International IP Exhaustion and the Judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in Impression v. Lexmark

Setting the Stage – IP Exhaustion

IP rights are neither perpetual nor limitless. In fact, IP rights are inter alia limited in scope, duration and by express exceptions. A sometimes forgotten limitation of IP rights is exhaustion, or the “first sale doctrine”, which is the name it bears in the U.S.

In essence, the IP right related to a certain article is considered to be exhausted once it has been sold with the consent of the IP holder. From a geographical perspective, two alternative principles (leading to very different outcomes) can be distinguished. The first one is national exhaustion, which entails that only a sale of an article within the relevant national territory would exhaust the IP right. According to a second principle, such territorial distinction is not recognized, i.e., a sale anywhere in the world can exhaust the IP right (international exhaustion).

In the U.S., the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) as well as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have considered the question of exhaustion from many different perspectives in their earlier judgments. In this article, I will discuss the judgment of the SCOTUS in a quite recent case regarding exhaustion, Impression v. Lexmark. The judgment was handed down on 30 May 2017.

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Fresh EUIPO Report on trade secrets and patents – Finnish companies top the list in use of trade secrets

Last month, the EUIPO published an interesting report titled “Protecting innovation thru trade secrets and patents: determinants for European Union firms” (“the Report”). Seven findings have been included in Executive Summary, and in this post I will dig into the three findings I find most interesting (No. 2, 4 and 5 in the Report).

“The use of trade secrets for protecting innovations is higher than the use of patents by most types of companies, in most economic sectors and in all Member States”

Upon first reading, I didn’t find this very surprising. Namely, virtually all companies have some kind of trade secrets like e.g., sales or related data, but only some companies are innovative enough to be granted patents even if they would apply. But what surprised me somewhat was that Finland (where I reside and practice law) was the country where trade secrets would be used the most compared to all other countries in Europe (page 28 of the Report). I found this surprising, since while every serious IP lawyer must know trade secret law, the topic is not widely debated in Finland. In Finland, as in many other countries in the world, trade secrets law is still the “Cinderella” of IP.

Based on the Report, large companies typically utilize both trade secrets and patents on a larger scale compared to SMEs. Nevertheless, Finnish SMEs are the heaviest users of trade secret protection in Europe, based on the report (page 30 of the Report). Namely, a staggering 76,8 % of Finnish SMEs use trade secrets to protect trade innovations according to the Report. Innovative SMEs in Finland use trade secrets 2,5 more than patents. This may of course be rooted in several different factual and legal aspects. By way of example, patents are of course more expensive and the threshold may not always be met (e.g., novelty and inventive step). Also, patents have a fixed term (20 years), while trade secrets do not. Continue reading “Fresh EUIPO Report on trade secrets and patents – Finnish companies top the list in use of trade secrets”

Japan considers introducing a new ADR system with a compulsory license for SEPs

In April, 2017, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Japan revealed a report on a new design of an IP system taking the 4th industry revolution into consideration. The report discloses the possibility of introduction of a compulsory license on SEPs (Standard Essential Patents) in upcoming several years.

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No exhaustion doctrine for “method-of-use” patents – Iwncomm v. Sony decision in China

Earlier this year, the Beijing IP Court issued a landmark decision in the Iwncomm v. Sony case, which clarified a number of interesting issues relating to standard essential patents (SEP). The court ruled that Sony had infringed an SEP held by the Chinese company Iwncomm and granted, besides damages for past infringement, the first injunction based on an SEP in China. In the same decision, the court addressed another important question concerning the applicability of the exhaustion doctrine. Under the doctrine, once an authorized sale of a patented product or a product obtained by using a patented manufacturing method occurs, the patent holder’s exclusive rights to control the use and sale of that product are said to be “exhausted,” and the purchaser is free to use or resell that product without further restraint from the relevant product patent or method-of-manufacture patent. It was nevertheless unclear from the existing case law, whether the exhaustion doctrine shall also be applied to a method patent that protects a method of using an existing product(s) (method-of-use patent), until the Sony decision now answered this question clearly in negative. This decision may thus provide an important guidance for future cases. However, when compared with more balanced approaches in other jurisdictions, which I will briefly discuss in this post, this guidance does not appear unquestionable. Continue reading “No exhaustion doctrine for “method-of-use” patents – Iwncomm v. Sony decision in China”

Reverse burden of proof and trade secrets in patent litigation – Part two

 

In my previous post (here), I discussed the reverse burden of proof on an international level and the potential tension which could emerge between the patent and trade secrets regimes in this context. In this post, I will turn the focus to Europe and discuss the regional provisions as well as the relevant provisions of the UPC Agreement.

The Enforcement Directive and the Trade Secrets Directive

There are a few provisions in the Enforcement Directive on confidentiality in court proceedings. The need to preserve confidentiality in intellectual property litigation is recognized in the recital of the directive (Recital 20). In addition, a few provisions (Arts. 6 (2), 7 (1) and 8 (2) (e)) of the directive deal with the protection of confidential information in IP litigation.

The drafters of the directive have recognized the need to protect the confidential information of the adverse party. But what is to be noted is that the Enforcement Directive does not contain any provision on the reverse burden of proof in patent litigation, or the protection of trade secrets in these situations.

The Trade Secrets Directive includes a specific provision (Art. 9) on the protection of trade secrets in litigation concerning the unlawful use or disclosure of a secret (See my post on trade secret litigation here). Ergo, said provision is not applicable in patent litigation. However, Art. 9 of the Trade Secrets Directive could provide for certain general examples of how trade secrets could be protected in patent litigation. These include restricting access to documents, restricting access to hearings, and providing non-confidential versions of judgments. There should for example be no immediate obstacle for a national legislator to include similar provisions in national laws.

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The U.S. Supreme Court judgment on forum shopping; TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Brands LLC

Historically, defendants in patent infringement litigation lawsuits in the U.S. have often been sued in so-called “plaintiff-friendly” courts such as the Eastern District of Texas even when there is little or no connection between the legal issue and the jurisdiction in which they are to be litigated. This issue is known as forum shopping. Regarding this issue, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a very important judgment on 22nd May, 2017. The judgment could make it more difficult for a patent holder to file a lawsuit in plaintiff-friendly courts. Continue reading “The U.S. Supreme Court judgment on forum shopping; TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Food Brands LLC”

Protective letters in the UPC

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At least if the current plan holds, the Unified Patent Court will quite soon be up and running. Businesses express concerns on possible misuse of the UPC’s powerful measures for patent enforcement such as pan-European injunctions and Saisie, i.e., an order to compulsorily preserve evidence on alleged infringers’ premises. Along with these measures, however, the UPC will also provide tools aimed exactly at preventing the misuse of such orders. A so called “protective letter” will be one of the tools to that end. This tool may be unfamiliar to many readers from outside Germany, since it is mainly a German peculiarity and although available in several other European jurisdictions, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium, it has limited practical importance there. Now, being introduced by the UPC agreement, the protective letter is expected to gain its influence throughout Europe. This post briefly introduces what a protective letter is, and discusses some special features of a UPC protective letter and some considerations for preparing protective letters. Continue reading “Protective letters in the UPC”

Recent development in Japanese patent case law; the doctrine of equivalents and the Supreme Court judgment in the Maxacalcitol case

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In my previous post, I wrote about an IP High Court judgment (the Maxacalcitol case) regarding doctrine of equivalents in patent infringements in Japan. The defendants appealed against the IP High Court judgment and the Supreme Court handed down the final judgment on 24th March, 2017. Continue reading “Recent development in Japanese patent case law; the doctrine of equivalents and the Supreme Court judgment in the Maxacalcitol case”

Peruvian patent litigation on infringement and invalidation: A sui generis case of bifurcation

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Guest post by Diego F. Ortega*

The Andean Community is the result of the seeking of the balanced and harmonious development of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, which in May 26, 1969 signed the Cartagena Agreement, laying the groundwork for the creation of a subregional community initially known as Andean Pact and later renamed as Andean Community. In order to achieve the said objective, the Andean Community promotes a continuous process of integration and economic and social cooperation. In particular, this process of integration involves the need of having common rules as to matters that foster the unification of the market, such as industrial property rights.

The industrial property system within the Andean Community was established by the “Decision 486”, which aims to guarantee a rigorous scrutiny as to the fulfillment of the requirements needed for the granting of a patent. Thus, Andean Community does not provide only for the mandatory performance of a substantive examination carried out by the national patent authorities of its Member Countries, but also for mechanisms which allow third parties to prove that an invention does not meet the legal requirements, seeking the denial of the patent (through a pre-grant opposition request) or, if the patent is granted, its revocation (through an invalidation request). Continue reading “Peruvian patent litigation on infringement and invalidation: A sui generis case of bifurcation”

Why did Japanese electronics companies surpass rivals in technologies and number of patents, but lose in business?

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Car navigation systems, DVD players, liquid crystal displays, solar panels, DRAM memory and lithium ion batteries are products that have been invented and developed mainly by Japanese companies. The companies created new markets and got high market shares with many patents to exclude rival companies. Then the world’s markets expanded several times larger in scale. They kept investing high amounts in R&D for higher functionalities. Their world’s market shares recorded once more than 80% in all above-mentioned products except for DRAM memory (more than 40%). However, even though the market expanded, their shares have been drastically decreasing although they had developed cutting edge technologies with many patents related thereto. There is one report (Masahiro Samejima et al., Encouragement of IP Strategy, February, 2016), which analyzed the reason of their defeat in business and introduced a new interesting point of view. I would like to briefly discuss it here.

Continue reading “Why did Japanese electronics companies surpass rivals in technologies and number of patents, but lose in business?”