Media Technology Licensing v. The Upper Deck Co., No. 2009-1022 (March 1, 2010)
Media Tech sued defendants on a patent that is generally directed to covering "a piece of a memorabilia item" attached to a trading card. Exemplary claim 1 reads:
A memorabilia card comprising a substrate in the form of a card and having an image surface,On summary judgment, the district court held that that patent was invalid for obviousness, based on
the image surface including a background image and a foreground image, and wherein the foregoing image is of a famous figure,
a piece of a memorabilia item being adhered to the card adjacent to where an image of the actual item normally would appear, and
the card including a certificate attesting to the authenticity of the item.
- a trading card with a picture of Marilyn Monroe and a diamond attached to the card (“Monroe”);
- a piece of a sheet purportedly slept on by one of the Beatles attached to a copy of a letter on Whittier Hotel stationery declaring authenticity (“Whittier”);
- a piece of fabric purportedly belonging to a Capuchin Friar named Stephen Eckert attached to paper stock including a picture of the friar (“Eckert”); and
- a greeting card fashioned to look like a novelty item that ostensibly includes a piece of jeans material belonging to James Dean (“Dean”)
The “inability to predict” argument alleges that “combin[ing] . . . trading cards with a piece of a memorabilia item . . . result[ed in] . . . consumers automatically accept[ing] as authentic a piece of otherwise unidentifiable material.” However, as Media Tech itself acknowledges, consumer acceptance comes from the credibility already associated with the 90-year old trading card industry. As such, Media Tech has not shown that the combination of memorabilia with a conventional trading card resulted, or would result, in consumers accepting authenticity.Media Tech further provided secondary objective evidence of nonobviousness including long felt but unsolved need and failure of others; initial skepticism; commercial success; unexpected results; and industry recognition.
Regarding the infinite number of identified and unpredictable solutions, the presentation and content characteristics of trading cards are not infinite. These characteristics are limited by the cards’ physical characteristics. Moreover, while presentation involves varying parameters (color, typefaces, layout, etc.) to produce distinctive products, the asserted claims are unrelated to presentation. Instead, they relate to content. Content solutions are significantly limited by the theme and physical confines of the card, and the finite number of available solutions were predictable.
Again, the majority rejected Media Tech's arguments, stating that the stated "need does not correspond to the asserted claims", and that the evidence of success in trading cards was inadequate, since"non-memorabilia trading card inserts have generated interest, and are still being used. Inserts that are still in use because they generate interest are successful - and do not demonstrate failure of others." Furthermore, the majority added "[i]in short . . . whatever success was enjoyed came from celebrity, not invention . . . [c]ommercial success . . . even if unexpected, is not part of the 'unexpected results' inquiry."
Relying on wholly irrelevant prior art and ignoring significant objective indicia of non-obviousness, this court substitutes its judgment on patentability for that of a jury. Lurking just beneath the surface of this court’s blindness to the underlying facts supporting non-obviousness is a bias against non-technical arts . . . This court . . . cannot overlook that many individuals invest vast energies, efforts, and earnings to advance these non-technical fields of human endeavor. Those investments deserve the same protection as any other advances. The incentives for improvement and the protection of invention apply as well to the creator of a new hair-extension design as to a researcher pursuing a cure for cancer. In either case, the PTO and this court are charged with assessing the invention disclosure to determine its worthiness to receive a valuable, but temporally limited, exclusive right. Because this court dismisses this case so readily, I respectfully dissent.
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[T]he record is dubious at best — particularly at this summary judgment stage — in suggesting that a person with skill in this art would even consider the four prior art references relied on by defendants, much less combine them. In that vein, this court cites primarily to defendants’ expert Scott Kelley to make the vast leap from these sketchy and different references taken in isolation. Mr. Kelly’s declaration, to my eyes, resounds with conclusory statements that lack any convincing reference to the actual record. To rely on such “expertise” without considering the countervailing factual evidence on record contravenes the role of a court at the summary judgment stage and gives accused infringers a free pass to avoid a jury’s judgment on the facts — in a sense, a get-out-of-jail-free card (no pun intended).
Plaintiff also proffered an expert, Henry Taylor, with credentials similar to those of Mr. Kelly but with opposite conclusions on obviousness. Why, on summary judgment, would this court give Mr. Kelly’s opinions more weight than those of Mr. Taylor? Is this an indication that this court views this field of art and this invention as unworthy of the full processes of the law?
In addition, this court’s analysis about the finite number of solutions in the art is unconvincing. Under this rationale, no party could receive a patent in the trading card industry because the solutions are “limited by the cards’ physical characteristics,” “theme,” and “physical confines.” In fact, as noted above, the trading card industry heralded this invention. Thus, the industry that best evaluates advances in its own field seems to question this court’s summary conclusion.