By Ken Winterbottom
Motion to Dismiss in Hulu Patent Infringement Suit Affirmed
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a grant of a motion to dismiss in Ultramercial, Inc. and Ultramercial, LLC v. Hulu, LLC and Wildtangent, Inc., 2010-1544 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 14, 2014), on the grounds that the patent at issue did not claim patent-eligible subject matter. In 2010, Ultramercial sued YouTube, Hulu, and Wildtangent for infringement of its patent on a method of distributing products over the internet whereby an advertiser pays for a consumer’s right to view copyrighted material on the condition that the consumer watch a paid advertisement. Wildtangent responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the subject of the patent was too abstract a concept and therefore not eligible for protection.
On two prior occasions, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of the motion to dismiss, and in both cases the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and remanded. The most recent remand was ordered in light of the 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v.CLS Bank International, in which the Supreme Court stressed that merely requiring computer implementation does not make an abstract idea patentable. Now, after examining the case for the third time, the Federal Circuit at last affirmed the district court’s decision. Patently-O provides analysis and suggests that the decision represents “a strong signal from the Federal Circuit that the court is now understanding what the Supreme Court meant in [Alice Corp. and its predecessors].”
“Virtual Classroom” Patent Infringement Case Remanded for Further Determination
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s judgment of noninfringement in Williamson v. Citric Online, LLC et al., 2013-1130 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 5, 2014). The plaintiff, Richard Williamson, sued Citrix Online, LLC and seven other corporate defendants — including Microsoft and Adobe — for infringement of his patent for a method of virtually connecting a presenter to a geographically remote audience. (The court described it as a “‘virtual classroom’ environment.”) The district court interpreted the terms of Williamson’s patent such that its constituent claims were unenforcably indefinite, or in any event, had not been infringed in this case.
In a 2-1 decision, the Federal Circuit remanded the case for a further determination of whether Williamson’s patent had been infringed. The majority determined that “the [defendants] have failed to overcome the strong presumption” that 35 U.S.C. § 112 does not apply absent language expressly referencing “means . . . for performing a specified function.” The dissenting judge, however, took the position that § 112 could be triggered by other generic language, and that the word “module” in Williamson’s patent was sufficient to trigger it. The Los Angeles Intellectual Property Law Association provides commentary on this disagreement.
Attorney Publicly Reprimanded for Circulating Email from Judge
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit formally reprimanded Weil Gotshal partner Edward Reines in In Re Reines, 14-MA004 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 5, 2014). The case arose from a scandal which prompted Randall Rader, the former Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit, to resign in May. Judge Rader wrote a letter to Reines praising his performance in an oral argument and expressing that he was “really proud to be [Reines’] friend.” Reines evidently circulated the letter to prospective clients, which the Federal Circuit found to be in violation of the American Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct.
In a per curiam opinion, eleven Federal Circuit Court of Appeals judges chastised Reines, rejecting his First Amendment challenge and “conclud[ing] that a public reprimand is the appropriate discipline.” The Recorder, Technethics, and Above the Law provide further commentary on the case and its aftermath.