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Supreme Court Invalidates Ban on Immoral or Scandalous Trademarks

Supreme Court Invalidates Ban on Immoral or Scandalous Trademarks

In a long-awaited decision, Iancu v. Brunetti, the Supreme Court held – in a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Kagan – that the Lanham Act’s prohibition on registration of “immoral or scandalous” trademarks violates the First Amendment. The decision completes a trilogy of cases that, in recent years, stirred up significant interest on the interplay between freedom of speech and certain Lanham Act trademark prohibitions. Initially, the constitutionality of the bar against registration of disparaging marks was brought to nationwide media attention through the Redskins case (Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc), previously reported on by Gibbons, which culminated the legal effort by Native American tribes to delineate the term “redskin” as an offensive and disparaging racial slur, resulting in the initial cancellation of the eponymous mark owned by the Washington Redskins. Pending review by the Supreme Court, the Blackhorse case was cut short by another case, Matal v. Tam. In that 2017 decision, the Court struck down a Lanham Act provision that prevented registration for marks that are deemed “disparaging,” thus rendering moot any further review of Blackhorse. Because the Court in Matal had already declared the “disparaging” bar unconstitutional, it comes as no surprise that the Section 2(a) prohibition (15...

District Court Must Consider Whether the Patentee Must be Joined Before Dismissing the Case for Lack of Statutory Standing

District Court Must Consider Whether the Patentee Must be Joined Before Dismissing the Case for Lack of Statutory Standing

The question of who must join a patent infringement suit often raises interesting questions of rights, obligations, and control of the litigation. In the global marketplace with increased licensing arrangements, the extent of retaining rights can have a direct impact on the viability of a lawsuit and protecting intellectual property. Recently, the Federal Circuit in Lone Star Silicon Innovations v. Nanya Technology provided further clarification on what meets the standing requirement to bring a patent infringement case, and for dismissing a case for lack of standing. In this patent litigation, the asserted patents (twelve in all) were originally assigned to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). AMD later executed an agreement purporting to transfer “all right, title and interest” in the patents to Lone Star. The transfer agreement, however, imposes several limitations on Lone Star. For example, Lone Star may only assert the patents against “Unlicensed Third Party Entit[ies]” specifically listed in the agreement. To add new entities, Lone Star and AMD both must agree. If Lone Star sues an unlisted entity, AMD has the right, without Lone Star’s approval, to sublicense the patents to the unlisted entity. Further, AMD can prevent Lone Star from assigning the patents, and AMD and its...

Reversing the First Circuit, the Supreme Court Holds That Rejection of an Executory Trademark License Does Not Bar the Licensee From Continuing to Use the Mark

Reversing the First Circuit, the Supreme Court Holds That Rejection of an Executory Trademark License Does Not Bar the Licensee From Continuing to Use the Mark

In Mission Product Holdings v. Tempnology, the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 opinion delivered by Justice Kagan, held that a debtor’s rejection of a trademark license under Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code does not terminate the licensee’s rights to use the trademark under the agreement. Tempnology made clothing and accessories designed to stay cool during exercise, and marketed those products under the brand name “Coolcore.” In 2012, Tempnology gave Mission Product Holdings an exclusive license to distribute certain Coolcore products in the United States and granted Mission a non-exclusive global license to use the Coolcore trademarks. The agreement was set to expire in July 2016. In September 2015, however, Tempnology filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, and rejected the license agreement under Section 365(a). The Bankruptcy Court held that Tempnology’s rejection of the agreement revoked Mission’s right to use the marks. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed. The First Circuit rejected the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel’s view and reinstated the Bankruptcy Court’s decision. The First Circuit reasoned that Congress, in enacting Section 365(n) in 1988, “expressly listed six kinds of intellectual property,” but not trademarks. The First Circuit thus held that trademark licenses are categorically unprotected from...

Legislators Propose Framework To Reform Patent Eligibility Under Section 101

Legislators Propose Framework To Reform Patent Eligibility Under Section 101

On April 17, 2019, Senators Chris Coons and Thom Tillis, and Representatives Doug Collins, Hank Johnson, and Steve Stivers unveiled a framework to reform 35 U.S.C. §101. Section 101 of the Patent Act currently makes patentable “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Although the statute is relatively permissive, courts have limited patentable subject matter beyond the statutory mandate by creating judicial exceptions. Under these exceptions as articulated in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable.” The proposed framework seeks to address these exceptions to patent eligible subject matter through statute versus an ever-growing list of case law. Under the lawmakers’ proposed framework, reformed Section 101 would: Keep existing statutory categories of process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any useful improvement thereof. Eliminate, within the eligibility requirement, that any invention or discovery be both “new and useful.” Instead, simply require that the invention meet existing statutory utility requirements. Define, in a closed list, exclusive categories of statutory subject matter which alone should not be eligible for patent protection. The sole list of exclusions might include the following...

Supreme Court Holds That Non-Public Sales are Invalidating Under Post-AIA Section 102

Supreme Court Holds That Non-Public Sales are Invalidating Under Post-AIA Section 102

In a closely watched case directly addressing open questions after the enactment of the America Invents Act (AIA), a unanimous Supreme Court (Thomas, J.) held in Helsinn v. Teva that a sale to a third party, despite being confidential, nevertheless triggered the long-standing meaning of “on sale” under §102(a). Gibbons previously reported on this much anticipated decision. As background, Helsinn owns patents directed to reducing the likelihood of a serious side effect of chemotherapy treatment. Almost two years before applying for a patent, Helsinn and a third party entered into a license agreement and a supply and purchase agreement. The agreements were publicly announced, but required the third party “to keep confidential any proprietary information received under the agreements.” The Federal Circuit held that because the sale between Helsinn and the third party was publicly disclosed, the on-sale bar applied. Before enactment of the AIA, 35 U.S.C. §102(b) barred the patentability of an invention that was “patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent.” By enacting the AIA, Congress amended §102 to...

Recently Created USPTO Precedential Opinion Panel to Decide Joinder Issues in First Review

Recently Created USPTO Precedential Opinion Panel to Decide Joinder Issues in First Review

In September, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revised its Standard Operating Procedures 2, addressing among other things, the new Precedential Opinion Panel and the processes the panel will follow during any review. The newly created panel recently accepted its first case where it will consider issues of party and subject matter joinder as part of a larger review of patentability of patents directed to fracking technology. Proppant Express Investments v. Oren Technologies, IPR2018-00914, Paper 24 (PTAB Dec. 3, 2018). This blog post will provide an overview of the Precedential Opinion Panel and the issues it will address in its first review. USPTO Standard Operating Procedures 2, “sets forth the composition of the Precedential Opinion Panel, describes the mechanisms for invoking Precedential Opinion Panel review of a Board decision recently issued in a pending case, and explains the Precedential Opinion Panel review process.” The panel will typically consist of the USPTO Director, the USPTO Commissioner for Patents, and the Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The resulting decisions will be precedential and have binding authority. Under USPTO procedures, there are three ways to obtain a rehearing from the Precedential Opinion Panel: “The Director may...

U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement to Promote Innovation in Biotechnology

U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement to Promote Innovation in Biotechnology

On September 30, 2018, the United States, Mexico, and Canada reached an agreement in principle to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) includes provisions governing the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. This blog post will cover the IP provisions of the USMCA, particularly as applied to pharmaceuticals and biologics. It’s important to note that the provisions of the USMCA prescribe a minimum requirement, some of which is already met or surpassed by the individual countries’ respective patent regimes. 1. Data protection for biologics Under Article 20.F.14, each country must provide, with respect “to the first marketing approval” of a product that “is or contains a biologic,” protection of undisclosed test or other data concerning the safety and efficacy of the product for “a period of at least ten years from the date of first marketing approval of that product.” This ten-year data exclusivity applies “at a minimum” to “a product that is produced using biotechnology processes and that is, or, alternatively, contains, a virus, therapeutic serum, toxin, antitoxin, vaccine, blood, blood component or derivative, allergenic product, protein, or analogous product, for use in human beings for the prevention, treatment, or cure...

Federal Circuit Affirms PTAB Finding That CRISPR-Cas9 Inventions Are Patentably Distinct

Federal Circuit Affirms PTAB Finding That CRISPR-Cas9 Inventions Are Patentably Distinct

The Federal Circuit in Regents of the University of California v. The Broad Institute weighed in on the disputed inventorship of the breakthrough CRISPR-Cas9 technology, holding that the University of California (“UC”)’s invention of the mechanism in vitro did not render obvious Broad’s claims to the mechanism in eukaryotic cells. Gibbons previously reported on the technical background of CRISPR-Cas9. This post will focus on the inventorship issue and the implications of the Federal Circuit decision. In August 2012, UC researchers published an article showing that the CRISPR-Cas9 system, derived from prokaryotic cells like bacteria, could be used in vitro in a non-cellular experimental environment. Several research groups independently applied CRISPR-Cas9 in eukaryotic cells within months of UC’s disclosure. In February 2013, Broad researchers published an article describing the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in a human cell line. Both UC and Broad sought patent protection. UC, the senior party, claims the CRISPR-Cas system without referring to a particular cell type or environment. Broad, the junior party, claims the CRISPR-Cas system limited to use in eukaryotic cells, i.e., plant and animal cells. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) determined there was no interference-in-fact because, given the differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic systems, a person...

Surveying the CRISPR-Cas9 Patent Landscape in the United States

Surveying the CRISPR-Cas9 Patent Landscape in the United States

This post will discuss the patent landscape of the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 systems in the United States, including pending legal disputes. A CRISPR-Cas9 system is a combination of protein and ribonucleic acid (“RNA”) that can alter the genetic sequence of an organism. CRISPR-Cas systems occur naturally in bacteria and help the bacteria target and cut identified virus deoxyribonucleic acid (“DNA”). The CRISPR-Cas9 system is being developed as a powerful tool to modify specific DNA in the genomes of more complicated organisms, including plant and animal cells. For the purpose of this overview, the mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9 is explained in the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)’s Broad Institute v. The Regents of the University of California interference decision. As the decision explains, the CRISPR-Cas9 system comprises three effective parts: a guide-RNA sequence, an activator-RNA sequence, and a protein called Cas9. CRISPR-Cas9 alters a target DNA molecule by first binding the guide-RNA sequence to a specific sequence in the DNA of interest. The activator-RNA sequence then interacts with the Cas9 protein, and the Cas9 protein cuts the target DNA at a specific site. By linking a DNA-cutting protein (Cas9) to a specific site on the target DNA, the CRISPR-Cas9 system achieves specific targeted...

Supreme Court To Review Whether Non-Public Sales Are Invalidating Under Post-AIA Section 102

Supreme Court To Review Whether Non-Public Sales Are Invalidating Under Post-AIA Section 102

The Supreme Court recently agreed to review Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., a case with broad implications for the pharmaceutical industry. In the opinion below, the Federal Circuit held that after the America Invents Act (“AIA”), “if the existence of the sale is public, the details of the invention need not be publicly disclosed in the terms of sale” for the sale to be invalidating under Section 102. The Court granted Helsinn’s petition for certiorari to answer “[w]hether, under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party that is obligated to keep the invention confidential qualifies as prior art for purposes of determining the patentability of the invention.” Before the AIA, § 102(b) barred the patentability of an invention that was “patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent.” By enacting the AIA, Congress amended § 102 to bar the patentability of an “invention [that] was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before...