United States: Unenforceability Due To Client Failure To Correct Counsel's Misrepresentations To PTO

The Ohio Willow Wood Company v. Alps South, LLC

In the ongoing saga between two manufacturers of liners for prosthetic limbs, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirmed a finding of inequitable conduct committed by the patent owner while the patent at issue was being reviewed in an ex parte reexamination. The Ohio Willow Wood Company v. Alps South, LLC, Case Nos. 15-1132; -1133 (Fed. Cir., Feb. 19, 2016) (Bryson, J). This confirmation comes less than a year after the Federal Circuit vacated a patent owner verdict of willful infringement for a lack of standing ( IP Update, Vol. 18, No. 7).

Ohio Willow Wood (Willow) filed a lawsuit against Alps South (Alps) alleging infringement of its patent. Alps mounted a validity challenge in two successive ex parte reexamination proceedings while the district court remained stayed. In the first reexam, Willow managed to avoid the asserted prior art by amending its claims, limiting them to cover a prosthetic liner with gel only on the inside. In the second reexam, however, Alps submitted additional evidence of prior art showing that the added claim limitation was disclosed in the prior art.

In particular, Alps presented evidence in the form of an advertisement from a competitor in the field of prosthetics, Silipos, and declaration and deposition testimony from a Silipos employee attesting that Silipos had sold prosthetic liners with gel only on the inside before the effective filing date of the asserted patent. The patent examiner agreed with Alps and rejected the claims for obviousness. Willow appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board).

To overcome the Silipos prior art, Willow argued that the Silipos employee's testimony was unreliable because it was uncorroborated and that the witness was highly interested as a result of receiving royalty payments on the prior art product. The Board agreed and reversed the examiner's rejection on the basis that the Silipos employee's testimony was uncorroborated and that the witness was an interested third party.

After completion of the second reexam, the district court lifted the stay. Alps thereupon moved for summary judgment of invalidity of the asserted claims, and for summary judgment that Willow's conduct before the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) during the reexams was inequitable. The district court granted Alps's motion for summary judgment of invalidity but denied Alps's motion on inequitable conduct, concluding there was a triable issue of fact regarding inequitable conduct on Willow's part. Both parties appealed. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of invalidity but reversed and remanded the summary judgment ruling of no inequitable conduct.

On remand, the district court found that Willow, based on the conduct of Mr. Colvin, its director of research and development, was guilty of inequitable conduct during the second reexamination concerning the argument that the challenged testimony was uncorroborated. Willow used the same law firm for both the litigation and the reexamination proceedings. However, the firm established an ethical wall between the lawyers handling the reexamination and the lawyers handling the litigation. Mr. Colvin, as the overseer of both the reexamination proceedings and the litigation, was the link between Willow's litigation and reexamination counsel.

The district court found that Mr. Colvin knew that Willow's reexamination counsel had represented to the PTO that the Silipos testimony presented by Alps was uncorroborated, yet was aware of the corroborating letters and materials Willow had received from Silipos. He failed to correct the misrepresentation. Mr. Colvin did not deny being aware of the withheld materials but could not offer an explanation as to why he failed to correct counsel's misrepresentation.

The district court found that Mr. Colvin was aware of Silipos's letters, that the letters were material (because they corroborated the testimony presented to the Board that Willow's counsel argued was uncorroborated), and that he failed to disclose the letters to correct the misrepresentation. The trial court found that the most reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence was that Willow acted with deceptive intent in misrepresenting the existence of corroborating evidence, and the court consequently held the patent unenforceable. The district court awarded Alps attorneys' fees for the period after the second reexamination. Willow appealed.

In reviewing the district court's findings of fact on the issues of materiality and intent for clear error, and the district court's ultimate finding of inequitable conduct based on those facts for abuse of discretion, the Federal Circuit considered whether Mr. Colvin made misrepresentations or omissions material to patentability, whether he did so with the specific intent to mislead or deceive the PTO, and whether the deceptive intent was the single most reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence.

Like the district court, the Federal Circuit concluded that the Silipos letters were material because they corroborated the testimony that the Silipos prosthesis liners with gel only on the interior were prior art (since the Board's decision turned on Willow's representation that there was no evidence corroborating that testimony). On the issue of specific intent, the Court noted that inequitable conduct may be inferred from indirect and circumstantial evidence, but cautioned that deceptive intent must be "the single most reasonable inference." Using that standard, the Federal Circuit concluded that the most reasonable inference behind Willow's withholding of the Silipos materials was deceptive intent.

The Federal Circuit thus concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Willow's failure to correct the misrepresentation by its counsel to the Board regarding the absence of corroborating evidence was an act of inequitable conduct.

Unenforceability Due to Client Failure to Correct Counsel's Misrepresentations to PTO

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.