Patent Law


Failure to Function and Trademark Law’s Outermost Bound

Lucas Daniel Cuatrecasas

Federal trademark registration helps protect the hundreds of billions of dollars of brand value that trademarks can represent. Recently, interest in the failure-to-function doctrine, which prevents registration of proposed trademarks that consumers do not perceive as marks, has surged at the appellate body of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). This Note is the first in-depth, focused critique of the TTAB’s recent failure-to-function jurisprudence. It argues that, as the TTAB currently uses it, the failure-to-function doctrine is incoherent and lacks clarity. On a more granular level, the doctrine rests on inconsistent multifactor tests whose factors the TTAB adds, subtracts, modifies, reconceptualizes, and weighs differently across cases, giving the USPTO little meaningful criteria by which to decide what marks merit registration. This inconsistency risks increasing costs for the USPTO, brands, and consumers by creating uncertainty as to what proposed trademarks the USPTO will approve. In response, this Note proposes combining failure to function with a different trademark doctrine: the doctrine of aesthetic functionality. Replacing failure to function’s unwieldy multifactor inquiries with aesthetic functionality’s narrow focus on competition promises to increase clarity and, in so doing, mitigate or avoid costs to the USPTO, brands, and consumers.

EpiPen, Patents, and Life and Death

Jacob S. Sherkow, Patricia J. Zettler

Drug pricing disputes, while significant public health concerns, are not typically immediate life or death matters. But they may be for certain emergency medicines, medicines used for potentially lethal and rapidly onset illnesses or injuries. This is especially true for emergency drug-device combination products, like Mylan’s EpiPen, for which patients can bear a significant brunt of the products’ cost. Scholarly commentary on the controversy surrounding the pricing of Mylan’s EpiPen, however, has largely elided over this relationship among combination products, emergency medicine, and patient payment, often focusing instead on classic issues of antitrust and competition. This brief Essay explores how EpiPen’s pricing capacity is a function of a peculiar intersection of emergency medicine, FDA law and policy, and patents, and suggests areas of further analysis for other drug-device emergency combination products.

Antitrust Litigation of Strategic Patent Licensing

Ryan Fackler

Antitrust and patent law exist in permanent tension, with patentholders permitted to engage in conduct that would otherwise be plainly anticompetitive. Given the over five hundred billion dollars of annual R&D investment in the United States, and given the importance of R&D for corporations’ long-term economic profits, the broad deference given in antitrust law to patentee conduct is shocking. Continuing such deference misunderstands the purpose of antitrust law and undermines the purpose of patent law. This Note focuses on one area where this tension should be resolved in favor of increased antitrust enforcement: strategic patent licensing arrangements whereby a patentee transfers a share of its monopoly profits in order to control its competitor’s R&D. Such strategic arrangements can be used in 1) a duopoly where large competitors agree to divide an existing market; and 2) a platform technology where the patent holder encourages inventions that follow on, rather than compete with, an existing patent. This Note argues that anticompetitive strategic patent licensing is currently addressable under existing antitrust doctrine. By defining a market for research and development, regulators can successfully litigate against strategic licensing without needing to extend existing antitrust doctrine. Defining a market for research and development, moreover, connects the academic push for dynamic antitrust analysis into the existing static antitrust framework, allowing courts to gain experience with dynamic analysis in a more comfortable static setting. Lastly, while this Note is broadly theoretical, this is not by choice, but a byproduct of the broad-scale secrecy surrounding patent license agreements. Accordingly, this Note calls for the FTC to use existing statutory authority to begin investigating the real-world anticompetitive uses of strategic patent licensing.

Excessive Pricing of Off-Patent Pharmaceuticals: Hatch It or Ratchet?

Jennifer L. Graber

There is growing concern over the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to set and raise drug prices as it sees fit. The price of a drug that has not been protected by a patent for decades can suddenly increase—or “ratchet”—as much as 10,000%. This Note identifies the problem of ratcheting drug prices and considers whether these abrupt changes in drug prices derive from a longstanding problem inherent in the United States’ pharmaceutical regulatory regime. It then considers the most commonly suggested mechanism for countering high drug prices—stimulating competition in the pharmaceutical market—but ultimately concludes that focusing solely on increasing competition constructs an overly simplistic view of ratcheting drug prices. In order to find an effective solution to unexpected increases in drug prices, this Note evaluates a small subset of pharmaceuticals that have recently undergone a sudden price increase and separates the ratcheting events into two categories: (1) those that occur as a result of natural deviations in the market, and (2) those that occur due to business tactics that take advantage of vulnerabilities in the drug market. It concludes that under this categorization, antitrust law may provide an effective solution specifically directed at ratcheting events of the second category— those driven by anticompetitive behavior.

Divided Infringement: Expanding the Extraterritorial Scope of Patent Law

Melissa Feeney Wasserman

Generally, in order to infringe a U.S. patent, the entire patented invention must be practiced within the United States. However, as technology evolves it is becoming harder to contain inventions within national borders. Specifically, the advancement of networking and communications technologies allows for the rapid, cost-efficient dissemination of information across countries’ borders. As a result, the number of inventions that are being practiced in multiple jurisdictions, or the practicing of divided infringement, is on the rise. Potential infringers that commit divided infringement are practicing patented inventions, escaping liability in all jurisdictions, but still reaping the rewards of the American market. Consequently, potential infringers who commit divided infringement are undercutting the incentive to innovate, the primary purpose of the patent system. To solve the problem of divided infringement, this Note proposes expanding the extraterritorial scope of U.S. patent law by adopting a substantial effects test, limited by comity concerns.

Populism and Patents

The Honorable Kimberly A. Moore

Lawyers and other commentators often remark that American courts, and American juries in particular, are prejudiced against large corporate entities. Existing empirical research attempting to confirm this suspicion is contradictory and suffers from a number of shortcomings. In this Article, Judge Moore reexamines the issue by reporting the results of research on an original dataset of over four thousand patent cases and more than one million patents. The results indicate that individuals and corporations are treated differently in jury trials of patent property rights. In jury trials of patent cases between corporations and individuals, individ-uals won 74% of the time, with corporations winning in the remaining 26% of cases. Corporations and individuals won at nearly equal rates in judge trials. Marshaling a range of other evidence, Judge Moore explains that these results are likely to understate the degree of bias.

Moreover, analysis of patent cases permits the exploration of a related phenomenon—the heroic iconization of the American inventor. Just as the injured tort victim is viewed sympathetically, the American inventor is idealized for her ingenuity, productivity, and creativity. The individual inventor puts a face on the corporate entity, humanizing or personalizing it. Hence, even corporation-versus-corporation litigation has an individual component and therefore provides an opportunity for bias to impact decisionmaking.

Intellectual Property for Market Experimentation

Michael Abramowicz, John F. Duffy

Intellectual property protects investments in the production of information, but the relevant literature has largely neglected one type of information that intellectual property might protect: information about the market success of goods and services. A first entrant into a market often cannot prevent other firms from free riding on the information its entry reveals about consumer demand and market feasibility. Despite the existence of some first-mover advantages, the incentives to be the first entrant into a market may sometimes be inefficiently low, thereby giving rise to a net first-mover disadvantage that discourages innovation. Intellectual property may counteract this inefficiency by providing market exclusivity, thus promoting earlier market entry and increasing the level of entrepreneurial activity in the economy. The goal of encouraging market experimentation helps to explain certain puzzling aspects of current intellectual property doctrine and provides a coherent basis for appreciating some of the current criticisms of intellectual property rights.


Jeanne C. Fromer

Many critics have noted that patent litigation’s institutional structure is riddled with shortcomings that lead to unjust and inefficient outcomes and decrease public faith in the legal system. This Article relies on theory and empirical data to propose that the patent litigation system can be improved by harnessing patentography—the geography of patent disputes. There are three principal concerns with patent litigation’s institutional structure: widespread forum shopping in district court patent cases, district courts’ typically poor factfinding and lawmaking in these cases, and insufficient deference by the Federal Circuit—the court hearing nearly all patent appeals—to district courts’ factual findings. Harnessing patentography by restricting venue in patent litigation to the principal place of business of one of its defendants will help repair each problem. It will clamp down on forum shopping. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it will also improve district courts’ patent decisionmaking. As industries tend to cluster stably in discrete geographic areas, my proposed rule will tend to cluster patent cases by technology in particular districts, such as software cases in the Northern District of California and pharmaceutical cases in the District of New Jersey. Clustering together large numbers of an industry’s patent cases in a limited number of district courts will develop those courts’ proficiencies in patent law and in the underlying industry-specific facts critical to sound legal determinations. Under my proposal, this clustering will occur in districts in which judges and juries already tend to have background industry knowledge, given the associated industry cluster. An empirical review of patent cases filed in district courts in 2005 confirms that harnessing patentography as I propose would intensify patent litigation clusters. Finally, improving district courts’ decisionmaking ought to encourage the Federal Circuit to defer more appropriately to district courts’ factual findings.

Secondary Considerations in Nonobviousness Analysis: The Use of Objective Indicia Following KSR v. Teleflex

Natalie A. Thomas

One of the basic requirements for patenting an invention is that the invention be
nonobvious. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. John Deere,
secondary considerations—also known as objective indicia of nonobviousness—
have been considered when determining whether an invention is nonobvious. Secondary
considerations provide tangible evidence of the economic and motivational
issues relevant to the nonobviousness of an invention. Types of secondaryconsiderations
evidence include commercial success, long-felt but unmet need, and
copying by competitors. For many years, the Federal Circuit’s teaching, suggestion,
or motivation test often eliminated the need for the court to rely on secondary considerations
in the obviousness inquiry. Due to the Federal Circuit’s stringent application
of this test, the obviousness inquiry was generally resolved by examining the
prior art.
In 2007, the Supreme Court decided KSR v. Teleflex, which endorsed a flexible
obviousness analysis and rejected the Federal Circuit’s strict application of the
teaching, suggestion, or motivation test. Following KSR, scholars predicted that
secondary-considerations evidence would provide a critical tool for patentees
seeking to demonstrate the nonobviousness of an invention. Inspired by that prediction,
this Note evaluates how secondary-considerations evidence has been utilized
in the first few years post-KSR. It finds that the Federal Circuit has continued to
impose stringent relevancy requirements on the use of secondary-considerations
evidence, and that it remains difficult for patentees to employ secondary considerations
in favor of a nonobviousness conclusion. Specifically, secondaryconsiderations
evidence has not been used with much success outside of pharmaceutical
patent cases. More often than not, the Federal Circuit has summarily dismissed
secondary-considerations evidence as insufficient in cases involving
mechanical arts patents. This Note concludes by suggesting that the Federal
Circuit’s current practice for using secondary considerations should inform proposals
by scholars for industry-specific tailoring of the patent system and patent
law’s use of secondary considerations, and that the Federal Circuit should continue
to engage with secondary-considerations evidence in order to provide more guidance
to lower courts during the post-KSR transition period.

Innovations on the Cutting Edge of Ariad: Reinventing the Written Description Requirement

Jonathan E. Barbee

For the great majority of its history, the written description requirement was an
often-ignored relic of the patent statute. As technology advanced, the written
description requirement developed teeth as a means for invalidating patent claims
during litigation. Written description doctrine reached its peak in Ariad
Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co.
, when the Federal Circuit created a significant
setback for groundbreaking innovation. Ariad demonstrated that the written
description doctrine lacked sufficient recognition of the fundamental policies and
purposes of the patent system and that this could have serious consequences for
innovation. This Note attempts to rectify the written description doctrine by
reorienting the doctrine in innovation policy. To do so, I first apply an alternative
version of the “prospect theory” of patents to conventional patent policy. Based on
this policy calculus, I then devise a reformed hypothetical innovation test that looks
outside of the “four corners” of the patent and considers the larger impact that the
written description has on the patent system. Without such doctrinal reform, the
written description doctrine of Ariad and its legacy risks undermining the incentives
that motivate inventors to undertake cutting-edge technology.