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In re: Chudik

Steven Chudik appeals from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“Board”) determination that claims 1, 15, 18, and 33–40 of U.S. Patent Application 11/525,631 (“’631 application”) are anticipated by two prior art references. Because substantial evidence does not support the Board’s determination, we reverse.

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BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T & S Software Associates, Inc.

This appeal is about whether “volitional conduct” is required to establish a claim for direct copyright infringement. Defendant T&S Software Associates, an internet service provider, hosted an internet forum on which third-party users posted images that infringed copyrights owned by plaintiffs BWP Media USA and National Photo Group. The plaintiffs sued T&S for direct and secondary copyright infringement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of T&S. The plaintiffs appeal the district court’s direct infringement holding. We AFFIRM.

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University of Utah v. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Defendants-Appellants (“Max Planck”) appeal a decision of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which found that this case was not “exceptional” within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 285 and thus denied Max Planck’s motion for attorney fees. The district court did not abuse its discretion. We therefore affirm.

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TVIIM, LLC v. McAfee, Inc.

TVIIM, LLC (“TVIIM”) sued McAfee, Inc. (“McAfee”) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,889,168 (“’168 patent”). A jury determined that McAfee did not infringe the ’168 patent and that the ’168 patent was invalid. After the jury verdict, TVIIM filed motions for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) and for a new trial. The district court denied both motions, and TVIIM filed this appeal challenging the jury verdict and the district court’s denial of its post-verdict motions. We affirm because substantial evidence supports the jury’s findings of non-infringement and invalidity under a uniform construction of the relevant claim terms, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial.

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Bayer Cropscience AG v. Dow Agrosciences LLC

Bayer appeals the district court’s award of attorney fees to Dow under 35 U.S.C. § 285. The district court awarded attorney fees to Dow upon finding that the case stood out from others and was thus exceptional. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the case exceptional and awarding fees, we affirm.

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Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Aereokiller LLC

Reversing the district court’s partial summary judgment in favor of defendants, the panel held that a service that captures copyrighted works broadcast over the air, and then retransmits them to paying subscribers over the Internet without the consent of the copyright holders, is not a “cable system” eligible for a compulsory license under the Copyright Act.

Under § 111 of the Act, a “cable system” is eligible for a so-called compulsory license that allows it to retransmit “a performance or display of a work” that had originally been broadcast by someone else—even if such material is copyrighted— without having to secure the consent of the copyright holder. So long as the cable system pays a statutory fee to the Copyright Office and complies with other regulations, it is protected from infringement liability.

The panel concluded that § 111 was ambiguous on the question presented. Deferring to the Copyright Office’s interpretation, the panel held that Internet-based retransmission services are not eligible for the compulsory license that § 111 makes available to “cable systems.”

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SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC

Laches cannot be invoked as a defense against a claim for damages brought within §286’s 6-year limitations period. Pp. 3–16.

(a) Petrella’s holding rested on both separation-of-powers principles and the traditional role of laches in equity. A statute of limitations reflects a congressional decision that timeliness is better judged by a hard and fast rule instead of a case-specific judicial determination. Applying laches within a limitations period specified by Congress would give judges a “legislation-overriding” role that exceeds the Judiciary’s power. 572 U. S., at ___. Moreover, applying laches within a limitations period would clash with the gap-filling purpose for which the defense developed in the equity courts. Pp. 3–5.

(b) Petrella’s reasoning easily fits §286. There, the Court found in the Copyright Act’s language a congressional judgment that a claim filed within three years of accrual cannot be dismissed on timeliness grounds. 572 U. S., at ___. By that same logic, §286 of the Patent Act represents Congress’s judgment that a patentee may recover damages for any infringement committed within six years of the filing of the claim.

First Quality contends that this case differs from Petrella because a true statute of limitations runs forward from the date a cause of action accrues, whereas §286’s limitations period runs backward from the filing of the complaint. However, Petrella repeatedly characterized the Copyright Act’s limitations period as running backward from the date the suit was filed. First Quality also contends that a true statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff discovers a cause of action, which is not the case with §286’s limitations period, but ordinarily, a statute of limitations begins to run on the date that the claim accrues, not when the cause of action is discovered. Pp. 5– 8.

(c) The Federal Circuit based its decision on the idea that §282 of the Patent Act, which provides for “defenses in any action involving the validity or infringement of a patent,” creates an exception to §286 by codifying laches as such a defense, and First Quality argues that laches is a defense within §282(b)(1) based on “unenforceability.” Even assuming that §282(b)(1) incorporates a laches defense of some dimension, it does not necessarily follow that the defense may be invoked to bar a claim for damages incurred within the period set out in §286. Indeed, it would be exceedingly unusual, if not unprecedented, if Congress chose to include in the Patent Act both a statute of limitations for damages and a laches provision applicable to a damages claim. Neither the Federal Circuit, nor any party, has identified a single federal statute that provides such dual protection against untimely claims. Pp. 8–9.

(d) The Federal Circuit and First Quality rely on lower court patent cases decided before the 1952 Patent Act to argue that §282 codified a pre-1952 practice of permitting laches to be asserted against damages claims. But the most prominent feature of the relevant legal landscape at that time was the well-established rule that laches cannot be invoked to bar a claim for damages incurred within a limitations period specified by Congress. In light of this rule, which Petrella confirmed and restated, 572 U. S., at ___, nothing less than a broad and unambiguous consensus of lower court decisions could support the inference that §282(b)(1) codifies a very different patent-law-specific rule. Pp. 9–10.

(e) The Federal Circuit and First Quality rely on three types of cases: (1) pre-1938 equity cases; (2) pre-1938 claims at law; and (3) cases decided after the merger of law and equity in 1938. None of these establishes a broad, unambiguous consensus in favor of applying laches to damages claims in the patent context.

Many of the pre-1938 equity cases do not even reveal whether the plaintiff asked for damages, and of the cases in which damages were sought, many merely suggest in dicta that laches might limit damages. The handful of cases that apply laches against a damages claim are too few to establish a settled, national consensus. In any event, the most that can possibly be gathered from a pre-1938 equity case is that laches could defeat a damages claim in an equity court, not that the defense could entirely prevent a patentee from recovering damages.

Similarly, even if all three pre-1938 cases at law cited by First Quality squarely held that laches could be applied to a damages claim within the limitations period, that number would be insufficient to overcome the presumption that Congress legislates against the background of general common-law principles. First Quality argues that the small number of cases at law should not count against its position because there were few patent cases brought at law after 1870, but it is First Quality’s burden to show that Congress departed from the traditional common-law rule.

As for the post-1938 patent case law, there is scant evidence supporting First Quality’s claim that courts continued to apply laches to damages claims after the merger of law and equity. Only two Courts of Appeals held that laches could bar a damages claim, and that does not constitute a settled, uniform practice of applying laches to damages claims. Pp. 11–15.

(f) First Quality’s additional arguments are unconvincing and do not require extended discussion. It points to post-1952 Court of Appeals decisions holding that laches can be invoked as a defense against a damages claim, but nothing that Congress has done since 1952 has altered §282’s meaning. As for the various policy arguments presented here, this Court cannot overrule Congress’s judgment based on its own policy views. Pp. 15–16.

807 F. 3d 1311, vacated in part and remanded.

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Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands

A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article, and (2) 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. Pp. 3–17.

(a) Separability analysis is necessary in this case. Respondents claim that two-dimensional surface decorations are always separable, even without resorting to a §101 analysis, because they are “on a useful article” rather than “designs of a useful article.” But this argument is inconsistent with §101’s text. ”[P]ictorial” and “graphic” denote two-dimensional features such as pictures, paintings, or drawings. Thus, by providing protection for “pictorial, graphical, and sculptural works” incorporated into the “design of a useful article,” §101 necessarily contemplates that such a design can include two dimensional features. This Court will not adjudicate in the first instance the Government’s distinct argument against applying separability analysis, which was neither raised below nor advanced here by any party. Pp. 4–6.

(b) Whether a feature incorporated into a useful article “can be identified separately from,” and is “capable of existing independently of,” the article’s “utilitarian aspects” is a matter of “statutory interpretation.” Mazer v. Stein, 347 U. S. 201, 214. Pp. 6–10.

(1) Section 101’s separate-identification requirement is met if the decision maker is able to look at the useful article and spot some two or three-dimensional element that appears to have pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities. To satisfy the independent-existence requirement, the feature must be able to exist as its own pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work once it is imagined apart from the useful article. If the feature could not exist as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work on its own, it is simply one of the article’s utilitarian aspects. And to qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work on its own, the feature cannot be a useful article or “[a]n article that is normally a part of a useful article,” §101. Neither could one claim a copyright in a useful article by creating a replica of it in another medium. Pp. 7–8.

(2) The statute as a whole confirms this interpretation. Section 101, which protects art first fixed in the medium of a useful article, is essentially the mirror image of §113(a), which protects art first fixed in a medium other than a useful article and subsequently applied to a useful article. Together, these provisions make clear that copyright protection extends to pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works regardless of whether they were created as freestanding art or as features of useful articles. P. 8.

(3) This interpretation is also consistent with the Copyright Act’s history. In Mazer, a case decided under the 1909 Copyright Act, the Court held that respondents owned a copyright in a statuette created for use as a lamp base. In so holding, the Court approved a Copyright Office regulation extending protection to works of art that might also serve a useful purpose and held that it was irrelevant to the copyright inquiry whether the statuette was initially created as a freestanding sculpture or as a lamp base. Soon after, the Copyright Office enacted a regulation implementing Mazer’s holding that anticipated the language of §101, thereby introducing the modern separability test to copyright law. Congress essentially lifted the language from those post-Mazer regulations and placed it in §101 of the 1976 Act. Pp. 8–10.

(c) Applying the proper test here, the surface decorations on the cheerleading uniforms are separable and therefore eligible for copyright protection. First, the decorations can be identified as features having pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities. Second, if those decorations were separated from the uniforms and applied in another medium, they would qualify as two-dimensional works of art under §101. Imaginatively removing the decorations from the uniforms and applying them in another medium also would not replicate the uniform itself.

The dissent argues that the decorations are ineligible for copyright protection because, when imaginatively extracted, they form a picture of a cheerleading uniform. Petitioner similarly claims that the decorations cannot be copyrighted because, even when extracted from the useful article, they retain the outline of a cheerleading uniform. But this is not a bar to copyright. Just as two-dimensional fine art correlates to the shape of the canvas on which it is painted, two dimensional applied art correlates to the contours of the article on which it is applied. The only feature of respondents’ cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright is the two-dimensional applied art on the surface of the uniforms. Respondents may prohibit the reproduction only of the surface designs on a uniform or in any other medium of expression. Respondents 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. Pp. 10–12.

(d) None of the objections raised by petitioner or the Government is meritorious. Pp. 12–17.

(1) Petitioner and the Government focus on the relative utility of the plain white uniform that would remain if the designs were physically removed from the uniform. But the separability inquiry focuses on the extracted feature and not on any aspects of the useful article remaining after the imaginary extraction. The statute does not require the imagined remainder to be a fully functioning useful article at all. Nor can an artistic feature that would be eligible for copyright protection on its own 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. This has been the rule since Mazer, and it is consistent with the statute’s explicit protection of “applied art.” In rejecting petitioner’s view, the Court necessarily abandons the distinction between “physical” and “conceptual” separability adopted by some courts and commentators. Pp. 12–15.

(2) Petitioner also suggests incorporating two “objective” components into the test—one requiring consideration of evidence of the creator’s design methods, purposes, and reasons, and one looking to the feature’s marketability. The Court declines to incorporate these components because neither is grounded in the statute’s text. Pp. 15–16.

(3) Finally, petitioner claims that protecting surface decorations is inconsistent with Congress’ intent to entirely exclude industrial design from copyright. But Congress has given limited copyright protection to certain features of industrial design. Approaching the statute with presumptive hostility toward protection for industrial design would undermine that choice. In any event, the test adopted here does not render the underlying uniform eligible for copyright protection. Pp. 16–17.

799 F. 3d 468, affirmed.

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Geophysical Service v. TGS-Nopec Geophysical

Canada has a law that requires companies who gather seismic data about the Earth’s substructure to submit their findings to the Canadian government. After a period of confidentiality, the Canadian agency that compiles this data is then apparently permitted to release it to members of the public upon specific request. In this case, a Houston company requested seismic data from this Canadian agency pursuant to that law, and the Canadian agency sent copies of a particular Canadian company’s seismic data to the United States. The Canadian company then sued the Houston company, alleging copyright infringement.

We are called upon to determine whether the act of state doctrine forbids a United States court from considering the applicability of copyright’s first sale doctrine to foreign-made copies when the foreign copier was a government agency. We hold that it does not. We must also decide whether the inapplicability of the Copyright Act to extraterritorial conduct bars a contributory infringement claim based on the domestic authorization of entirely extraterritorial conduct. We hold that it does. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand.

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Streamline Production Systems, Inc. v. Streamline Manufacturing, Inc.

Streamline Production Systems, Inc. filed this trademark infringement suit against Streamline Manufacturing, Inc. seeking damages under the Lanham Act and Texas common law. After stipulating to an injunction, the parties proceeded to a jury trial on the issues of infringement and damages. The jury returned a verdict finding that Streamline Manufacturing, Inc. infringed on Streamline Production Systems, Inc.’s valid trademark in its name and awarded damages for lost royalties, unjust enrichment, and exemplary damages, each in the sum of $230,000, for a total award of $690,000. The district court denied Streamline Manufacturing Inc.’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, as well as its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, for a new trial. Finding insufficient evidence to support the damages awards, we AFFIRM the jury’s finding of trademark infringement but VACATE the damages awards.

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