Yesterday, the Federal Circuit handed down its anticipated en banc decision in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., increasing the standards for inequitable conduct. The 6-5 majority held that:
an omitted reference is material only if the claim or patent would not have issued, but for omission of the reference;
specific intent to deceive must be shown by clear and convincing evidence;
courts can no longer employ a “sliding scale” of intent and materiality, both must be showng by clear and convincing evidence; and
courts should apply equity to ensure that the remedy is not based upon conduct “immaterial to the issuance of the patent.”
Patent Docs has an excellent explanation of the opinion and the case background. And there is plenty of commentary about the opinion (see links below). My initial reaction was that the heightened standards will not actually reduce the number of inequitable conduct claims that are filed, although it may reduce the number of inequitable conduct findings.
So, while the overall outcomes may change, the general cost and complexity of patent litigation will likely remain the same. But when I said as much on Twitter (@rdd), I got an interesting reaction from what appears to be an anonymous patent lawyer. This anonymous person suggested that the heightened standard would actually embolden inventors and patent prosecutors to omit references and hide information from the Patent Office because they are now less likely to be charged with inequitable conduct. My inclination is to dismiss this theory based upon my operating presumption that most patent prosecutors, and most inventors, are, or at least intend to, zealously advocate for their clients, or themselves, within the Patent Office’s rules and the relevant ethics standards. Of course, I have seen exceptions, and they can be severe. But my experience is that those are the exceptions, not the rule. I am curious to hear what others think about this. Am I wrong?
Here is a round up of some of the blog posts about the decision:
Peter Zura’s 271 Patent Blog “rejoices” that the heightened standards give prosecutors added protection;
Life Sciences Law;
Orange Book Blog;
Patently-O ;
PharmaPatents; and
PLI Blog.

Continue Reading Federal Circuit Heightens Inequitable Conduct Standards, But Does it Increase Unethical Behavior?

Patent Compliance Group, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., No. 10 C 4645, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2010) (Der-Yeghiayan, J.).
Judge Der-Yeghiyan denied defendant Brunswick’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss plaintiff Patent Compliance Group’s (“PCG”) false patent marking claims regarding Brunswick’s exercise equipment. First, the Court held that Rule 9(b) heightened pleadings applied to the intent to deceive requirement of false patent marking, and anologized to the Federal Circuit’s inequitable conduct pleading requirements. While PCG’s first complaint alleging that Brunswick was a sophisticated company, PCG’s amended complaint attaching Patent Office documents identifying the expiration dates of the allegedly expired patents and identifying Brunswick’s in-house patent counsel was sufficient.

Continue Reading Court Analogizes Inequitable Conduct Pleading to False Marking Pleading

Avery Dennison Corp. v. Continental Datalabel, Inc., No. 10 C 2744, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2010) (Kennelly, J.).
Judge Kennelly granted plaintiff Avery Dennision’s (“ADC”) Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss defendant Continental Datalabel’s (“CDI”) inequitable conduct, Walker Process fraud and sham litigation counterclaims in this patent dispute regarding labels with a tear off liner to expose a portion of a label column for easy removal.
Inequitable Conduct
CDI alleged two bases of inequitable conduct. First, ADC allegedly intentionally failed to tell the examiner that certain limitations outlined in a series of bullet points were from a particular prior art reference. That claim filed because ADC had previously disclosed the prior art reference at issue to the examiner – once a reference is before an examiner, it cannot be found to have been withheld from the examiner. Second, ADC allegedly intentionally failed to disclose to the examiner that curling up of labels is an inherent characteristic of adhesive labels. But ADC had disclosed the inherent curling up by disclosing various prior art references regarding adhesive labels that taught the inherent curling up, combined with the examiner’s presumed experience in the art.
Walker Process Fraud Claim
Because CDI’s Walker Process claim was premised upon the alleged inequitable conduct, CDI’s Walker Process claim failed. The Court further noted that because inequitable conduct is a broader concept than Walker Process fraud, a party that fails to make its case for inequitable conduct, cannot make a Walker Process fraud claim.
Sham Litigation
CDI’s sham litigation claim was based upon allegations that ADC knew the patent was invalid based upon the Brady prior art reference, which was before the examiner, and because had ADC tested CDI’s accused labels, ADC would have realized its suit was baseless. Because the Brady reference was before the examiner, however, the Court could not find that the claim was “objectively baseless” as required for sham litigation. ADC could have reasonably believed that after the examiner considered Brady and granted ADC’s patent, ADC’s patent was in fact valid over Brady.

Continue Reading No Inequitable Conduct Where “Withheld” Reference Was Previously Disclosed

Neutral Tandem, Inc. v. Peerless Network, LLC, No. 08 C 3402, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Dec. 2, 2010) (Darrah, J.).
Judge Darrah granted plaintiff Neutral Tandem summary judgment as to defendants’ (collectively “Peerless Network”) inequitable conduct claim. Peerless offered no clear and convincing evidence that the inventor knew of the allegedly withheld prior art, referred to as the “Phase II Order.” The fact that the inventor was involved in the proceeding’s from which the Phase II Order issued was not sufficient. Those proceedings lasted eleven years and resulted in thirteen orders. And the inventor testified that he did not remember the Phase II Order. Furthermore, similarities between a paragraph of the Order and a statement made during prosecution was not sufficient. Finally a petition filed with the FCC by the inventor referencing the Order was not sufficient because he testified it was written by his outside counsel and he had not reviewed the petition.

Continue Reading Defendant Cannot Show Knowledge of Prior Art Necessary for Inequitable Conduct

Bone Care Int’l, LLC v. Pentech Pharms., Inc., No. 08 C 1083, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Apr. 23, 2010) (Dow, Jr.).

Judge Dow granted in part plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s inequitable conduct affirmative defenses and corresponding counterclaim in this patent case related to a treatment for hyperthyroidism. The Court dismissed defendants’ defenses and claims based

SP Techs., LLC v. Garmin Int’l., Inc., No. 08 C 3248, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Sep. 30, 2009) (Pallmeyer, J.)
Judge Pallmeyer denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment of inequitable conduct in this patent infringement case. Plaintiff SP Technologies (“SPT”) asserted a patent for a touch screen keyboard that cannot be moved, resized or closed by a user. Defendants argued the patent should be held unenforceable based upon the inventor’s alleged failure to disclose to the Patent Office twenty lines of code for disabling a close button allegedly copied from a website and used in the patent, as well as certain alleged prior art Palm Pilot devices.
Intent to Deceive
The Court held there were questions of fact as to the investor’s alleged intent to deceive the Patent Office as to both alleged pieces of prior art. With respect to the code, there was evidence that the inventor believed there was no need to submit any evidence about a portion of the code because only the entirety of the code was relevant to patenting. Regarding the Palm devices, the inventor believed he had disclosed the Palm Pilots because they were mentioned in articles submitted to the Patent Office.
Materiality
Regarding the allegedly copied code, the Court noted that few inventors could be considered the sole inventor of every aspect of their invention. Almost all inventions include some known components. And defendants did not prove that the single component of the invention represented by the allegedly copied code was central to patentability. The Court did, however, note that it appeared the code was likely copied as it was identical to that on the website and in other manuals, down to a misspelling. The Court accepted as evidence a printout of a copy of the website at issue from the relevant 1999 date. The copy of this website was maintained by the Internet Archive, or the Way Back Machine. The printout was authenticated by an Internet Archive employee that explained the Internet Archive’s process of maintaining historic copies of websites.
Similarly, defendants did not present sufficient evidence of the materiality of the Palm devices. Defendants offered only pictures without proof, such as a manual, that a user could not move, resize or close the keyboard.

Continue Reading Internet Archive Website is Admissible Evidence

Another sign that patent reform is heating up again: the ABA’s IP Section has sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a position paper regarding inequitable conduct reform (click here to get to the Section’s advocacy page which has a link to the letter). The ABA argues that inequitable conduct materiality should be based upon the law and standards at the time of the alleged conduct, not based upon the present day standards. The ABA also argues that inequitable conduct decisions should continue to be made by the federal courts, not the PTO. And finally, the ABA argues that the standard for inequitable conduct should be:
(1) that a person having a duty of candor and good faith to the PTO in connection with the patent or an application therefor knowingly and willfully misrepresented a material fact or material information to the PTO or omitted a known material fact or known material information from the PTO;
(2) that, in the absence of such misrepresentation or omission, the PTO, acting reasonably, would not have granted or maintained in force at least one invalid patent claim; and
(3) that the misrepresentation or omission occurred with a specific intent to deceive the PTO, and that such intent cannot be established by the mere materiality of the misrepresentation or omission.

Continue Reading Patent Reform: ABA on Inequitable Conduct

Se-Kure Controls, Inc. v. Diam USA, Inc., No. 06 C 4857, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Jan. 9, 2009) (Cox, Mag. J.).*
Judge Cox denied plaintiff’s motion to exclude defendants’ patent law expert witness, but placed limits on the expert’s testimony following the reasoning of a previous opinion in a related case about the same expert — click here to read about that opinion in the Blog’s archives. The Court held that a patent expert’s testimony could aid the Court’s understanding of Patent Office procedures and of what would have been material to a reasonable patent examiner. But the patent law expert was not allowed to testify as to any legal conclusions. And the testimony would be given outside the jury’s presence to avoid any prejudice. Because the Court decides inequitable conduct, there was no need for the jury to hear the expert’s testimony.
* Click here for more on this case and related cases in the Blog’s archives. Also, note that the Court continues the progressive use of footnote citation.

Continue Reading Patent Expert Allowed on Limited Subjects

ACCO Brands USA LLC v. PC Guardian Anti-Theft Prods., Inc., No 06 C 7102, Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Dec. 10, 2008) (Zagel, J.).*
Judge Zagel denied defendant PC Guardian’s (“PCG”) renewed motion to transfer plaintiff’s patent suit against PCG, but not necessarily the other defendants, to the Northern District of California, where plaintiff and PCG were litigating a related patent. The Court previously denied this motion, reasoning that all issues related to the patents in suit should be tried in one court, as opposed to the Northern District of California resolving the case as to PCG and the Northern District of Illinois to resolve the issues as to the other defendants in this suit.
PCG renewed its motion because its new Northern District of California inequitable conduct motion implicated both the patents in suit in the Northern District of California and those at issue in the Northern District of Illinois. But the Court held that transfer of the case would still leave this Court to resolve the identical issues as to the remaining defendants. Additionally, because the Northern District of California court would likely rule on the issues before this Court, this Court would have the opportunity to consider the California rulings before deciding the issues. And this Court had already construed the claims in this case (click here), resulting in only two minor differences between the courts.
* Click here for more on this case in the Blog’s archives.

Continue Reading Overlapping Issues & Earlier Trial Date Do Not Warrant Transfer

UTStarcom, Inc. v. Starent Networks, Corp., No. 07 C 2582 Slip Op. (N.D. Ill. Dec. 5, 2008) (Lindberg, Sen. J.).
Judge Lindberg granted in part plaintiff’s motion to dismiss certain of defendant Starent’s counterclaims. Starent’s allegations that specific patentee withheld specific references from the Patent Office were sufficient to meet the Rule 9(b) heightened pleading standards for inequitable conduct. But the Court dismissed Starent’s tortious interference counterclaim to the extent that it was based upon the filing of a law suit because Illinois prohibits tortious interference with prospective economic advantage claims based upon filing law suits. The Court also dismissed Starent’s malicious prosecution counterclaim because Starent did not allege a special injury, such as arrest, seizure of property, taking or interference with property.

Continue Reading Allegations That Specific References Were Withheld Sufficient for Inequitable Conduct Claim