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Audrey Millemann is a shareholder with Weintraub Tobin and practices in the Intellectual Property and Litigation sections. She is a litigator and a registered patent attorney.  Audrey advises clients on all issues of intellectual property law, including infringement, validity, and ownership of patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

How many of the lawyers out there liked hypotheticals in law school? I did not, but this case prompted me to write one!  So, for those of you who enjoy hypotheticals, here it is:

Company A, a North Carolina LLC, owns four patents.  A new company is formed, Company B, a Texas LLC.  Company B has the same corporate address in North Carolina and the same five shareholders as Company A.  Company B conducts no business activities.  About 20 days after Company B is formed, Company A assigns its four patents to Company B, with an agreement that gives Company B the rights to sue for patent infringement only in the district court for the Western District of Texas.  (And assume that the Western District of Texas is a very fast and favorable court for plaintiffs in patent infringement cases.)  About ten days after the assignment, Company B files two lawsuits for patent infringement in the Western District of Texas, alleging that the defendants sell mobile devices that use third party applications that infringe the patents.  The defendants move to transfer the cases to the district court in the Northern District of California on grounds of convenience.  They allege that the Western District of Texas is not the proper venue because most of the third-party applications were researched and developed in the Northern District of California, while none were developed in the Western District of Texas, and several witnesses and inventors were located in the Northern District of California, while none were in the Western District of Texas.  Here’s the question: Should the district court for the Western District of Texas grant the motions to transfer?
Continue Reading You Can’t Manipulate Venue!

Patents protect inventions.  However, patents protect only certain inventions.  In order to be patentable, an invention must fall within one of four categories of patent-eligible subject matter: articles of manufacture, machines, processes, and compositions of matter. 35 U.S.C. §101.  There are some things that are not patentable (i.e. are patent-ineligible subject matter): laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.

In 2014, in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, 573 U.S. 208, 216, 219 (2014), the Supreme Court established a two-part test to determine whether an invention is patent-eligible.  In the first step, a determination is made as to whether the claimed invention falls within one of the categories of patent-ineligible subject matter.  If it does, the second step is performed:  a determination of whether the claimed invention has an inventive concept that transforms the patent-ineligible subject matter into something patentable.


Continue Reading Once Again, Generic Computer Systems That Do Routine Functions are Not Patentable!

Quick answer: no!

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals recently tangled with a patent application for an invention that did not have scientific support.  The court affirmed a decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board rejecting a patent application on these grounds.  While this is not a common occurrence, in this case, it’s an easy conclusion to reach.

In In re Huping Hu, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 7776, the inventors applied for patents for inventions related to “quantum entanglement.”  According to the inventors, quantum entanglement is “quantum spins of photons, electrons and nuclei.”  The inventors explained that “quantum spins of photons, electrons and nuclei have now been successfully entangled in various ways for purposes of quantum computation and communication.”  The inventors said that quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that happens if particles, such as photons and electrons, become linked, and, when separated, the mechanical states of the molecules are still linked such that if the state of one particle is changed, the linked particle is affected.  The PTO explained the inventors’ method as using quantum entanglement “to change the characteristics of one substance via the manipulation of a completely physically separate substance.”  The PTO did not dispute the existence of quantum entanglement, but said that the phenomenon has been seen in very specific conditions for only a fraction of a second.
Continue Reading Can a Patent Violate the Laws of Chemistry and Physics?

The validity of a United States patent can be challenged in federal court litigation.  Patents can also be challenged in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which, in most cases, is a quicker and less costly process.

The PTO provides three procedures by which a patent can be challenged: inter partes review (IPR), post grant review (PGR), and ex parte reexamination.  In IPRs and PGRs, the challenger and the patent owner both participate, and the proceedings are handled by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).  In an ex parte reexamination, the challenger is not involved after the request for reexamination has been filed, and the proceeding is handled by the PTO examiners.

In IPRs and PGRs, anyone except the patent owner may file a petition to challenge the patent.  The filing fees are high, $41,500 for an IPR and $47,500 for a PGR, with additional fees depending on the number of claims challenged.  The proceedings are handled by a three-judge panel of administrative judges with technical background in the field of the patent.  There are two phases in these proceedings.  The first phase consists of the filing of the petition by the challenger, the filing of a response by the patent owner, and the decision whether to institute the IPR or PGR by the PTAB.  If the PTAB institutes the IPR or PGR, then the second phase (the trial phase) begins.  The second phase consists of discovery (more limited than in litigation), briefing, an oral hearing, and a final written decision by the panel.  The entire process from institution to the final decision should take no more than 12 months.  The parties may appeal the decision to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
Continue Reading How to Challenge a Patent in the PTO

Is it possible to legally protect an idea?  The answer is: not really.

Intellectual property is intangible personal property.  There are four types of intellectual property that are protected by law:  patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.  A separate set of laws governs each one.  Although ideas may be intangible personal property, ideas do not