Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Communications Law
Sandwich Isles Communications, Inc. v. United States
The Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, requires the FCC to advance universal service. The FCC's Universal Service Fund (USF), administered by USAC, allows carriers that serve high-cost areas to recover reasonable costs “for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and services.” High-cost area carriers may also receive support from the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) pool.SIC was designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier to provide service to the Hawaiian homelands and began receiving high-cost support funds and participating in the NECA pool. SIC subsequently leased a "massive and expensive" cable from a related entity. In 2010, the FCC allowed 50 percent of SIC’s lease expenses. In 2016, the FCC determined that projected growth never materialized and limited SIC to $1.9 million per year from the NECA pool. The D.C. Circuit denied an appeal.In 2011, the FCC put a $250 per-line, per-month cap on USF support; SIC had received $14,000 per line per year. In 2015, SIC's manager was convicted of tax crimes; the company had paid $4,063,294.39 of his personal expenses, which he improperly designated as business expenses. The FCC suspended SIC's ‘high-cost funding. An audit revealed that SIC improperly received millions of dollars of USF funds. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission refused to certify SIC. The D.C. Circuit declined to order reinstatement of USF support and upheld a 2016 FCC order requiring repayment of $27,270,390.SIC filed suit in the Claims Court, alleging that the reductions in SIC’s subsidies resulted in a taking of property without just compensation, seeking $200 million in damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The court’s Tucker Act jurisdiction is preempted by the Communication Act's comprehensive remedial scheme. SIC’s claims seek review of FCC decisions, which are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of appeals. View "Sandwich Isles Communications, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
Myco Industries, Inc. v. Blephex, LLC
Myco believed its competitor, BlephEx, made false and misleading statements about Myco’s product and whether it infringed BlephEx’s patent, entitled “Method and Device for Treating an Ocular Disorder.” The district court preliminarily enjoined BlephEx from making allegations of patent infringement and from threatening litigation against Myco’s potential customers.The Federal Circuit reversed. Federal law requires a showing of bad faith before a patentee can be enjoined from communicating his patent rights. A showing of “bad faith” must be supported by a finding that the claims asserted were objectively baseless. There was no adequate basis to conclude that allegations of patent infringement would be false or misleading. Even if the injunction were narrowly tailored to allegations of infringement and threats of litigation against Myco’s potential customers, the “medical practitioner immunity” provision of 35 U.S.C. 287(c) does not blanketly preclude a patent owner from stating that a medical practitioner’s performance of a medical activity infringes a patent. Myco asked the court to assume, without any supporting evidence, that a doctor would have interpreted general statements as an accusation of patent infringement and a threat of litigation against the doctor herself. View "Myco Industries, Inc. v. Blephex, LLC" on Justia Law
Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp.
Customedia’s patents, which share a specification, disclose comprehensive data management and processing systems that comprise a remote AccountTransaction Server (ATS) and a local host Data Case Management System and Audio/Video Processor Recorderplayer (VPR/DMS), e.g., a cable set-top box. Broadcasters and other content providers transmit advertising data via the ATS to a local VPR/DMS. That data be selectively recorded in programmable storage sections in the VPR/DMS according to a user’s preferences. These storage sections may be “reserved, rented, leased or purchased from end user[s], content providers, broadcasters, cable/satellite distributor, or other data communications companies administering the data products and services.” On Dish Network’s petition for review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found various claims ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101 and other claims unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 102. The Federal Circuit affirmed the ineligibility finding, applying the Supreme Court’s “Alice” holding that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible.” The claimed invention is at most an improvement to the abstract concept of targeted advertising wherein computers are merely used as a tool; the invocation of already-available computers that are not themselves plausibly asserted to be an advance amounts to a recitation of what is well-understood, routine, and conventional. View "Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp." on Justia Law
In re: Brunetti
Brunetti owns the clothing brand “fuct.” In 2011, individuals filed an intent-to-use application for the mark FUCT for items of apparel. The applicants assigned the application to Brunetti, who amended it to allege use of the mark. The examining attorney refused to register the mark under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), finding it comprised immoral or scandalous matter because FUCT is the past tense of “fuck,” a vulgar word, and is therefore scandalous. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed. While substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings and it did not err concluding the mark comprises immoral or scandalous matter, section 2(a)’s bar on registering immoral or scandalous marks is an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The bar is a content-based restriction on speech; trademark registration is not a government subsidy program that could justify such a bar. Nor is trademark registration a “limited public forum,” in which the government can more freely restrict speech. The bar survives neither strict nor intermediate scrutiny. Even if the government had a substantial interest in protecting the public from scandalous or immoral marks, the regulation does not directly advance that interest because section 2(a) does not directly prevent applicants from using their marks. View "In re: Brunetti" on Justia Law
8×8, Inc. v. United States
8x8 provides telephone services via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Customers use a digital terminal adapter, containing 8x8’s proprietary firmware and software. Customers’ calls are switched to traditional lines and circuits when necessary; 8x8 did not pay Federal Communications Excise Tax (FCET) to the traditional carriers, based on an “exemption certificate,” (I.R.C. 4253). Consistent with its subscription plan, 8x8 collected FCET from its customers and remitted FCET to the IRS. In 2005, courts held that section 4251 did not permit the IRS to tax telephone services that billed at a fixed per-minute, non-distance-sensitive rate. The IRS ceased collecting FCET on “amounts paid for time-only service,” stated that VoIP services were non-taxable, and established a process seeking a refund of FCET that had been exacted on nontaxable services, stating stated that a “collector” can request a refund if the collector either “establishes that it repaid the amount of the tax to the person from whom the tax was collected”; or “obtains the written consent of such person to the allowance of such credit or refund.” The IRS denied 8x8’s refund claim. The Claims Court concluded that 8x8 lacked standing and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed; 8x8 did not bear the economic burden of FCET, but sought to recover costs borne by its customers, contrary to the Code. The court rejected an argument that FCET was “treated as paid” during the transfer of services to traditional carriers. View "8x8, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
Cox Commc’ns, Inc. v. Sprint Commc’n Co., LP
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
GPNE Corp. v. Apple, Inc.
GPNE’s patents relate to a paging system, using devices capable of both receiving messages and sending messages through a central control station, which can also receive a message from a telephone (e.g., a callback number, as in one-way pager operations) and send it to a recipient device. The specification discloses that “the invention provides a two-way paging system which operates independently from a telephone system for wireless data communication between users.” GPNE asserted infringement of claims referring to the network's devices as “nodes” and requiring that the “node” be “in a data network, the data network including a plurality of nodes,” have “at least one processor,” have “a memory providing code to the processor,” and have an “interface” that transmits and receives communication signals in a particular manner. The claims are otherwise silent as to what a “node” is. Apart from the Abstract, the specification does not refer to “node,” but refers to devices as “pagers” or “paging units.” The specification discloses that each “paging unit” includes a transmitter, a receiver, a beeper, a vibrator, an LCD display, a keyboard, and a “pager computer” which performs the processing for the device's operation. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the claims are not infringed, upholding construction of “node” as “pager with two-way data communications capability that transmits wireless data communications on a paging system that operates independently from a telephone network.” View "GPNE Corp. v. Apple, Inc." on Justia Law
Tam, the “front man” for Asian-American rock band, The Slants, sought to register the mark THE SLANTS and attached specimens featuring the name set against Asian motifs. The examining attorney found the mark disparaging to people of Asian descent (15 U.S.C. 1052(a)) and denied registration. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed for failure to file a brief. Tam filed another application, seeking to register the mark THE SLANTS for identical services and claiming use of the mark since 2006. Attached specimens did not contain Asian motifs. The examining attorney again found the mark disparaging and declined to register it. The Board affirmed. On rehearing, en banc, the Federal Circuit vacated, finding Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act unconstitutional. The government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message, even when the government’s message-discriminatory penalty is less than a prohibition. “Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks. Words—even a single word—can be powerful. With his band name, Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.” The regulation at issue amounts to viewpoint discrimination; under strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny review, the disparagement proscription is unconstitutional, because the government has offered no legitimate interests to justify it. View "In Re:Tam" on Justia Law
Giorgio Foods, Inc. v. United States
In 1998, the Coalition filed a petition alleging that domestic producers of preserved mushrooms were injured by imports of preserved mushrooms from Chile, China, Indonesia, and India being sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. Giorgio accounted for approximately one half of total U.S. production, but was neither a Coalition member nor a petitioner. The International Trade Commission issued questionnaires to domestic producers, including Giorgio. Giorgio responded: “We take no position on Chile, China and Indonesia[.] We oppose the petition against India.” The Department of Commerce initiated an antidumping investigation, “on behalf of the domestic industry,” 19 U.S.C. 1673a(c)(4)(A)(i), noting that supporters of the petition accounted for over 50 percent of production of the domestic producers who expressed an opinion even if Giorgio’s position was not disregarded. Commerce found that dumping had occurred. The ITC determined that the domestic industry was materially injured; Commerce issued corresponding antidumping orders. Customs collected antidumping duties for distribution to “affected domestic producers.” Under the Byrd Amendment, an affected domestic producer “was a petitioner or interested party in support of the petition.” ITC rejected Giorgio’s request to be listed because Giorgio’s responses did not indicate support for the petition. Customs denied Giorgio’s claims for distributions. After the Federal Circuit upheld the Byrd Amendment against a facial First Amendment challenge, the Trade Court dismissed Giorgio’s suit, finding the support requirement constitutional under the standards governing commercial speech because it directly advanced the government’s substantial interest in preventing dumping. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Giorgio Foods, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
Golden Bridge Tech., Inc. v. Apple Inc.
A Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) system wireless cellular network has a base station and mobile stations, such as cellular telephones. To establish communication between a mobile station and a base, the mobile station transmits a known signal (preamble) over a random access channel (RACH). The CDMA system allows multiple signals to be sent over the same RACH by using different numerical spreading codes that enable the stations to distinguish a particular wireless communication from other concurrent communications. If too many mobile stations transmit simultaneously at high power levels, the signals can interfere with each other. GBT’s patents disclose an improvement that reduces the risk of interference: a mobile station seeking to communicate with the base will transmit preambles at increasing power levels until it receives an acknowledgment signal from the base. Once the mobile station receives that acknowledgment, it stops transmitting preambles and starts transmitting message information, so that each data signal is transmitted at the lowest power necessary to reach the base, reducing the risk of interference. In Texas litigation, the court construed preamble as “a signal used for communicating with the base station that is spread before transmission” and granted summary judgment of anticipation, which the Federal Circuit affirmed. While appeal was pending, GBT sought new claims during reexamination of one patent and in a pending continuation application and submitted the claim construction order from the Texas litigation and filings setting forth GBT’s stipulated definition of preamble. The claims GBT asserted, in this case, against Apple were added during the proceedings. The district court construed the disputed terms, including preamble, and granted Apple summary judgment of noninfringement. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Golden Bridge Tech., Inc. v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law