Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Ameranth’s patents disclose computer systems with hardware and software and describe a preferred embodiment of the invention for use in the restaurant industry. The specifications note that “ordering prepared foods has historically been done verbally, either directly to a waiter or over the telephone, whereupon the placed order is recorded on paper by the recipient or instantly filled” and explain that the “unavailability of any simple technique for creating restaurant menus and the like for use in a limited display area wireless handheld device or that is compatible with ordering over the internet ha[d] prevented widespread adoption of computerization in the hospitality industry.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board conducted three Covered Business Method reviews and found certain claims unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 101. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, upholding the construction of “menu” features, determinations that the patents are not patents for technological inventions, a determination that the preamble recitations of “synchronous communications system” are not limiting, the construction of “central processing unit,” and a conclusion that the claims are directed to an abstract idea. The court reversed with respect to certain independent claims. View "Apple, Inc. v. Ameranth, Inc." on Justia Law
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The 752 patent, entitled “Method and System for Managing Location Information for Wireless Communications Devices,” describes a system of “privacy preferences” that determine whether “client applications” are allowed to access a wireless device’s location information, based on the time of day, the device’s location at the time of the request, the accuracy of the provided information or the party who is seeking the information. Google petitioned for covered business method (CBM) review of certain claims, 125 Stat. 284, 329–31. The Board found the patent to be a CBM patent, reasoning that its disclosure indicates the “client application” may be associated with a service or goods provider, such as a hotel, restaurant, or store, that wants to know a wireless device’s location so relevant advertising may be transmitted to the device; the subject matter recited in claim 25 is incidental or complementary to the financial activity of service or product sales and is directed to a method for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service. The Board then held that the challenged claims were directed to unpatentable subject matter, 35 U.S.C. 101. The Federal Circuit vacated; the Board’s reliance on whether the patent claims activities “incidental to” or “complementary to” a financial activity to determine whether a patent is a CBM patent was not in accordance with law. View "Unwired Planet, LLC v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law
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Graviss has worked in education since 1978. In 2008, she became a pre-school special needs teacher at Kingsolver Elementary, part of Fort Knox Schools. Kingsolver’s principal, McClain, issued Graviss a reprimand based on an “inappropriate interaction with a student” and “failure to follow directives,” asserting that Graviss and her aide had physically carried a misbehaving pre-school student and Graviss had emailed concerns to the director of special education, although McClain had directed Graviss to “bring all issues directly to [her].” The union filed a grievance. Subsequently, one of Graviss’s students had an episode, repeatedly flailing his arms, kicking, and screaming. While the other students were out at recess, Graviss employed physical restraint to subdue the child. After an investigation, McClain submitted a Family Advocacy Program Department of Defense Education Activity Serious Incident Report and Alleged Child Abuse Report to the Family Advocacy Program (child protective services for the military). McClain forwarded the Report to her direct supervisor, who was later the decision-maker in Graviss’s termination. An arbitrator concluded that that Graviss's termination promoted the efficiency of the service and was reasonable. The Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that Graviss’s due process rights were violated by improper ex parte communication between a supervisor and the deciding official. That communication contained new information that the supervisor wanted Graviss terminated for insubordination. View "Federal Education Association v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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In 2004-2006 Tyco imported 42 models of liquid-filled glass bulbs, commonly used as a temperature-dependent trigger component of fire sprinkler heads. When the sprinkler head is exposed to fire, the bulb is heated and the liquid inside the bulb expands until the bulb shatters. When the bulb breaks, the valve of the sprinkler system opens and releases a shower of water to extinguish the fire. The bulbs can also be used in water heaters. The bulbs break at different temperatures, depending on the liquid. Tyco used 39 models in fire sprinkler systems and three models as thermal release devices in water heaters. Customs and Border Protection classified the bulbs as “other articles of glass” under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) subheading 7020.00.60, which has a 5% rate of duty. Tyco protested, asserting that the bulbs would be more properly classified under subheading 8424.90.90, which includes “Other” “Parts” of goods classified under heading 8424 and is duty-free. Customs denied Tyco’s protest. The Trade Court upheld the ruling, finding that the bulbs are “of glass.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. While the liquid component is “the brains behind the operation,” the essential character of the product is glass. View "Tyco Fire Products, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law
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The Alfred E. Mann Foundation owns two patents that cover implantable cochlear stimulators and formed Advanced Bionics to manufacture implants. The patents are directed to an ear implant with telemetry functionality for testing purposes, and generally describe a two-part system comprising an external wearable system with a wearable processor (WP) and headpiece, and an internal implantable cochlear stimulator (ICS). Sound is transmitted from the headpiece to the WP, which processes the transmissions before sending them to the ICS. The ICS processes the sound to stimulate the cochlea––the organ that converts sound to nerve impulses––via implanted electrodes, thereby allowing the user to hear. The system allows testers, usually physicians, to measure and adjust various parameters of the implant to assess whether the device is functioning properly. The Foundation sued Cochlear Corporation for infringement. The court found certain claims invalid for indefiniteness, entered judgment as a matter of law of no willful infringement, and granted a new trial on damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, upholding the infringement determination with respect to some claims, but vacated and remanded with respect to willfulness in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision, Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc. View "Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Scientific Research v. Cochlear Corp." on Justia Law

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MOVA technology can capture an actor’s facial performance for use in motion picture special effects and video games; it is secured by trademarks, copyrights, and patents, and is reflected in hardware, source code, and physical assets. VGHL claims that Perlman, the head of Rearden, declined to acquire the MOVA assets from OL2 and proposed OL2 sell to a Rearden employee, LaSalle. Perlman introduced LaSalle to Rearden’s corporate attorney who helped LaSalle establish his own company, MO2, and negotiated with OL2. Perlman later demanded that LaSalle convey the MOVA assets to Rearden and terminated LaSalle’s employment when LaSalle refused. MO2 sold the MOVA assets to SHST, which hired LaSalle, and began selling the technology. The Rearden parties claimed that SHST never obtained ownership and that LaSalle was simply hired to handle the acquisition on Rearden’s behalf. SHST sued, alleging that Rearden had made “false or misleading representations ... concerning the ownership of the MOVA Assets ... to mislead the public and actual and prospective users and licensees” and had falsely recorded assignments of the MOVA patents. During discovery, SHST moved to compel Rearden to produce documents exchanged between MO2 and Rearden’s corporate attorney. The district court granted the request, concluding that Rearden had not shown entitlement to assert attorney-client privilege on behalf of MO2 and that LaSalle waived privilege when he shared documents. The Federal Circuit denied a petition for mandamus. Rearden's arguments failed to carry the high burden required on mandamus to overturn the court’s discovery determination. View "In re: Rearden, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1994, Rocky Mountain and the Bureau of Land Management entered into the Helium Contract, giving Rocky Mountain the right, for up to 25 years, to extract helium gas from roughly 21,000 acres of federal lands in Colorado and Utah. Rocky Mountain never extracted helium from the property and, after one year, stopped paying rent. In 2004, the Bureau informed Rocky Mountain that it had cancelled the contract due to nonpayment. The parties entered into a Settlement Agreement, under which the Bureau was required to provide Rocky Mountain with data about gas composition on the land covered by the Helium Contract and Rocky Mountain had to pay $116,579.90 (back rent) so that the Helium Contract would be reinstated. Rocky Mountain subsequently objected that the Bureau's information as incomplete, refused to pay the $116,579.90, and informed the Bureau that it wanted to pursue mediation under the Agreement. When the parties were unable to agree whether the information was complete, the Bureau sent a termination letter. The Claims Court rejected Rocky Mountain’s breach of contract suit for lack of jurisdiction and on the merits. The Federal Circuit agreed that the Helium Contract was terminated in 2004 and never reinstated, but found that the court had jurisdiction over the Settlement Agreement dispute. View "Rocky Mountain Helium, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Unwired’s patent, entitled “Subscriber Delivered Location-Based Services,” describes a system and method for providing wireless network subscribers (e.g., cell phone users) with prioritized search results based on the location of their mobile device (e.g., the nearest gas station). The specification describes how search results can be personalized for subscribers by taking into account, for example, “favorite restaurants; automobile service plans; and/or a wide variety of other subscriber information.” The specification also describes how search results can be ordered to give priority to “preferred service providers defined by the network administrator,” allowing the network to generate revenue by charging service providers to be put on the preferred-service-provider list. Prioritization based on subscriber information and preferred provider status is independent of a subscriber’s location; it can lead to service providers that are actually farther away from the subscriber being given priority over service providers that are nearer. On inter partes review and covered business method patent review, the Patent Board found certain claims invalid as obvious, 35 U.S.C. 103. The Federal Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the analogous prior art teaches prioritization that results in farther-over-nearer ordering and that a skilled practitioner would have been motivated to combine existing techniques. View "Unwired Planet, LLC v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law
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On inter partes review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board construed the term “perforated” and invalidated several claims of PST’s patent, finding that those claims were anticipated or would have been obvious over Japanese Application Publication No. H1033551 A (JP 551) and that JP 551 qualified as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a). The Board rejected PST’s argument that the Board could not rely on JP 551 as filed because the petitioners (Olympus) failed to translate the bibliographic page containing the publication date. The Board also determined that PST failed to antedate JP 551 because it had not proven that the inventor of its patent was reasonably diligent in reducing his invention to practice. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded. While the Board’s acceptance of Olympus’ submission of JP 551 was harmless, the Board erred in its claim construction. On remand, the Board must determine whether all of PST’s evidence, considered as a whole and under a rule of reason, collectively corroborates testimony that the inventor worked reasonably continuously within the confines of his occupation to diligently finalize the patent application during an 81-day critical period. View "Perfect Surgical Techniques, Inc. v. Olympus America, Inc." on Justia Law
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In 2005, the Church, within five miles of the Illinois–Wisconsin border, began selling caps and shirts, emblazoned with the phrase “ADD A ZERO” as part of a fundraising campaign. The Church obtained two federal trademarks for the “ADD A ZERO” mark, based on actual use of the marks in commerce, not intent to use the marks in commerce. In 2009, Adidas sought a clothing trademark for the phrase “ADIZERO.” The Trademark Office refused the application for likelihood of confusion with the Church’s “ADD A ZERO” marks. Adidas brought an action; the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled the marks, based on the Church’s failure to use the marks in commerce before registration. The Board considered the Church’s proffered evidence of a cancelled check with a printed Wisconsin address for the sale of two “ADD A ZERO”-marked hats for $38.34 in February 2005, before the Church applied for its marks, but concluded that the “de minimis” sale did not evidence the requisite “use in commerce” under the Lanham Act. The Federal Circuit reversed. The Lanham Act defines commerce as all activity regulable by Congress; the Church’s sale to an out-of-state resident fell within Congress’s power to regulate under the Commerce Clause. View "Christian Faith Fellowship Church v. Adidas AG" on Justia Law