Articles Posted in Communications Law

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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

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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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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

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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

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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

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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

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Starhome owns the 487 patent, titled “System and Methods for Global Access to Services for Mobile Telephone Subscribers,” aimed at solving a problem that arises when mobile phone users are in a network other than their home network (roaming). For example, in a home network, a mobile phone user might dial a short code, such as “121,” to access voice mail. While roaming, a network may not recognize the code, resulting in an error message. The 487 patent demonstrates a system providing roaming services and employing an “intelligent gateway” that contains information about multiple home networks, including short-code translation tables, subscriber profile data, and roaming patterns. Starhome sued AT&T. The court construed the term “intelligent gateway” to mean “a network element that transfers information to and from a mobile network and another network external to the mobile network” and the parties stipulated to a judgment of noninfringement. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Starhome GmbH v. AT&T Mobility, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2011, K-Tech sued DirecTV for patent infringement against DirecTV. On the same day, K-Tech filed a similar action against TWC. The complaints named four patents identifying systems and methods for modifying a major channel number, a minor channel number, and/or a carrier frequency to identify a television program. The district court dismissed both complaints and K-Tech’s amended complaints, for failure to state a claim. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that the district court applied the incorrect standard in evaluating the adequacy of K-Tech’s complaints. District courts must evaluate complaints alleging direct infringement by reference to Form 18 of the Appendix of Forms to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. K-Tech’s amended complaints satisfied those standards. DirecTV and TWC know what K-Tech’s patents claim, and they know what K-Tech asserts their systems do, and why. K-Tech has alleged that DirecTV and TWC must and do modify or “translate” digital signals they receive, and it has alleged that they do so using K-Tech’s patented methods and systems. View "K-Tech Telecomm., Inc. v. Time Warner Cable, Inc." on Justia Law

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FM sued Google for infringing three patents relating to advertising on multiple outlets such as newspapers and websites. The specification characterizes the prior art as inefficient because it requires advertisers to manually ensure that their ads conform to the differing requirements of each advertising venue. The invention is designed to eliminate this inefficiency by automatically formatting the ads to fit each publisher’s requirements and sending them out for publication. In each of the patents, a “central computer” coordinates interactions between sellers (wishing to place ads), media venues, and buyers (targets of the ads). The central computer hosts a number of databases and software processes, including the presentation rules database and the Presentation Generating Program. The district court invalidated of one of FM’s patents as indefinite and a jury found that two others were invalid and not infringed. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court abdicated to the jury its responsibility to construe disputed claim terms; that the court incorrectly denied its motion for a new trial on the grounds that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; and that the verdicts of infringement and invalidity are irreconcilable. View "Function Media, L.L.C. v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001 Fox sought to register a mark having a literal element, consisting of the words COCK SUCKER, and a design element, consisting of a drawing of a crowing rooster. Since 1979, Fox has used this mark to sell rooster-shaped chocolate lollipops, which she “displays . . .in retail outlets in small replicas of egg farm collecting baskets to emphasize the country farmyard motif.” The consumers targeted by Fox’s business are, primarily, fans of teams that have gamecocks as mascots. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed refusal by the examiner to register her mark, citing 15 U.S.C. 1052(a). The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that a mark that creates a double entendre falls within the proscription of the section where, as here, one of its meanings is clearly vulgar. The section’s prohibition on registration of “immoral ... or scandalous matter” includes a mark that is “vulgar.” View "In re: Fox" on Justia Law