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

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Drone’s patents are directed to systems for remotely controlled machines. Before the invention, conventional remote-control systems included a remote-controlled device (e.g., a model airplane) and a handheld device with a stick that controlled movement in two directions. Controlling three directions required simultaneous use of both hands. Drone’s patents purport to enable a user to synchronize the movement of a remote-controlled device with the movement of a controller: moving the handheld control itself causes a synchronous movement of the airplane. After entering default judgment as a sanction for Parrot’s failure to comply with discovery orders, the district court awarded Drone damages for Parrot’s infringement of the patents and awarded Drone attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated. The district court abused its discretion in issuing discovery orders requiring Parrot to turn over its on-board source code and in entering a default judgment for failure to comply. The court upheld denial of a motion to dismiss Drone’s complaint for lack of standing; Parrot had argued that the assignments to Drone were invalid because the person named on the patents and who assigned the patents to Drone was not the true inventor. On remand, Parrot may raise the affirmative defense of improper inventorship under 35 U.S.C. 102(f). View "Drone Techs., Inc. v. Parrot S.A." on Justia Law
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Sigma-Tau imported two chemical products, both stabilized forms of the compound carnitine. Carnitine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative and an important nutrient in the human body, where it serves to transport long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, the centers for energy production within each cell. Our bodies obtain carnitine exogenously, from food, and also produce it endogenously, by breaking down and reforming protein. United States Customs and Border Protection initially classified the products under a subheading of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HSTUS) that carries a duty. Sigma-Tau protested, arguing that the products should be classified under HTSUS heading 2936 (which encompasses “provitamins and vitamins”), subheading 2936.29.50, a duty-free classification. The Court of International Trade concluded that Sigma-Tau’s products should be classified under a different subheading, 2923.90.00, making them ineligible for duty-free treatment. The Federal Circuit reversed, agreeing with Sigma-Tau that its carnitine products are properly classified under that heading, because carnitine is a vitamin in neonates. View "Sigma-Tau Healthscience, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
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Husky’s 536 patent discloses a molding machine having a clamp assembly comprising a stationary platen, a movable platen, tie bars, tie bar locks that couple the tie bars to the movable platen, and clamp actuators that supply a clamping force to the tie bars. On inter partes review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found several claims invalid as anticipated. The Federal Circuit dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, Husky’s argument that the Board’s determination during the institution phase that assignor estoppel cannot bar an assignor or his privies from petitioning for inter partes review. Any question concerning assignor estoppel necessarily implicates who may petition for review; such a question falls outside of the narrow exceptions to the otherwise broad ban on judicial review of the decision whether to institute inter partes review. The court vacated with respect to four claims that were upheld by the Board. The Board erred in determining that one prior reference did not incorporate another for purposes of anticipation and provided no further reasoning why claims the were not anticipated. View "Husky Injections Molding Sys., Ltd. v. Athena Automation Ltd." on Justia Law
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Sprint's patents concern voiceover-IP technology for transmitting calls over the internet, instead of through traditional telephone lines. The patents discuss the hand-off between traditional telephone lines (a “narrow-band network” or “circuit-switched network”) and a data network (a “broadband network” or “packet-switched network”), such as the internet. Both the “control patents” and the “ATM interworking patents” describe the use of a “processing system,” which receives a signal from a traditional telephone network and processes information related to the call to select the path that the call should take through the data network. In the control patents, a “communications control processor” selects the network elements and the connections for the path. In the ATM interworking patents, a “signaling processor” or a “call/connection manager” selects the virtual connections by which the call will pass through the ATM network and performs other functions, including validation, echo control, and billing. Both specifications disclose that logic for selecting a path resides in lookup-tables. The district court found the claims invalid as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112. The Federal Circuit reversed. The terms “processing system” does not prevent the claims, read in light of the specification and the prosecution history, from informing those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty. View "Cox Commc'ns, Inc. v. Sprint Commc'n Co., LP" on Justia Law

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Affinity’s 379 patent contains two independent claims, directed to streaming regional broadcast signals to cellular telephones located outside the region served by the regional broadcaster. The district court held that the 379 patent is directed to an abstract idea: the purpose of the claimed invention, disseminating regionally broadcast content to users outside the region, is a well-known, longstanding business practice, and the claims directed to that purpose are not tangible and concrete. The court found that the claimed “downloadable application with graphical user interface” does not qualify as an “inventive concept.” After exploring the “developing body of law” under 35 U.S.C. 101, the Federal Circuit affirmed. The only limitations on the breadth of the result-focused, functional claims in this case are that the application used by the cellular telephone must be wirelessly downloadable and that the cellular telephone must have a graphical user interface display that allows the user to select the regional broadcasting channel. Those additional limitations describe purely conventional features of cellular telephones and the applications that enable them to perform particular functions. They do not meaningfully limit the scope of the claims. View "Affinity Labs of Tex., LLC v. DirecTV, LLC" on Justia Law
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Affinity’s 085 patent, entitled “System and Method to Communicate Targeted Information,” describes a “method for targeted advertising” in which an advertisement is selected for delivery to the user of a portable device based on at least one piece of demographic information about the user. Despite the title, only three sentences in the specification and only one of the 20 claims deal with targeted advertising; the rest are directed to media systems that deliver content to a handheld wireless electronic device. The district court found that the claims are directed to the abstract idea of “delivering selectable media content and subsequently playing the selected content on a portable device” and do not supply an inventive concept. The “085 Patent solves no problems, includes no implementation software, designs no system. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The 085 patent is not directed to the solution of a “technological problem,” nor is it directed to an improvement in computer or network functionality. It claims the general concept of streaming user-selected content to a portable device. The addition of basic user customization features to the interface does not alter the abstract nature of the claims and does not add an inventive component that renders them patentable. View "Affinity Labs of Tex., LLC v. Amazon.com Inc." on Justia Law
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The 695 patent, issued in 2005, discusses technology that identifies incoming telephone calls and alerts the called party to the caller’s identity. The patent purportedly improves on pre-existing systems by introducing a call-screening system that verbally announces a caller’s identity before the call is connected. The system may be installed between the incoming telephone line and the user’s telephone and does not require a special telephone, auxiliary display terminal, or speaker to let users screen calls. In an inter partes reexamination of the 695 patent, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection of multiple claims as obvious under 35 U.S.C. 103(a). The Federal Circuit affirmed, upholding the obviousness determination as supported by substantial evidence and the Board’s construction of “identity information.” View "Classco, Inc. v. Apple, Inc." on Justia Law
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WesternGeco’s patents relate to technologies used to search for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor. WesternGeco manufactures the Q-Marine, and performs surveys for oil companies. ION manufactures the DigiFIN, and sells to its customers, who perform surveys for oil companies. WesternGeco filed suit. A jury found infringement and no invalidity and awarded $93,400,000 in lost profits and $12,500,000 in reasonable royalties. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that WesternGeco was not the owner of the patents and lacked standing and that the court applied an incorrect standard under 35 U.S.C. 271(f)(1). The court upheld denial of enhanced damages for willful infringement and reversed the award of lost profits resulting from conduct occurring abroad. Following vacatur and remand after the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision, Halo Electronics, the Federal Circuit vacated the judgment with respect to enhanced damages, 35 U.S.C. 284. The Halo decision overturned the two-part Seagate test as “‘unduly rigid,” holding that district courts must have greater discretion in awarding enhanced damages in cases where the defendant’s infringement was egregious, cases “typified by willful misconduct." View "WesternGeco L.L.C. v. ION Geophysical Corp." on Justia Law
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In 1987, Fitzgerald began working as an Immigration Inspector with the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice. From 1988-2000, she served as a Customs Inspector with the Customs Service of the Department of the Treasury. Fitzgerald has been continuously employed in various Instructor positions at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) since 2000, providing training to federal criminal investigators and law enforcement officers. In 2012, Fitzgerald requested review of her employment history so that she could obtain Customs Officer retirement credit for her past service with INS and Customs. Federal retirement laws extend enhanced benefits to certain groups, such as law-enforcement officers and firefighters, who have served in physically rigorous positions. Under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, those benefits include eligibility to retire with an annuity at an earlier age than many other federal employees and eligibility to retire based on fewer years of service, 5 U.S.C. 8412(d)(1),(2). In 2007 the law was amended to extend benefits to Customs and Border Patrol Officers. The Merit Systems Protection Board and Federal Circuit affirmed denial of her claim, finding that the amendment did not provide “retroactive service” credit for service performed before July 2008, its effective date. View "Fitzgerald v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law

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Abbott’s 915 patent discloses a protein, TBP-II, which binds to and neutralizes a protein called Tumor Necrosis Factor α (TNFα), which is associated with various immunological diseases. Following a 2008 remand by the district court, the Board of Patent Appeals rejected claims by Yeda that the patent was invalid as anticipated. In 2015, the district court affirmed. The issue of invalidity turned on whether the patent benefits from the filing dates from either of two German patent applications. If it did, then the field of prior art narrows to exclude the claimed anticipating reference. Whether the 915 patent was entitled to benefit from the German application’s filing date depends on whether the German application provided adequate written description support for the invention claimed in the 915 patent. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s 2015 decision that Abbott’s 915 patent is supported by the written description of one of the German applications, rendering moot Yeda’s appeal concerning the 2008 decision. View "Yeda Research & Dev. Co., Ltd. v. Abbott GMBH & Co. KG" on Justia Law