Oct
11

THE SECOND CIRCUIT’S RECENT DECISION IN HORROR, INC. v. MILLER – FRIDAY THE 13TH 40 YEARS LATER

This September 2021 decision addresses complex aspects of Copyright Law involving both copyright ownership issues and termination rights wherein the Creator of a work can reclaim rights in an originally assigned copyright 35-40 years after the work’s assignment.  The commentator has previously posted blogs discussing the importance of properly categorizing the work’s Creator as a work-for-hire under the Copyright Act.   Failure to do so may result in a situation wherein the plaintiff in a copyright infringement case may actually not be the owner of the registered copyright. Under such circumstances, a copyright infringement case may be dismissed because the plaintiff, as a non-owner, may not have standing to sue for copyright infringement.

The public policy underlying the Copyright Act’s termination right under 17 U.S.C. § 203 is to give Creators a second chance when the work they licensed or sold (assigned) becomes more valuable than anticipated. Improper classification of the Creator also impacts a Creator’s termination rights because the Creator of a work-for-hire cannot invoke a termination right. Disputes over termination rights often turn on an analysis of the nature of the Creator’s relationship to the work.

The defendant in Horror (Victor Miller) was the screenplay writer of the 1980 horror movie “Friday the 13th”.   The screenplay was created for Manny, Inc. which later transferred its copyright in Miller’s screenplay to Georgetown Productions, Inc.  It was Georgetown Productions that registered the screenplay as a work-for-hire.  The rights were later acquired by Horror, Inc.  In 2016, Miller notified both the “first” company which had retained his screenplay writing services decades before and Horror, Inc. that he planned to exercise his termination rights.

Horror filed an action in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, seeking a declaration that the screenplay was a work-for-hire by an employee and not subject to termination. The district court disagreed with Horror’s position, finding that Miller had instead been an independent contractor and the screenplay did not qualify as a work-for-hire.  Horror appealed. The Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Employment Status Analysis

In arriving at its “independent contractor” conclusion, the Second Circuit discounted the plaintiffs’ position that Miller had been an employee at the time he wrote the screenplay.  The plaintiffs’ argument focused on Miller’s membership in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) at the time he was hired to create the screenplay as grounds for his designation as an employee and the registered work’s classification as a work-for-hire.   Miller’s original agreement with Manny was conducted under a collective bargaining agreement governing WHA’s writers and signatory employers like Manny.

The Second Circuit concluded that Horror wrongly relied on labor law’s framework defining “employee.” Instead, Copyright law controls the analysis; its concept of employment is grounded in the “common law of agency” and serves different purposes from labor law.

The Second Circuit relied on the Supreme Court’s 1989 seminal case of Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid where the High Court laid out the scope of employment framework for establishing copyright ownership under 17 U.S.C. § 102.   In discussing CCNV, the Second Circuit noted that “the Copyright Act uses a more restrictive definition of employment” in order to protect authors whereas labor law construes employment broadly “to serve workers and their collective bargaining interests and establishing rights” including safety and pay rights.  Thus, Miller’s membership in the WGA and Manny’s status as a signatory employer to their collective bargaining agreement did not create an employment relationship that converted the screenplay into a work-for-hire.

In determining that Miller was an independent contractor who had the right to terminate Horror’s copyright, the Second Circuit considered CCNV’s enumerated factors for establishing whether the Creator of the work was indeed an employee:

  • Miller’s previous screenwriting employment and graduate degree in theater established his expertise and skill in screenwriting requiring little oversight/direction;
  • Manny, Inc. never provided Miller with typical employment benefits such as health insurance of paid vacation time;
  • Manny, Inc. never withheld or deducted any taxes or social security payments from the two lump sums he received for his screen-writing services.
  • Nothing in Miller’s employment agreement with Manny, Inc. could be construed as granting Manny the right to assign additional projects.
  • Miller was the only person credited as the screenplay writer.

Certain types of commissioned works may also qualify as a work-for-hire under the Copyright Act when the Creator is an independent contractor and not an employee but only if the Creator and the commissioning party have both signed an agreement stating that the work is a work-for-hire. Additionally, the work must fall into one of the Copyright Act’s nine enumerated classifications for this type of work-for-hire.  Screenplays are not one of the enumerated classifications. Here, the agreement between Manny and Miller never specified that the screenplay would be a work-for-hire.  Even if the screenplay would have qualified as one of the enumerated classifications, the absence of the required agreement eliminated any chance of establishing the screenplay as a work-for-hire under the “independent contractor” scenario.

As a result of the Second Circuit’s decision, Miller now has the right to terminate his copyright.  He will presumably try to negotiate a licensing agreement seeking royalties commensurate with the movie franchise’s success.

Comments

Copyrights enjoy a long lifetime but  nobody has a crystal ball.  Parties who are contemplating obtaining the rights to a copyrighted work(s) should consider the money-making potential with the knowledge that the work’s Creator (including his/her estate) could seek to terminate the copyright 35-40 years into the future. Parties who are acquiring the rights as a successor-in-interest should consider the possibility of termination and determine if the work was a bona fide work-for-hire: 1) by an employee; or 2) via a “work for hire” agreement signed by both the Creator/independent contractor and the hiring party for certain classifications of works.   Why?  Because a “true” work-for-hire is not eligible for termination.  On the other hand, independent contractors may not wish to have their work designated as a work-for-hire and instead assign the rights in return for monetary compensation to preserve their termination rights.

As the Horror decision shows, a registration which specifies a work as a work-for-hire does not necessarily make it so. Had this been a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Horror against another party, chances are that an astute copyright infringement attorney would have challenged Horror’s ownership and standing as the owner of the registered copyright.  Why?  Because the Creator was never an employee.  Nor would the work  have likely qualified as a work-for-hire under the “independent contractor” alternative provided for under the Copyright Act.

Copyright law is complex even though at first blush it appears relatively simple due to the ease of completing a copyright registration application.  However, numerous pitfalls abound for the unwary and even the issuance of a registration does not mean that the registration is absolutely immune from problems as the Horror decision demonstrates.

Copyrights can be extremely valuable intellectual property assets.  Make sure you understand the pitfalls to avoid problems down the road where your ownership may be questioned or the Creator may have the right to exercise termination rights.   Contact us for a complimentary consultation on your copyright matters.

 

WE THANK YOU READING THIS BLOG AND HOPE YOU FOUND IT INFORMATIVE.  HOWEVER, THE CONTENT IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  

 

©2021

Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship™

(305) 279-4740

 

 

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Feb
09

THE TENSION BETWEEN TRADE SECRET PROTECTION AND PATENT PROTECTION

In Dec. 2020 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the publication of a trade secret in a patent application extinguishes trade secret status.  Attia Architect PC, et al.  v. Google LLC, et al.   Architect Attia developed a system and method for automated design, fabrication, and construction called Engineered Architecture (EA).    In 2010 Attia entered into a partnership with Google wherein he disclosed his trade secrets related to the technology to Google.  A year later, Google filed patent applications related to the technology’s trade secrets.  Attia executed patent assignment agreements effectively transferring any rights in the patents to Google.  The patent applications were published 18 months from the filing date pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 122(b)(1)(A) making the alleged trade secrets publicly available.  Google then allegedly excluded Attia from the project and used EA to create a platform for use by building professionals to streamline the design process by relying on artificial intelligence.

Attia sued Google for trade secret misappropriation under California’s trade secrets statute and the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA). The district court dismissed his federal claims with prejudice and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims.  Under both California state trade secrets law and the DTSA, the disclosure of the alleged trade secrets in the published patent application publication extinguished their status as protectable trade secrets.  (Click here for a previous blog concerning the same decision which  addressed another issue involving the DTSA). Nor was this a situation where Google had filed the patent applications without Attia’s permission.

Is it possible for trade secrets and inventions to co-exist?  Maybe.  Inventors may try to maintain what they as deem as trade secrets by failing to disclose key elements of the invention in the patent application and specification.  This approach can be difficult to navigate because inventors may risk invalidating a patent by withholding critical information from the patent examiner during prosecution of the patent.   But see Pike v. Texas EMC Management, LLC (Texas state appellate court finding that EMC had “purposely excluded certain information” from its patent application in order to maintain it as a trade secret and was thus entitled to maintain its claim against Pike for trade secret misappropriation.

Any information disclosed in a patent application publication or issued patent, is by definition, published and not subject to trade secret protection.   If the invention disclosed in a patent application is or will not be the subject of a foreign application, the patent applicant can file a non-publication request under 37 CFR 1.213(a) to prevent its publication 18 months later after the filing date.  For utility applications relying on the filing date of a provisional patent application (PPA), the clock starts ticking from the PPA’s filing date.  The non-publication request will allow the application to be maintained as a trade secret over the invention during the patent application prosecution process which can take many years.

If a patent does not issue, trade secret protection will continue until when and if the trade secret(s) become publicly available, through e.g., the inventor’s failure to maintain the trade secret in confidence.  If, on the other hand, the examining attorney concludes that claims are patentable, the inventor can make the determination as to whether issuance is “worth” giving up trade secret rights in the published patent document by deciding to withdraw the patent from issuance under 37 C.F.R. § 1.313.

Take Aways

  • Dlsclose any trade secrets related to your invention to your patent attorney.  Ask the attorney whether inclusion of the trade secrets in the patent application is essential to meet the USPTO’s invention disclosure requirements.
  • Consider filing a non-publication request providing you have no intention of filing a foreign application. If you do end up filing a foreign patent application, remember that that your U.S. patent application may also become subject to publication.
  • Be sure to continue safely guarding your trade secrets quite apart from any confidential patent application.  Trade secret protection is an on-going endeavor
  • Contact us for a complimentary trade secret checklist to get you started in understanding trade secret protection.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN THIS BLOG.  AS USUAL THE CONTENT IS FOR   INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.

 

Intellectual property law is a complex area of the law.  Contact us for a complimentary consultation on patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights.  Our mission is to serve innovators and creators in protecting the fruits of their hard work and ingenuity through our Client Creed:  Conscientious, Rigorous, Energic, Empathetic, and Diligent representation.

 

May you and your loved ones stay safe & be well during these challenging times.


© 2021 by Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship

 

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Jan
24

TRADE SECRET MISAPPROPRIATION CLAIMS ARISING FROM CONDUCT PREDATING THE DEFEND TRADE SECRETS ACT OF 2016 ARE ALLOWABLE ACCORDING TO THE NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS – A WIN FOR PLAINTIFFS

On Dec. 16, 2020 in Attia, et al.  v. Google, LLC, et al.,  the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a misappropriation claim under the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, §18 U.S.C. 1836, et seq. (“DTSA”) may be brought for misappropriation that started prior to the DTSA’s enactment as long as the claim also arises from post-enactment misappropriation or from the continued use of the same trade secret.

The DTSA mirrors the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) and also expands the Economic Espionage Act, which criminalizes misappropriation of certain trade secrets. Many states, including Florida, have based their trade secrets laws on the UTSA.  Until the enactment of the DTSA in 2016, trade secret misappropriation claims were generally brought under state statutes, e.g., Florida’s Uniform Trade Secret Act (“FUTSA”).

The DTSA allows plaintiffs to bring a federal claim for any trade secret misappropriation that occurred on or after May 11, 2016.   In Attiva v. Google, LLC, the Ninth Circuit decided that a claim under the DTSA can still be brought, even if the misappropriation actually started before the enactment of the DTSA, as long as the misappropriation continued through the DTSA’s enactment date (May 11, 2016) and involved the same trade secret.  In reaching its decision, the Ninth Circuit explained that the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”), includes an anti-continued use provision while the DTSA lacks a similar provision.  Noting that Congress was aware of the UTSA at the time the DTSA was enacted, the court concluded that the apparently deliberate omission of an anti-continued use provision indicated that the DTSA was not intended to be limited in this way.  In its reasoning, the Ninth Circuit pointed out that the DTSA language discussing “a continuing misappropriation constitutes a single claim of misappropriation” relates only to a statute of limitations argument and does not intrinsically prohibit DTSA misappropriations claim from being brought on the basis of continued use.

Although the DTSA is a relatively new statute and has not “seen” much litigation, the Attiva decision clearly expands the DTSA’s reach and is expected to be relied on by other federal courts asked to rule along the same lines.   Additionally, the decision represents a significant shift in trade secrets law which may cause more plaintiffs to commence trade secrets misappropriation actions in federal court because:

  • it allows for claims of trade secrets misappropriation to be brought under the DTSA at least in district courts “under” the Ninth Circuit even if the misappropriation began before the 2016 enactment of the DTSA;
  • it expands potential liability for defendants of trade secret claims under the DTSA;
  • it provides plaintiffs with protection where state statutes following the UTSA may not.

 

WE THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG AND HOPE YOU FOUND IT INFORMATIVE.  HOWEVER, THE CONTENT IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  If you have any questions about trade secret misappropriation as either a potential plaintiff or defendant, contact us for a consultation.  Also contact us for a complimentary trade secret checklist to ensure you or your company are taking the appropriate steps to protect your trade secrets.

©2021

Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship™

(305) 279-4740

 

 

 

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Jan
19

THE APPLICABILITY OF THE EQUITABLE PATENT ASSIGNOR ESTOPPEL DOCTRINE: A CONFLICT BETWEEN THE FEDERAL COURTS AND THE PATENT TRIAL & APPEAL ABOARD

On Jan 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Holigic, (Fed. Cir. 2020), a case dealing with patent law’s doctrine of assignor estoppel.  The doctrine applies when a patent assignor is sued for patent infringement by the assignee of the previously assigned patent in federal district court.  The assignor (the defendant) is estopped from claiming as a defense that the assigned patent is invalid.

On the other hand, assignor estoppel apparently does not currently apply to a post-grant administrative proceeding before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (“PTAB”) brought by an assignor to invalidate the assigned patent.  Indeed, 35 U.S.C. § 311(a) provides that “a person who is not the owner of a patent” may file an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding to address validity issues.  The commentator opines that a straight-forward reading of the statutory language can hardly be interpreted to mean that “non-owner” includes a patent assignor.  Unfortunately, the statute does define “owner.”  Nevertheless, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “assignor estoppel has no place in IPR proceedings.”   That is, an assignor is free to seek patent invalidation in an IPR proceeding. Arista Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Sys., Inc.  (Fed. Cir. 2018).

Currently, assignor estoppel as used by the federal courts does not preclude reliance by the assignor-defendant on a prior invalidity decision by the PTAB.  In Minerva, alleged infringer Minvera Surgical, Inc. (a company later started by the patent assignor), which sold a surgical procedure system competing with Plaintiff-Assignee Holigic’s own system, managed to invalidate one of the patents originally assigned to Holigic’s predecessor-in-interest in an IPR administrative proceeding.   Although the district court could not itself invalidate the patent under the doctrine of assignor estoppel, it could rely on the IPR’s invalidation.  At the district court level, the PTAB’s earlier invalidation prevented the possibility of on-going royalties payable to Holigic by Minerva and an injunction blocking sales of Minerva’s system.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reluctantly affirmed the district court’s judgement in April 2020, mindful of the seeming unfairness to Holigic.  For example, Judge Kara Stoll’s opinion stated: “Given the odd circumstances created in this case, I suggest that it is time for this court to consider en banc the doctrine of assignor estoppel as it applies in the district court and in the Patent Office.”

The Federal Circuit did not take up her suggestion, but the Supreme Court now has.

This commentator is on the side of the Assignee’s successor-in-interest (Hologic) and would argue an Assignor should not be eligible to invalidate a patent in an IPR proceeding.  For good and valuable consideration, the patent inventor sold his patent rights, originally assigned to the company he founded (Novacept), to Cytyc Corp. for $325 million in 2004.  Cytyc was in turn acquired by Holigic.  Presumably the valuation was based on the value of the patents being acquired and the inventor’s company was adequately compensated through arms’ length dealing.  Also, good faith and fair dealing are supposed to be “built in to” any contract.   In fact, assignment is a way for many inventors to receive good and valuable monetary consideration when they do not have the financial resources or desire to commercialize their invention.  The ability to assign patent rights also encourages innovation.

Then, after collecting a lot of money, and, instead of developing a patently distinct system, the inventor started Minerva Surgical to sell the very system disclosed in the assigned patents.  Patent Owners, and by extension Patent Assignees, ought to be entitled to stability in patent law during the patent’s lifetime.    Unfortunately, this stability is being routinely eroded through both IPR proceedings and the courts particularly with respect to lawsuits stemming from the infamous Alice v. CLS decision and its progeny.

Allowing patent assignors to invalidate assigned patents would only further erode patent stability.  It is one thing for an invalidation IPR proceeding to be commenced by an infringer with no former contractual relationship with the patent owner as in an assignor-assignee relationship; it’s quite another situation where the alleged infringer is the original assignor as in the Minerva Surgical v. Holigic case.  Even Judge Stoll opined that the IPR’s invalidation of the assigned patent was unfair.  Additionally, potential acquirers of patents may well question whether the assignor will behave nefariously and may have information (e.g., knowledge of prior art) that could be used to invalidate the patent he is assigning for a “pretty” sum whether by the assignor or a third party.

Although “tight” assignment contracts can be written, any contract is only as good as the fair-dealing of the contracting parties.   Accordingly, the commentator hopes that the Supreme Court concludes that the doctrine of assignor estoppel is found to be applicable to both IPR proceedings and patent infringement lawsuits brought in a court of law.   Common sense should tell us that Congress was not intending that the word “non-owner” includes the assignor of a patent who would later turn against the assignee and seek patent invalidation of the assigned patent.  If the Court concludes otherwise, perhaps patent assignment contracts should start including a provision that for good and valuable consideration received, the Assignor/successor in interest will not seek to invalidate the patent being assigned in an IPR proceeding.

 

WE THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG AND HOPE YOU FOUND IT INFORMATIVE.   HOWEVER, THE CONTENT IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.

©2021

Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship™

(305) 279-4740

 

 

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 19,2021 06:01 PM
Jan
13

NON- DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT WORDING:  THE POTENTIAL TO IMPACT THE OUTCOME OF A PATENT-INFRINGEMENT LAW SUIT

These days, Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) templates are readily available on-line, often free-of-charge, making them an attractive alternative for many.  The problem with these templates is they are not necessarily applicable to the contracting parties’ unique circumstances and/or do not properly anticipate dealings between the parties. A poorly drafted, one-size-fits-all NDA can make or break a patent-infringement case many years into the future.   These assertions are supported by the Dec. 7, 2020 decision in Sionyx, LLC v. Hamamatsu Photonics K.K. by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC).

In Sionyx, the CAFC concluded that the district court mistakenly concluded that it lacked authority to compel the transfer of ownership of foreign patents from Hamamatsu Photonics, K.K. (Hamamatsu) to Sionyx, LLC (Sionyx).  Moreover, the lower court abused its discretion in distinguishing between the U.S. and foreign patents at issue in the case. The CAFC affirmed the district court on most other issues, including that Hamamatsu breached its non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Sionyx, and that Sionyx was entitled to co-inventorship and sole ownership of the U.S. patents, as well as damages and an injunction.

The decision is largely based on the NDA signed by the parties in 2006.  This blog discusses the decision and emphasizes that an NDA can have consequences years later.  As the decision demonstrates, had the NDA lacked certain wording, Sionyx may well not have prevailed.

Background

In 1998, Professor Eric Mazur and his student, James Carey, discovered a novel process for creating “black silicon.” The two inventors filed a provisional patent application on May 25, 2001, from which U.S. Patent 8,080,467 ultimately issued, among other patents. Four years later in 2005, the inventors founded Sionyx and met with Hamamatsu – a company that produces silicon-based photodetector devices – a year later.  The two companies entered into an NDA to share confidential information for the purpose of “evaluating applications and joint development opportunities of pulsed laser process doped photonic devices.”

The NDA stipulated that a party receiving confidential information “shall maintain the information in strict confidence for seven years after the expiration of the agreement, after which the receiving party may use or disclose the confidential information.”  Commentator’s emphasis. The NDA also said that the receiving party of confidential information acknowledged that the disclosing party claims ownership of the information and all patent rights “in, or arising from” the confidential information.  Commentator’s emphasis.   The NDA also required that all confidential information received must be returned within 30 days of the termination of the agreement.  The term of the NDA was three years.

Hamamatsu and Sionyx worked together for about two years, at which time Hamamatsu said it wished to develop its products alone. Surprisingly, Sionyx did not request the return of any confidential information from Hamamatsu.  Hamamatsu began developing its own products and emailed Sionyx in 2009 to alert the company that it would be releasing a new photodiode at an upcoming exhibition that it did not believe infringed Sionyx’s IP or breached the confidentiality obligations. Hamamatsu then filed Japanese patent applications for photodetector devices and later filed in several other countries, including the United States, claiming priority to the Japanese patents.

One of Simony’s customers alerted the company to Hamamatsu’s U.S. patents five years later, in 2014.  When discussions between the two company’s failed, Sionyx sued Hamamatsu in the District of Massachusetts for (1) breach of contract; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) infringement of the ’467 patent; and (4) the equitable relief to transfer the foreign to Sionyx and name Carey as an inventor.

District Court Declines to Transfer Foreign Patents

A jury found in favor of Sionyx, awarding almost $800K for breaching the NDA in February 2009, when it first referred to Sionyx’s confidential information in an internal report, and almost $600K in damages for unjust enrichment. The jury also found that Carey should be added as a co-inventor to the U.S. patents. At the post-trial motion stage, the district court then granted Sionyx sole ownership of the disputed U.S. patents, injunctions on Hamamatsu’s accused products practicing those patents and the ’467 patent, pre- and post-judgment interest on damages for breach of contract, and pre-judgment interest on damages for unjust enrichment. The court denied Sionyx’s motions for ownership of the disputed foreign patents because it was uncertain that it had jurisdiction to grant ownership of foreign patents and because Sionyx had failed to adequately identify the foreign patents for which it was requesting ownership.

Sionyx appealed the district court’s decision to refrain from transferring the foreign patents.  The CAFC agreed with Sionyx, holding that “the evidence that established Sionyx’s right to sole ownership of the Disputed (Hamamatsu) U.S. Patents also applies to the Disputed Foreign Patents.” The decision added:

As we discussed above with respect to the Disputed (Hamamatsu) U.S. Patents, we agree that the jury’s findings compel the conclusion that those patents arose from Sionyx’s confidential information and that Hamamatsu has not shown that it contributed [its own] confidential information entitling it to joint ownership. And because the Disputed U.S. Patents claim priority from Hamamatsu’s Japanese patent applications, the Japanese applications must be for the same inventions as the Disputed U.S. Patents. See 35 U.S.C. § 119(a). Thus, Hamamatsu’s Japanese patent applications and any applications claiming priority from the Japanese applications in other countries must also have arisen from Sionyx’s confidential information.

Simply put, the CAFC found that Hamamatsu’s Japanese and U.S. patents emanated from Sionyx’s confidential information which Hamamatsu became privy to under the terms of the 2005 NDA.  According to the court, Hamamatsu itself never provided its own confidential information to Sionyx, which might have justified joint inventorship of the patent with Cary as the jury had concluded.

Abuse of Discretion Standard

Accordingly, Sionyx was entitled to sole ownership of the Japanese applications and any foreign applications claiming priority therefrom. The CAFC further explained that “it is well established that courts have authority to compel parties properly before them to transfer ownership of foreign patents, just as they would any other equitable remedy,” since such an order is “an exercise of the court’s authority over the party, not the foreign patent office in which the assignment is made.” As such, the district court abused its discretion in distinguishing between the two groups of patents.

The CAFC denied Sionyx’s motion for fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 on cross-appeal, declined to address the issue of willfulness, and affirmed the following findings by the district court: a) Hamamatsu breached the NDA; b) Sionyx is entitled to the damages and pre-judgment interest awarded by the jury, as well as post-judgment interest at the statutory rate for its breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims; c) Carey is a co-inventor of Hamamtsu’s U.S. Patents; Sionyx is entitled to an injunction prohibiting Hamamatsu from practicing its U.S. Patents for breach of the NDA; and d) Sionyx is entitled to an injunction prohibiting Hamamatsu from practicing its 467 patent.

Conclusions

The outcome may well have been different had the NDA not “directed” the ownership of all future patents emanating from Sionyx’s confidential information to Sionyx.   Furthermore, any resulting patent relying on confidential information emanating from both parties should have designated both Cary and an Hamamtsu inventor as joint inventors no matter where the patent applications were filed.  Inventorship does not, however, mean that the inventor(s) is also the owner(s) of the patent.  Generally, R&D and engineering personnel who work for companies assign any patent rights they may have over to their employer-company (e.g., Hamamtsu).  Or, where inventors establish a business entity, the inventors often assign their patent-related interests over to the company as part of their capital contribution.  (e.g., Sionyx).

As this case illustrates, an NDA can be a critical factor in determining patent (and other IP) ownership.  An NDA should be tailor-made for the particular situation at hand with particular emphasis on protecting the disclosing party which is often an individual inventor or a small start-up company.  Anticipate problems into the future since patents in particular can take several years to issue meaning that infringement lawsuits, patent ownership disputes, etc. may occur many years down the road.  It is also important that the disclosing party take steps consistent with protecting its confidential information upon early termination of the NDA or expiration by time.  For example, it is not clear why Sionyx did not insist on the return of all its confidential information when Hamamatsu indicated negotiations were over.

Take Home Points

1. Do not presume a generic NDA template will adequately protect your interests.  An NDA should reflect the parties’ particular situation and the nature of their business relationship under which confidential information may be disclosed.

2. Know and follow the procedures required of you and your company in the NDA as the Disclosing or Receiving Party.

Contact Susan at 305-279-4740 on matters related to your NDA to ensure it addresses potential scenarios consistent with the particular circumstances involving the contracting parties.   We are here to serve you and answer your questions related to intellectual property & business law in both transactional matters and litigation.  Check her reviews at AVVO.com where she has received Client’s Choice Badges for both 2019 and 2020.  She is a registered patent attorney.

WE THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG AND HOPE YOU FOUND IT INFORMATIVE.  HOWEVER, THE CONTENT IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.

 

©2021

Troy & Schwartz, LLC

Where Legal Meets Entrepreneurship™

(305) 279-4740

 

 

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