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August 15, 2012

Froth

The waste that typifies the U.S. patent system continues unabated. As this blog regularly documents, observations by parties entrenched in the processes reveal a badly broken system, chockablock with incompetence at the USPTO and corruption in the courts. Today's insight comes courtesy of CAFC Judge Dyk. In Meyer v. Bodum, over milk frothing patents, Meyer managed to obtain the favoritism of the district court judge (a common occurrence, as many Federal district court judges are logically challenged, to put it mildly, and rule by bias, as emotions readily sway the weak-minded), thus prohibiting Bodum from espousing its invalidity defense. A $50,000 infringement payout was capriciously topped off by the judge with enhanced damages and attorneys fees. On to appeal, where a very different froth was featured.

Meyer v. Bodum (CAFC 2011-1329) precedential; Judges Dyk (concurrance), Moore and O'Malley (author)

The CAFC reversed the district court's infringement finding. The claim construction was bunged up by the attorneys involved (both sides) and the district court. The CAFC found the district court judge (Milton I. Shadur, Northern Illinois) to have abused his discretion in precluding Bodum from presenting its obviousness defense. Other abuses by the district court judge were pitched as well.

The bottom line was to "vacate and remand for a new trial to address whether the asserted claims are invalid as obvious." In concurrence, Judge Dyk put his finger on those scales.

While I agree with and join the thorough majority opinion, in looking at this case from a broader perspective, one cannot help but conclude that this case is an example of what is wrong with our patent system. The patents essentially claim the use of a prior art French press coffee maker to froth milk. Instead of making coffee by using the plunger to separate coffee from coffee grounds, the plunger is depressed to froth milk. The idea of frothing cold milk by the use of aeration rather than steam is not new as reflected in the prior art Ghidini patent. Under the Supreme Court's decision in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 420 (2007), and its predecessors, it would be reasonable to expect that the claims would have been rejected as obvious by the examiner, and, if not, that they would have been found obvious on summary judgment by the district court. But no such thing. The parties have spent hundreds of thousand of dollars and several years litigating this issue, and are invited by us to have another go of it in a second trial. Such wasteful litigation does not serve the interests of the inventorship community, nor does it fulfill the purposes of the patent system.

Posted by Patent Hawk at August 15, 2012 2:27 PM | Case Law