A Federal Circuit panel ruled that the International Trade Commission (ITC) lacks the legal authority to block the import into the United States of digital files that infringe US intellectual property rights.

ClearCorrect Operating, LLC makes orthodontic aligners. According to the court’s decision,

One intermediate tooth position is created for each incremental aligner. ClearCorrect Pakistan then transmits these digital models electronically to ClearCorrect US. ClearCorrect US subsequently 3D prints these digital models into physical models. Then an aligner is manufactured by thermoplastic molding using the physical model.

Patent Infringement Claims

Align Technology, Inc. alleged that ClearCorrect infringed various claims of seven of its patents.

According to the court’s decision,

The Tariff Act of 1930 provides the International Trade Commission… with authority to remedy only those unfair acts that involve the importation of “articles” as described in 19 U.S.C. § 1337(a). … Here, the accused “articles” are the transmission of the “digital models, digital data and treatment plans, expressed as digital data sets…

The ITC concluded that “articles” “should be construed to include electronic transmission of digital data… .”


The court disagreed and ruled that the ITC’s “decision to expand the scope of its jurisdiction to include electronic transmissions of digital data” was contrary to Congressional intent and that “articles” means “material things”:

We recognize, of course, that electronic transmissions have some physical properties—for example an electron’s invariant mass is a known quantity—but commonsense dictates that there is a fundamental difference between electronic transmissions and “material things.”

The case is ClearCorrect Operating LLC et al. v. International Trade Commission.


The decision applies to claims of copyright infringement as well as patent infringement. Although the transmission of a digital work – such as a pirated song or movie – cannot be blocked by the ITC, a US rights-holder still has other federal court remedies against infringement.

About Us

Leech Tishman’s Intellectual Property Group is based in Pasadena, California with a team of highly-regarded legal professionals with prosecution and litigation expertise in the fields of patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secrets.

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Photo Attribution: “Invisalign aligner” by Smikey Io – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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