Category Archives: Business and Transactions

What did Lexmark v. Impression Products change about U.S. patent law?

6480523_sActually, not much.  However, it did resolve a controversy that was brewing after two Supreme Court decisions called into question whether selling a patented article outside the United States would exhaust the patent holder’s rights to exclude use or sale of that article inside the United States. The case also confirmed that patent holders can impose post-sale restrictions in the terms of sale when selling patented articles.

In Lexmark Int’l Inc. v. Impression Products, Inc. (Fed. Cir., en banc, Feb. 12, 2016), Lexmark sold patented printer ink cartridges under a two-tiered pricing program: (1) a low price with permission for only a single use; and (2) a higher price with no use restrictions. Lexmark sued several aftermarket cartridge sellers who were refilling and reselling cartridges that were originally sold under the single-use price model outside of the U.S.

Patent Exhaustion and International Sales

“Patent exhaustion” is the legal doctrine that provides an authorized purchaser of a patented article the authority to engage in certain activities that the patent would otherwise prohibit. The authority given by patent exhaustion include reselling the patented article. However, that authority is not without limits. For example, in a 2001 case (Jazz Photo Corp. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n), the Federal Circuit ruled that a sale of a patented article outside the United States does not authorize the buyer to import the article back into the United States or sell the article within the United States.

In Lexmark, the Federal Circuit considered whether the limitation of Jazz Photo should still hold after the U.S. Supreme recently reached a different conclusion with respect to copyrights. In Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., the Supreme Court ruled that the Copyright Act’s “first sale” doctrine permitted an authorized purchaser of a copy of a work to resell that copy regardless of where it is purchased.

However, in Lexmark the Federal Circuit declined to apply the reasoning of Kirtsaeng to U.S. patent law. The court noted that the Copyright Act expressly gives owners of copyrighted items to take certain acts with respect to the item, but that the Patent Act includes no equivalent provision.

Post-Sale Restrictions

In Lexmark the court also addressed whether the patent holder could impose a “single use” restriction on purchasers of its cartridges. While the district court said “no”, the Federal Circuit reversed, stating that:

[a] sale made under a clearly-communicated, otherwise lawful restriction as to post-sale user or resale does not confer on the buyer and a subsequent entity the ‘authority’ to engage in the user or resale that the restriction precludes.

The court noted that it reached the same conclusion in several decisions dating back to its 1992 decision in Mallinckrodt Inc. v. Medipart, Inc., and it declined to change that precedent in this case.

What’s Next?

While the Federal Circuit’s decision maintained the status quo, that status could be questioned again if the Supreme Court decides to review any aspect of the decision.

To help protect against possible changes by the Supreme Court, which has been very willing to trim the rights of patent holders in recent years, patent holders who sell products abroad may wish to include contractual terms that clearly restrict resales within the United States. Patent holders also may wish to explore contractual relationships that do not result in a “sale” such as a sale by an affiliated foreign entity that is not the patent holder (and not subject to U.S. patent rights), or an arrangement in which the patent holder retains title to the article.

[Image credit:  Norman Kin Hang Chan]

It’s not just the holiday season, it’s also H-1B season

This post is more about the “business” than the “intellectual property,” but I thought that IP Spotlight readers would be interested in a recent blog post by my partner Catherine Wadhwani, who reminds tech companies and other employers that hire talented foreign professionals who may need H-1B sponsorship about an upcoming deadline for filing H-1B petitions.

Companies who are hiring (or who plan to hire) a foreign professional should be aware that the timing of a cap-subject H-1B petition is extremely sensitive. The time to file an H-1B-cap subject petition is fast-approaching and it’s best to be prepared.

For more information, here is a link to Catherine’s post discussing the upcoming “H-1B cap season”.

Court finds that ambiguous assignment agreement does not break chain of title

It’s always important to ensure that intellectual property agreements are carefully drafted.  However, on rare occasions a court will see past a drafting error and interpret an agreement to match the apparent intent of the parties, even if certain language of the agreement may conflict with that interpretation.

This happened in a recent case from the Southern District of Indiana. In a consolidated order involving suits that GS CleanTech Corporation (CleanTech) brought against various defendants in that court, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment and asserted that CleanTech lacked standing to bring the suit because CleanTech had not established title to the asserted patents.

CleanTech acquired the patents from GS Ethanol Techs. Inc. (GSET) and other entities by an assignment agreement dated May 15, 2009. The defendants asserted that the chain of title in the patents was broken by a January 2008 Security Agreement in which GSET and the other owners conditionally assigned the patents to YA Global Investments, L.P. (YA Global).

The defendants argued that although the document was titled “Security Agreement,” it was actually an assignment because of the grant clause conveyed “a continuing interest in the patents” to YA Global. The wording of the grant clause was immediate, the agreement was recorded against the patents, and so the defendants argued that the Security Agreement passed ownership of the patents to YA Global.

The court disagreed, stating that the remainder of the Agreement made it clear that the intent of the document was to grant “a continuing security interest in the patents” rather than actual title, even if the grant clause didn’t include that specific word.

Upcoming 3 Rivers Venture Fair provides opportunity to connect emerging companies with investors

This year’s 3 Rivers Venture Fair is scheduled for October 7 and 8, 2014 at PNC Invite_LogoPark in Pittsburgh, PA.  The 3RVF connects investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and service providers who are interested in discovering innovation breakthroughs, ground-floor investment opportunities and trends in industries ranging from life sciences, to energy, to manufacturing, to electronics and software, and more.

The 3RVF is accepting nominations for presenting companies, but the available slots are filling fast.  Companies seeking venture investment should click here to apply to be considered for a presentation as a featured company.  Or, if you know a rising company who may benefit from the exposure and potential investment, nominate that company via the attached link.  Presenting companies will receive free admission to the event, and will participate in a Presenters’ Bootcamp to help sharpen presentations prior to the main event.

Although the application deadline is August 13, several presentation slots have already been filled.  And when the slots are gone, the application process will be closed.  So, apply now to be considered.  See you at the 3RVF!

Patent Quality + International IP Transactions = A Busy Week

In the next week I will talk about the business of intellectual property at two very unique events. I’m excited to share the details of each event below:

First, on May 13, 2014 I will be part of a program entitled “Solving Problems in U.S.-Israel Cross-Border Transactions.” Hosted by Herzog Fox & Neeman in Tel Aviv and co-sponsored by Fox Rothschild, the event will feature two panel discussions providing a spectrum of perspectives on the complex investment challenges of cross-border M&A transactions. In a panel moderated by Michael Sweet, I’ll discuss the intellectual property issues that are most important to U.S. companies who are investing in or acquiring non-U.S. businesses or IP assets. The conference will offer practical solutions to various challenges that may arise during inbound and outbound transactions. Details are available here.

Second, on May 16, 2014, the topic of the Intangible Asset Finance Society’s monthly Mission: Intangible Monthly Briefing will be “IP Quality – 1, 2, 3 What Are We Fighting For?” Intellectual property can be extremely valuable — provided it is really good stuff. Whether it be due to a lack of attention, resources, or knowledge, too often companies build IP portfolios that appear to be strong, but are actually of questionable quality. What are the measures of “good?” John Kepler and I will debate this with host Jonathan Salem Baskin during this online briefing. Details are available here.

Penn State University to license patents via online auction

Penn State University is primed to launch the country’s first online auction of patent rights resulting from university research. According to a Penn State news release:

About 70 engineering patents in areas as diverse as acoustics, fuel cells and sensors will be available for license in this first auction. Required bid minimums on many will be as low as $5,000.

Available patents are listed on the Penn State Intellectual Property Auction Website. Bidders must pre-register to participate in the action. In addition to single patents with minimum bids as low as $5,000, the auction will include several patent bundles with minimum bids ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. The auction will open March 31, 2104 and close on April 11, 2014.

Winning bidders will need to enter into a license agreement with the University’s Office of Technology Management. The agreement will require the winning bidder to also pay all patent maintenance fees. However, unlike typical university research licenses, no ongoing royalties will be due. Penn State also retains the right to pursue third-party infringers; the licensee can only participate in enforcement if Penn State’s enforcement efforts are not successful after a six month period.

Patent auctions have met with limited success over the years. However, Penn State is tempering expectations with low minimum bids and realistic public statements. Penn State’s news release notes that a key goal of the auction is to “raise awareness among interested parties in business and industry that the University does have licenses available whose commercial applications could prove extremely valuable.”

A small license fee is certainly better than no license fee, especially for patents that are just sitting on the shelf.  In addition, by calling attention to its portfolio of IP in fields such as antenna systems, superconductors, and ground water remediation, the auction will certainly help draw attention to the university’s diverse research capabilities.

Innovation, invention, or tasty breakfast treat?

This week Wall Street Journal columnist Dennis Berman posed an interesting innovationquestion:  “Is Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an ‘Innovation’?”  In the article, Berman described the skyrocketing use – and likely overuse — of the word “innovation” by many American companies and asks:  is this really innovation?  When a food company introduces a new product, or a restaurant offers a new burger, is it innovation?  Or are these simply the actions that a company needs to do on a day-to-day basis to stay competitive?

The article prompted me to think about how the word “innovation” can sometimes be confused with “invention.” Roget’s Thesaurus lists the two terms as synonyms of each other, and many dictionaries give the words nearly-identical definitions.  However, there are subtle differences between the two terms. Continue reading

Petzilla vs. the trademark registration: beware the improper assignment trap

Intent-to-use (ITU) trademark applications can give companies the Banzai Godzillaopportunity to reserve valuable trademark rights before actually using the mark in commerce. However, ITU applications do have certain limitations – including restrictions on assignment.

In many cases, U.S. trademark law imposes few conditions on assignment of trademark registrations and applications. However, in the case of ITU applications, Section 10(a)(1) of the Lanham Act states that ITU applications may not be assigned before the applicant files a statement of use, unless the assignment is “to a successor to the business of the applicant, or portion thereof, to which the mark pertains.” This means that ITU applications can be assigned only in those situations that also involve a “successor,” and not merely to any buyer.

A recent Trademark Trial and Appeals Board opinion in Central Garden & Pet Co. v. Doskocil Mfg. Co. illustrates the perils of improperly assigning ITU applications.  Continue reading

Apply to showcase your company at the IMPACT 2013 Mid-Atlantic Venture Summit

Are you an growing company in the Mid-Atlantic region that is seeking outside investment?  If so, IMPACT 2013 may be the perfect opportunity for you.

The IMPACT 2013 Venture Summit is an opportunity for growing technology and health care companies, along with innovative early stage businesses, to pitch their company to prominent investors.  IMPACT 2013, also offers networking opportunities with business community leaders and panel sessions that offer relevance, value and expert knowledge.

IMPACT 2013 will take place October 22 and 23, 2013 in Philadelphia.  We at  Fox Rothschild LLP are proud to be the host sponsor of IMPACT 2013, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Click here to learn more and apply to be a featured company at IMPACT 2013.

3 Rivers Venture Fair is this week

Invite_LogoThere is still time to join more than 600 investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and service providers at the 2013 3 Rivers Venture Fair.  This year’s fair will take place  on Wednesday April 10 and Thursday April 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA.

Since its debut in 2002, the 3 Rivers Venture Fair has become a recognized proving ground for promising technology pioneers, helping featured innovators raise more than $400 million in capital.

This year’s program will feature 40 presenting companies in diverse industry categories, including life sciences, energy, communications, software, manufacturing, media and more.

For more details, visit the 3RVF website http://www.3rvf.com.  To register, click here.