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Judge Andrews Grants Summary Judgment of Anticipation Based on Lack of Earlier Priority Date and Finds Damages Cutoff at Patent Reissuance

Judge Andrews recently addressed two interesting legal questions on summary judgment motions related to invalidity and limitation of damages. The first related to the requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 120 that a patent application be “if filed before the patenting . . . on the first application” in order to have the priority date of that previously-filed application. Because a foreign patent application with an identical specification had been filed more than a year before three patents-in-suit, if the patents-in-suit were not treated as continuations of another application with the benefit of an earlier priority date, they would be anticipated by the foreign application. Immersion Corp. v. HTC Corp., et al., C.A. No. 12-259-RGA, Memo. Op. at 5-8 (D. Del. Feb. 11, 2015). The parent of the patents-in-suit was issued on August 6, 2002, and the patents-in-suit were all filed on the same day. Thus, the question was whether the patents-in-suit could have been “filed before the patenting” of the parent, which, the defendants argued, automatically issued at 12:00:01 a.m. on August 6, 2002. Id.

The plaintiff argued that the PTO has “long given continuation applications the priority date of a prior application if the continuation is filed on the same day that the prior application issues as a patent” and that the PTO has expressed this position in the MPEP. Accordingly, the plaintiff argued that the Court should give Chevron deference to the PTO as a matter of administrative law. Judge Andrews, however, found that the PTO’s view was not entitled to Chevron deference because the relevant statute is not “silent or ambiguous” Rather, “35 U.S.C. § 120 . . . expressly states that the application must be filed ‘before’ the parent application issues.” Id. Further, although the plaintiff pointed to one district court that had adopted the PTO’s interpretation, the Federal Circuit has expressly “left open the question of ‘whether filing a continuation on the day
the parent issues results in applications that are co-pending as required by the statute.’” Id. (citing Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. v. Alpine Electronics of Am., Inc., 609 F.3d 1345, 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2010)). Because the plaintiff had the burden of proving entitlement to an earlier priority date and did not present evidence of when on August 6, 2002 the applications were filed, it did not establish an earlier priority date and Judge Andrews granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment of anticipation of the three patents-in-suit. Id.

Secondly, Judge Andrews addressed a cutoff on damages at the point of a patent’s reissuance. “If a patent is reissued, damages are available for the period between the original issuance and the issuance of the reexamined claims only if the original claims and reexamined claims are ‘identical’ . . . [or] ‘without substantive change.’” Id. at 14-16. In this case, the patentee added the phrase “concurrently running” to the claim at issue, which the defendants argued was a substantive change and the plaintiff argued was merely a clarification that did not affect claim scope. Judge Andrews found that this was a substantive change to claim scope because although “the specification is a relevant consideration, Plaintiffs argument that having multiple programs is inherent in the claim because it is disclosed in the specification is contrary to the ‘well-established principle that a court may not import limitations from the written description into the claims.’ . . . Moreover, though not dispositive, it is highly persuasive that the patent examiner allowed the amended claim only after ‘concurrently running’ was added because the prior art made ‘no reference to any other programs that are running concurrently and how the determination is made between the plurality of concurrently running programs . . . .’” Id.

Chief Judge Stark recently addressed a similar issue involving damages for a reissued patent, finding that damages must be cut off at the filing of a complaint because the patentee had failed to mark embodying products or otherwise provide notice of its patent during the period of patent reissuance.

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