Judge Stearns granted Starkist’s motion to amend its answer to introduce an additional counterclaim of fraud on the Trademark Office. He found the proposed counterclaim, which alleged that Purse Seine had declared to the PTO that it was using the “Bela” mark for fish pate and fish paste when it knew this to be false, properly alleged facts which, accepted as true, stated a viable claim that met the “good cause” standard for amending after the date when such amendments can only be made for good cause. He further determined the motion to be timely, in that Starkist had learned of the relevant facts during discovery and filed within a month of so learning. The discovery schedule was amended to permit fact and expert discovery on the counterclaim.
Judge Stearns denied Egenera’s motion to strike Cisco Systems’ invalidity expert report. Cisco’s expert had opined on a prior art Catalyst System found at UNC, of which the expert had personal knowledge; Egenera sought to have his opinion striken because Cisco had not disclosed the expert as a fact witness and had not disclosed the UNC system in its contentions. Judge Stearns found that the UNC system was merely an exemplar of the Cisco Catalyst System, which had properly been disclosed. He also noted that Egeneral still has the opportunity to depose the expert, meaning that even if he was not properly identified as a fact witness, there was no prejudice to Egenera.
NeuroGrafix accused Brainlab of infringing its U.S. Patent No. 5,560,360, which covers methods of imaging neural tissue to distinguish anisotropic nerve tracts in which water can diffuse along the length of the nerve tract but not perpendicularly to the nerve tract. A number of method claims were asserted, including a single independent claim. Brainlab sought summary judgment of non-infringement based in part on its chosen interpretation of two claim limitations – exposing a region that includes a selected structure that includes both anisotropic and non-anisotropic tissue to a magnetic polarizing field, and generating a data set that distinguishes the two structures. Brainlab contended that it cannot target the required “selected structure” because until the data is obtained, one cannot know where the anisotropic structure is, arguing that the ‘360 patent is directed to improved imaging of peripheral nerves, and that therefore the “select structure” must be limited to peripheral nerves, which Brainlab’s accused product does not track. Brainlab also asserted that its accused product does not distinguish anisotropic structure from non-anisotropic structure as required by the claims, because it does not permit the user to enter an FA Threshold value of zero, which would correspond to tissue that does not exhibit diffusion anisotropy. Judge Stearns determined that, while the motivation described for the invention was the improvement of peripheral nerve imaging, this motivation standing alone is insufficient to limit the scope of the claims. He cited language in the specification that referred to distinguishing anisotropic tissue from other structures that do not exhibit anisotrophy as referring to distinguishing tissue that had levels of anisotrophy low enough to be insignificant for imaging purposes as opposed to having an absolute absence of anisotrophy. He also criticized Brainlab’s attempt to draw limitations from dependent claims into the independent claim, the opposite of the principle of claim differentiation.
Despite ruling in NeuroGrafix’s favor on the disputed claim terms, Judge Stearns ultimately granted summary judgment of non-infringement to Brainlab. NeuroGrafix’s allegations were that Brainlab induces infringement, with the direct infringement occurring when the user images the pyramidal tract in the brain. Judge Stearns found that, depending on the purpose of the physician in imaging a patient, the accused product is capable of both infringing and non-infringing uses. Mere capability of infringement, however, is insufficient to establish liability, and NeuroGrafix could point to no record evidence that any physician had ever actually used the product in a manner that would infringe. Judge Stearns distinguished cases where direct infringement could be inferred by instructions that not only described the infringing mode, but taught or encouraged it; the marketing material for the accused product did note the possibility of delineating the pyramidal tract, but did not teach the particular settings to achieve this. Accordingly, Brainlab’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement was allowed.
In a turn from his response to a previous similar motion, Judge Stearns denied defendant Johns Hopkins Hospital’s motion for costs for responding to a third party subpoena from NeuroGrafix, finding the costs incurred were not unreasonable given that the subpoena was quashed and Johns Hopkins did not have to fully respond, and the subpoena was not found to be vexatious.
Judge Stearns denied Telerik’s motion to amend its answer to add counterclaims of invalidity and unenforceability due to Telerik’s lack of diligence in seeking to add these claims. Telerik obtained key documents giving rise to the proposed claims six months before seeking to amend, and provided no explanation for the delay, thus failing to establish the diligence required to show good cause under Rule 16(b).
Marketing and communications company Spark451 sued Agency 451 for trademark infringement and breach of a trademark co-existence agreement. Spark451 provides services under the “SPARKS451” mark to college and university clients that allow the schools to reach potential students, and has been using the mark in 2011. The Defendant, which began as “451 LLC” in 2004 and changed its name to “451 Marketing, LLC” in 2007, sought to cancel the “SPARK451” registration in 2015. The proceeding ended with the parties executing a co-existence agreement whereby 451 Marketing agreed not to use any mark consisting solely of or ending with “451” and each party agreeing to take all reasonable steps to avoid confusion as to the source or origin of their services. Despite this, 451 Marketing changed its name to “Agency 451” in April 2017, and changed its website to http://www.agency451.com. Spark451 asserts that this change breached both of those clauses, and that the nature and potential customers of the two businesses are sufficiently similar, and the names and commercial appearance of the marks so similar, that the use of “Agency 451” infringes the “SPARK451” mark. Spark451 seeks injunctive and monetary relief as well as a finding of willful infringement, treble damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The case is before Judge Stearns.
Judge Stearns construed a number of claim terms in this dispute in which Egenera accused Cisco of infringing U.S. Patent 7,231,430 (Egenera had previously voluntarily dismissed claims relating to a second patent, to avoid the case being stayed pending inter partes review of the second patent). The technology at issue relates to the creation of a virtual processing area network that simulates a network of computer processors. Judge Steans rejected Egenera’s proposed construction of “processor” as the “processing node” described in the specification, because the specification does not clearly set forth a definition of the term that is different from its plain and ordinary meaning. He also rejected Egenera’s proposed construction of “logic” as “software, firmware, circuitry, or some combination thereof.” Instead, he found “logic” as used in the claims to refer to the abstract concept of computer operations generally that perform the function recited after the term, and thus to be in means-plus-function format. Having so determined, however, he disagreed with Cisco that the terms were indefinite, finding sufficient structure in the specification for the various “logic” functions recited in the claims. Finally, he found in Egenera’s favor on “internal communication network,” determining that even though the network is described as emulating Ethernet functionality, the claimed network is not limited to a non-Ethernet physical network.