IP Litigation: Raising an Ensnarement Defense Defeats the Doctrine of Equivalents

Is the Doctrine of Equivalents (DOE) dead, once again? Effectively, yes.

All an alleged infringer needs to do is raise an ensnarement defense (a claim that a DOE enlarged hypothetical claim reads on the prior art), and then show that the equivalent element was known in the prior art. Most equivalent elements (not considering other claim elements) are known in the art, which is why they are equivalent!

Under current CAFC precedent, all an alleged infringer has to do is offer some prior art. There is no burden on the alleged infringer to show that a DOE enlarged claim is either anticipated or obvious in view of the prior art.For example, if the equivalent element is presented in any prior art reference, the burden then shifts to the patent owner to prove patentability. But patentability cannot be proven. To do that, one would have to present all that is known in order to argue that the prior art does not disclose the invention. And, of course, this is impossible. Could one even begin to present all knowledge in order to show the absence of some knowledge? Certainly not.

That is why, outside of a DOE enlarged hypothetical claim, at either the U.S. Patent Office (PTO) or before any court, someone arguing a claim is invalid first has the burden of at least presenting a prima facie case of anticipation or obviousness. The burden then shifts to the one urging claim validity to refute the prima facie case. Outside of ensnarement, the concept of proving patentability simply doesn’t exist, and for good reason.

The CAFC’s current precedent regarding how to consider the validity of a doctrine of equivalents enlarged hypothetical claim (hereafter hypothetical claim) is summarized In JANG v. BOS. SCI. CORP. & SCIMED LIFE SYS., INC., 2016-1275, 2016-1575, decided: September 29, 2017.

The Court stated:

“The first step is “to construct a hypothetical claim that literally covers the accused device.” Next, prior art introduced by the accused infringer is assessed to “determine whether the patentee has carried its burden of persuading the court that the hypothetical claim is patentable over the prior art.” Emphasis added.

“The burden of producing evidence of prior art to challenge a hypothetical claim rests with an accused infringer, but the burden of proving patentability of the hypothetical claim rests with the patentee.” Emphasis added.

This precedent does not require the alleged infringer to do any more than merely present the prior art. It fails to require the alleged infringer to provide a prima facie case of anticipation or obviousness.

Before Jang, there was an acknowledgment that the hypothetical claim should be one that would have been allowed by the USPTO. “The pertinent question then becomes whether that hypothetical claim could have been allowed by the PTO over the prior art. WILSON SPORTING GOODS CO. V. DAVID GEOFFREY & ASSOCIATES, 904 F.2d 677 (1990).” But the CAFC has failed to recognize that this means the alleged infringer must then first provide a prima facie case of claim invalidity, as would be required at the PTO.

Thus, the Doctrine of Equivalents is for all intents and purposes dead.

 

Copyright Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.
This post was written by James E. Lowe, Jr of Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.

Aqua Products Sinks PTAB Decision in Bosch v. Matal

The odd title of this post arose from the fact that defendant Autel U.S., Inc. chose not to appeal its IPR win against Bosch that included invalidation of the claims in suit, and the refusal of the Board to enter an amended claim set proposed by Bosch. With Autel out of the picture, the PTO effectively represented the Board and Acting Director Matal was named as the defendant: Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, LLC v. Joseph Matal (Intervenor), Appeal no. 2015-1928 (Fed. Cir., December 22, 2017).

The technology claimed was directed to an improved device for transmitting data from the tire pressure sensor to the receiving unit in the vehicle, that was “universal” in that the user could check the data when working with different types of tires and receivers (U.S. Pat. No. 6,904,796).

In the IPR judgment, the Board found one set of Bosch’s proposed claims to be indefinite and one set to be obvious. The Fed. Cir. affirmed the Board’s ruling that the original claims were obvious but vacated the Board’s denial of Bosch’s contingent motion to substitute the amended claim set and remanded “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Even though the Board had provided some rationale for why the first group of claims proposed by Bosch was indefinite, the Fed. Cir. ruled as to both claim sets that the Board had impermissibly placed the burden of establishing the patentability of both proposed  claim sets on Bosch, in contravention to Aqua Products.

“See Aqua Products, 872 F.3d at 1311 (‘Where the challenger ceases to participate in the IPR and the Board proceeds to final judgment, it is the Board that must justify any finding of unpatentability by reference to evidence of record in the IPR’).”

Although not argued by the parties, the Fed. Cir. ruled that proposed amended claims could be challenged under s. 112.

Perhaps the most important sentence in the opinion is in the Fed. Cir.’s discussion of the Board’s erroneous holding that it was Bosch’s burden to establish the unobviousness of the proposed claims:

“In its final decision, the Board concluded that it was ‘unpersuaded that Bosch has demonstrated that the proposed substitute claims are patentable’  over the prior art… [Citing an earlier Board decision] the Board stated that ‘[t]he patent owner bears the burden of proof in demonstrating patentability of the proposed substitute claims over the prior art in general, and, thus, entitlement to add these claims to its patent.’”

Of course, this suggests that a failure of the Board or of the challenger to meet this burden of proof to demonstrate unpatentability would entitle the patent owner to add the substitute claims. This decision, strongly affirming Aqua Products,  tilts the legal playing field, to favor the patentee, even as it requires more work by the Board.

The Fed. Cir.’s analysis of the original (affirmed) obviousness rejection contains a very thorough discussion of the secondary factors of commercial success, licensing and acclaim by the industry, that I won’t try to summarize, except to note that these remain very difficult to “prove up” in an obviousness dispute, particularly if the patented technology is complex.

© 2017 Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, P.A. All Rights Reserved.

US Launches Investigation into China’s Technology Transfer & IP Practices

United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) Robert E. Lighthizer launched an investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 (“Section 301”) into acts, policies, and practices of the Chinese government as they relate to “technology transfer, intellectual property [IP], and innovation.” The August 18 announcement of the investigation came just days after President Donald Trump signed a memorandum directing the USTR to consider whether to launch an investigation of China’s IP laws and practices that “may inhibit United States exports, deprive United States citizens of fair remuneration for their innovations, divert American jobs to workers in China, contribute to our trade deficit with China, and otherwise undermine American manufacturing, services, and innovation.”

While Section 301 was a frequently used tool between the 1970s and 1990s (including when Ambassador Lighthizer was Deputy USTR during the 198os), the number of such investigations declined significantly after the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system was established. Use of Section 301, however, is consistent with this Administration’s apparent willingness to use a broader range of trade tools to more aggressively combat potential unfair trade practices.

Section 301 allows—and, in certain circumstances, requires—the USTR to investigate and take unilateral retaliatory action in response to certain trade-related harms. The USTR must take appropriate action if the rights or benefits of the United States under any trade agreement are denied, violated, or otherwise harmed, or if its international legal rights are infringed in a way that burdens or restricts U.S. commerce. The USTR may take action at his or her discretion if an act, policy, or practice is unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens or restricts U.S. commerce. Among other things, a Section 301 action may be taken if a foreign country denies adequate and effective intellectual property protection or fair and equitable market opportunities, even if its behavior is consistent with its obligations under the World Trade Organization’s (“WTO”) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

The Federal Register notice launching the investigation highlights concerns that the Chinese government uses the transfer of foreign technology and intellectual property to advance its industrial policy goals. The USTR investigation will first examine acts, policies, and practices of the Chinese government that fall into the following four categories:

  1. The use of “a variety of tools, including opaque and discretionary administrative approval processes, joint venture requirements, foreign equity limitations, procurements, and other mechanisms to regulate or intervene in U.S. companies’ operations in China, in order to require or pressure the transfer of technologies and intellectual property to Chinese companies;”

  2. Acts, policies, and practices that “reportedly deprive U.S. companies of the ability to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related negotiations with Chinese companies and undermine U.S. companies’ control over their technology in China;”

  3. Direction and/or unfair facilitation of “systematic investment in, and/or acquisition of, U.S. companies and assets by Chinese companies to obtain cutting-edge technologies and intellectual property and generate large-scale technology transfer in industries deemed important by Chinese government industrial plans;” and

  4. Conduct or support of “unauthorized intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks or cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information” (as well as the harm they may cause to U.S. companies and the competitive advantages they may bring to Chinese companies).

Beyond the categories enumerated above, which are focused on technology/IP transfer and cyber-theft, the USTR notice also invites submissions of “information on other acts, policies and practices of China relating to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation described in the President’s Memorandum,” leaving open the possibility for the investigation to widen. The announced scope of the investigation highlights the discretionary factors to be considered under the statute, indicating that USTR is not focused solely on actual violations of China’s obligations under international trade law.

Consistent with the statute, the notice provides that USTR has 12 months to make a determination as to whether action is warranted. If it is determined that action is warranted, USTR may consider a broad range of retaliatory tools, including the withdrawal of trade concessions, the imposition of duties or other import duties, and “all other appropriate and feasible action within the power of the President that the President may direct the Trade Representative to take…to enforce such rights or to obtain the elimination of such act, policy, or practice…[with actions that may be taken being] within the power of the President with respect to trade in any goods or services, or with respect to any other area of pertinent relations with the foreign country.” Retaliatory actions may be targeted at industries other than those directly linked to the identified harm. USTR also has the discretion to come to an agreement with the foreign country’s government to eliminate or obtain compensation for the identified harm. As required by law, USTR has requested formal consultations with the Chinese government regarding the issues under investigation.

The behavior targeted by this Section 301 investigation reflects concerns of the international business community in China. For instance, 43 percent of companies responding to AmCham China’s annual Business Climate Survey in 2017 reported that reducing the need to engage in technology transfer would have at least a somewhat significant impact on increasing their investment levels in China. These companies may find this investigation to be an opportunity to advance their specific concerns. Meanwhile, Chinese companies that may be at risk for retaliatory action under Section 301, and U.S. companies potentially vulnerable to counter-retaliation by Chinese authorities, should carefully monitor the situation.

The Chinese government has expressed its concerns about the investigation. Suggesting that the United States is sending the wrong signal to the international community, a statement from the Ministry of Commerce asserts, “The United States’ disregard of World Trade Organization rules and use of domestic law to initiate a trade investigation against China is irresponsible, and its criticism of China is not objective.” While launching an investigation of China’s unfair trade practices is not, in and of itself, inconsistent with U.S. WTO obligations, imposition of some—though not all—of the retaliatory measures authorized under U.S. law could potentially violate WTO rules. China’s statements indicate that should the U.S. investigation lead to unilateral retaliatory action, China will respond in various ways, including by considering a challenge to such measures at the WTO.

The USTR notice calls for written comments by interested persons to be submitted by September 28. The interagency Section 301 Committee, which is chaired by the USTR, is scheduled to hold a hearing in Washington, D.C., on October 10. Requests to appear at the hearing are also due on September 28.

Zhijing Yu  contributed to the preparation of this article.

 This post was written by Ashwin Kaja, Gina M. Vetere and Timothy P. Stratford of  Covington & Burling LLP © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Brewers & Blades: Avoiding Exhaustion in Products with Consumable Parts

A product with consumable or replaceable parts can be complicated to patent. These kinds of products have a reusable base component and replaceable widgets that work with it. Think razor handles with disposable razor blades, coffee brewers with coffee pods, or table saws with replaceable blades. Sales of the widgets may create a substantial revenue stream, but what’s to stop an interloper from copying the widgets and undercutting these continuing sales? Patents! Right? Maybe; as long as you’ve been careful to patent the right aspects of your products and to avoid running afoul of the patent exhaustion doctrine. This doctrine “exhausts” a patentee’s patent rights in a product after it has been sold. The exhaustion is expansive. Courts have held a method claim automatically exhausted by the exhaustion of an apparatus claim in the same patent.[1] Very recently, the Supreme Court may have expanded the doctrine about as far as it can go: now all patent rights are exhausted regardless of any attempt at post-sale restriction, and regardless of the location of the sale.[2] In other words any sale, anywhere, exhausts all patent rights in the sold product.

Suppose you run a prolific company that makes coffee brewers that use single-serve disposable pods and also makes table saws with replaceable blades. For each product your business model might depend on controlling the pods or blades used with your product. For instance, if you take a loss on your coffee brewer intending to make up for it in sales of coffee pods, a patent covering the pods may be more valuable than one covering the brewer. If you intend to develop a licensing program for third-party saw blades, a patent covering a saw blade’s interface with your table saw may be crucial. So how might one breathe more easily despite the patent exhaustion doctrine to keep infringement claims viable? Here are some suggestions.

Patent your widgets separately. If patented together with the base component you may not be able to escape exhaustion of your patent claim, since your sale of the base component may “exhaust” your rights in the claim with respect to that sale. By patenting the widget separately—and in a separate patent—there is less chance of its claims being exhausted by sale of the base component. Keeping your widgets separate also minimizes your exposure to other pitfalls, such as being limited to contributory infringement claims.

Patent with your design strategy in mind. A robust design patent strategy can be a great tool to prevent knock-off widgets from cutting into market share. Strategic claim drafting in a design patent can in many cases provide claim scope broad enough to cover unauthorized widgets of varying configurations that may work with the base component. This is accomplished through the creative use of solid and broken lines in the drawings to claim particular aspects of the widget design, so long as the design of these aspects is not dictated by their function. This strategy can be especially helpful where it may be difficult or time-consuming to get a utility patent claim broad enough to stop knockoff widgets. And because your design patents will be directed to the widgets themselves, they are unlikely to fall victim to exhaustion due to sale of the base component.

Design with your patent strategy in mind. Designers may find it useful to over-design the parts of the base component and the widget that interact, with two additional goals in mind: (1) at least the widget side of the interaction should include a standalone novel feature, whether functional, ornamental, or both; (2) the interaction should only properly work with a widget including the novel feature. This may provide the opportunity for strong and specific utility or design patent claims directed to the widget that can be used to prevent unauthorized knockoff widgets.

Make your widgets disappear. Now that the Supreme Court has in some ways sanctioned unauthorized re-use of spent widgets, patents may not stop a competitor from re-filling and re-selling them. But what if there’s nothing left to re-fill? If possible, consider making your entire widget consumable by the base component or making it only survive a single use intact, so that it is not re-fillable and a customer will be left to simply recycle the remainder.

These suggestions can augment a careful patenting strategy to help combat crafty interlopers and circumvent courts’ hostile stance toward downstream control of products after their sale. A strategic combination of product design and intellectual property law can be a key tool in protecting investments in developing such products. A bold, full-bodied patent prosecution strategy can help cut through the unique difficulties in protecting investment in products that use consumable parts. Involving your patent counsel in the early stages of product design can be the difference between a sale that exhausts your patent rights, and one that leaves the company buzzing with viable patent protection that rips through the competition.


[1] See Keurig Inc. v. Sturm Foods, Inc., 732 F.3d 1370 (Fed. Cir. 2013).

[2] See Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., 15-1189 (May 30, 2017).

This post was written by Daniel A. Gajewski and Mark W. Rygiel of Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox P.L.L.C.

More legal analysis is available at The National Law Review.

Stanford University’s Loss in Interferences of Three Patents Covering Testing Methods for Fetal Aneuploidies for Lack of Written Description is Vacated

The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University v. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Jun. 27, 2017, Before O’Malley, Reyna, and Chen.

Takeaway:

  • The Federal Circuit declined to reconsider its decision in Biogen MA, Inc. v. Japanese Found. for Cancer Research, 785 F.3d 648 (Fed. Cir. 2015) that parties cannot bring civil actions in district court under 35 U.S.C. § 146 for review of the PTAB’s decisions in interferences declared on or after September 16, 2012.

  • In evaluating whether a claim satisfies the written description requirement, the fact finder may consider what a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand from a description of a product or technique in the specification as of the filing date of the application. Post-filing date publications may only be used as evidence of the state of the art existing on the filing date.

Procedural Posture:

Stanford University (“Stanford”) appealed from orders of the PTAB in three interference proceedings between Stanford and Chinese University of Hong Kong (“CUHK”), which found the claims of three Stanford patents directed to testing methods for fetal aneuploidies unpatenable for lack of written description.  The appeal was initially filed pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 146 in the District Court for the Northern District of California, and the parties engaged in discovery there.  On May 7, 2015, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision in Biogen MA, Inc. v. Japanese Found. for Cancer Research, 785 F.3d 648 (Fed. Cir. 2015), holding that under the AIA, for interferences declared after September 15, 2012, an appeal from an interference decision has to be made to the Federal Circuit.  The parties then jointly requested transfer from the Northern District of California to the Federal Circuit, which was granted.  The Federal Circuit considered the case on the merits, vacated and remanded.

Interference:

  • The Federal Circuit declined to revisit its holding in Biogen, noting that although Stanford briefed this issue in its opening brief, Stanford did not raise this issue again in its reply brief or in oral argument. Rehearing en banc and a petition for certiorari in the Biogen case were denied; thus, in the Federal Circuit’s view, “Biogen is the law in this circuit and we, as a panel, will not revisit it.”

  • The Federal Circuit declined to consider the record developed during discovery in the district court. Because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the interference decisions, the Federal Circuit agreed with CUHK’s position that the activities in the district court were a nullity and should not be considered by the Federal Circuit or remanded to the Board for consideration.

Written Description:

  • Sufficiency of written description is evaluated from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention, “by examining the record evidence as to pre-filing date art-related facts.” The post-filing date publications may be considered to the extent they “contain art-related facts … existing on the filing date,” but may not be used as a source for the knowledge about art-related facts that did not exist on the filing date.

  • The Board awarded patents in interferences to CUHK because it found that the Stanford patents’ specification disclosed “targeted” rather than “random” sequencing, and the specification would not have indicated to one of ordinary skill in the art that Stanford’s inventor Dr. Quake was in possession of the claimed random massively parallel sequencing (“MPS”) method. The Federal Circuit held that the PTAB erred because it did not adequately explain why the Illumina platform for sequencing DNA, referenced and described in Stanford’s original application, did not provide sufficient written description support for random sequencing.  The Board improperly relied on the testimony of CUHK’s expert, who only described that an earlier sequencing technique, Roche 454, was used for targeted sequencing, and “failed to cite to the Roche 454 references with specificity.”  The Board also erred in finding that, because Stanford’s application did not preclude targeted MPS sequencing, it did not disclose to a person of ordinary skill in the art random MPS sequencing.

This post was written by Georg C. Reitboeck  Ksenia Takhistova Christopher Gresalfi of Andrews Kurth Kenyon.

Google Tries “Pretty Woman” Tactic in Oracle Copyright Suit

I’m not sure Julia Roberts’ use of that blonde wig and eighties cut-out dress when she Google versus Oracleleaned against Richard Gere’s car in Pretty Woman should be considered “fair use,” but perhaps a court might say otherwise. How does Julia’s transformation from wayward to womanly in that iconic 1990 film come into play in a fight between tech giants Google and Oracle over the use of copyrighted java? Because they both hinge on “transformative use.”

Google’s going to trial again? Say it isn’t so. I have to wonder how many lawyers Google, alone, employs. But, if you’re going to stand as one of the front-runners in today’s fast-paced, internet-driven services market, you have to be prepared for lawsuits. Google has been fending off some serious claims by Oracle in a copyright suit filed in San Francisco since 2010, but when the focus of the debate turned to expert witness testimony, we wanted to highlight the matter for discussion and debate. Oracle initially sued Google claiming improper use of copyrighted Java, particularly Google’s use of its application programming interfaces (“APIs”) on its Android platform, to allow developers who are familiar with Java to quickly convert their web apps to Android.  Oracle is now reportedly seeking royalty damages in excess of $8 billion.

Initially Google argued, and the trial court agreed, that APIs were not subject to copyright. That ruling, however, was overturned by the Federal Circuit on appeal, which means Google’s remaining defense is whether its use of the APIs was “transformative,” which would make it acceptable under the Fair Use Doctrine. What standard of “transformative use” are the parties looking to?  2 Live Crew and their ripping parody of “Pretty Woman” in their 1989 album, “As Clean As They Wanna Be.” Please tell me you’re envisioning that iconic cover right now. Apparently the Supreme Court in a 1994 ruling, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., found 2 Live Crew’s version of “Pretty Woman” so creative and original that it qualified as “fair use,” not copyright infringement. Oracle is arguing the opposite by claiming Google’s use of the Java APIs did nothing to transform the code. Google simply plugged it into to a larger body of work, but in no way altered it, which does not qualify, according to Oracle, as transformative.

Oracle has sought to exclude the testimony of Google’s computer science expert from opining that Google’s use of the Java code altered it sufficiently to qualify as a transformative use, claiming his opinion “flies in the face” of the Federal Circuit’s finding that Google was wrong in claiming its use was transformative simply because it incorporated other elements in the Android system. Google has fought back, stating the Federal Circuit never decided whether the work was transformative and specifically remanded the case so that issue could be decided by a jury. Are you finding both of those arguments a bit rambling and repetitive? Apparently so did the trial court judge when he lamented his role as the gatekeeper who has to “excise every detail of expert testimony on a granular level.” With reams of lawyers on either side fighting over every detail and every dollar, however, that is probably precisely what he will have to do.

If you feel it may be hard, not being a computer science guru, to make a determination as to whether Google’s use of the Java at issue was “transformative,” imagine how the jury is going to feel. In May, 2012, a jury found Google had infringed Oracle’s copyrights but they could not decide whether use of the code in question was “fair.” This will be the second trial and second jury that attempts to answer this question. It will require an expert with exceptional communication skills, who is as persuasive as Julia, to effectively break this Java jumble down and win over the potentially tech-savvy, but stubborn “Richards” in the jury box. That’s the expert we would find for them, anyway, if Google gave us a call.

© Copyright 2002-2016 IMS ExpertServices, All Rights Reserved.

Trade Secrets Bill with Controversial Civil Seizure Provision Passes Senate

Recently, Congress and the courts in the United States have been active in reining in what many have seen as patent system that has run amuck. In the process, they have placed a number of limits on patent holders’ ability to effectively and successfully enforce patents. But as opportunities to enforce intellectual property through patent suits have been narrowed, another IP door appears to be opening.

For several years, Congress has been working on legislation that would, in effect, federalize what until now has been a state-by-state system of trade secret law. The current version, the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (S. 1890) (“DTSA”), was approved by the Senate on April 4, 2016 with bipartisan support.

The DTSA would operate to expand the existing Economic Espionage Act by, among other things, adopting much of the framework of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) and permitting private parties to bring civil trade secret misappropriation actions. UTSA-derived provisions are already in effect in 48 of the 50 states. Thus, while there are some differences between the DTSA and the UTSA, it is unclear whether the DTSA would represent a meaningful departure from existing trade secrets law, at least substantively. There are differing views.

The DTSA’s Civil Seizure Provision

What would almost certainly represent a significant new development is the DTSA’s civil seizure procedure, which is not contemplated under the UTSA. Under the proposed law, upon application by a party asserting theft of trade secrets, a federal court would have the authority to order law enforcement officials to enter land and seize property “necessary to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret that is the subject of the action.” Most strikingly, the bill envisions an ex parteprocess under which seizures would be authorized and executed without any notice to the relevant property owner(s), including third parties—a process that naturally raises due process and Fourth Amendment concerns.

Supporters of the bill point to analogous ex parte seizure provisions contained in the Lanham Act1 (authorizing ex parteseizures of counterfeit goods) and the Copyright Act2 (authorizing ex parte impoundments of documents and things related to copyright infringement)—provisions that have survived constitutional scrutiny.

Moreover, Rule 64 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes prejudgment seizures of property under applicable state law (e.g., writs of replevin or sequestration remedies), and ex parte seizures under such state law provisions have likewise been upheld under many circumstances. Courts have also justified ex parte seizures under the All Writs Act.3 Thus, there is precedent for these types of procedures.

It is also worth noting that ex parte seizure procedures are used in intellectual property cases in numerous jurisdictions outside of the United States. For example, in the United Kingdom, so-called “Anton Piller” orders have been utilized for many years to secure documents and things on an ex parte basis, in exceptional circumstances.

Significant Controversy

Nevertheless, the prospect of ex parte seizures in the trade secrets context has generated significant controversy in the United States. One major source of concern is the fact-intensive nature and overall complexity of trade secrets disputes. What exactly is the information at issue and does it qualify as a trade secret? How, if at all, has it been maintained in secrecy? Does the target of the seizure really have the information in his or her possession, and if so, how was the information obtained? Was reverse engineering involved? And so on.

Even on a preliminary basis, the complex factual issues involved in trade secret disputes may not lend themselves to fair resolution through expedited and non-adversarial ex parte procedures. Indeed, it does not take much imagination to conceive how, in the wrong hands, one-sided ex parte seizure proceedings might be used for improper purposes.

For example, in one Lanham Act counterfeit goods case, the plaintiff’s attorney “ran roughshod over the applicable statutes and rules,” submitting an inaccurate and misleading affidavit and convincing the lower court to authorize a private investigator to conduct the seizure and hand the seized property to the attorney.4 In another, the district court described a scheme in which the plaintiffs obtained seizure orders in a succession of counterfeiting cases, only to dismiss each case approximately one year after seizing the goods, without having ever established that the goods were, in fact, counterfeit.5

Rigorous Procedural Safeguards

In an effort to eliminate potential mischief, and to ensure that the new DTSA scheme passes constitutional muster, the bill’s sponsors have included a number of key procedural safeguards:

  • Ex parte seizures would be reserved for “extraordinary circumstances” only;

  • A seizure order would only issue upon the plaintiff’s filing of an affidavit or verified complaint that sets forth “specific facts” establishing, among other things: (1) immediate and irreparable injury if seizure is not ordered; (2) a likelihood of success on the merits of the trade secret claim; (3) the balance of harms favors the applicant; (4) the identity and location of the material to be seized, with reasonable particularity; and (5) more ordinary procedures (such as a TRO motion under Rule 65) would be ineffective because the seizure target would evade the order or destroy the evidence;

  • The applicant would be required to post a bond sufficient to cover damages should the seizure turn out to be wrongful or excessive;

  • Any seizure order would “provide for the narrowest seizure of property necessary” and would be executed by law enforcement officials;

  • The court would be required to provide specific guidance to the officials executing the seizure that “clearly delineates” the scope of their authority and details how the seizure must be conducted;

  • The court would also be required to schedule an adversarial hearing for the earliest possible time after the seizure was executed, at which hearing the applicant would bear the burden of proof of establishing that the seizure order was proper; and

  • The bill provides for a civil action for damages based on a wrongful or excessive seizure.

Taken together, these safeguards are significant and may reduce the likelihood of erroneous seizure orders and/or abuse of the system. In fact, it is possible that the obstacles to securing a seizure order would be so significant that, as a practical matter, they would eliminate the seizure remedy as an alternative in all but the most egregious scenarios. That appears to be an intended result.

In any event, having navigated the Senate, the DTSA will now pass to the House of Representatives for further consideration. A companion bill to S. 1890, H.R. 3326, was introduced in July 2015 and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. In an era of partisan rancor, the DTSA may yet be one instance—the ex parte seizure provision notwithstanding—in which legislators find ways to work together across the aisle to achieve results.


1See 15 U.S.C. § 1116(d).
2See 17 U.S.C. § 503(a).
328 U.S.C. § 1651.
4Warner Brothers v. Dae Rim Trading, Inc., 877 F.2d 1120 (2d Cir. 1989).
5NASCAR v. Doe, 584 F. Supp. 2d 824 (W.D.N.C. 2008).