Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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8x8 provides telephone services via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Customers use a digital terminal adapter, containing 8x8’s proprietary firmware and software. Customers’ calls are switched to traditional lines and circuits when necessary; 8x8 did not pay Federal Communications Excise Tax (FCET) to the traditional carriers, based on an “exemption certificate,” (I.R.C. 4253). Consistent with its subscription plan, 8x8 collected FCET from its customers and remitted FCET to the IRS. In 2005, courts held that section 4251 did not permit the IRS to tax telephone services that billed at a fixed per-minute, non-distance-sensitive rate. The IRS ceased collecting FCET on “amounts paid for time-only service,” stated that VoIP services were non-taxable, and established a process seeking a refund of FCET that had been exacted on nontaxable services, stating stated that a “collector” can request a refund if the collector either “establishes that it repaid the amount of the tax to the person from whom the tax was collected”; or “obtains the written consent of such person to the allowance of such credit or refund.” The IRS denied 8x8’s refund claim. The Claims Court concluded that 8x8 lacked standing and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed; 8x8 did not bear the economic burden of FCET, but sought to recover costs borne by its customers, contrary to the Code. The court rejected an argument that FCET was “treated as paid” during the transfer of services to traditional carriers. View "8x8, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Sprint's patents concern voiceover-IP technology for transmitting calls over the internet, instead of through traditional telephone lines. The patents discuss the hand-off between traditional telephone lines (a “narrow-band network” or “circuit-switched network”) and a data network (a “broadband network” or “packet-switched network”), such as the internet. Both the “control patents” and the “ATM interworking patents” describe the use of a “processing system,” which receives a signal from a traditional telephone network and processes information related to the call to select the path that the call should take through the data network. In the control patents, a “communications control processor” selects the network elements and the connections for the path. In the ATM interworking patents, a “signaling processor” or a “call/connection manager” selects the virtual connections by which the call will pass through the ATM network and performs other functions, including validation, echo control, and billing. Both specifications disclose that logic for selecting a path resides in lookup-tables. The district court found the claims invalid as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112. The Federal Circuit reversed. The terms “processing system” does not prevent the claims, read in light of the specification and the prosecution history, from informing those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty. View "Cox Commc'ns, Inc. v. Sprint Commc'n Co., LP" on Justia Law

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GPNE’s patents relate to a paging system, using devices capable of both receiving messages and sending messages through a central control station, which can also receive a message from a telephone (e.g., a callback number, as in one-way pager operations) and send it to a recipient device. The specification discloses that “the invention provides a two-way paging system which operates independently from a telephone system for wireless data communication between users.” GPNE asserted infringement of claims referring to the network's devices as “nodes” and requiring that the “node” be “in a data network, the data network including a plurality of nodes,” have “at least one processor,” have “a memory providing code to the processor,” and have an “interface” that transmits and receives communication signals in a particular manner. The claims are otherwise silent as to what a “node” is. Apart from the Abstract, the specification does not refer to “node,” but refers to devices as “pagers” or “paging units.” The specification discloses that each “paging unit” includes a transmitter, a receiver, a beeper, a vibrator, an LCD display, a keyboard, and a “pager computer” which performs the processing for the device's operation. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the claims are not infringed, upholding construction of “node” as “pager with two-way data communications capability that transmits wireless data communications on a paging system that operates independently from a telephone network.” View "GPNE Corp. v. Apple, Inc." on Justia Law

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Tam, the “front man” for Asian-American rock band, The Slants, sought to register the mark THE SLANTS and attached specimens featuring the name set against Asian motifs. The examining attorney found the mark disparaging to people of Asian descent (15 U.S.C. 1052(a)) and denied registration. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed for failure to file a brief. Tam filed another application, seeking to register the mark THE SLANTS for identical services and claiming use of the mark since 2006. Attached specimens did not contain Asian motifs. The examining attorney again found the mark disparaging and declined to register it. The Board affirmed. On rehearing, en banc, the Federal Circuit vacated, finding Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act unconstitutional. The government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message, even when the government’s message-discriminatory penalty is less than a prohibition. “Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks. Words—even a single word—can be powerful. With his band name, Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.” The regulation at issue amounts to viewpoint discrimination; under strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny review, the disparagement proscription is unconstitutional, because the government has offered no legitimate interests to justify it. View "In Re:Tam" on Justia Law