A Blog About Intellectual Property Litigation and the District of Delaware

The Honorable Christopher J. Burke

Sami, CC BY 2.0

There was an interesting oral order from Judge Burke last week in Natera, Inc. v. CareDX, Inc., C.A. No. 20-38 (D. Del. Apr. 28, 2023). Defendant apparently asserted a large number of § 112 defenses based on lack of enablement or written description. The Court held that the defendant had to narrow it's defenses.

The parties further disputed whether the parties should count § 112 arguments by limitation or by claim. The Court held that they should be counted by claim limitation, not by claim:

With respect to the parties' dispute as to whether an argument that a claim is invalid under section 112 based on a particular claim limitation counts …

Two birds with one stone—Or three, I suppose.
Two birds with one stone—Or three, I suppose. Dulcey Lima, Unsplash

As we've discussed, starting last decade some of our judges have dealt with the influx of § 101 motions by setting "§ 101 motion days" and addressing multiple § 101 motions in multiple cases at the same time and in the same oral argument, with attorneys for each party required to attend the full argument.

These days seem to have been a success, because today Judge Burke issued an order applying the same procedure to a new type of motion—motions to dismiss or strike inequitable conduct allegations:

WHEREAS, the Court has received numerous motions challenging the accused infringer’s counterclaims and/or affirmative defenses relating to inequitable conduct (hereafter, …

"From now on, your discovery disputes will be heard at the summit . . . " Alexander Milo, Unsplash

It's always good to know the limits when it comes to discovery disputes. In some cases, parties just can't seem to work together on discovery, and the parties end up bringing a lot of disputes.

At some point, the number of disputes may push the Court over the line. Famously (in Delaware—so perhaps not "famously" at all), former Chief Judge Sleet used to limit parties to three discovery disputes in patent cases before requiring them to seek leave. I don't know of any similar explicit limits set by any of our current judges, but pushing things too far can still …

I was always disappointed when I became a lawyer that my day-to-day work did not involve more loopholes. You watch any TV show -- Law & Order (original or extra crispy (that's SVU)), The Good Wife, Matlock, all you hear is loophole this and loophole that. But every day I come into the office and its just the regular old law. It just seemed less clever than a loophole.

I didn't ask for him to be holding a cheeto, and I can't explain why he is #Snacknet
I didn't ask for him to be holding a cheeto, and I can't explain why he is #Snacknet AI-Generated, displayed with permission

I was thus borderline ecstatic to see Judge Burke deciding a discovery dispute over what seems to be a genuine loophole in a protective order.

The prosecution bar in FedEx Corporate Services, Inc. v. Roambee Corp., C.A. No. 21-175-CFC-CJB (D. Del. Feb. 13, 2023) had three distinct parts.

The first was a basic prosecution bar:

[P]ersons . . . who have received access to Designated Material, shall not be engaged . . . in prosecution of patent applications on behalf of the Receiving Party . . . claiming tracking devices used in systems that monitor shipments, without prior approval to do so from the Producing Party.

The second allowed persons otherwise covered by the bar to advise on subjects other than the drafting crafting or amending of claims before the ...

Stealth Bomber
Matt Artz, Unsplash

We've talked before about MILs that are really stealth summary judgment motions, but now let's talk about MILs that are stealth Daubert motions and stealth motions to strike!

On Friday, Judge Burke denied a motion in limine to preclude the testimony, holding that it was really a Daubert motion, and the party had waived it by failing to present it by the deadline for Daubert motions:

ORAL ORDER: The Court . . . hereby DENIES [Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 1] for the following reasons: (1) [T]he Scheduling Order in this case provided that "[n]o Daubert motions or motions to strike expert testimony shall be filed unless discussed with the [C]ourt at [the status conference …

AI-Generated, displayed with permission

Interesting opinion from Judge Burke today on indirect infringement allegations, and what constitutes an "active step" to encourage the direct infringement.

The defendants in Midwest Energy Emissions Corp. v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., C.A. No. 19-1334-CJB (D. Del. Jan. 12, 2023) (Mem. Order) sold a sort of refined coal that was a necessary agreement in an allegedly infringing process performed by power plants. They moved to dismiss the complaint for indirect infringement, arguing that, while they knew it was likely to be used in an infringing manner, they did not communicate with the end users in any way that actively induced infringement. I.e., they did not take any active steps.

Judge Burke …

Mel Poole
Mel Poole, Unsplash

Judge Burke issued an oral order earlier this week with some interesting language criticizing the party's attempt at an amended complaint.

In Midwest Energy Emissions Corp. v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., C.A. No. 19-1334-CJB (D. Del.), the plaintiff accused a very large number of entities—More than 50, it looks like—with infringement of a number of patents, all in a single combined action.

Earlier this year, it moved to amend its complaint to add additional defendants it alleged were parent companies of defendants who were as acting as the parent companies' "alter egos and agents." Judge Burke granted this request as to one party, for which the complaint included more detailed factual allegations, …

Ajeet Mestry, Unsplash

Last week Magistrate Judge Burke ruled on a core technical documents dispute in The Nielsen Company (US), LLC v. TVision Insights, Inc., C.A. No. 21-1592 (D. Del.). The defendants sought to avoid production of core technical documents for a product that was accused but that could not infringe. Judge Burke rejected that position:

Defendant shall produce core technical documents for the Logitech-based system. . . . [I]f the Court did not allow discovery of properly-accused products every time a defendant said that its product did not infringe the patent-in-suit, there would be little to no discovery permitted in the patent cases in this Court.

He suggested that the infringement allegation here was not completely baseless, and that whether the product meets the claims depends on claim construction:

The real dispute here appears to be about whether a product can infringe the relevant patent if it contains a two-dimensional and three-dimensional sensor that are implemented in one piece of hardware. . . . It strikes the Court that that issue may get resolved via claim construction, or, if not, then pursuant to a later dispute (perhaps at summary judgment) regarding infringement. But those steps in the case are still to come.

He also rejected the ...

This case is not about pizza, but I am writing this post while hungry
shaian ramesht, Unsplash

Engineers move all of the time. They start at one company that makes pizza oven accessories and related widgets. They bring that company to the delicious heights of excellence, authoring patent after patent in their pursuit of the perfect crust. Then, having achieved all anyone could hope for, they move on to a competing pizza oven accessory conglomerate, to do it all over again.

That being the case, its surprising we don't see more disputes like the one in Signode Industrial Group LLC v. Polychem, LLC, C.A. No 22-519-VAC-CJB, D.I. 94 (D. Del. Aug. 10, 2022). Like our metaphorical Pizzaneer, Flavio Finzo worked for Signode for many years and was a named inventor on a couple patents in suit. After retiring he started a consulting firm that worked with Polychem to develop their competing product (something to do with straps, totally no pizza involved, I am just hungry).

Signode then moved for a protective order to prohibit the defendant from "eliciting or receiving" any confidential or privileged information from Mr. Finzo, alleging that several facts referenced in the answer could only have come from his confidential and/or privileged knowledge. Defendant agreed that they had not and would not elicit any privileged information, and agreed to treat any confidential information pursuant to the existing protective order. Judge Burke held that these concessions were ...

View from a fisheye lens
View from a fisheye lens Kevin Grieve, Unsplash

Defendants often want to import limitations from the specification to the claims. It only takes one missing claim element per claim to defeat an allegation of patent infringement (setting aside DOE). And the language of patent specifications is often narrower than the claims themselves, providing ample opportunities to find limitations.

Federal Circuit precedent, of course, says that the Court should avoid importing limitations from the specification into the claims—but using the specification to interpret the meaning of a claim is OK. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2005). As countless courts have recognized, that is a fine line.

As a result, defendants' early-case strategy often …