Electric Transmissions Are Not Within USITC's Jurisdiction, Court Rules

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. Federal Circuit's decision in ClearCorrect v. ITC and AlignTech has the potential be one of year's most important copyright / intellectual property cases, significantly outlining the boundaries of what the agency can and cannot oversee.

In the case, the court overturned the U.S. International Trade Commission's determination that "articles" includes electronic data that infringes on a U.S. patent.

3D Printed Dentures

The case of ClearCorrect involves our favorite newfangled culprit, 3D printers. In the facts of the case, defendants used scanners to make electronic three-dimensional models of patients' dental architecture and sent the scan electronically over to Pakistan where dentures were fashioned on a computer. once completed, the customized blueprints were then sent back electronically, where a 3D printed model was physically made to each patient.

Lawsuit Time

Align brought suit and alleged violations of several patents including, most importantly, Patent no. 6,217,325, a patent covering the procedure for "incrementally moving teeth."

The relevant statute here is 19 U.S.C. § 1337(a)(1)(B). It provides the USITC with authority to take action against the "importation ... of articles that (i) infringe a valid and enforceable U.S. patent." The only importation here was the set of digital 3D blueprints, but the USITC found that a digital blueprint counts as an article, thus falling within the ambit of USITC authority.


In the end, the Federal Circuit found that the ITC had overstepped its carefully delineated boundaries. Judge Prost stated that the circuit courts typically defer to the USITC -- but only in cases of clear ambiguity. Here, he said, it is clear that the USITC has jurisdiction only over "material things" and such things do not include electrons of "invariant mass." Judge O'Malley agreed with the decision, but based on the rationale that the ITC does not have jurisdiction over the Internet.

The case has the potential, as stated above, of significantly expanding or curtailing the ability of U.S. Patent holders to sue overseas infringers because the USITC rules are structured in such a way as to target overseas offenders.

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