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Electric Power Group v. Alstom

Jim Ruttler, Patent Attorney

Posted Friday, August 12, 2016 by Jim Ruttler

Yet another patent eligibility decision has come down from the Federal Circuit. We’ve had a number of decisions recently from the Federal Circuit affirming software eligibility, including DDR, Enfish, and Bascom. However, here, the Federal Circuit affirmed the ineligibility of the claims and invalidated the patent in its entirety.

The claims at issue were directed toward monitoring traffic in a network, detecting problems, and displaying results. The Court had no problem summarizing these claims as mere data gathering and display of information, which resulted in an easy invalidation under Step 1 of the Alice framework set forth by the Supreme Court.

The Court, however, clarified that not all data gathering or display of information is ineligible for patent protection. The line the Court drew is whether the claimed invention describes a particular way of doing the data gathering and display or just merely claims all data gathering and display. Here, the claims were pretty generic and therefore were deemed abstract and unpatentable.

It is unfortunate that the claims at issue here were issued by the Patent Office under different rules and law that, at the time, permitted this type of claim language. The Supreme Court has retroactively applied the law to take away patent rights that have been relied upon for many years without any compensation to the patent owner who spent time and money to obtain the patents under the different law.

Yet, for new prospective patentees, the path forward is much clearer. Focus on specific improvements and even software will be deemed eligible.

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Seahawks Can Continue to Use 12th Man With Limitations

Daniel Mills, Trademark Attorney

Posted Friday, August 12, 2016 by Daniel Mills

The Seattle Seahawks and Texas A&M University entered into a new licensing agreement this week which will allow the Seahawks to continue to use the phrase “12th Man”, but with some important limitation from the previous agreement. Under the new agreement the Seahawks will have to take down the reference to the 12th Man in the Ring of Honor in their stadium. In addition, the Seahawks are no longer permitted to use or refer to “12th Man” in social media run by the NFL franchise.

The two parties first entered into a licensing agreement in 2006. This current deal runs for five years. Texas A&M vigorously defends its rights in the mark, which stems from the exploits of a former student who came out of the stands in 1922 to take the field if necessary because of injuries to players. This act was the genesis of the 12th Man. So TAMU had been using the 12th Man to describe its fan base for about 50 years before the Seahawks even existed.

In recent years the Seahawks have applied for and registered many trademarks with reference to the number 12. As of this post, Football Northwest, LLC (as the Seahawks are legally identified at the USPTO), have seventeen marks that use “12” in various forms including SPIRIT OF 12, THE 12S, 12S, WE ARE 12, and JUNIOR 12S.

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EAA AirVenture Technology

Jim Ruttler, Patent Attorney

Posted Monday, August 1, 2016 by Jim Ruttler

This past week I flew to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to discover new general aviation technology. While glass panel avionics, noise canceling headsets, and new personal jet designs drew large crowds, there were three innovations that were particularly interesting to me.

The first was the Wing Board. Think wake boarding for the sky where the boat is substituted with a plane. Just strap yourself to the board and grab a tow rope and follow a plane into the sky where you can carve out with absolute freedom. When you are done, just hit the release button and parachute down to the ground. The device has undergone wind tunnel testing, and robotic in-flight testing. The founders are looking for funding to begin in-flight person tests. A video of this intriguing new product can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgXwdz9yZxY.

The second was controllable Instrument Flight Training goggles from Icarus. These goggles are worn and shift from opaque to transparent to simulate moving in and out of the clouds. These replace the permanently opaque glasses that IFR students are accustomed to, which more closely simulates what it is actually like to fly in and out of the clouds. The company is in initial development phase and will be moving soon to production.

The last were augmented reality glasses that provided enhanced flight information called Aero Glass. I wore these glasses while viewing a simulated flight experience. The glasses provided information on buildings we were passing as well as course guidance information. The company hopes to continue development and bring the glasses to market soon. More information can be found at http://glass.aero/.

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Marijuna Trademarks Still Not Permitted Under Federal Law

Daniel Mills, Trademark Attorney

Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2016 by Daniel Mills

Being based in a state that allows medical and recreational marijuana use, I have received many inquiries about obtaining federal trademark protection for marijuana related products and services. Under trademark law, a trademark must be associated with goods or services with lawful commercial use. Because trademark law is federal, the lawfulness standard means that the use has to comply with federal law, not state law. In other words, it does not matter that Washington allows marijuana (or any other state). Because it is against federal law, it is unlawful for trademark purposes.

I have heard many crafty suggestions on how to skirt this issue from shop owners, growers, and entrepreneurial investors. However, the reality is that you cannot get a federal trademark if there is a connection with actual marijuana. The latest example of this came down on Monday July 18, 2016 with when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) upheld a refusal on an application for Herbal Access in association with “retail store services featuring herbs”. You can read the decision here.

The applicant unsuccessfully attempted to argue that because they sold “herbs” which is legal, the application should be allowed. The TTAB held that the evidence in the application and on the applicant’s website clearly indicates that they sell marijuana and therefore is a violation of the Controlled Substance Act, and therefore, a federal violation that bans trademark registration.

This decision makes it clear to me, that no matter how clever, an applicant may try to be, if there is a connection to marijuana, there will be a refusal. I don’t think this attempt was particularly clever, nor was it argued that strongly. However, if you want to connect a trademark to a federally illegal good or service, it won’t happen. In other words, no one is that clever!

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Federal Circuit Appeals Court Finds 3rd Case of Eligible Subject Matter in Software

Jim Ruttler, Patent Attorney

Posted Monday, June 27, 2016 by Jim Ruttler

The Federal Circuit today issued its decision in Bascomb where it found for the third time that software can be patent eligible. After the broad language of the Supreme Court decision in Alice, many thought that software could be no longer patent eligible. The appeals court in charge of patents has again stated that this is not the case and that software remains patent eligible.

Here, the claims in Bascomb were directed toward a network traffic filtering system. Older systems placed the filtering software on the client, which allowed for customization. Some efforts at centralizing the filtration software on servers had resulted in a one-size-fits-all approach. The claims here solved that problem by allowing customization of filtration rules while centrally locating the filtering software.

The Court held that while filtering was something old and well known, the specific application here added more and didn’t preempt all filtering.

Judge Newman issued a concurring opinion calling for the need to return to a focus of the statute and on novelty and non-obviousness instead of eligibility. The eligibility test has become unpredictable and is conflating other areas of the Patent Act. This reflection is accurate and welcome in what has become a really confusing area of the law.

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