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诉讼简报:一项里程碑式判决限制了美国国际贸易委员会的权限

December 16, 2013

上周五,美国联邦巡回上诉法院就 Suprema, Inc., et al. v. International Trade Commission, Nos. 2012- 1170, 2012-1026, -1124, Slip Op. December 13, 2013 做出一项里程碑式判决,限制了美国国际贸易委员会(ITC)就间接侵权救济享有的法定权限。判决指出“如果排除令针对的产品在进口之后才发生直接侵权行为,就不得以35 U.S.C. § 271(b)项下的诱导侵权理论为前提,以违反19 U.S.C. § 1337(a) (1) (B)(i)为由发布排除令。”Slip Op. at 4(用于强调的斜体字为判词原文)。法庭的判决实际上表明:只依据诱导侵权指控提出的专利侵权索赔不属于ITC 的管辖范围。

作为行政机构的美国国际贸易委员会,其禁止非法进口产品的权限来自19 U.S.C. § 1337(常简称为“337条款”)的授权。该条授权ITC发布排除令,防止“货主、进口商或收货人将侵犯某项有效且可执行美国专利的产品进口到美国、或进行进口销售或进口后在美国境内销售....。”19 U.S.C. 1337(a) (1)(B) (用于强调的粗斜体为本文所加)。联邦巡回法庭考虑一个“从未呈递给法庭或交由法庭判决”的问题,即鉴于ITC的法定权限仅限于“侵权产品”进口,如果排除令针对的产品在进口时并没有侵权(即在产品进入美国国境之后才发生直接侵权行为),ITC是否有权依据诱导理论发布排除令阻止产品进口。

在相关的ITC调查中(某些生物识别扫描设备及其组件、相关软件和含有此类设备的产品,U.S.I.T.C. Inv. No. 337-TA-720),位于佛罗里达州的原告 Cross Match Technologies, Inc.(Cross Match)指控被告韩国公司Suprema, Inc.(Suprema)销售的生物识别(指纹)扫描仪与同案被告位于德克萨斯州普拉诺的Mentalix, Inc.(Mentalix)开发的软件结合使用时侵犯了Cross Match的指纹扫描技术’344专利。Suprema通过经销商在美国境内销售它的指纹扫描仪,例如位于德克萨斯州的Mentalix。Mentalix将扫描仪与一台通用计算机和指纹扫描软件捆绑销售给最终用户。Suprema并不向最终用户提供软件,而是提供一款允许客户和经销商自行开发扫描仪操作软件的软件开发工具包(SDK)。调查发现,Suprema 的扫描仪及其SDK(唯一真正进口的“产品”)与其他客户开发的软件结合使用时并未侵犯原告的’344专利。ITC因此认定此类产品具备实质性非侵权用途,并未诱发侵权或直接侵权。在举行听证和随后发布简报之后,ITC认定Suprema侵犯原告的344专利;相应的依据仅仅是诱导侵权,即原告指控的直接侵权在产品进口至美国以后才发生。ITC据此签发了一份有限排除令。

Suprema在上诉中还辩称ITC超越了它的法定权限,因为“诱导侵权指控不足以在进口事实与最终侵权之间建立充分的联系。”Slip Op. at 14。联邦巡回法庭采信了被告的辩解。

在针对适用诱导侵权理论的《专利法》第271(b)条的讨论中,以及联邦巡回上诉法庭的判例法解释法规中,法庭指出“诱导行为当然要先于被诱导的侵权行为,但直接侵权之前的诱导行为都不属于第217(b)条规定的完整诱导。”Slip Op. at 21。法庭判定“就侵权诱导而言,唯一涉及诱导侵权的产品是进口时直接侵权的产品。”Id. at 25。法庭据此判定“ITC无权以Suprema涉嫌诱导侵犯[Cross Match ‘344]专利中宣称的方法为由,而签发针对Suprema扫描仪的排除令。”Id.。法庭澄清了一点:法庭并不是剥夺ITC 处理“诱导者”间接侵权权限,只是此类权限只能针对“产品本身在进口时有直接侵权行为”这类情形,而不是在进口后可能直接侵权的情形 Id.。

在一份15页的判决简报中(该简报部分赞同、部分反对三位法官组成的合议庭的多数意见),雷纳(Reyna)法官对本案表示关注,担忧合议庭的多数意见会“帮助他人规避337条款的正当立法目标,即阻止涉及不公平贸易的产品入境。”雷纳法官指出,根据合议庭的多数意见,进口商可以进口侵权产品的拆卸组件,或者进口一件只利用部分专利方法的产品、而将最后一个产品部件的组装或受专利保护方法的最后一步留到产品进口到美国以后完成,以达到规避337条款的目的。雷纳法官担忧的是,如此判决将“在美国的边境大坝上凿开一道裂缝,随之而来的是有人通过它规避337条款....”。

针对雷纳法官的忧虑,多数意见书中提到“如果直接侵权行为发生在进口以前,ITC可以援引第271(a)条或第271(c)条(甚至是第271(b)条)来解决反对者担忧的几乎所有问题。”

虽然在传统上,主要是美国国内的公司通过ITC来应对外国进口商的侵权行为,但基于高技术产品制造成本高昂的现实因素,美国国内的公司现在可能因为在美国销售那些在海外制造、并进口到美国的设备而面临高昂的ITC诉讼。ITC颇受专利持有人青睐,背后的原因包括可观的ITC诉讼赔偿和ITC较短的法定审结时间。

平板电脑、计算机和智能手机之类的设备制造商,它们的一般用途产品与某些软件或应用程序结合使用时特别容易遭受侵权指控。通常情况下,只有当设备进口到美国并投入使用之后,才会出现这类被控侵权行为,例如将某个应用程序安装到智能手机或平板电脑上。法庭在Suprema案中做出的判决实际上使ITC不再是此类争议的判决场所。在此类争议中,诱发侵权指控是唯一的潜在索赔方式。

泛伟律师事务所欣喜地看到,通过诉讼部主管 Darryl M. Woo领导的庭审和上诉小组的努力、以及 Jae Won Song、Ilana Rubel、Bryan Kohm、David Lacy Kusters、Erin Simon、Lauren Whittemore和 Ravi Ranganath等小组成员的参与,本所帮助被告 Suprema, Inc.和Mentalix, Inc.赢得了这宗上诉案。​​​​​​​

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