A Blog About Intellectual Property Litigation and the District of Delaware


Entries for tag: Claim Narrowing

Drop
Andrew E. Russell, CC BY 2.0

In my experience, parties in patent actions in the District of Delaware (and elsewhere) routinely drop claims in the lead up to trial. "Dropping claims" includes withdrawing asserted claims (e.g. "Claim 1"), whole asserted patents (e.g., "the '123 patent"), infringement contentions (e.g., "direct infringement" or "infringement by product A"), and other claims (including non-patent claims).

Most often, in practice, this is accomplished via an e-mail to the other side or, if the parties want something on the docket, by stipulation. I don't know of a case where the Court here insisted that a plaintiff not drop claims (of course, a defendant may also have counterclaims).

Are the Claims Withdrawn with Prejudice?

But parties rarely …

The Greatest of Funnels
John Matychuk, Unsplash

More and More, case narrowing has become a fact of life in Delaware. What was once an ad-hoc process recorded in a handful of unpublished orders has become more formal, and the various by-laws and codicils that govern it are congealing into something knowable, citable, and inevitable.

But we're not there yet, and even I can still be surprised by a novel ruling on the intricacies of the process. Such was the case in Tonal Systems, Inc. v. iFIT Inc., C.A. No. 20-1197-VAC-CJB, D.I. 100 (D. Del. May 16, 2022). Following an earlier dispute on the schedule for narrowing, The parties there were set to narrow of both claims and prior art, following the disclosure of initial infringement and invalidity contentions. So far, normal.

The wrinkle was that the narrowing schedule left more than 30 days between the service of Defendant's initial invalidity contentions and the deadline by which they had to narrow their prior art. They thus took the clever step of serving a rog requesting plaintiffs validity contentions -- a response to which would have been due before Defendant had to pick their prior art arguments. Plaintiffs objected, stating "[t]he Court ordered [Defendant] to narrow its Section 102/103 invalidity case to no more than 50 prior art references

Four
David Pisnoy, Unsplash

On Friday, Chief Judge Connolly issued an order in the lead-up to an ANDA bench trial compelling the plaintiff to reduce its number of asserted claims by 75% to 4 claims, or face consequences:

ORAL ORDER: WHEREAS, the parties filed the proposed pretrial order (D.I. 225) on May 10, 2022; WHEREAS, the bench trial in this case is 24 days away, and, according to the pretrial order, Plaintiffs are still asserting 15 claims across eight patents . . . ; and WHEREAS, Plaintiffs' assertion of 15 claims across eight patents at this juncture makes clear that Plaintiffs have yet to focus adequately on the relative strength of their various infringement claims, the limited resources of …

Delaware Memorial Bridge
Chintan Jani, Unsplash

Observant readers will have noticed that the new scheduling orders Chief Judge Connolly unveiled last week were specifically for non-Hatch-Waxman cases, and perhaps deduced that further orders for ANDA cases would be forthcoming. Well, the wait is over.

The new Hatch-Waxman case order, released yesterday, contains many of the same updates as the orders from last week, including a procedure for ranking Daubert motions, the tweaks to claim construction procedures, and the requirement for colored covers on courtesy copies. All to be expected given the changes last week.

Early Case Narrowing

The big change was that the new scheduling order includes a staged procedure for narrowing asserted claims and prior art. The first such stage begins just 7 days after the scheduling conference:

No later than seven days after the date of this Order, Plaintiff(s) shall serve Defendant(s) with a "Preliminary Disclosure of Asserted Claims" that lists each claim of each patent alleged to be infringed by Defendant(s), including for each claim the applicable statutory subsections of 35 U.S.C. § 271 asserted. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, Plaintiff(s) may assert no more than ...

Upturned Nose
Zayn Shah, Unsplash

As we’ve said before, sufficiency of each parties’ contentions can vary a bit by judge, and holdings are difficult to research because they usually appear in discovery dispute teleconference transcripts that are not posted to the dockets.

However, we saw a written decision issued by Judge Burke last week that illuminated one of the Court’s potential approaches to a dispute over invalidity contentions. The Court proposed that, if Plaintiff would agree to narrow its claims, the Court would require defendants to reduce the number of combinations. When Plaintiffs refused, they still received relief, but it wasn’t as strong or as specific as the relief they might have gotten had they adopted the Court’s proposal.

Plaintiffs complained that Defendants’ response to a contention interrogatory was unduly vague and insufficiently fulsome. The interrogatory sought invalidity contentions under § 103 obviousness, and the response incorporated Defendants’ Joint Initial Invalidity Contentions, so the Court focused on the Initial Invalidity Contention document itself for its analysis.

The Court found that the Initial Invalidity Contentions were sufficient in most respects:

In general, they provide real detail, including significant specificity as to ...

Clllaaiiiimmmmss!!!! claaaaiiiiiimmmmssss!!!
Clllaaiiiimmmmss!!!! claaaaiiiiiimmmmssss!!! An old asylum near Berlin, Nathan Wright, Unsplash

When the Court orders a patentee to reduce the number of asserted claims -- what happens to the ones that are dropped? Are they truly gone, or might they still maintain some sort of cursed half life -- banished from the case yet hungering to be asserted anew?

As we've discussed in the past, patentees will often argue that due process requires they be allowed to assert each of their claims, regardless of the Court's case management concerns. Since, however, a patentee maintains only their best claims, the issue typically becomes moot before it prompts an opinion squarely addressing the due-process issue.

Fortunately (for bloggers) the issue came to a head in Vaxcel Int'l Co. Ltd. v. HeathCo LLC, C.A. No. 20-224-LPS, D.I. 122 (D. Del. Feb. 2, 2022). There, Judge Stark had ordered the plaintiff to reduce its asserted claims down to 21 (from 167 initially asserted). Id., D.I. 48. After this narrowing, Judge Stark held several of the remaining claims invalid for indefiniteness. The plaintiff thus sought to replace the invalidated claims with ones that it had previously jettisoned (that allegedly lacked the indefiniteness problem).

Noting that the narrowing order stated that it would be modified only for "good cause," Judge Stark found that it was lacking here, especially in light of the fast approaching close of fact discovery. ...

Narrows
Karan Chawla, Unsplash

Case narrowing is an issue that eventually comes up in most patent cases—the idea that each party should have to reduce the number of claims and prior art references at points during the case.

How Claim Narrowing Usually Goes in a Patent Action

If parties want to avoid a dispute down the line, they can include case narrowing in the scheduling order. More often, however, it comes up at some point after the plaintiffs makes its initial election of asserted claims, and the parties start to get an understanding of the scope of the case.

Typically the initial narrowing occurs before claim construction, and a second round occurs afterwards, sometimes around the time of final contentions. …

Scissors
Markus Winkler, Unsplash

A few months ago, we wrote about claim narrowing in patent cases, noting that Delaware judges will often set additional limits when a case reaches trial. Because this typically comes up during the pretrial conference, there is often no written record on the docket.

Last Thursday, however, Chief Judge Connolly issued a rare, written order requiring the parties to narrow their claims and defenses before trial:

ORAL ORDER: Per today's call, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the pretrial conference will be held on July 27, 2021, and the trial will be held on August 2, 2021. Plaintiff shall identify for Defendant no later than 5:00 p.m. on July 7, 2021 no more than two patents and …

The first part of this headline is no surprise. As long as a motion to amend is filed before the deadline in the scheduling order, it's very hard to lose. In fact, Judge Andrews didn't even issue a written opinion on this one (another plug for the importance of monitoring oral orders in D. Del.):

I do not see undue delay, and Defendant basically concedes that any prejudice can be pretty easily ameliorated. The Court is not concerned about the prospect of a five-day trial with seven patents from seven families. That scenario will never come to pass.

The surprising part is what happened next. After dismissing the defendant's concerns, Judge Andrews ordered the plaintiffs to narrow their …

Continuing in the vein of last week's discussion of claim narrowing, Judge Andrews issued an interesting opinion on Friday discussing the number of invalidity arguments a defendant was allowed to present at trial.

Although we still occasionally see orders in the district limiting the number of prior art references a defendant is allowed to assert, it has become increasingly common in recent years to see the Court limit the number of prior art arguments or combinations or defenses an accused infringer can assert -- either instead of, or in addition to, a set number of references.

The question of how to count "arguments" has generated a fair amount of opinions in the district, with slightly varying results. Judge Burke gave …