Are Trump’s Trademarks Impeachable Intellectual Property?

March 16th, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

Followers of this blog may have recognized through the years an implicit belief in a connection between the sometimes intricate rules of intellectual property and larger, high-level issues, principally climate change, but also business, competition, and innovation.

Indeed, I do believe that IP has an impact on those important issues and in those areas of human endeavor, otherwise why would I be blogging in this space?

One thing I never imagined, though, is that IP could potentially have implications for the fate of a head of state, particularly an American president.

Recent news reports (e.g., here, here and here) raise the fascinating prospect that Trump’s trademark filings in other countries (e.g., China, Russia) could be a basis for impeachment.

There are two theories of the case.  Each is rooted in the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits federal officials, including the president, from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless explicitly approved by Congress.

First, the quid pro quo theory:

For a specific Trump trademark application or group of applications approved by another nation’s intellectual property office, one might ask whether that nation’s government was promised something in return, is obtaining something in return, or hopes to obtain something in return or otherwise influence the American president.

In February, the Chinese Trademark Office registered an important Trump trademark.  Diane Feinstein, a U.S. Senator from California, questioned the timing of the registration, noting that it came days after Trump reaffirmed the U.S. “One China” policy on a phone call with his Chinese counterpart.  This was a reversal by Trump after questioning the United States’ commitment to the policy during his election campaign.

At issue is Chinese Trademark Registration No. 14831415, registered February 14, 2017 for the TRUMP mark for various construction services.  According to its records history, the application was filed back in 2014, was initially accepted in March 2015, and then refused registration less than a month later.

The application was ultimately approved and published for opposition November 13, 2016, days after Trump won the U.S. presidential election, and then proceeded to registration.

Second, the valuable brand theory:

The second theory rests on the simple fact that Trump profits from his brands.  Arguably, then, when an intellectual property office – an agency of another nation’s government – grants Trump protection for his trademarks, that action constitutes something of value from that government.

Taking this broader view, as reported by recent articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post, it is relevant that the Chinese Trademark Office also approved and published for opposition 38 other trademark applications containing the term “TRUMP” on February 27 and March 6, 2017.

As pointed out by a trademark lawyer from the Sheppard Mullin law firm quoted in the Post piece, the timing of the approvals is not particularly suspicious.  These approved applications were filed in April 2016.  Under a recent revision to Chinese trademark law, the Chinese Trademark Office is supposed to complete examination of an application within nine months of its filing date.

It also should be noted that seven TRUMP applications filed around the same time were not initially approved.

Under the valuable brand theory, though, timing is less significant.  So long as decisions approving trademarks and actions registering them are taken by another nation while Trump is in office, there is potential value flowing from that nation to the American president.  And according to a recent AP story, Trump currently has 49 trademark applications pending in China.

This author admittedly lacks the constitutional law background to render any opinion on the the viability of either theory, so I will leave it to others with the requisite expertise to weigh in on whether Trump’s trademarks might constitute impeachable intellectual property.

Hmm . . . a Few Bars: Tesla Changes its Tune on Model 3 Trademark

March 8th, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

About a year ago, Tesla filed two new trademark applications in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – Application Serial Nos. 86/960,133 and 86/960,138 – the first for its three bars design and the second for the mark MODEL 3 with three bars:

 


Last month, Adidas filed an opposition proceeding in the USPTO opposing registration of the two applications.  The problem was that Tesla’s trademark applications were not for electric vehicles, but for clothing.

In its Notice of Opposition, Adidas argued that it would be damaged if Tesla were to obtain these registrations because consumers would be confused by the similar trademarks used on related products and such use would dilute the distinctiveness of Adidas 3-bar brand:

Tesla decided not to fight, instead withdrawing its trademark applications, which led the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to declare Adidas the victor.

According to a few recent articles (e.g., on engadget and GeekWire), Tesla has changed its logo from three bars to the number 3.

From a quick scan of the federal trademark records, it doesn’t look like Tesla has filed any new trademark applications since giving up on the bars.  However, the automaker has a pending application for MODEL 3 for clothing – Application Serial No. 86/301,896 – filed back in 2014.

Should the USPTO Delay Publication of Trademark Applications? (Part 1)

March 1st, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

A while back, I published a couple of posts (here and here) about Chevrolet’s trademark applications for BOLT and CHEVROLET BOLT (Application Nos. 86357513 and 86357523).  The automaker had previously filed trademark applications for the same marks in Brazil, and the U.S. applications claimed priority to the Brazilian ones.

At the time, there was much speculation in the blogosphere about Chevy’s intentions:  was the company really planning a new vehicle called the BOLT or was it trying to preclude others from using the name?

Given that question, my posts focused on the use requirement for registration of most U.S. trademarks and explained that, for a U.S. trademark application claiming priority to an application filed in another country, the applicant can obtain a U.S. registration based on registration of the priority application in that country.

This is an exception to the general rule that the applicant must use the mark in the U.S. for the goods and/or services listed in the application to get a registration and must prove such use by submitting a specimen showing such use.

So filing a U.S. trademark application based on a foreign or international registration gets around the use requirement (in the United States and potentially anywhere in the world), at least for the purpose of obtaining a U.S. trademark registration.  I concluded, therefore, that perhaps Chevy’s motivation was to skirt the use requirement in the United States.

That explanation probably was wrong because, as it turned out, Chevy did unveil a concept car call the BOLT at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015 and indicated it would start production in 2017.

Nevertheless, that might have been the end of the matter for me if I hadn’t caught another notable news item from around the same time about the intricacies of trademark filing.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal’s law blog and the Trinidad Express, among others, before filing its U.S. trademark application for APPLE WATCH Apple filed an application for the mark in the Caribbean twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

As technology reporters, bloggers, and consumers wondered what Apple would call its new smartwatch, the company had already taken the critical step in securing its trademark rights to the name several months before launching the product.  And it did so way off the radar so as to keep it under wraps.

This is because, unlike patent applications, U.S. trademark applications are immediately publicly available after filing (it may take a day or two for processing, but there is no publication delay in the system).

So while those tech observers certainly thought to search the U.S. trademark application records to glean Apple’s branding intentions, it would have occurred to no one to attempt a review of Trinidad and Tobago trademark filings.

Within six months, Apple filed at least one U.S. application for APPLE WATCH claiming priority to the Trinidad and Tobago application (Application No 86389945).

Since the Chevrolet Bolt posts and the Apple Watch news, my mind has drifted back these trademark filing curiosities many times.

For some reason, they bother me, and I find myself posing this question:  why should a U.S. trademark applicant that wants to take that crucial first step of securing its rights with a trademark filing while maintaining control of a new brand launch have to file an application in an intellectual property office in some obscure corner of the planet?

My idea, which has been percolating for a while, is this:  perhaps there should be a delay in initial publication of new trademark applications, a brief “blackout” period to maintain applicants’ confidentiality.  I’ll explain this proposal in detail in Part 2 of this post.

Battery Conference to Offer a Full Day Battery IP Workshop

February 22nd, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

The 2017 National Battery (“NAAtBatt”) Annual Meeting and Conference, being held March 14-16 in Litchfield Park, Arizona, will include a full day session (“the first workshop its kind”) devoted to IP issues in advanced batteries.

The Workshop on Intellectual Property Issues in Advanced Battery Technology will cover several topics, including establishing an IP culture at advanced battery companies, patent prosecution in energy storage, licensing battery IP, patent pools and aggregators, advanced battery patent litigation, and big data in advanced battery IP.

The panelists include IP professionals from advanced battery technology companies as well as representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transfer, ARPA-E, several national laboratories, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the European Patent Office.

The workshop web page notes that “[t]he advanced battery industry relies heavily on intellectual property rights” and:

The ability of innovators to protect and monetize their discoveries through intellectual property rights is essential for moving innovations from the laboratory into commerce.

The workshop will run for one day, Tuesday, March 14, concurrently with the first half day of the NAATBatt conference.  CLE credit is available for attorneys.

Attendees may register for the workshop only or for the entire conference.  Registration information can be found here.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

February 13th, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

LED technology continues to dominate green patent litigation, with at least 18 new lawsuits filed in November and December of 2016.  Solar mounting systems and waste management each saw one new lawsuit during this period.

 

LEDs

OptoLum, Inc. v. Cree, Inc.

Filed November 3, 2016 in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona, OptoLum’s complaint asserts three patents against Cree.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,573,536, 6,831,303 and 7,242,028, each entitled “Light emitting diode light source.”  They relate to early (their priority date is May 2002) LED technology designed to provide sufficient light output to be used as a general lighting source rather than a signaling source.

The patents are directed to LEDs that emit white light.  The diodes are mounted on an elongate member which is thermally conductive and is utilized to cool the diodes.

The accused products are Cree LED bulbs from 2013 and 2014 that are replacements for 60W and 100W incandescents.

Analog Integrations Corporation v. MagnaChip Semiconductor Corporation

In this lawsuit, Analog Integrations sued MagnaChip for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,339,049, entitled “LED driving circuit having a large operational range in voltage” (‘049 Patent).

The ‘049 Patent is directed to an LED driving circuit including a current selecting circuit that controls the current transmission path in a plurality of LEDs according to respective threshold voltages of corresponding LEDs and a plurality of current limits.

Filed November 6, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the complaint accuses MagnaChip’s driving circuit Product Model No. MAP9000 of infringing the ‘049 Patent.

The Regents of the University of California v. Zlight Technology LLC

The University of California has sued Zlight Technology in a case involving transparent LED technology to enable LED filament-style light bulbs.

UC alleges infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,781,789, entitled “Transparent mirrorless light emitting diode” (‘789 Patent).

The ‘789 Patent is directed to an (Al, Ga, In)N LED in which multi-directional light can be extracted from one or more surfaces of the LED before entering a shaped optical element and subsequently being extracted to air.  The optical element is molded into a sphere or inverted cone shape, wherein most of the light entering the inverted cone shape lies within a critical angle and is extracted.

The invention also minimizes internal reflections within the LED by eliminating mirrors and/or mirrored surfaces, in order to minimize re-absorption of the LED’s light by the emitting layer (or the active layer) of the LED.

Filed November 7, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the complaint lists a host of Zlight LED filament products alleged to infringe the ‘789 Patent.

Cree, Inc. v. E. Mishan & Sons, Inc.

Cree, Inc. v. Maxbrite LED Lighting Technology, LLC

Cree has asserted five utility patents and one design patent against E. Mishan & Sons in a lawsuit filed November 11, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The patents-in-suit are:

U.S. Patent No. 7,808,013, entitled “Integrated heat spreaders for light emitting devices (LEDs)

U.S. Patent No. 7,858,998, entitled “Semiconductor light emitting devices including flexible silicone film having a lens therein

U.S. Patent No. 8,167,463, entitled “Power surface mount light emitting die package”

U.S. Patent No. 8,622,582, entitled “Power surface mount light emitting die package”

U.S. Patent No. 9,070,850, entitled “Light emitting diode package and method for fabricating same”

U.S. Patent No. D615,504, entitled “Emitter package”

The accused products include flashlights such as the TACLIGHT tactical flashlight product.

The lawsuit against Maxbrite was filed November 18, 2016 in federal court in Oakland, California for both patent and trademark infringement.  For some reason, I haven’t been able to track down the complaint, but it appears to be, at least in part, a counterfeiting case (see LED Inside article here).

Tseng v. BBC International LLC et al.

On December 25, 2016, Shen Ko Tseng, an individual, filed this complaint in federal court in San Francisco against BBC International, Concept Technology, and Terry Electronics alleging infringement of an LED circuit patent.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,452,106, and 7,405,674, each entitled “Circuit device for controlling a plurality of light-emitting devices in a sequence” and directed to a circuit device for controlling light-emitting devices disposed in a sequence including a motion activated switch.  The controller is capable of driving the light-emitting diodes lighting up on the basis of a first predefined sequence and a consequent second predefined sequence when triggered by a motion-actuated switch.

The accused products are Batman, Thomas, Peanuts, and Spiderman branded LED illuminated shoes.

 

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Feit Electrical Company, Inc.

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Hyperikon, Inc.

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Sunco Lighting, Inc.

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Letianlighting, Inc.

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Halco Lighting Technologies, LLC

Blackbird Tech LLC v. CleanLife Energy LLC

Blackbird Tech LLC v. Evergreen LED, LLC

Blackbird Tech initiated several new lawsuits in the last two months of the year.  The first, against Letianlighting, was filed November 9, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

The complaint asserts U.S. Patent No. 7,086,747, entitled “Low-voltage apparatus for satisfying after-hours light requirements, emergency light requirements, and low light requirements” (‘747 Patent).

The ‘747 Patent is directed to an energy efficient lighting apparatus wherein the circuit board is positioned adjacent the ballast cover so that the plurality of light-emitting diodes protrude through the plurality of ballast cover holes in the ballast cover, the lighting apparatus is coupled to a wall switch, and the illumination of the light-emitting diodes is controllable based upon the position of the wall switch.

The other seven complaints were filed December 8 and December 28, 2016, also in Delaware.  The patent in those suits is U.S. Patent No. 7,114,834 (‘834 Patent).  Entitled “LED lighting apparatus,” the ‘834 Patent is directed to a light comprising a housing, a plurality of LED lights coupled in an array inside of the housing, and a reflective protrusion for reflecting light from the LED lights out of the housing.

The LED array receives a consistent flow of DC current that will not result in the LED lights burning out. To prevent the LED array from burning out there is also a current regulator for controlling a current flowing through this LED array.

The accused product in the Feit complaint (Blackbird Tech LLC v. Feit Electrical Company, Inc.) is the 60 Watt Equivalent Dimmable G25 Bulb; the Home Depot complaint (Blackbird Tech LLC v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.) lists the Ecosmart 60W LED Replacement bulbs and the Hampton Bay LED Low Voltage 20W Equivalent Spotlight; the accused product in the Hyperikon complaint (Blackbird Tech LLC v. Hyperikon, Inc.) is the Daylight Glow Par 16 bulb, and the Sunco complaint (Blackbird Tech LLC v. Sunco Lighting, Inc.) lists the 6 Watt Pure Efficiency Spot Light.

The accused products listed in the Evergreen complaint (Blackbird Tech v. Evergreen) are the Yigeda Solid State Lighting Chandelier bulbs.  The Cleanlife Energy complaint (Blackbird Tech v. Cleanlife Energy) lists the CleanLife 7W LED MR16 Spot Light, and the Halco complaint (Blackbird Tech v. Halco Lighting Technologies) lists the Halco Solid State Lighting Chandelier bulbs.

 

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Halco Lighting Technologies

Halco was also sued by LSG for allegedly infringing three patents whose commercial embodiment is LSG’s GLIMPSE lighting family of products.

The lawsuit asserts the following three patents: U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (‘968 Patent), U.S. Patent No. 8,967,844 (‘844 Patent), and U.S. Patent No. 8,672,518 (‘518 Patent).

Entitled “Low profile light,” the ’968 Patent is directed to a luminaire including a heat spreader and a heat sink disposed outboard of the heat spreader, an outer optic securely retained relative to the heat spreader and/or the heat sink, and an LED light source.  The ‘518 Patent and the’ 844 Patent are entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same” and relate to LSG’s disc light LED devices.

The complaint was filed in federal court in Orlando, Florida on December 21, 2016.

 

Nichia Corporation v. Feit Electric Company, Inc.

Nichia Corporation v. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC et al.

Nichia Corporation v. TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Limited et al.

Nichia Corporation v. Vizio, Inc.

Nichia filed four lawsuits in federal court in Marshall, Texas on December 27, 2016, each asserting U.S. Patent No. 9,490,411 (‘411 Patent) (Nichia Corporation v. Feit Electric Company, Inc.; Nichia Corporation v. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC et al.Nichia Corporation v. TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Limited et al.Nichia Corporation v. Vizio, Inc.).

The ‘411 Patent is entitled “Light emitting device, resin package, resin-molded body, and methods for manufacturing light emitting device, resin package and resin-molded body” and directed to an LED manufacturing method in which a resin part and a lead are formed in a substantially same plane in an outer side surface, including sandwiching a lead frame provided with a notch part, transfer-molding a thermosetting resin containing a light reflecting material in a mold to form a resin-molded body in the lead frame, and cutting the resin-molded body and the lead frame along the notch part.

The accused Feit products include the Feit Electric 800 Lumen 3000K Dimmable LED, the LED Shop Light, the Dimmable Warm White LED Bulb, and the 40 W Equivalent Soft White Smart LED Bulb.

The accused Lowe’s products include the Utilitech 75 W Equivalent Par38 Warm White LED Flood Light Bulb, the 65 W Equivalent Dimmable Daylight LED Flood Light Bulb, and the 65 W Eqivalent Dimmable Soft White LED Flood Light Bulb.

The accused TCL and Vizio products are certain LED televisions.

 

Solar Mounting Systems

Rillito River Solar, LLC v. IronRidge Inc.

Rillito River Solar (dba EcoFastenSolar) sued IronRidge December 1, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

The complaint alleges that IronRidge’s FlashFoot2 roof mounting system infringes U.S. Patent No. 6,526,701 (‘701 Patent).

Entitled “Roof mount,” the ‘701 Patent is directed to a roof mount including a base member, an attachment mount, and a spacer extending the base member to a roof surface. The base member has a protrusion, and the attachment mount defines a hollowed region for receiving the protrusion to form a compression fitting.  A substantially leak proof assembly is formed when the attachment mount is placed against the base member with a sealing material therebetween.

 

Waste Management

Pannell Manufacturing Corp. v. Smoker et al.

Pannell sued two individuals, Phillips Mushroom Farms, and E&H Conveyors for alleged infringement of three patents relating to mushroom composting.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 8,069,608, 8,205,379 and 8,561,344.  They are entitled “Mushroom compost compacting system and method” and are directed to systems and methods for compacting mushroom compost using a roller assembly mounted to a compost receptacle to form a nip, along with a web or conveyor to convey mushroom compost to and through the nip.  Mushroom compost is compacted to a particular height that can be adjusted by the user by adjusting the space between the roller and compost receptacle.

The complaint was filed December 2, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Book Review: Intellectual Property and Climate Change, Edited by Josh Sarnoff

January 27th, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

ip-and-climate-change

Despite its title, this book is about much more than intellectual property and climate change.  While it does, of course, provide detailed treatments of IP and climate change law and policy, the topics covered in the new “Research Handbook on Intellectual Property and Climate Change” are diverse and far-ranging, even touching on food (for the body) and religion (food for the soul, for some).

Editor and contributor Joshua D. Sarnoff has organized the book into five general categories:  basic information on climate science and environmental and IP treaties and geopolitics; philosophical perspectives on IP and climate change including human rights, religion, and development; approaches to development and transfer of green technologies; specific IP doctrines; and contexts where climate change-IP considerations arise.

The first few chapters provide the reader with a solid introductory grounding in climate science, climate treaties, and IP treaties.

Then Carlos Correa gets into the developing countries’ perspective on IPR, reviewing familiar proposals such as compulsory licensing, excluding green technologies from patent protection, revoking patent rights in green technologies, and limiting terms of patents directed to green technologies.  Mostly non-starters, these policy tools have been detailed and advocated more forcefully elsewhere.  Nevertheless, their inclusion is essential for any compendium on IP and climate change.

Chapter 10 on developing country viewpoints stands out as providing particularly useful context.  Instead of simply saying the current state of affairs is inadequate and we need better technology transfer, Dalindyebo Shabalala lays out helpful and meaty (you can really sink your teeth into them!) definitions of technology transfer.  Those are followed by a useful review of IP and tech transfer developments in climate change treaty discussions over the years.

Sarnoff himself provides a taxonomy of choices for government funding of innovation and university research (Chapter 11) as well as a discussion on how the UNFCCC and other treaties relate to green patents in Chapter 16 on patents and climate change.

From there, the doctrinal IP section continues with a chapter on trade secrets and climate change (Chapter 17).  In it, Sharon K. Sandeen and David S. Levine propose changes to the law that would increase disclosure of trade secret information relating to climate change.

They make the point that heightening the disclosure requirements in this area might drive businesses away from relying on trade secrets toward more patent protection.  In view of the trade secret policies discussed here and the aforementioned proposals to weaken or eliminate patent protection on green technologies, one wonders where green tech innovators would turn to protect their technologies if all of these policies were enacted.

The copyright chapter by Estelle Derclaye discusses questions of access, dissemination, interoperability and pricing of copyrighted works relating to environmental issues (Chapter 18).  Such works might include green buildings and architectural plans, charts, maps, photographs, films, software, and databases.

After providing some context on eco-marks (including certification marks), green consumers and greenwashing, Christine Haight Farley suggests improvements to the certification mark registration process such as greater transparency in the certification standards, periodic review of those standards, and clearer terminology of the terms used for certification.

The book does suffer from what almost any such compilation would – patches of redundancy.  A reader of the full volume is treated to the basic principles of the UNFCCC treaty and the conflict between developed and developing countries not only in the introductory chapter on IPR under the UNFCCC treaty (Chapter 5) but also in the IP enforcement piece (Chapter 7), and Chapter 10 on tech transfer.   This is just one example.  In these chapters and others, the different authors go over the same principles, the same perceived barriers to tech transfer, and the same old proposed patent policy solutions.

Moreover, the compendium would have benefited from a chapter on green patent litigation.  There’s been so much of it over the last couple of decades, including some involving critical patents and substantially impacting some areas of green technology.  Hybrid vehicle technology company Paice’s enforcement efforts against Toyota and other automakers, GE’s two sets of litigation centered on a seminal variable speed wind turbine patent, and the Gevo-Butamax case come to mind, among others.

As mentioned above, one of the book’s strengths is that it goes well beyond the subject of intellectual property.  One of the novel contributions is an interesting chapter by Robert K. Musil on religious environmentalism in America, including religious climate activism (Chapter 9).

Another welcome perspective is the antitrust chapter by Michael Carrier discussing issues such as how to define the relevant market in green technology sectors, monopoly concerns such as refusing to license green technologies (though refusing to license is typically legally permissible and the prerogative of the patent owner), technical standards such as those in the smart grid sector, and how patent pools might be treated under antitrust law (Chapter 13).

On the whole, Sarnoff’s “Research Handbook on Intellectual Property and Climate Change” is packed with varied perspectives and essential information and is therefore a very useful guide for anyone interested in IP and climate change (and beyond!).  To have all this packed tightly into one book is a great thing.  I’m quite pleased to have it on my bookshelf.

Patentes Permanentes Verdes in Brazil; Battery Battles at the Board and Border

January 18th, 2017 by Eric Lane No comments »

Before turning to 2017 news, we’ll first briefly catch up on a few stories from December.

In early December, the Brazilian green patent priority examination program (see my original post here and a subsequent critique of the program here) became a permanent service.

Started as a pilot program by the National Institute of Industrial Property in April 2012, Resolution No. 175/2016 made the program permanent on December 6, 2016.

The requirements to participate in the program remain the same:

The application is a utility patent application;

The application is a national application (resident or non-resident);

The application was filed with INPI on or after January 2, 2011; and

The application contains a maximum of 15 claims in total, with up to three independent claims.

Eligible green technologies fall under the following categories: alternative energy, transportation, energy conservation, waste management and agriculture.

During the pilot phase, 325 of 480 applications were accepted and expedited with an average prosecution time of about two years.  The Clarke Modet law firm reported on this here.

LG Chem logo

Previous posts (e.g., here and here) discussed the litigation between Celgard, a North Carolina company that manufactures specialty membranes and separators for lithium ion batteries, and LG Chem.

The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 6,432,586 (’586 Patent), entitled “Separator for a high energy rechargeable lithium battery” and directed to a separator including a ceramic composite layer and a polyolefinic microporous layer.  The ceramic layer has a matrix material and is adapted to block dendrite growth and prevent electronic shorting.

After the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office invalidated claims 1-11 of the ‘586 patent in an inter partes review, Celgard appealed.

In a one-line per curiam order handed down December 13, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision.

 

There was a major development in the litigation between chemical giant BASF and UChicago Argonne LLC (Argonne), on the one hand, and Belgium-based Umicore and Japan-based Makita Corporation involving two patents relating to cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

As reported in a previous post, BASF and Argonne filed a complaint in the U.S. International Trade Commisson (ITC) in February 2015 asking the ITC to investigate whether Umicore, Makita and their U.S. subsidiaries imported and sold in the United States lithium ion cathode materials and batteries that infringe U.S. Patent Nos. 6,677,082 (’082 Patent) and 6,680,143 (’143 Patent).

In a December 16, 2016 order, the ITC found that Umicore induced infringement of the asserted patents through conduct relating to imports of the battery materials.

The order expanded upon a prior determination by an ITC administrative law judge that Umicore was liable for contributory infringement of the patents.  The ITC also issued a limited exclusion order banning importation of Umicore’s lithium ion cathode materials into the United States.

The ‘082 and ‘143 Patents are both entitled “Lithium metal oxide electrodes for lithium cells and batteries” and directed to a lithium metal oxide positive electrode for a non-aqueous lithium cell.

Read BASF’s press release about the ITC decision here.

December 22nd, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

 

Green Patent Blog is on vacation.

 Happy Holidays!

Complete Sentences: Biofuel RIN Fraudsters Get Long Prison Terms

December 20th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

Previous posts, e.g., here and here, discussed fraudulent biofuels credits schemes in which companies falsely claim to produce biofuels and sell fake credits on the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) market.

A RIN is a numeric code generated by a renewable fuel producer or importer that represents a gallon of renewable fuel, and certain “obligated parties” in the fuel industry and related businesses can acquire RINs as a way to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard Program.

There have been a number of such schemes exposed over the last few years, and some of the individuals perpetrating them prosecuted and punished.

Two such individuals were recently sentenced to long prison terms (121 months and 135 months) for their roles in a multi-state scheme sell fraudulent biofuel credits and fraudulently claim tax credits.

The story, the general parameters of which are sadly familiar to us by now, is that the two men operated shell companies purporting to purchase renewable fuel produced by a co-conspirator companies, on which credits had already been claimed and were not eligible for additional credits.  By a series of false transactions, they transformed the fuel back into feedstock for fuel production and sold it back to the co-conspirator companies, allowing credits to be claimed again.

One of the federal prosecutors who prosecuted the case called the sentence “just punishment” for crimes that “defrauded and undermined a federal program intended to further the energy independence of our nation.”

An Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) official involved said the agency is “committed to eliminating fraud in the renewable fuels market” and “will continue to hold criminals accountable.”

Indeed, the EPA has promulgated additional regulations to ensure oversight of RIN generation and improve the RIN market and has teamed up with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in an attempt to improve regulation and enforcement of RINs and renewable fuels markets.

The Justice Department press release can be found here.

Know No Truth: Federal Circuit Reversal of Hearsay Ruling Saves Biofuel Patent

December 7th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

reg-logo-no-tm41e6f4d64b166625b27fff0000bf73c1

REG Synthetic Fuels, LLC (REG) owns U.S. Patent No. 8,231,804, entitled “Even carbon number paraffin composition and method of manufacturing same” (‘804 Patent).

The ‘804 Patent is directed to paraffin compositions containing primarily even carbon number paraffins and methods of making them.  Made from bio-renewable feedstocks, these saturated hydrocarbon chains are useful as phase change materials and can be used for home insulation.

Neste Oil Oyj (Neste), a Finnish oil refining company with a focus on advanced, low-emission transportation fuels, petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for inter partes review of the ‘804 Patent.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) found claims 1, 3, 4 and 8 invalid as anticipated by a first prior art reference (Craig) and also found claims 1-3, 5 and 8 invalid as anticipated by a second prior art reference (Dindi).  REG appealed.

The statutory classification of the Dindi reference is crucial here:  it is a published patent application that qualified as prior art because it was filed before the ‘804 Patent application’s filing date.  This means that REG could remove Dindi as prior art if REG could marshal the requisite documentary evidence to show that the inventor of ‘804 Patent conceived of the invention before the Dindi filing date and was diligent in reducing the invention to practice.

Turns out REG did have such evidence, but the Board excluded critical portions of it as inadmissible hearsay.

On appeal, REG argued that the Board was incorrect to exclude the evidence, in particular Exhibit 2071 which consisted of emails between the inventor and third parties, in one of which the inventor stated:

[He has] had more difficulty than [he] expected trying to recover a 90+% purity nC18 product using [his] lab distillation glassware (80% purity C18 is the best [they] got).

This is significant because the claimed invention of the ‘804 Patent includes an 80 wt% purity C18 product.

The Board considered Exhibit 2061 to be hearsay because it did not verify the actual creation of the 80 wt% C18 product.

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed this evidentiary ruling of the Board because Exhibit 2061 was not introduced into evidence for the truth of the statement therein.  Rather, the email itself provides evidence that the inventor conceived of the invention, irrespective of whether he actually created the product:

We find that the Board erred to the extent that it excluded the content of  Exhibit 2061 based on hearsay because REG offered Exhibit 2061 for the non-hearsay purpose to show that [the inventor] thought he had achieved 80 wt% purity C18 product. The act of writing and sending the email is, by itself, probative evidence on whether [the inventor] recognized – at the time that he had written the email – that the sum of the weight percentages of even-carbon-number paraffins in his compositions was at least 80 wt% and communicated this to a third party.

The court held, together with two other exhibits, Exhibit 2061 shows that the inventor of the ‘804 Patent “could create a composition with the claimed property of at least 80 wt% even-carbon-number paraffins” and was able to do so before the Dindi reference’s filing date:

[The email in Exhibit 2061] expressly states that he could achieve at least 80% purity C18 product, which was new in April 2008 because this product did not exist in the prior art, given the record before us.

So the Federal Circuit reversed the Board on conception of the invention and the admissibility of the Exhibit 2061 and sent the case back to the Board to determine whether the inventor was diligent in reducing the invention to practice, and REG and its ‘804 Patent survive to fight another day.