Oil States Amicus Briefs Seek to Stabilize IPR Constitutional Footing

by Dennis Crouch

The final group of amicus briefs were filed this past week in Oil States v. Greene’s Energy — This round supporting the Government’s position that Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings are consistent with the US Constitution.

As per usual, the briefs are largely divisible into two categories: (1) direct merits arguments focusing on congressional power to enact the IPR regime; and (2) policy briefs arguing that IPRs do important work.  I’ll note here that the focus of the policy briefs is on efficient and timely adjudication. I have not seen any of the briefs so far that recognize the third reality – that the PTAB is invaliding patents that would have been upheld by a court.  For some reason amicus consider it appropriate to identify court failures in efficiency but not to identify failures in the substantive decisionmaking.  The closest on-point is likely Apple’s Brief which promotes the “well-informed and correct” outcomes of the PTAB. 16-712bsacAppleInc.

Overall, the collection of briefs here is quite strong. The most compelling brief in my view is that filed by the well-known team of Duffy and Dabney on behalf of several groups, including the Internet Association. They write:

No decision by this Court has ever held unconstitutional a system of adjudication by an Executive Branch agency on the grounds that the system violates Article III or the Seventh Amendment. This case should not be the first.

Patents are a type of public franchise that Congress has subjected to Executive Branch determination since the founding of the Republic. …

Petitioner and its amici draw inapt comparisons between patent rights and fee simple grants in physical land, but even if patent rights could be analogized to land, the most appropriate analogy would be to leases in public lands, which are subject to administrative revocation. Like leases, patent rights are limited in time, subject to periodic payments to maintain the rights, revert to the public upon expiration, and have the attributes of personal property. Indeed, Petitioner and its amici rely on the statement in 35 U.S.C. § 261 conferring on patents the “attributes of personal property,” but if anything, that statute undermines Petitioner’s case because it strengthens the analogy between patents and leases.

16-712 bsac The Internet Association et al.

A second key brief in the set was filed by a group of law professors led by Professors Lemley (Stanford); Reilly (Kent); and Rai (Duke).  The group makes the argument that – as a creature of congressional statute rather than common or natural law – congress also has the full power to establish a system for revocation. 16-712, BSAC 72 Professors of Intellectual Property Law.  The idea behind these statements is to step around the Supreme Court’s Stern decision that expresses “skepticism about Congressional efforts to withdraw from Article III courts ‘any matter which, from its nature, is the subject of a suit at the common law, or in equity, or admiralty’ or ‘is made of the stuff of the traditional actions at common law tried by the courts at Westminster in 1789.'”  The law professor’s interpretation of these cases though is that rights whose source is statute (rather than common or natural law) can largely be further determined by Congress.  This argument skirts around prior discussions that have focused on the reality that patent cases were “law tried by the courts at Westminster in 1789.”

Adding to these legal and historical arguments is the second law professor brief – an interesting and important brief written by Professors Golden (Texas) and Lee (Fordham). 16-712 bsac Professors of Administrative Law.  An important contribution of the brief is the recognition that congress’s failure to immediately create an IPR regime back in 1779 should not be seen as preventing action today:

[At that time] Trial courts were better suited to fact-finding and evidence-taking regarding prior art than Congress or Cabinet officers. And like Britain’s Privy Council, which exercised its summary revocation power as late as 1779 and retained but did not exercise that power in the nineteenth century, Congress and Cabinet officers had other pressing responsibilities.

Golden’s Brief also side-steps the public rights debate – arguing that “any lingering concerns about encroachment on Article III judicial power are answered by the existence of a right to an appeal to the Federal Circuit that is de novo on questions of law and meaningful on questions of fact.”  See also, Prof. Hollaar, noting that the question presented is “misleading in important respects, including the inaccurate suggestion that Article III courts do not provide substantial oversight in inter partes reviews.”  16-712 bsac Professor Lee A. Hollaar; and from Intel, et al.: “At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, there was no established rule that only courts could invalidate patents.”  16-712bsacIntel.

Still, Golden and others argue that invalidating patents is a public rights question – and thus easily within Congressional power to control through administrative action.  On this point, however, the Auto Makers group (including BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Toyota, VW, Volvo, and others), argue that this case is not an appropriate case for revisiting the public-rights doctrine — a project that would have significant and wide-ranging impact on administrative law in general. 16-712bsacAllianceofAutoMfrs.

Public Knowledge and EFF came together to file their brief with a serious pursuit of historical issues worth reading:

Pre-ratification practices in England, the colonies, and the early states consistently treat patents as a privilege granted as a matter of sovereign discretion, with the objective in granting patents being not merely to reward inventors but also to induce economic productivity to the benefit of the state and the public. And as matters of sovereign discretion, the patents of England, the colonies, and the states included conditions intended to advance economic and public interests—including, in many cases, conditions for automatic, non-judicial revocation.

EFF brief-oil-states.  Following this approach (although without the same historical research). Arris group and others argue that patent rights should not be considered Blackstonian Property.  16-712bsacArrisGroupEtc_.   Finally, on the history angle, the Dell & Facebook brief argues that the Privy Council, rather than Scire Facias,  revocation is “the closest historical analogue” to the IPR system. 16-712 bsac Dell.

Many of the briefs IPRs should be seen as the patent office correcting its own mistakes. See, GE’s brief, for example, 16-712 bsac General Electric Company; also, 16-712 bsac BSA The Software Alliance; 16-712 bsac Unified Patents Inc.; and 16-712 bsac SAP America, Inc., et al. Although not seriously questioned here, a the banking group Askeladden addes to the argument that IPR procedures are good enough to ‘statisfy the standards for the adjudication of public rights in non-Article III forums.” 16-712bsacAskeladdenLLC

On the policy side, AARP is seeking lower health-care prices for its members and has generally sided with policies that increase competition and decrease the power of patent rights. In its brief, AARP argues that IPRs are an effective tool for this goal. 16-712 bsac AARP.  I-MAK makes a parallel argument in its brief. 16-712 bsac I-MAK (“Unmerited secondary patents stifle generic competition and inflate drug prices.”). See also, 16-712bsacAAM; and  16-712 bsac America’s Health Insurance Plans;  16-712 bsac Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc_ (“Mylan’s experiences with inter partes review highlight the pro-competitive nature of inter partes review.”). As simply middle-men in the world of commerce, the Retail Association argues that its members likewise need this somewhat more efficient mechanism for eliminating low-quality asserted patents. 16-712 bsac Retail Litigation Center16-712 bsac Volkwagen Group of America, Inc. (“IPR proceedings has been successful in providing a low-cost but accurate process for adjudicating patent validity.).  Adding on here, TSMC argues that IPR provide an important outlet for manufacturers to protect their stream of commerce in cases where declaratory judgment jurisdiction does not exist. 16-712bsacTaiwanSemiconductorManufacturingCo.

Following these policy arguments, the not-for-profit org KEI particularly explains how the top-side briefs incorrectly argue that the IPR system harms national innovation and wealth.  KEI’s point is irrefutable – allowing enforcement of no-invention patents doesn’t help anyone.  brief-oil-states KEI_amicus_Oil_States.

Overall, this is a powerful group of briefs that leave me believing that – in the end – the Supreme Court will leave the IPR regime in place and in power.

Cert Denied in Oil States Follow-On Cases

Until today, a host of patent cases have been pending before the Supreme Court — hanging onto the coattails of Oil States. Following full affirmance of the IPR regime, the Supreme Court has now denied certiorari in those cases.  The one additional case that was ripe-for-certiorari in the most recent Conference is PNC Bank National Association  v. Secure Axcess, LLC, No. 17-350.  The court issued no order in that case — suggesting that it may be up for further consideration.  In PNC, the substantive question is “whether . . . CBM review requires that the claims of the patent expressly include a ‘financial activity element?'”

CBM Review Keeps its Narrow Scope: Narrowly Surviving En Banc Challenge

As far as I know, all of the Oil States follow-on cases denied today involved a patent whose claims had been cancelled by the PTAB.  In those cases, all appeals have now seemingly been exhausted.

Cases where Certiorari was Denied:   (more…)

Oil States: Engaging with History, Private Property, and the Privy Council

I invited Prof. Dmitry Karshtedt to provide this discussion of today’s oral arguments in Oil States. Note, Prof. Karshtedt  filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the petitioner.  Read the transcript here. – DC

By Prof. Dmitry Karshtedt

This morning’s argument in Oil States v. Greene’s Energy saw a highly engaged bench. The wide-ranging argument covered everything from the expected topics of the public-private right divide and the significance of the Privy Council’s adjudications of patent rights to perhaps more surprising angles involving government takings and even disputes between travelers and airlines over lost bags.

Some of the main themes of the argument:

  • Does the PTAB in the IPR exercise judicial power at all?
  • How, if at all, are IPRs are different from reexams?
  • What about the patentees’ settled expectations? Do they justify some form of heightened judicial review before an issued patent in existence for some time can be taken away?
  • Are Due Process issues fundamentally tied to the Article III question raised in this case, or should “power” and “process” be distinguished?
  • Can the PTAB adjudicate infringement?
  • Do Federal Circuit appeals represent constitutionally adequate Article III supervision of the PTAB?

Allyson Ho, Oil States’ counsel, lead with the argument that Inter Partes Reviews (IPRs) embody an unconstitutional transfer of judicial power to decide claims of private right between private parties without party consent or adequate Article III supervision. Justice Ginsburg asked almost immediately whether IPRs merely allow for correction of the PTO’s own errors. Ms. Ho then made an important strategic decision in conceding that, while ex parte and inter partes reexams (though a closer case) present permissible, examination-like error-correcting proceedings, IPRs differ from those earlier mechanisms because they more closely resemble an adjudication of a private-party dispute in which the PTO acts as an arbiter. Justice Kagan and Chief Justice Roberts questioned whether there is really a salient difference between IPRs and reexaminations, as the latter too allow for a process by which a third party informs the PTO that particular prior art may render an issued patent unpatentable after all. Ms. Ho, in response, stressed the high degree of third party involvement and the trial-like nature of the proceedings. In addition, she argued that in case of settlement, the PTAB generally does not complete the IPR.

The argument then moved toward the role of Congress in creating the patent right. Surely, suggested Justice Kennedy, Congress can validly limit the patent term and perhaps even shorten the patent term after issuance, so why not IPR? The response appeared to be that a grant of a patent cannot be conditioned on giving up structural rights, harkening to the discussion of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine in the petitioner’s reply brief. Even though Congress can create rights, there is a constitutional limits on how those rights can be restricted. The Chief Justice then mentioned the law of takings, suggesting that the government can take actions that devalue the right, with the Fifth Amendment sometimes entitling the aggrieved rights-holder to compensation.

The discussion then moved on to topics that have been particularly well-aired in party and amicus briefs. First, Justice Ginsburg continued to press the error correction point, pointing out that IPRs are relatively narrow in scope in that only issues of novelty and non-obviousness with specific types of prior art can be resolved in those proceedings. Ms. Ho responded that, be that as it may, 80% of IPRs also involve concurrent district court litigation, with infringement actions getting dismissed when PTAB invalidates the patent at issue. Second, Justice Gorsuch brought up the McCormick Harvesting case and its possible constitutional basis, a point which Ms. Ho embraced, but Justice Kagan then suggested that McCormick, rather, was resolved on statutory grounds. There was no further discussion of McCormick.

Ms. Ho then returned to the line between IPRs and reexams, and the earlier point that the former are really about deciding a cause between parties in a trial-like proceeding. Justice Breyer, at this point, suggested that, even if this were so, non-Article III tribunals do this all the time anyhow, as when resolving disputes between travelers and airlines over lost luggage. In addition, Justice Breyer suggested, doesn’t the Patent Act’s phrase “subject to the provisions of this title” puts patentees on notice that post-issuance non-Article III patentability determinations are possible? A point was repeated that IPRs are about an agency figuring out whether it made a mistake, with third party-input, as frequently happens in many administrative proceeding.  Moreover, Ms. Ho was questioned as to how much third-party participation is needed to make a process unconstitutional. She returned to the idea of significant third party-control.

Justice Gorsuch then brought up the point that, if patents are private rights, no non-Article III adjudication of any sort is permissible. A question then arose whether analysis would change if the IPRs existed since 1790, the year that the first Patent Act was passed, and the discussion then moved to the Privy Council. Justice Kagan observed that the role of the Privy Council in adjudging patentability over time waned but was not eliminated. Before reserving time for rebuttal, Ms. Ho made the point that the patent laws were closely intertwined with the common law from the time of the Statute of Monopolies.

Mr. Christopher Kise, arguing for Greene’s Energy, argued that IPRs simply reexamine the propriety of the original patent grant, which is not a judicial function. The action is not to extinguish the patent but simply to decide that it should not issue. In addition, argued Mr. Kise, even if the Court had to get to the public-private right distinction, it should readily conclude that patents are public rights that can be adjudicated outside Article III tribunals. At this point, an interesting question came from Justice Breyer – what about settled expectations of the patentee after some time from issuance goes by? What about investments and reliance interests? The implication seemed to be that, while of course patents can always be invalidated by courts, perhaps heightened judicial review is needed to take patents away after some time in their existence.

The Chief Justice then raised the point of Due Process and PTAB panel-stacking, and whether Congress’ power to take away patents can allow patent validity to become a pure policy tool of the executive branch. Mr. Kise contended that Due Process problems, if any, should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Justice Sotomayor brought up the point of judicial review of PTAB determinations at the Federal Circuit, to which Justice Gorsuch responded that the PTAB is not an adjunct of the district courts and can issue self-executing judgments. He also brought up the issue of vested rights in land grands. To that, Mr. Kise responded that land is core property interest in the way that patents are not, because the latter depend on the federal statute and exist for an instrumental purpose of promoting the progress of useful arts. He also contended that process issues should be separated from power issues.

As Malcolm Stewart began arguing for the government, the Chief Justice framed the point of “bitter versus the sweet” – whether the government can condition the grant of a patent on anything it likes, including stacking of the deck in PTAB proceedings. Mr. Stewart responded that, even if there were a Due Process problem, Due Process does not require Article III, as public employee tenure protection cases show. He also mentioned that expanded panels are not unlike en banc panels in the federal circuit courts, and exist principally to correct panels that diverged from precedents. Justice Breyer then brought up the issue that the IPR statute is applied retroactively to the patent at issue in this case. Mr. Stewart’s response was that patents could be reexamined since 1980 and could be invalidated in certain proceedings before then, and they could always be invalidated by courts.

Returning to the public-private rights debate, Chief Justice Roberts discussed the Schor test and whether the multi-factor analysis of Schor is conducive to investment backed-expectations. Mr. Stewart contended that, whatever the test, PTAB adjudicates private rights because liability for past money damages are not involved. The question then came up whether the PTAB can adjudicate infringement, to which Mr. Stewart responded that probably not because money damages are involved. Justice Gorsuch then asked whether the PTAB can perhaps declare non-infringement, to which Mr. Stewart responded that there is no tradition of the PTO’s making that determination. Justice Gorsuch asked about the PTO’s tradition of cancelling patents, and Mr. Stewart’s response was that the issue is really about deciding patentability, which the PTO has been doing since 1836.

In rebuttal, Ms. Ho reiterated her point that Congress cannot condition a grant of a patent on taking away litigants’ structural rights and reinforced the point that appeals are not a sufficient form of Article III supervision. She ended with the point that, again, IPRs resolve disputes between two private parties.

Oil States: Trump Admin Supports AIA Trial Proceedings

Oil States v. Greene’s Energy (Supreme Court 2017).

After receiving party briefs in this case, the Supreme Court requested a responsive brief from the Michelle Lee in her role as PTO Director on the constitutionality of the AIA trial system.  That brief has now been filed by the new acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall who handled a number of patent cases in private practice.  Despite the regime change, the SG’s office continues to strongly support the AIA Trial system and the brief argues strongly that patents are public rights that may be subject to administrativ review:

Patents are quintessential public rights. Pursuant to its constitutional authority to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by establishing a patent system, U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, Cl. 8, Congress created the USPTO, an agency with “special expertise in evaluating patent applications.” Kappos v. Hyatt, 566 U.S. 431, 445 (2012). Congress directed that agency to issue a patent if “it appears that the applicant is entitled to a patent” under standards set by federal law, 35 U.S.C. 131. Patents accordingly confer rights that “exist only by virtue of statute.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Stiffel Co., 376 U.S. 225, 229 n.5 (1964). . . . Petitioner’s constitutional arguments do not warrant this Court’s review.

[Read the Brief: 16-712_oil_states_energy_servs._llc_opp]  The Supreme Court has already denied certiorari in three prior constitutional challenges to the AIA trial mechanisms. MCM Portfolio v. Hewlett-Packard; Cooper v. Lee; and Cooper v. Square.  If Oil States is denied here, there are also several more cases waiting in the wings to raise the challenge again.

Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group

Oil States and SAS are out

By Jason Rantanen

Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group: Inter partes review does not violate Article III or the 7th Amendment.  Patents are public rights for purposes of this question.  This holding is a self-proclaimed narrow one that “should not be misconstrued as suggesting that patents are not property for the purposes of the Due Process Clause or Takings Clause.” Thomas for the majority; Breyer with a concurring opinion (joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor), Gorsuch dissenting (joined by Roberts).  Opinion here: Oil States v. Greene’s Energy

SAS Institute v. Iancu: When the USPTO institutes an inter partes review, it must decide the patentability of all of the claims the petitioner challenged, based on the plain text of § 318(a).  Gorsuch for the majority; Ginsburg dissenting (joined by Bryer, Sotomayor, and Kagan); Breyer dissenting (joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, and Kagan in part).  Opinion here: SAS v. Iancu

Off to teach Administrative Law, so more to come later.

Update: Prof. Tom Cotter has a longer summary on his Comparative Patent Remedies blog: http://comparativepatentremedies.blogspot.com/2018/04/us-supreme-court-upholds-inter-partes.html



Oil States Transcript

Oil States Transcript.  Commentary to follow.

Interesting quotes:

Justice Sotomayor: If I own something, which is what your basic position, I understand, is, that this is a personal right, how can a government agency take that right away without due process of law at all? Isn’t that the whole idea of Article III, that only a court can adjudicate that issue?

JUSTICE GORSUCH: [W]e have a number of cases that have arguably addressed this issue already, like McCormick, for example, in which this Court said the only authority competent to set a patent aside or to annul it or to correct it for any reason whatever is vested in the courts of the United States.

Oil States and SAS arguments set for November 27

Oral arguments for both Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, No. 16-712 and SAS Institute Inc. v. Matal, No. 16-969, have been set for November 27, 2017.

Oil States challenges the AIA trial system at its most fundamental level — arguing that the Constitutional principles prohibits an administrative agency such as the USPTO from cancelling established property rights, such as those embodied by issued patents.

In SAS, the focus is on a narrow but important element of IPRs – whether the Board is “required to issue a final written decision as to every claim challenged by the petitioner.”  SAS is the IPR petitioner who challenged the claims of U.S. Patent No. 7,110,936 owned by ComplementSoft.  USPTO is also a respondent in the case (Matal) and is being represented by the US Solicitor General.

Both cases involve two private parties (patentee and challenger) as well as the government (USPTO) who intervened on appeal to support the PTAB’s decision-making.  In SAS, the PTO denied patentee ComplementSoft’s motion for divided arguments and at this point it is unclear to which Respondent will get to argue before the court.


More Oil States History: First US Patent Case was a Revocation Proceeding

Prof. Christopher Beauchamp has added further to the historical analysis relevant to the question of whether it the AIA-trials – trial-like administrative patent revocations – are Constitutionally proper.  That question juxtaposes contemporary expansive administrative law against the Constitutional notion that “judicial power [rather than administrative power] shall extend to all cases” and the requirement that the 1791 right to a Jury Trial be preserved.  Although a law professor, Beachamp is also a legal historian (Ph.D. in History from Cambridge University) and his his legal publications center on questions of legal history.

Beauchamp’s newest essay focuses on the first known patent case in U.S. history.  Beauchamp writes:

The first known patent case in the United States courts did not enforce a patent. Instead, it sought to repeal one.

After reviewing a set of previously uncited archived decisions, Beauchamp concludes that

These sources suggest that the early statutory provisions for repealing patents were more widely used and more broadly construed than has hitherto been realized. They also show that some U.S. courts in the early Republic repealed patents in a summary process without a jury, until the Supreme Court halted the practice.

One of Beauchamp’s most interesting conclusions here is that the early (i.e., pre-Bill-of-Rights) revocation proceedings should probably be seen as creating a break from prior English tradition.  Thus, for patent revocation, the focus should be on the jury right as contemplated by the repeal process found in Section 5 of the 1790 Patent Act, which allowed for any member of the public to seek cancellation. Unfortunately for clear resolution of the Oil States question, the original Patent Act is ambiguous as to whether the repeal should be tied to a jury trial.

There is much more to learn from this short (34 page) paper. [Download Here]



Oil States: Government Explains Its Position – A Patent is not Property but Merely a Limited Franchise

Responsive merits briefs have been filed in Oil States v. Greene’s Energy:

The Government presents the question as follows:

Whether inter partes review comports with Article III and the Seventh Amendment.

Rather than seeing a patent right as property, the Government brief identifies patents as simply “revocable privileges” or “governmentally-conferred franchises” whose creation are not associated with any natural right of an inventor but instead are simply tools of public policy designed to “benefit the public by providing an incentive to innovate.”

For the government and patent challengers, it is important to distinguish patents on inventions from traditional “land patents” since those may not be revoked administratively.  According to the government, the distinguishing point is that the government previously owned title to land, but patent rights are a government creation:

The government in issuing a patent [for invention] does not (as with a land patent) convey title to something it previously owned, but instead grants a limited franchise whose scope and contours are wholly defined by the government itself.

Regarding the 7th Amendment challenge – the Government writes that the 7th amendment right does not apply to situations where resolution of a conflict is properly assigned to an administrative (non-Article-III) resolution.

As Greene’s Energy writes – and all parties appear to agree: “The nature of U.S. patent rights … is at the core of the constitutional question before the Court.”    What I think may be the decisive is buried in Greene’s FN4: “At the very least, patents are quasi-private rights, that is, ‘statutory entitlements * * * bestowed by the government on individuals.'”  quoting B & B Hardware v. Hargis Indus., 135 S. Ct. 1293 (2015) (Thomas concurring in trademark context).

= = = =

I’ll note here that to make its policy-case that there are too many patent applications for the PTO to properly handle, the Government perpetuated the USPTO’s false statement that “In 2015, the USPTO received more than 600,000 applications—more than three times as many as it had received two decades earlier.”  That statement includes 273,000 192,000 requests for continued examination (RCEs) as “applications.”

Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group

The Supreme Court has asked for the USPTO’s input on whether it should hear the pending dispute Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group (Supreme Court 2017).  The case again raises constitutional questions as to the power of an executive agency (the USPTO) to cancel issued patent rights. [petition][opposition][reply]

Questions presented:

1. Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.

2. Whether the amendment process implemented by the PTO in interpartes review conflicts with this Court’s decision in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016), and congressional direction.

3. Whether the “broadest reasonable interpretation” of patent claims–upheld in Cuozzo for use in inter partes review–requires the application of traditional claim construction principles, including disclaimer by disparagement of prior art and reading claims in light of the patent’s specification.

The request for the USPTO’s input in the case is not, however as amicus but instead as respondent.  In December, the USPTO waived its right to respond to the action.  USPTO’s brief is due March 29, 2017.

So far, no amicus briefs have been filed in the case and the deadline had been long past to support petitioner.  However, the Supreme Court’s new request for response from the PTO resets the timeline. Under Supreme Court rules, briefs in support of petitioner (or neither party) can be filed within 30 days from the February 27, 2017 request.

The Patent at issue in the case is U.S. Patent No. 6,179,053 that covers a lockdown mechanism for well tools.

Oil States Briefing: The Chancery-at-Law

JuryOfPeeersRecurring Patently-O contributor Ned Heller has filed his brief in support of petitioners in the Oil States case. Heller represented MCM v. HP in its parallel bid for consideration of the Article III issues.  [16-712 tsac Brief][Filed on behalf of Alliacence where Heller is Counsel]

The basic argument is historic — Inventors had a right to a trial by jury prior to 1791; those rights were guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment of the US Constitution; and Congress cannot now eliminate those established rights.

Heller reflects upon the remedy of scire facias that was at times commenced in the Chancery court.  As the law historians brief reflects, in this particular, the Chancery action operated as a common law court (rather than a court of equity) — “the Chancellor at all times was acting with his ordinary, common law powers, not his extraordinary, equitable powers.”  Thus, a scire facias action is also subject to the right of Jury Trial.

Because Inter Partes Review is effectively scire facias, it is improper without a jury trial.

[IPR] provides the same remedy, revocation, and the same grounds, invalidity as do scire facias, albeit, limited only to the claims challenged. Both are contested proceedings. Both begin with a petition by an interested party to the government. The common law proceeding was pursued in the name of the King, but the real party in interest was the petitioner who had to post a very large bond to pay the attorney’s fees of the patent owner.

Because IPR does not provide a jury trial, the statute authorizing IPR is unconstitutional.

Heller’s brief delves into the “public rights” debate and argues that argument is a red herring.  Regardless of the statutory basis of patent rights, a contested revocation proceeding has a right to a jury trial because it had such a right at common law in England in 1791.

Heller does offers an upper-cut to the Government’s argument at the petition stage:

Because they were filed in Chancery, the government has argued that the actions were equitable (apparently not even knowing that Chancery had a law side) thereby providing no basis for a Seventh Amendment right.

The law historians brief along with Heller’s brief here begin to nail down this historical point. “[E]quity could not and did not revoke patents for invalidity since an adequate remedy at law was available.”


Regarding the privy council’s ability to cancel patents without jury trial. Heller argues that longstanding political battle between the king and courts effectively ended in the 1750’s – in favor of a common law courts. However, in 1779, the Privy Council did cancel one last patent – this one on National Security grounds. (England needed the patented cannons to conduct war against the American colonies).

More amicus briefs in this important case are expected this week.

= = = = =

A key point in the briefs so far is that IPR is substantially parallel to litigation.  However, in the very recent Cuozzo decision, the Supreme Court held that in “significant respects, inter partes review is less like a judicial proceeding and more like a specialized agency proceeding.”  An upcoming amicus would do well to address this point.

Oil States Briefing: Linking AIA Trials to Reexaminations

Amici briefs supporting AIA Trials and Inter Partes Review are beginning to be filed.   The first brief in is filed by John Vandenberg’s team at Klarquist representing SAP, Gilead, Nautilus, and others.  The Brief presents a reexamination linkage and slippery-slope argument in two forms: (1) killing inter partes review will also kill reexaminations; and (2) pre-AIA patentees ‘consented’ to reexamination and that should be seen as consent to inter partes review.

Vandenberg writes:

Since 1980, the Patent Office has issued more than 10,000 reexamination certificates canceling, amending, adding, or confirming claims of issued patents. Inter partes review is substantively identical to reexamination, enforcing the same patentability conditions and issuing the same certificates canceling, amending, adding or confirming claims. Like reexamination, inter partes review is a rational condition the Legislature has imposed to maintain a patent, pursuant to its Constitutional authority to grant patents “for limited Times” to promote the useful Arts.

Since 1980, every patent applicant has consented to the substance of this reexamination as a maintenance condition for each granted patent. . . . Petitioner obtained its patent before 2011. But, like every other patent applicant since December 12, 1980, Petitioner consented to reexamination as a condition for maintaining its patent. Petitioner knew that the patent it sought would be subject to a reexamination request by anyone in the world at any time, including the Commissioner (now Director) of Patents, potentially leading to early cancellation of the patent. And, as noted, the substance of that reexamination to which it consented, is identical to inter partes review.

[16-712 bsac SAP America, Inc., et al.]

I am sympathetic to the arguments here – especially if narrowed to focus solely on inter partes reexamination.  A key caveat though is that the Supreme Court has never ruled that inter partes reexaminations are a proper exercise of administrative power.

1877 Supreme Court Thought’s on Oil States?

Cochrane v. Deener, 94 U.S. 780 (1877)

It would, perhaps, be desirable if all cases of this sort [i.e., patent cases] could be referred to a commission of intelligent experts and practical men to report their opinion thereon, with their reasons, for the final action of the court. … Neither courts nor ordinary juries are perfectly adapted to the investigation of mechanical and scientific questions. .

Cert petition granted in Oil States

Question: Whether inter partes review, an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents, violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.

The deciSion here is very big news for the IPR system because it has the potential of bringing down the entire AIA trial regime.  The conventional wisdom with Supreme Court cases is that they usually reverse the path set by the Federal Circuit. Here, that results may well be a holding that PTO cancellation of issued patents is a constitutional violation.