Today, a divided three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit (Prost, O’Malley concurring and Newman dissenting) ruled that the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) authority to provide remedies for unfair acts involving importation of “articles” does not extend to electronic transmission of digital data into the United States. In addition to its impact on the ITC’s jurisdiction over certain patent infringement matters, this case provides insight into administrative law that may be worth reading for those interested in that issue. We will not go into that lengthy analysis here, but do provide below a summary of the infringement at issue. Given the division among the three-judge panel and impact of this decision on the scope of the ITC’s jurisdiction and emerging technologies (e.g., transmission of digital files used to print 3D models), this decision may be subject to requests for en banc review by the entire Federal Circuit or Supreme Court review.
The patents and infringement at issue concern using different stages of teeth aligners that are progressively swapped out over time to slowly transition a patient’s teeth from an initial (e.g., crooked) position into a final (e.g., straightened) position. ClearCorrect US (located in the U.S.) would take measurements of the patient’s initial teeth positions and transmit that data to ClearCorrect Pakistan (located in Pakistan). That Pakistani entity would generate digital models of intermediate positions of the teeth, each intermediate position corresponding to an aligner to be made in the progressive process of moving the teeth from an initial position to a final position. The Pakistani entity electronically transmits those digital models back to the U.S. entity, which uses those digital models to 3D print each of the physical aligners to be used by the patient.
The patent owner argued that the Pakistani entity contributed to infringement of the patents by electronically transmitting the digital models of the different teeth aligners into the U.S.:
Here, the accused “articles” are the transmission of the “digital models, digital data and treatment plans, expressed as digital data sets, which are virtual three-dimensional models of the desired positions of the patients’ teeth at various stages of orthodontic treatment” (“digital models”) from Pakistan to the United States.
The full Commission reviewed the ALJ’s decision and held that (1) the U.S. entity’s direct infringement was solely in the United States and, thus, was not a 337 importation violation within the ITC’s jurisdiction, but (2) the Pakistani entity contributorily infringed the patents by transmitting the digital models into the United States and such infringement was a 337 violation within the ITC’s jurisdiction to grant exclsionary relief.
As discussed, on appeal, the panel majority held that the electronic transmission of digital data into the United States is not an “article” of importation into the United States within the remedial authority of the ITC. The panel majority stated that Congress is in the best position to determine whether the term “article” should be extended to cover these circumstances.