Board was adopting as its own. Nor was it other unclear what evidence the Board may or may not have relied
on to find a motivation to combine. The Federal Circuit said that the Board is “permitted to credit a party’s argument as part of its reasoned explanation of its factual findings”; it simply must “explain why it accepts the prevailing argument.”


Providing a Service Alone is not Contributory Infringement

In the Cleveland Clinic Foundation v. True Health Diagnostics LLC, [2016-1766](June 16, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed that the asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,223,552, 7,459,286, and 8,349,581 are not directed to patent-eligible subject matter, and that Cleveland Clinic failed to state a claim of contributory or induced infringement of U.S. Patent No. 9,170,260.

The patents were all directed to methods for detecting the risk of cardiovascular disease in a patient.  The district court next found the three testing patents patent ineligible under the two-step framework for analyzing patent subject matter eligibility under §101 articulated in Alice.  More specifically, the district court found that the testing patents’ claims were directed to a law of nature under Alice step one because the claims were directed to the correlation between MPO in the blood and the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Under Alice step two, the district court found there was no saving inventive concept, employing well-known methods to detect MPO, comparing MPO levels with a control value in what could be a bare mental process, and ultimately, instructing a user to apply a natural law.

The district court further found that True Health’s testing service was not a “material or apparatus” that could form the basis for a contributory infringement claim.  The district court further found that the Cleveland Clinic did not allege facts sufficient to show the specific intent to induce third parties to infringe.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the propriety of deciding §101 rejections at the motion to dismiss stage, before claim construction or significant
discovery has commenced.  On the merits, the Federal Circuit agreed that the claims of the testing patents were directed to multistep methods for observing the law of nature that MPO correlates to cardiovascular disease.  Because this relationship exists in principle apart from human action, the claims are directed to a patent ineligible law of nature.  The Federal Circuit found the case similar to Ariosa.  At step two of the Alice inquiry, the Federal Circuit agreed that the practice of the method claims
does not result in an inventive concept that transforms the natural phenomena of MPO being associated with cardiovascular risk into a patentable invention.

On the issue of contributory infringement, the Federal Circuit said that a party that provides a service, but no “material or apparatus,” cannot be liable for contributory infringement.  Because the defendant was merely providing testing services, the Federal Circuit agreed that the claim should be dismissed.  On the issue of inducement, the Federal Circuit observed that the mere knowledge of possible infringement by others does not amount to inducement; and that specific intent and action to induce infringement must be proven. The Federal Circuit found that merely providing test reports to physicians falls short of showing the specific intent and action to induce infringement of the ’260 patent.


General Statements in Petition and Institution Decision Did Not Give Patent Owner Fair Notice of the Grounds of Invalidity in the Final Written Decision

In Emerachem Holdings, LLC v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., [2016-1984] (June 15, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision that claims 1–2, 4–14, and 17–19 of U.S. Patent No. 5,599,758 were obvious, and vacated and remand as to claims 3, 16, and 20.

The ‘558 patent claims methods for regenerating a catalyst/absorber that has absorbed and oxidized nitrates and nitrites from the combustion gases of an engine.  The regeneration can be carried out in situ, without
removing and replacing the catalyst with a fresh, unreacted one.

The patent owner attempted to remove a reference under 102(e), with the declaration of the inventor, but the Board found the evidence insufficient.  The Federal Circuit agreed, noting that corroboration is always required of an inventor’s testimony about invention, although the level of corroboration depends upon the circumstances.

The patent owner was more successful in its argument under the APA that it was denied adequate Notice and Opportunity to Respond. Petitioner’s provided detailed claim charts, but only cited to a single reference for dependent claims 3, 16, and 20, and the Board’s institution decision only cited the same one reference as to these claims.  However the final written decision relied upon a different reference.

The Federal Circuit stated that in a formal adjudication, like an IPR, the APA imposes particular procedural requirements on the USPTO.  In particular, the agency must timely inform the patent owner of the matters of fact and law asserted, and give all interested parties the opportunity to submit and consider facts and arguments, and allow a party “to
submit rebuttal evidence as may be required for a full and true disclosure of the facts. 5 U.S.C. §§ 554(b)–(c), 556(d).

The Federal Circuit found that the Board denied patent owner its procedural rights guaranteed by the APA by relying on a new reference for its disclosure of limitations in dependent claims 3, 16, and 20.  The Federal Circuit rejected petitioner’s arguments that the patent owner had adequate notice of the reference from general comments about obviousness in the Petition.  The Federal Circuit also rejected petitioner’s arguments that the patent owner had adequate notice from general statements in the Institution Decision.  The Federal Circuit said that given the specificity with which the petition’s claim chart and the Institution Decision’s list of claims expressly identified particular references’ disclosures for some claims and not for others, it cannot be the case that the general statements relied upon provided sufficient notice that Stiles could be applied to all claims.

The Federal Circuit distinguished Cuozzo, because the institution decision gave the patentee notice of the prior art combination that
the final decision relied upon, even though the petition did not. In the current case, neither the petition nor the Institution Decision put the patentee on notice of the reference that would be used to reject claims 3, 16, and 20.  The Federal Circuit also distinguished Genzyme because  the patent owner had the opportunity to address the relied upon by the Board.

The Federal Circuit explained that it was not holding that the Board is constricted in its final written decision to citing only the portions of a reference cited in its Institution Decision — “word-for-word parity between the institution and final written decisions” is not required.  The questions was not whether the Board cited a different passage of a reference than what it specifically cited in the Institution Decision, rather the question was whether the Board provided adequate notice and opportunity to respond to the reference being used to reject claims 3, 16, and 20, given the specificity with which the Board itemized the
challenged claims with specific grounds for rejection in the Institution Decision. On this question, the Federal Circuit said that the Board did not.

Estoppel in CBMR is Both Reviewable and Determined on a Claim by Claim Basis

In Credit Acceptance Corp. v. Westlake Services, [2016-2001](June 9, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision that Westlake was not estopped to bring a CBMR challenge to U.S. Patent No. 6,950,807, and that the challenged claims of this patent were invalid under  35 U.S.C. § 101.

On the estoppel issue Westlake petitioned for CBMR review of all of the claims fo the ‘807, but the Board instituted only as to some of the claims,.  Westlake filed a second CBMR, and Credit Acceptance argued that Westlake was estopped to petition for a second review.  However, since the first CBMR had not yet resulted in a Final Written Decision, the Board found the estoppel argument premature.  After the Final Written Decision in the first CBMR, Credit Acceptance renewed its effort to terminate the second proceeding on estoppel grounds, but the Board decided that estoppel is applied on a claim by claim business, and thus the first proceeding did not impact the second proceeding.

At the outset, the Federal Circuit rejected Westlake’s and the USPTO’s position that the decision on estoppel was akin to a institution decision that is not reviewable.  After finding the estoppel provision was reviewable, the Federal Circuit went on to agree with the Board, that estoppel is determined in on a claim by claim basis.

As to the merits of the CBMR, The Federal Circuit noted that Board determined that the claims are directed to the abstract idea of “processing an application for financing a purchase,” and agreed.  The Federal Circuit said that each of the claims is directed to the abstract idea of processing an application for financing a purchase. The Court saw no meaningful distinction between this type of financial industry practice and “the concept of intermediated settlement” held to be abstract in Alice, or the “basic concept of hedging” held to be abstract in Bilski.

A Cease and Desist Letter Alone Does not Establish Personal Jurisdiction

In New World International, Inc. v. Ford Global Technologies, LLC, [2016-2097](June 8, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of New World’s declaratory judgment complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction over Ford Global Technologies (FGTL).

FGTL sent New World a cease and desist letter accusing New World of infringing its design patents by selling various parts meant for use on Ford vehicles.  New World filed suit in the Northern District of Texas seeking a declaratory judgment of noninfringement and invalidity with regard to the design patents.  The district court found that FGTL’s cease and desist letters sent to New World in Texas were not sufficient to establish jurisdiction over FGTL. The court further found that FGTL’s license agreement with third party LKQ did not provide the court with specific personal jurisdiction over FGTL in the declaratory judgment suit, and the court accordingly dismissed the complaint.

The Federal Circuit applied its three part test, which considers: (1) whether the defendant purposefully directed its activities at residents of the forum; (2) whether the claim arises out of or relates to the defendant’s activities with the forum; and (3) whether assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.  The Federal Circuit has acknowledged that the defendant purposefully directs his activities at residents of the forum when the defendant sends a cease and desist letter to a potential plaintiff in that particular forum. And a subsequent declaratory judgment action by that potential plaintiff arises out of or relates to the defendant’s activity—namely, the cease and desist letter. However, under the third part of the test, however,
this court has held that it is improper to predicate personal jurisdiction on the act of sending ordinary cease and desist letters into a forum, without more.

The Federal Circuit noted that while the act of sending cease and desist letters is insufficient by itself to trigger a finding of personal jurisdiction, other activities by the defendant, in conjunction with cease and desist letters, may be sufficient. However, the Federal Circuit found no other activities of FGTL sufficient to establish jurisdiction.

“Means” Does Not Always Mean “Means Plus Function”

In Skky, Inc. v. Mindgeek, S.A.R.L., [2016-2018] (June 7, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision in IPR2014-01236 that all of the challenged claims in  U.S. Patent 7,548,875 were invalid for obviousness.

The ‘875 patent relates to a method of delivering audio and/or visual files to a wireless device.  The prosecution lasted almost seven years, and the claims were only allowed after they were amended to recite a “wireless device means.”  The Board determined that “wireless device means” was not a means plus function element, but even if it was it did not require a device with multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit said that in determining whether a claim term invokes § 112 ¶ 6, the essential inquiry is not merely the presence or absence of the word “means” but whether the words of the claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure.  It is sufficient if the claim term is used in common parlance or by persons of skill in the pertinent art to designate structure, even if the term covers a broad class of structures and even if the term identifies the structures by their function.

The Federal Circuit agreed that We agree with MindGeek that “wireless device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6 because it recites sufficient structure.  Although the term uses the word “means” and so triggers a presumption, the full term recites structure, not functionality. The claims do not recite a function or functions for the wireless device means to perform, and “wireless device” is “used in common parlance . . . to designate structure. The Federal Circuit further found that “wireless device means” did not require multiple processors, noting that at least one disclosed embodiment was exclusively software, and thus it would be improper to construe  “wireless device means” to require multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s claim construction, and its resulting finding of obviousness.