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Patent Goes Into SewerClearValue, Inc. v. Pearl River Polymers, Inc., No. 2011–1078 (Federal Circuit, Feb. 17, 2012) (Judges Prost, Schall, and Moore)

It’s no secret that patent litigations can get pretty dirty, but this one literally (and figuratively) gets into the muck. ClearValue sued Pearl River for infringing its patent for treating waste water, as well as trade secret misappropriation. This is the second time the case has gone to the Federal Circuit. The first time, the district court sanctioned ClearValue for failing to produce test results that were inconsistent with its infringement argument. The court assessed almost $3 million in sanctions against ClearValue and struck its pleadings, entering judgment for Pearl River. The Federal Circuit upheld the finding of misconduct but reduced the sanctions to attorneys’ fees and reinstated ClearValue’s complaint. (Judge Schall was on that panel as well as this one.)

This time around, ClearValue won at trial on the patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation claims. The jury also found that ClearValue’s patent was not invalid for anticipation or obviousness. The judge upheld the jury’s finding of no invalidity but reversed the trade secret misappropriation verdict.

You Teach Me Too Much

The big question here is whether a reference can teach too much. ClearValue’s patent claims a method of clarifying water with an alkalinity of less than 50 parts per million (ppm). One of the patent’s cited references, the Hassick reference, teaches clarifying water with alkalinity of less than 150 ppm, using the same method. ClearValue tried to argue that Hassick didn’t specifically describe clarifying water with lower alkalinity, and so it didn’t anticipate ClearValue’s patent.

The court didn’t buy it. Zero to 50 is part of the range in 0 to 150, and there’s nothing special about 50 ppm. A reference might be too broad to anticipate if there’s something special about the specific case that a patent claim addresses, but that doesn’t apply here.

That Hassick reference also knocked out ClearValue’s trade secret misappropriation claim. Something that’s been published can’t be a trade secret, even if a third party wrote it.

The Federal Circuit reversed the lower court with respect to invalidity and held that ClearValue’s patent is invalid as anticipated by the Hassick reference. The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that Pearl River didn’t misappropriate ClearValue’s trade secret.

You can read the case for yourself if you like.

Photo credit to Greg Hayter.