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

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Hymer imported vehicles into the U.S. from Canada. Customs classified them under Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) 8703.24.00, which applies a tariff of 2.5% to “motor vehicles principally designed for transporting persons.” Hymer filed a protest, arguing that the entries were entitled to duty-free treatment under HTSUS 9802.00.50 and North American Free Trade Agreement Article 307, “American Goods Returned,” as qualifying goods that reenter the U.S. customs territory after repairs or alterations in Canada or Mexico. Hymer requested that Customs “suspend action on th[e] protest” until the Court of International Trade (CIT) issued a decision in other cases (Pleasure-Way) addressing whether van-based motorhomes—similar to the Hymer vehicles —qualified for preferential tariff treatment. In Pleasure-Way, the Federal Circuit affirmed that HTSUS 9802.00.50 did not apply; the vehicles were liquidated at 2.5%. While Pleasure-Way was pending, a Customs Import Specialist checked “Approved” on Hymer’s Protest Form, which was sent to Hymer without a refund check or any explanations. Later, an Import Specialist updated Customs’ electronic system to reflect that the protest was suspended. Hymer sought an order directing Customs to reliquidate the entries of the vehicles under HTSUS 9802.00.50, asserting CIT jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1581(i)(1) and (i)(4), on grounds that Customs’ failure to provide a refund check constituted unlawfully withheld action under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Federal Circuit reversed CIT's judgment in favor of the government. CIT’s assertion of residual jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1581(i) was improper because a civil action for contesting the denial of protests could have been available under 28 U.S.C. 1581(a), and the remedy provided under 1581(a) is not manifestly inadequate. View "Erwin Hymer Group v. United States" on Justia Law

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Smith worked at the General Services Administration for nearly 30 years before GSA removed him. For most of his career, he received positive evaluations and faced no discipline. When Smith began to complain about GSA’s ineffective collection and management practices, his supervisor warned him to communicate his concerns only to his supervisor. He was eventually suspended for failure to follow that instruction and his relationship with his supervisor deteriorated. Smith was also disciplined for disrespect toward his supervisor and failing to remove his computer access card from his laptop, although Smith, a quadriplegic, was physically unable to remove the card. The Merit Systems Protection Board agreed that GSA retaliated against him for his repeated disclosure of gross mismanagement; Smith was a whistleblower, 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8), and his protected disclosures contributed to the decision to remove him. The Board nevertheless upheld the removal. Without addressing evidence relevant to GSA’s motive to retaliate or its treatment of other similarly situated non-whistleblowers, the Board ruled that because GSA had strong evidence of misconduct, removal was justified. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Board conflated two distinct inquiries: whether the penalty was reasonable and whether the agency would have imposed that same penalty absent Smith’s protected whistleblowing. Given Smith’s disability and his supervisors’ knowledge that he could not remove his computer access card, the GSA policy did not apply to him. View "Smith v. General Services Administration" on Justia Law

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Under a 2011 contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), HHL was to provide transportation services in Afghanistan. After the contract expired, HHL requested additional compensation based on alleged contract violations: suspension of work, changes to the contract requirements, and termination of the original contract. After various preliminary submissions, HHL submitted a “Request for Equitable Adjustment (REA)” with a sworn statement by HHL’s Deputy Managing Director having “full management [authority].” The submission requested that it be “treated as a[n] REA,” not as a claim, and requested $4,137,964 in compensation. HHL’s request was denied in what the contracting officer characterized as the “Government’s final determination in this matter.” The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals concluded that it did not have jurisdiction because “[a]t no point, in six years of communication with the [USACE], has HHL requested a contracting officer’s final decision” under 41 U.S.C. 7103(a)(1). The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that there was a request for a final decision by a contracting officer and a final decision entered by the contracting officer. A defect in the certification of a claim does not preclude jurisdiction over the claim; HHL can cure any issues with its certification on remand. View "Hejran Hejrat Co. Ltd v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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From 1943-1990, the government produced plutonium for nuclear weapons at Washington’s Hanford Site, leaving behind 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in underground tanks. In 2000, Bechtel was awarded a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract by the Department of Energy (DOE) for the design, construction, and operation of a Hanford nuclear waste treatment plant, incorporating provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). During the contract’s performance, two former Bechtel Hanford employees sued Bechtel under 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleging sexual and racial discrimination and retaliation. Bechtel settled these lawsuits and sought $500,000 in reimbursement from DOE for its defense costs. The settlement payments were covered by insurance. DOE provisionally approved Bechtel’s request and reimbursed Bechtel as requested. A contracting officer later disallowed the costs, citing Federal Circuit precedent, “Tecom” and stating that the government would offset the provisional reimbursement from future amounts owed to Bechtel. The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment, concluding that Tecom provided the proper standard. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Bechtel contract incorporated FAR 31.201-2 and 52.222-26, the same provisions that barred reimbursement in Tecom. Under the Tecom standard, Bechtel’s defense costs related to the discrimination suits are only allowable if Bechtel can show that the former employees “had very little likelihood of success.” Bechtel did not challenge the contracting officer’s determination that the former employees’ claims had more than a very little likelihood of success. View "Bechtel National, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Infobridge’s 772 Patent, titled “Method of Constructing Merge List,” generally relates to encoding and decoding video data; the patented methods are essential to the High-Efficiency Video Coding standard (H.265 standard). In two inter partes review proceedings requested by Samsung, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board upheld all challenged claims of the 772 patent, finding that Samsung failed to show that a certain prior art reference was publicly accessible before the 772 patent’s critical date and thus could not be considered prior art. The Federal Circuit vacated, first holding that has standing to appeal. the 772 patent is licensed as part of a “pool” of patents, including some owned by Samsung, that have been declared essential to the H.265 standard. Under this arrangement, Samsung is being deprived of royalty payments, which constitutes the kind of concrete and particularized economic injury that satisfies the Article III requirement. The Board applied the wrong legal standard in assessing public accessibility. A petitioner need not establish that specific persons actually accessed or received a work to show that the work was publicly accessible. The information may have been publicly accessible when it was emailed on a listserv to interested individuals. View "Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Infobridge PTE. Ltd." on Justia Law

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Indivior markets and holds the New Drug Application (NDA) for Suboxone® sublingual film, an opioid addiction treatment that combines two active ingredients: the opioid buprenorphine and the opioid antagonist naloxone. Suboxone Film is applied below a patient’s tongue, where it then rapidly dissolves to release the active ingredients. In 2010, the FDA approved Indivior’s film product, the first such product to gain FDA approval. Previously, Indivior sold buprenorphine/naloxone only in a tablet form. These appeals involve issues of infringement and invalidity of four patents covering pharmaceutical films and methods of making them, particularly two patents that claim pharmaceutical films and are listed in the Orange Book2 as covering Suboxone Film. The district court concluded that the asserted claims of three patents are not invalid as obvious; that one patent is not invalid as indefinite and that Watson infringes that patent; and that DRL and Alvogen do not infringe either of two patents. The court found certain claims in a fourth patent invalid. The Federal Circuit vacated, as moot, the holding that those claims were invalid as obvious but otherwise affirmed. In a parallel inter partes review proceeding, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board had held the claims unpatentable as anticipated and obvious, and the Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Indivior Inc. v. Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, S.A." on Justia Law

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The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found four claims of Quake’s patent and Claim 25 of its Patent Application unpatentable for lack of written description, 35 U.S.C. 112. The claims cover a method of determining the presence of a chromosomal abnormality in fetuses by using massively parallel sequencing (MPS) technology to sequence DNA fragments from a sample of the mother’s blood that contains both maternal and fetal DNA, identifying what chromosomes those DNA fragments come from based on their sequences, and determining if the test chromosome is over- or under-represented in the sample as compared to a reference chromosome. The claims recite a random MPS method for the detection step--all of the DNA in the sample is sequenced, as opposed to sequencing specific, targeted sequences. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The written description requirement prevents an applicant from later asserting that he invented that which he did not; it is particularly important when, as here, claims are added later during prosecution in response to developments by others. The first time Quake tried to cover random MPS with this specification was after the publication of another patent application directed to random MPS: Quake then canceled all his pending claims and replaced them with claims covering random MPS, creating a mismatch between the claims and the originally filed specification. The Board did not abuse its discretion in declining to reopen the record to admit expert testimony from another proceeding. View "Quake v. Lo" on Justia Law

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TQ’s patent, entitled “Multicarrier Transmission System with Low Power Sleep Mode and Rapid-On Capability,” relates to the field of “multicarrier transmission systems” that provide high speed data links between communication points [and have recently been used] . . . for communications over the local subscriber loop that connects a telephone service subscriber to a central telephone office.” The patent generally describes a method for “establishing a power management sleep state in a multicarrier system” and efficiently waking up a transmission system utilized on hardware, such as a computer, from sleep mode. Cisco and Arris sought inter partes review (IPR). The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that the claims were not unpatentable over a combination of the prior art. In the meantime, in a companion case, the Federal Circuit held that claims 6, 11, 16, and 20 would have been obvious. The Federal Circuit held that an appeal with respect to those claims is moot. The court vacated with respect to the remaining claims being challenged. The Board incorrectly construed illustrative claim 6’s term “synchronization signal” to mean “a signal allowing synchronization between the clock of the transmitter of the signal and the clock of the receiver of the signal.” View "Cisco Systems, Inc. v. TQ Delta, LLC" on Justia Law

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TQ’s patent, entitled “Multicarrier Transmission System with Low Power Sleep Mode and Rapid-On Capability,” relates to the field of “multicarrier transmission systems” that provide high-speed data links between communication points[ and have recently been used] . . . for communications over the local subscriber loop that connects a telephone service subscriber to a central telephone office.” The patent generally describes a method for “establishing a power management sleep state in a multicarrier system” and efficiently waking up a transmission system utilized on hardware, such as a computer, from sleep mode.DISH Network sought inter partes review (IPR). The U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board found the challenged claims unpatentable as obvious. The Federal Circuit affirmed, first holding that the Board did not violate TQ’s Administrative Procedures Act rights; it never construed the “reinitialize” limitation in its Decision to Institute IPR as TQ claimed, and, therefore, did not change course by construing the term in the Final Written Decision. The Board properly construed the “without needing to reinitialize” limitation. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s obviousness determination. View "TQ Delta, LLC v. DISH Network LLC" on Justia Law

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UTC’s patent is generally directed to a gas turbine engine having a gear train driven by a spool with a low stage count low-pressure turbine, designed for use in airplanes. GE sought inter partes review. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that the claims at issue were not unpatentable for obviousness. UTC moved to dismiss GE’s appeal for lack of standing, arguing that an appellant does not automatically possess standing to appeal an adverse Board decision. GE submitted a Declaration by Long, GE’s Chief IP Counsel, explaining that because the design of aircraft engines can take eight years or more, GE develops new engines based on old designs; in the 1970s, GE developed a geared turbofan engine for NASA. GE asserted that UTC's patent impedes its ability to use that design as a basis for future geared turbofan engine designs, thereby limiting the scope of GE’s engine designs and its ability to compete. Long declared that designing around the patent restricts GE’s design choices and forced GE to incur additional research and development expenses. Long declared that Boeing requested information from GE and its competitors for engine designs for future Boeing aircraft with information regarding designs for both geared-fan engines and direct-drive engines; GE researched a geared-fan engine design that would potentially implicate UTC’s Patent but chose not to submit a geared-fan engine design. The Federal Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of Article III standing. GE’s purported competitive injuries are too speculative to support constitutional standing. Long’s declarations are the only evidence of standing and neither shows concrete and imminent injury to GE related to the patent. View "General Electric Co. v. United Technologies Corp." on Justia Law