The Ninth Circuit recently considered an issue of first impression: What standard of review does an appellate court apply when reviewing a district court’s grant of summary judgment in a trademark infringement case on the equitable basis of the unclean hands doctrine. The Ninth Circuit faced this issue in the case titled: Metal Jeans, Inc.

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

In The Sherwin-Williams Company v. PPG Industries, Inc., 2-17-cv-01023 (WDPA 2021-01-21, Order), the court had to decide whether Plaintiff The Sherwin-Williams Co. (“Sherwin”) should be bound by its prior admission to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) during vacated reexamination proceedings.  

During one of the reexamination proceedings, Sherwin admitted that certain prior art (“Perez”) disclosed a BPA-free coating, although it contended that its patents were valid for other reasons.  Subsequently, the entire reexamination proceeding was terminated without any action on the merits.  
Continue Reading District Court Finds Patentee’s Prior Statement Regarding Prior Art A Binding Admission

Most patent applications are initially rejected on obviousness grounds by the patent examiner in the US Patent and Trademark Office.  That means that the examiner believes that the invention, as set forth in the claims in the application, would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time the application was filed.   Usually, the rejection is based on one or more prior art references – documents that are publicly available as of the application’s filing date.  In making such a rejection, the examiner states that a person skilled in the art would have found it obvious to modify the teachings of the cited prior art references to achieve the claimed invention.

There are several ways to overcome this type of obviousness rejection.  The applicant can argue that the examiner is incorrect in the interpretation of the prior art references, and that those references do not teach or disclose what the examiner contends.  The applicant can also argue that, although the examiner may be correct in interpreting the prior art references, the examiner is incorrect in concluding that a person skilled in the art would have found the claimed invention obvious based on those  references.  Or, the applicant can amend the claims to add an element that is not taught or disclosed in the references.
Continue Reading Arguing Obviousness with the Patent Examiner