Court-Agency Allocations of Power and the Limits of Cuozzo

Guest post by Saurabh Vishnubhakat, Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and the Texas A&M College of Engineering.  Although Prof. Vishnubhakat was an advisor at the USPTO until June, 2015, his arguments here should not be imputed to the USPTO or to any other organization.

Prof. Vishnubhakat was counsel of record for the amicus brief by patent and administrative law professors in this case.

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Yesterday’s argument in Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp. suggested that the en banc Federal Circuit are grappling with at least three important issues as they consider the reviewability of PTO decisions to institute inter partes review that arguably violate the one-year bar of 35 U.S.C. § 315(b):

  • How does the IPR statute allocate power between the PTAB and the district courts to reevaluate patent validity?
  • How does the Supreme Court’s opinion last Term in Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee allocate power between the USPTO Director and the Federal Circuit to oversee the PTAB?
  • How might this case resolve (or aggravate) rule-of-law concerns that the Federal Circuit has recently expressed, especially as to separation of powers under the Chenery doctrine?

The Federal Circuit’s panel decision in Achates Reference Publ’g, Inc. v. Apple Inc. held that PTAB decisions to institute IPR are unreviewable even where the § 315(b) time bar may have been violated.  The en banc question here is whether to overrule Achates.

The USPTO’s interest in the case was clear from the large group of agency employees in attendance, including members of the PTAB and the Solicitor’s Office as well as Director Michelle Lee herself.  The USPTO also formally intervened in the case and designated Mark Freeman from the DOJ Civil Division’s Appellate Staff to argue.

The PTAB-District Court Balance of Power

Historically, of course, the power to invalidate patents in the first instance resided in the district courts.  An opening exchange with Chief Judge Prost laid the groundwork that although the AIA sought efficient patent validity review outside the courts, it also constrained the administrative alternatives in a variety of ways.  The USPTO would later elaborate this point as well, that challenges that would have gone to court would now go to the agency, but this reallocation of power would not be total.  District-court defendants and their privies would have to act within a year, or never at all.  Judicial review can police this balance of power—but not without disruption of its own, and so the dispute over appealability.

The Main Cuozzo Exception: Relatedness to Institution

From early in Wi-Fi’s argument, several members of the court starting with Judge Dyk explored whether the § 315(b) time bar is distinguishable from the § 312(a)(3) particularity requirement that was found nonappealable in Cuozzo.  A well-known passage in Cuozzo orients the holding toward institutions that are made “under this section [§ 314]” or that are “closely tied” to institution-related statutes.  Meanwhile, several types of “shenanigans” may still merit review, such as constitutional defects, interpretations of less closely related provisions, or decisions whose scope and impact reach well beyond institution.  As a result, arguments to limit Cuozzo and afford review have often focused on these exceptions, especially on framing the statute as “less closely related” to institution “under this section [§ 314].”  Judges Chen and Stoll also followed up at several points with Broadcom and the USPTO about the “under this section” limitation.

Reconciling Cuozzo’s Majority and Dissent

Judge Chen also took an interesting further approach to how closely related a statute must be for Cuozzo to apply.  He noted that the dissent in Cuozzo complained specifically that the majority’s approach swept broadly and harmfully.  The Cuozzo dissent argued that the majority’s position would foreclose review even of issues such as the § 315(b) time bar because timeliness is “no less . . . closely tied” to institution.  The majority disclaimed various other horribles but was silent about the alleged relatedness of the one-year bar to institution.  Was this colloquy from Cuozzo a signal of consensus that the time bar is, indeed, the type of PTAB decision that is immune from review?

One sensible answer is that the Cuozzo dissent’s argument about the one-year bar should be seen as hortatory, intended first to build a majority and later, when the case was lost, to cabin the impact of the majority’s reasoning.  In other words, the dissent did not merely read the majority’s logic broadly but read it broadly as a reason to reject that logic.  To accept part of the Cuozzo dissent’s premise now while continuing to reject the dissent’s urged conclusion may itself be problematic cherry-picking, especially if any supposed agreement by the Cuozzo majority were to be inferred from its silence on the matter.  Indeed, Wi-Fi answered Judge Chen along just these lines by discussing what the Cuozzo dissent was trying to accomplish—limiting nonappealability to a prohibition of interlocutory review—not merely what the dissent said.

The Other Cuozzo Exception: Scope and Impact

Apart from “less closely related” statutes, the argument also started at times to explore Cuozzo’s “scope and impact” exception, particularly where the PTAB might act outside its statutory authority and thereby lose immunity from review.  It was the USPTO to whom Judge Chen suggested that the one-year bar of § 315(b) may well have been a Congressional allocation of power between the agency and the district courts to resolve patent validity disputes.  This view of the time bar would make it a statutory limit on the agency’s authority, a violation of which would render the PTAB susceptible to appellate review despite Cuozzo.

The scope and impact of § 315(b) are also stark when seen through the lens of court-agency substitution.  Arti Rai, Jay Kesan, and I have reported in recent research that a substantial share of petitioners (about 30%) seek PTAB review before being sued in district court on the patent in question.  This and related findings indicate that, in addition to ordinary court-agency competition over who resolves the validity of a patent in an ongoing infringement lawsuit, the PTAB also competes with the courts over who should resolve preemptive strikes against patents.  As the law professors’ amicus brief argued in this case, the one-year bar of § 315(b) sets an important boundary line in this competition and—as Judge Chen suggests—preserves an inter-branch allocation of power.  Thus, its scope and impact reach well outside the walls of the agency and into the federal courts, empirically as well as analytically.

The USPTO Director-Federal Circuit Balance of Power

One of the most significant aspects of this case, and why it was an apt choice for en banc review, is that the Federal Circuit is shaping its own ability to shape future cases.  Much like the balance of power between the PTAB and the district courts to evaluate patent validity in the first instance, also at stake is the power to correct errors and bring uniformity to the decision-making of the PTAB.  This latter power, too, was reallocated away from the Federal Circuit by the AIA’s nonappealability provisions.

The Source(s) of Uniformity

One might suppose, as Wi-Fi began to argue, that the absence of judicial oversight would leave individual PTAB panels to generate consensus in a common law fashion, and that consensus is unlikely to emerge because of the PTAB’s sometime disregard for its own prior analogous precedents and for prior court judgments regarding the validity of the same patent.  (Even a Federal Circuit panel endorsed the latter as recently as a month ago in Novartis AG v. Noven Pharms. Inc.)

Judge Wallach, however, strongly rejected Wi-Fi’s view that nonreviewability might leave uniformity and oversight to individual panels of the PTAB.  Instead, he noted, the Director of the USPTO can impose uniformity by assigning additional judges to particular panels to resolve contentious issues in a certain way.  To this, one might add that the Director can also generate uniformity directly through the ordinary chain of administrative command as an ex officio member of the PTAB and through the process for designating PTAB opinions as precedential, representative, or informative.  Judge Wallach raised the issue with Broadcom as well, asking whether “stacking the panel” to reach certain outcomes would qualify as judicially reviewable shenanigans.

This alternate view of uniformity is significant for its implicit but direct potential not only for displacing the Federal Circuit but also for making patent validity decisions more responsive to political constituencies.

The APA Presumption of Reviewability

The counterargument to this potential injection of politics into patent adjudication came in the closing minutes of the hearing.  For all the discussion about Cuozzo and its enumerated exceptions, Wi-Fi argued that the Cuozzo holding did not make nonreviewability the new baseline in administrative reviews of patent validity.  Rather, Cuozzo was one instance where the Administrative Procedure Act’s ever-present presumption favoring judicial review was rebutted clearly and convincingly enough as to institution decisions.  To construe the nonappealability statute as to timeliness under § 315(b) or any other issue would require a fresh analysis of statutory text, purpose, legislative history, etc.

Judge Moore engaged this argument, suggesting that Cuozzo need not be limited entirely to its facts with nonappealability decided from scratch each time.  She suggested, for example, that Cuozzo could be seen as precluding a range of appeals from institution and institution-related decisions, but that the opinion’s limitations apply here and thus dispel the indications that were clear and convincing in the Cuozzo case itself.

Notably, Judge Moore was also one of several, including Judges Newman and Reyna, to ask whether PTAB actions that are plainly invalid or ultra vires would enjoy immunity from review.  This concern, too, is of a piece with the balance of power between the Federal Circuit as judicial overseer and the Director of the USPTO as political overseer because it highlights a necessary choice between correcting agency errors and tolerating them in the name of Congressionally intended agency autonomy.

Making the PTAB Better Explain Itself

Finally, the en banc court referred at various points to the need for greater transparency in the PTAB’s own decision-making.  This is a concern that Federal Circuit panel decisions increasingly voice in PTAB appeals.  An early colloquy with Chief Judge Prost explored whether the PTAB might be shielded from review of certain issues in final written decisions simply by omitting discussion of those issues from its final written decisions, in light of the APA’s general requirement that an agency articulate its “findings and conclusions, and the reasons or basis therefor.”  Similarly, in the discussion over political panel-selection by the USPTO Director, Judge Wallach suggested that rule-of-law values such as predictability, uniformity, and transparency of judgments and the neutrality of decision-making may be threatened.

These concerns are also consistent with recent decisions finding fault with the PTAB’s failure to explain its reasoning with enough detail even to enable meaningful review.  For example, citing the Chenery doctrine, the In re NuVasive, Inc. panel decision last December reversed a finding of obviousness not because it was necessarily wrong, but because the reasoning that the PTAB had articulated could not support the decision, while the separation of powers forbade the Federal Circuit to supply its own rationale.  Similarly, in the Shaw Indus. Group., Inc. v. Automated Creel Sys., Inc. panel decision early last year, Judge Reyna wrote separately to chastise the USPTO for its opaque practice of making partial institutions while denying certain grounds or prior art as “redundant.”

Conclusion

The opportunity to clarify these allocations and reallocations of power is likely to be a welcome aspect of en banc consideration.  The power in question may be to adjudicate (as between the PTAB and the district courts), to oversee (as between the USPTO Director and the Federal Circuit), or simply to force a clearer account of the PTAB’s own reasoning.  All of these powers have seen significant revision under the AIA, reflecting the more general ascendancy of administrative adjudication in patent law.  In seeking the right balance for each of these powers, the Federal Circuit appears to be taking seriously the warning that “no legislation pursues its purposes at all costs” and that if the goals of the AIA are important, so also are the particular means that Congress enacted to achieve those goals.

Case Information

  • Oral Argument Recording
  • En Banc Panel: Prost, Newman, Lourie, Bryson, Dyk, Moore, O’Malley, Reyna, Wallach, Taranto, Chen, Hughes, Stoll
  • Arguing for Appellant Wi-Fi One, LLC: Douglas A. Cawley (McKool Smith)
  • Arguing for Appellee Broadcom Corporation: Dominic E. Massa (WilmerHale)
  • Arguing for Intervenor Michelle K. Lee, Director of the USPTO: Mark R. Freeman (DOJ Civil Division, Appellate Staff)

Guest Post: Administrative Law Matters Even More following Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee

By David Boundy

David Boundy of Cambridge Technology Law LLC, a patent law firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, practices at the intersection of patent and administrative law, and consults with other firms on PTAB trials and appeals. In 2007–09, David led the teams that successfully urged the Office of Management and Budget to quash the USPTO’s continuations, claims, information disclosure statements, and appeal regulations under the Paperwork Reduction Act.

This paper is a short version of an article in the current issue of ABA Landslide, vol. 9, no. 3, electronic edition.  It’s a follow up to my earlier paper on the Cuozzo case, which ran in Patently-O in February 2015.

Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee[1] illustrates an important lesson for the patent bar: federal courts are far more familiar with administrative law than with patent law. Almost every federal court hears several times as many administrative law cases as patent cases. Even the Federal Circuit sees at least as many administrative law issues (involving various federal employees and contracts) as patent law issues. We patent lawyers need better administrative law issue spotting skills, and when a case presents them, we must argue on administrative law grounds with administrative law expertise. Basic principles of good advocacy urge us to argue our cases on the courts’ choice of turf.

Cuozzo is a prime illustration.  In Cuozzo, the Supreme Court narrowly decided that the PTO’s decision to institute an inter partes review (IPR) against Cuozzo’s patent was unreviewable.  Notably, the Court’s reasoning clarifies that many decisions to institute are judicially reviewable, so long as the issues are cloaked in administrative law terms rather than patent law terms. Cuozzo’s loss stems from Cuozzo’s briefing that failed to mention a dead-on administrative law statute, and that was all but silent on the Supreme Court’s administrative law precedent. Cuozzo creates many future opportunities for informed administrative law advocacy.

The AIA, Its Preclusion Statutes, and Cuozzo’s Path to the Supreme Court

The 2011 America Invents Act (AIA) created new patent reviews within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and covered business method review (CBM). Congress included preclusion statutes that limit judicial review of USPTO decisions to institute such reviews.

The preclusion statutes for IPR and PGR decisions to institute, 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) and § 324(e) respectively, are essentially similar: “The determination by the Director whether to institute [a review] under this section shall be final and nonappealable.” Compared to other preclusion statutes (discussed in the full Landslide paper), this is decidedly on the weak end of the spectrum of preclusion statutes.

In February 2015, the Federal Circuit gave its first deep consideration to these statutes in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC.[2] The IPR petition against Cuozzo’s patent had applied reference A to claim 10, and references A, B, and C to claim 17 (which depended from claim 10). However, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) instituted on references A, B, and C against claim 10. The PTAB cited no statute or regulation, only its own naked claim of “discretion” to mix and match among the grounds in the petition.

The IPR ended in cancellation of claim 10, on references A, B, and C.

Cuozzo appealed the final decision to the Federal Circuit, and challenged the decision to institute. The Federal Circuit held that § 314(d) precluded all review of all issues embedded in a decision to institute: “On its face, the provision is not directed to precluding review only before a final decision. It is written to exclude all review of the decision whether to institute review.”[3]

In June 2016, the Supreme Court issued its further decision.  Where all decisions leave open issues, Cuozzo introduces several internal contradictions.  Let’s look at the background administrative law case law, and how Cuozzo fits—or misfits.

APA § 706: Government-Wide Grounds of Judicial Review

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), in 5 U.S.C. § 706(2), confines judicial review of agency action to a specific list of errors—a court may set aside agency actions that are:

(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;  …
(C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right;
(D) without observance of procedure required by law; …

Section 706(2) is famously deferential to agencies, but it doesn’t insulate agencies totally. Courts set aside agency decisions that fail standards of “reasoned decisionmaking” by failing to explain an important point, giving an irrelevant explanation, omitting consideration of important factors or basing a decision on impermissible factors, deciding without evidence, deciding on legal error, acting beyond jurisdictional authority, and the like.

APA § 704: Preliminary Decisions Are Reviewable with Final Agency Action

Procedural lapses usually find review under 5 U.S.C. § 704: “A preliminary, procedural, or intermediate agency action or ruling not directly reviewable is subject to review on the review of the final agency action.” Thus, if an agency’s final decision is infected by error earlier in the process, the final decision can be attacked on the basis of that underlying error.

Supreme Court’s Presumption of Judicial Review

Since the days of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court has relied on a strong presumption that judicial review is available for executive branch action.[4] Agency decisions are presumed to be reviewable, and preclusion statutes are construed narrowly. Even within the scope of preclusion, an agency decision that reflects “brazen disregard” of procedure, or “abuse,” or that has sufficiently grave consequences, often can be reviewed.  Likewise, the Court has always held agencies to scrupulous observance of their own procedures. The presumption of review has always been extraordinarily high for procedure, and the “holes” in preclusion statutes for procedure and “abuse” have always been quite large. Cuozzo is an extraordinary outlier. Among the principles established in Supreme Court precedent:

  • Courts accept judicial review of underlying issues in agency decisions, even if the final decisions are unreviewable, especially where procedural fairness is at stake.[5]
  • Preclusion statutes are read narrowly—they preclude only what they say they preclude, and no more. Even where a statute precludes review of an end result decision, underlying issues are not precluded unless the preclusion statute speaks expressly to those underlying issues.  “[R]eview is available to determine whether there has been a substantial departure from important procedural rights, a misconstruction of the governing legislation, or some like error going to the heart of the administrative determination.”[6]
  • Courts read statutes closely to split issues finely, and will review issues (especially underlying issues) that differ by a hair’s breadth from precluded issues. When a statute precludes benefit amounts for individual claimants, “challenges to the validity of the Secretary’s instructions and regulations[] are cognizable in courts of law.”[7]
  • When an agency statute, regulation, or guidance promises the public that an agency or agency employee “must” or “will,” the agency must follow those procedures “scrupulously.” Review of agency decisions under § 706(2)(D), “without observance of procedure required by law,” is “strict” and “without deference.”[8]

Review under § 704/§ 706 is a persistent substrate. To preclude review, especially of underlying issues, Congress must speak expressly.

Cuozzo’s Brief, the Majority Opinion, and the End Result: Cuozzo’s Specific Institution Is Nonreviewable

The Cuozzo majority opinion follows the basic contour of 50 years of precedent: preclusion statutes are to be read narrowly. However, on the facts, Cuozzo lost—the Court characterized Cuozzo’s complaint to be a “mine-run claim,” “an ordinary dispute about the application of certain relevant patent statutes,” and “little more than a challenge to the Patent Office’s conclusion, under § 314(a), that the ‘information presented in the petition’ warranted review.”[9] That is, the Supreme Court understood the case to be a good faith difference of opinion in application of validly promulgated law, not a case of an agency tribunal exercising naked “discretion” against a party, making up new rules on the fly with no grounding in any text, and asserting those new rules in a context with no opportunity for rejoinder. Because the Court was not informed of the procedural basis for the case, the Cuozzo opinion stands in striking contrast with the Court’s precedent that requires agencies’ “scrupulous” observance of procedure, and strict “no deference” judicial review for procedural issues.

The Supreme Court majority opinion embeds a number of internal contradictions that leave a great deal of unclear ground. The majority’s holding, if applied to the facts—at least the procedural facts as we patent lawyers understand them—leads to the opposite result.

Most of these contradictions in the majority opinion, and perhaps the final result itself, are invited error. Cuozzo’s brief treats the case as a patent law case, arguing page after page of Title 35 U.S.C. and Federal Circuit patent law cases.[10] Cuozzo’s opening brief cites Supreme Court “preclusion of review” cases only as a cursory afterthought—a single string cite, with no discussion of analogies to precedential cases. The brief compounds the error by citing a 1946 case that had been overruled by the Supreme Court in 2013.  The table of authorities in Cuozzo’s opening brief has only a single cite to Title 5 U.S.C., and only one more in the reply brief.

But reviewability is an administrative law issue, and that’s where the Court decided it.

Even though Cuozzo’s briefs are all but irrelevant to the administrative law bases on which the Court decided the case, the reasoning comes so close to going Cuozzo’s way. Cuozzo demonstrates the importance of identifying the turf where a court is likely to decide an issue, and arguing it there.  And that may well be administrative law, rather than patent law.

Cuozzo’s “Long Paragraph”

The heart of the majority opinion is a long paragraph toward the end of section II, beginning “Nonetheless.” The majority explains that most issues arising under patent law are precluded, but that issues arising under other bodies of law are not. Review remains available for constitutional questions, and most importantly, for issues slotted into one of the pigeonholes of APA § 706.  The latter half of the “long paragraph” reads as follows:

[W]e do not categorically preclude review of a final decision where a petition fails to give “sufficient notice” such that there is a due process problem with the entire proceeding, nor does our interpretation enable the agency to act outside its statutory limits by, for example, canceling a patent claim for “indefiniteness under § 112” in inter partes review. Such “shenanigans” may be properly reviewable in the context of § 319 and under the Administrative Procedure Act, which enables reviewing courts to “set aside agency action” that is “contrary to constitutional right,” “in excess of statutory jurisdiction,” or “arbitrary [and] capricious.”[11]

The latter half of the long paragraph, especially the last sentence, opens a wide barn door. The Cuozzo majority’s long paragraph indicates that the full reach of § 706 applies to underlying issues in decisions to institute.  Cuozzo tells us that issues that are losers when presented in patent law vocabulary become winners when wrapped in administrative law vocabulary.

Cuozzo Could Have Argued an Administrative Law Jurisdictional Issue

Cuozzo’s brief doesn’t squarely present the issue of the PTAB’s transgression of its own jurisdictional boundaries. Section 312(a) reads, “A petition . . . may be considered only if . . . the petition identifies, in writing and with particularity, each claim challenged, the grounds on which the challenge to each claim is based . . . .” Section 314(a) reads, “The Director may not authorize [institution of an IPR] unless the Director determines that the information presented in the petition . . . shows that there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail . . . .” These are plainly jurisdictional statutes, confining jurisdiction to the grounds in the petition. The APA, in § 706(2)(C), provides that a court shall set aside agency action “in excess of statutory jurisdiction.” Yet, Cuozzo’s brief argues only breaches of the AIA, not the administrative law jurisdictional issues that—the majority tells us—would be reviewable under administrative law principles.

The Supreme Court has been quite strict in enforcing agencies’ jurisdictional boundaries, no matter (in the Cuozzo majority’s words) how compelling “one important congressional objective” might be.[12]

Cuozzo’s brief fleetingly nibbles at the edges of the issue, and even cites one of the important cases in this line (for a different proposition), but never squarely frames the challenge as “in excess of [the agency’s] jurisdiction”—neither brief mentions § 706 at all.  And thus Cuozzo lost the issue.

The latter half of Cuozzo’s “long paragraph” places jurisdictional issues within the scope of judicial review, so long as they are framed in an § 706(2)(C) administrative law context, not a patent law context.  Subject matter jurisdiction is central to a court’s duty to prevent agencies from “act[ing] outside . . . statutory limits,” or in the language of § 706, “in excess of statutory jurisdiction.”

Had the issue been presented squarely as a challenge to PTAB action beyond its jurisdiction, with the patent law issues argued as underlying support for APA § 706(2)(C) “in excess of jurisdiction” grounds, Cuozzo likely would have obtained a favorable result, and the Court majority would not have been left grasping at inconsistent straws to reach its decision.

Several more omissions from Cuozzo’s brief, and internal contradictions in the majority opinion, are discussed in the full Landslide paper.  The full paper shows that Cuozzo lost a very winnable case because the opening brief argued patent law principles to the near exclusion of administrative law principles. The patent bar is left with a resultant set of internal contradictions in the Cuozzo decison, with all the problems and opportunities they create.  And the Federal Circuit is left with a difficult task of reconciling Cuozzo’s reasoning against its end result.

Conclusion

The full paper gives a number of other examples of questions that come out differently depending on whether they’re argued as patent law issues or administrative law issues. There are many differences between the powers of an Article III court and of an agency tribunal, differences between appellate review of an Article III court vs. judicial review of an agency, differences in the arguments that an appellant and appellee can raise, and differences in limits on raising new issues on appeal. Unfortunately, Cuozzo’s brief did not exploit those differences or cite the applicable administrative law.

The key take-away is that almost every PTAB proceeding and appeal presents a “target rich environment” of administrative law issues. Teams that include administrative law expertise will successfully exploit many opportunities that are invisible to teams without that expertise.

Because of internal tensions in the Cuozzo decision, many issues remain to be decided by the Federal Circuit, and will be decided differently depending on how well parties match their argument turf to courts’ choice of decision turf.

Endnotes

[1]. Cuozzo Speed Techs. v. Lee (Cuozzo III), 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

[2]In re Cuozzo Speed Techs. LLC (Cuozzo I), 778 F.3d 1271 (Fed. Cir. 2015), reissued without change to the reviewability discussionCuozzo II, 793 F.3d 1268 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

[3]Cuozzo I, 778 F.3d at 1276.

[4]. 5 U.S.C. § 702 (“A person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute, is entitled to judicial review thereof.”); Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971).

[5]Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363 (1957); Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535 (1959).

[6]Lindahl v. Office of Personnel Management,470 U.S. 768, 791 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted).

[7]Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667, 680 (1986).

[8]Reuters Ltd. v. FCC, 781 F.2d 946, 950–51 (D.C. Cir. 1986); see also Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 544 (1988) (“The agency has no discretion to deviate from [its procedural regulations].”).

[9]Cuozzo III, 136 S. Ct. 2131, 2136, 2139, 2142 (2016).

[10]See Brief for the Petitioner, Cuozzo III (No. 15-446), 2016 WL 737452 at xiv, 52-53, 54 (Feb. 22, 20142016); Reply Brief for the Petitioner at iii, Cuozzo III, 2016 WL 1554733 (Apr. 15, 2016).

[11]Cuozzo III at 2141–42 (majority opinion).

[12]FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 125 (2000)

Supreme Court Affirms Cuozzo – Siding with Patent Office on BRI and No-Appeal

By Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court has upheld the AIA provision barring challenges to the Patent Office’s decision to institute inter partes review. 35 U. S. C. §314(d).  In addition, Justice Breyer’s majority opinion approved of the Patent Office’s approach of applying the broadest reasonable construction (BRI) standard to interpret patent claims – finding it a “reasonable exercise of the rulemaking authority that Congress delegated to the Patent Office.”

The Court was unanimous as to the BRI standard however, Justices Alito and Sotomayor dissented from the no-appeal ruling – they would have interpreted the statute as limiting interlocutory appeals but still allowing review of the decision to institute within the context of an appellate review of the PTO’s final decision on the merits.

Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 579 U. S. ____ (2016).

No Appeal: The court began with the express language of the statute which expressly states that the decision of “whether to institute an inter partes review . . . shall be final and non-appealable.”  The provision is plain on its face and indicates congressional purpose of delegating authority to the Patent Office.  The dissenting opinion offered by Justice Alito offered to limit the statute as preventing only interlocutory appeals, but the majority rejected that interpretation as lacking textual support and being ‘unnecessary’ since the APA “already limits review to final agency decisions.”[1]  The Supreme Court also analogized the PTO’s initiation decision to that of a grand jury – which is likewise unreviewable. “The grand jury gets to say— without any review, oversight, or second-guessing— whether probable cause exists to think that a person committed a crime” (quoting Kaley v. United States, 571 U. S. ___ (2014)).

If you remember, Cuozzo did not present a Constitutional challenge to the AIA regime and the majority opinion offered a glimmer of limitation in that regard. Notably, the Court suggested that challenges to the decision to institute might be appealable if based upon a Constitutional issue or some other issue outside “well beyond” the post issuance review proceeding statutory provisions.

We conclude that the first provision, though it may not bar consideration of a constitutional question, for example, does bar judicial review of the kind of mine-run claim at issue here, involving the Patent Office’s decision to institute inter partes review.

The opinion here includes a number of nuances that will be interesting to tease-out, but the bottom line is that IPR remains a powerful tool for challenging patents.

Claim Construction during Inter Partes Review: Regarding the Broadest-Reasonable-Interpretation being applied to patent claims, the court was unanimous in siding with the USPTO.  The court began by noting that Congress granted rulemaking authority to the USPTO to create regulations governing inter partes review and that this authority empowered the USPTO to enact rules both substantive and procedural that are reasonable in light of the statutory text.  Since the statute was “not unambiguous” as to the appropriate claim construction standard, and therefore that the USPTO must be given leeway in determining its administrative approach.

Cuozzo had argued that IPR proceedings were like trials in many ways and therefore the claim construction should be parallel to that of trial proceedings.  The Supreme Court rejected that analogy – finding that IPR proceedings serve a purpose much broader than merely “helping resolve concrete patent-related disputes among parties.”

[I]nter partes review helps protect the public’s “paramount interest in seeing that patent monopolies . . . are kept within their legitimate scope.” Precision Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Automotive Maintenance Machinery Co., 324 U. S. 806 (1945); see H. R. Rep., at 39–40 (Inter partes review is an “efficient system for challenging patents that should not have issued”).

In finding BRI reasonable, the court followed this public-interest pathway and found that BRI helps to provide stronger bounds on patent scope:

We conclude that the regulation represents a reasonable exercise of the rulemaking authority that Congress delegated to the Patent Office. For one thing, construing a patent claim according to its broadest reasonable construction helps to protect the public. A reasonable, yet unlawfully broad claim might discourage the use of the invention by a member of the public. Because an examiner’s (or reexaminer’s) use of the broadest reasonable construction standard increases the possibility that the examiner will find the claim too broad (and deny it), use of that standard encourages the applicant to draft narrowly. This helps ensure precision while avoiding overly broad claims, and thereby helps prevent a patent from tying up too much knowledge, while helping members of the public draw useful information from the disclosed invention and better understand the lawful limits of the claim. See §112(a); Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 572 U. S. ___ (2014).

Affirmed.

Most of the IPR-related petitions for writ of certiorari that are still pending are likely to fall-away at this point. However, the major caveats in the majority opinion (noted above) offer some light for both Cooper v. Lee and MCM v. HP since those petitions challeng the system on US Constitutional grounds.

USPTO Director Michelle Lee offered the following statement in reaction to the Cuozzo decision:

The USPTO appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision which will allow the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to maintain its vital mission of effectively and efficiently resolving patentability disputes while providing faster, less expensive alternatives to district court litigation.

Director Lee will likely step-down as the Obama Administration moves out.  A portion of her legacy will remain as the named respondent.

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[1] 5 U. S. C. §704

 

Cuozzo v. Lee: The Problem of Standing

The AIA-Trial claim construction issue is important and many of us would like to see the Supreme Court address it in Cuozzo. However, there is one legal matter that has been an elephant-in-the-room since the Cuozzo appeals began several years ago: Standing.

As a general matter, parties do not have standing to raise issues on appeal that have no impact on the underlying dispute.  Likewise, a court has no jurisdiction over issues when the parties have no standing. An important feature of standing is that it is generally non-waivable.  Rather, a court must dismiss a case when one or more parties lack standing — even if (as here) neither party raise the issue.

The standard theory of claim construction is that the USPTO’s “Broadest Reasonable Construction” is broader than the standard Phillips construction used by courts in infringement litigation.  The theory behind this change in standard is that it allows the PTO to serve a gatekeeping role to better in sure that issued patents are valid patents. The particular oddity of the underlying case is that Cuozzo is asking for the Phillips standard to be applied in order to receive a broader claim construction of the term “Integrally Attached.”   Here, on its way to finding the disputed claims obvious, the PTAB construed the term in a way that excluded a described embodiment of the invention and Cuozzo has argued that the proper construction includes that embodiment.  To be clear here, a more broadly construed claim would encompass more prior art and thus are more likely to be invalid as obvious.  Although not strictly impossible, it would indeed be a rare case where the narrower claim is obvious while the broader is nonobvious.  [edited this] Point here is that if Cuozzo gets what it wants from this question on appeal (a broader claim scope), it is no closer to overturning the decision that the claim is obvious – in fact, Cuozzo will be further from that goal.

Although only spending a few pages on the issue, the newly filed Public Knowledge amicus brief roughly outlines case:

[I]n this case, Cuozzo’s patent received a narrow interpretation, and Cuozzo seeks to have the patent read to encompass more subject matter, not less. In other words, Cuozzo is asking for a narrower claim construction standard in order to obtain a broader claim construction. . . . This backwards fact pattern is not just puzzling; it potentially means that Cuozzo has no standing to raise the question, such that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the case.”

[Read the Brief: CuozzoPKAmicus.]

Cuozzo is not run by idiots. Rather, Cuozzo appears to be taking a broader strategy — it wants the term broadly construed in this case so that it will help the enforcement of parallel claims in other cases.  PK explains again:

Why, then, does Cuozzo pursue this case? It cannot be to alter the outcome of the inter partes review, as the district court standard will leave Cuozzo’s patent claims equally invalid—a broader reading of a claim cannot be valid when a narrower one is invalid for obviousness. Instead, the record reveals that Cuozzo seeks a broader claim construction in order to facilitate its infringement arguments in unrelated litigation—a manipulative attempt to commandeer inter partes review to ends
external to the proceeding.

Apart from PK’s snide “manipulative” remark, I am on-board with this analysis.

At this point, it may make the most sense for the Supreme Court to dismiss the claim construction issue as improvidently granted but retain question two regarding the appeal of institution decisions.

 

 

Cuozzo Amicus Briefs from IPO, AIPLA, BIO, et al., all arguing against Broadest Reasonable Interpretation of Claims During IPR proceedings

By Dennis Crouch

Following a 6-5 split by the Federal Circuit, Cuozzo filed a petition for writ of certiorari – asking two important questions (as paraphrased by me):

  1. During a post-issuance inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, is it proper for the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) to construe claims according to their “broadest reasonable interpretation” rather than their proper construction being applied in court?
  2. Is the PTAB’s decision whether to institute an IPR proceeding judicially unreviewable even if the PTAB exceeds its statutory authority in instituting the IPR?

See Cuozzo Takes IPR Challenge to the Supreme Court.

Eight different friend-of-the-court briefs have now been filed and the U.S. Government’s responsive brief is due December 9, 2015.

The majority of the briefs focus solely on the claim construction issue and make three basic arguments:

  1. Policy: IPRs are designed as validity judgments rather than a new examination of the patent; and claim amendments are almost always prohibited. Because IPRs are acting in parallel with court proceedings, the different standards create instability and uncertainty while using the same claim construction as an infringement-court would promote efficiency. All this undermines the PTO’s reasons justifying application of BRI construction rather than standard construction.
  2. Deference: Congress did not give the PTO rulemaking authority to decide to implement BRI in these Inter Partes Review proceedings and as a result, the agency’s interpretation should not be given administrative law deference.
  3. Conflict: The broad standard effectively negates the presumption of validity associated with each and every patent right. The broad standard subtly justifies the PTO to avoid the preclusive effect of prior court decisions.

One amicus brief (NYIPLA) also argued that the Federal Circuit should be able to review whether the PTO exceeded its authority in instituting an IPR, despite statutory language stating that the decision is not appealable. NYIPLA argues that the statute simply bars interlocutory appeals, but that the statute does not “narrow the issues that can be raised in an appeal” of a final written decision under §319.

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I’ll note here that none of the briefs at the petition stage raise the MCM/Cooper/Affinity arguments that the whole IPR proceedings are unlawful because “a patent, upon issuance, is not subject to revocation or cancellation by any executive agent, including by any part of the USPTO.” Citing McCormick Harvesting Mach. Co. v. Aultman, 169 U.S. 606 (1898). In McCormick, the Supreme Court wrote:

[W]hen a patent has … had affixed to it the seal of the Patent Office, it has passed beyond the control and jurisdiction of that office, and is not subject to be revoked or cancelled by the President, or any other officer of the Government. It has become the property of the patentee, and as such is entitled to the same legal protection as other property. . . . The only authority competent to set a patent aside, or to annul it, or to correct it for any reason whatever [without the patentee’s consent], is vested in the courts of the United States, and not in the department which issued the patent.

I would expect that, if the petition here is successful, some parties will file briefs that collaterally attach the IPR framework and to soften the Supreme Court for the eventual petitions.

= = = = = =

Briefs

Cuozzo Takes IPR Challenge to the Supreme Court

Cuozzo Speed Tech v. Lee (Supreme Court 2015)

Cuozzo lost its petition for en banc rehearing in a 6-5 split of Federal Circuit judges.  Now, the patentee has raised is challenge to the IPR process to the Supreme Court – asking two questions:

  1. Whether the [Federal Circuit] erred in holding that, in IPR proceedings, the Board may construe claims in an issued patent according to their broadest reasonable interpretation rather than their plain and ordinary meaning.
  2. Whether the [Federal Circuit] erred in holding that, even if the Board exceeds its statutory authority in instituting an IPR proceeding, the Board’s decision whether to institute an IPR proceeding is judicially unreviewable.

Answers to these questions will fundamentally alter the inter partes review system. The petition does a good job of walking through the importance of the case and then separately explaining their legal argument.

I’m sure that we’ll cover this case more as the briefing moves forward – amici have 30 days to file.  Meanwhile, read the petition here: Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC v Michelle K Lee Petition for a Writ of Certiorari

The Cuozzo petition was filed by a rising star in Supreme Court practice – Jeffrey Wall, who is partner at Sullivan & Cromwell.  Wall was a clerk for Justice Thomas and was an Assistant to the Solicitor General for five years. He also has the distinguishing mark of being my law school classmate (as well as Prof. Rantanen).

 

Guest Post: Why Administrative Law Matters to Patent Attorneys—In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC

by David Boundy

Many patent attorneys—including me—went through law school thinking “Administrative law?  What do I care?”  Administrative law matters; it is as important to intra-PTO litigation and to Federal Circuit appeals as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are during district court proceedings.

Administrative law provides a rich set of tools to for a party to guide rational agency decision making while a proceeding is in progress, and to challenge adverse decisions on judicial review.  Administrative law tools can:

  • require the agency to follow its own regulations as written, without ad hoc “interpretation” or creation of on-the-fly rules,
  • require the agency to consider all relevant evidence and arguments,
  • establish jurisdiction for judicial review,
  • on judicial review, obtain favorable standards of review by slotting issues into exceptions to the high deference normally accorded agency action,
  • turn weak policy-based arguments into strong arguments based on statute and Supreme Court authority,
  • challenge the agency’s evidentiary and factual rulings on standards that are often far more favorable than the standard of review applied to Article III courts—indeed, the standard of review in some instances can be less deferential than the standard applicable to jury findings,
  • adduce new evidence on appeal,
  • limit the agency’s ability to wiggle out of a case by requesting remand, and instead force the issue to a binding judgment against the agency, and
  • confine the arguments that the agency can make to defend its action, and
  • require the agency to meet the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and other relevant laws when promulgating its regulations or guidelines.

Competence in administrative law is essential in complex patent prosecution, ex parte appeals, PTAB trials, and appeals to the Federal Circuit from PTO and ITC actions.

The Administrative Law Requires Courts to Accept Jurisdiction to Review Agency Non-Compliance with Their Own Regulations

For example, last Wednesday, the Federal Circuit in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC ruled that the court has no jurisdiction to review decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) whether to institute an Inter Partes Review (IPR). An argument based on administrative law would have established the Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction, but that argument was not raised.

The Federal Circuit’s holding was so broad as to oust the court of jurisdiction to review whether the PTAB’s decision was made on criteria contrary to statute or the regulations that the PTAB promulgated for itself.  The court read 35 U.S.C. § 314(b) so broadly as to insulate from judicial review all decisions to institute or not institute an IPR, in all circumstances.

But the administrative law requires a court to exercise jurisdiction to review agency compliance with the agency’s own regulations and guidance, and to set aside agency action issued “without observance of procedure required by law.”[1]  The Supreme Court has addressed the following fact pattern on about a dozen occasions.  An agency acts outside its procedures.  The aggrieved party sues.  The agency points to a statute that precludes review, and asks the court to deny jurisdiction on that basis.  In every such case, the Supreme Court holds that even if a statute purports to preclude review, jurisdiction remains to review the agency’s procedures, to assess whether the agency action was “without observance of procedure required by law.”  “Only in the rare—some say non-existent—case  … may review for ‘abuse’ be precluded.”[2]  The Court holds that preclusion statutes must be read narrowly, to preclude review only of the ultimate decision on the merits, leaving intact jurisdiction to review whether the agency departed from procedural requirements.  The Supreme Court has applied this principle to statutes even broader and clearer than § 314(b), and to government interests far more fundamental.  It is a very strong principle.

Had that administrative law argument been raised, the Federal Circuit would unquestionably have accepted jurisdiction in Cuozzo.

The Administrative Law Confines the Board’s Discretion to Deny Motions to Amend During IPR’s

Cuozzo’s brief argues that the Board erred in denying a motion to amend claims.   The argument cites no authority.  This argument could have been converted from a weak argument to a very strong one, by grounding it in the administrative law.

When an agency promulgates a regulation, it is required to explain the regulation in a Final Rule notice in the Federal Register.  Any gloss put on the regulation in that notice binds the public under Chevron[3] deference (though the many exceptions to Chevron are far less known).  This gloss is binding on the agency as well—an agency can’t twist its regulations like a nose of wax.  Nor can an agency move regulatory burden from one regulation to another, like a confidence man moving a pea from under one shell to another, by giving inconsistent rationales and interpretations for regulations.

In promulgating the IPR regulations, the PTO justified its choice of a “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard for claim construction by pointing to “a party’s ability to amend claims to avoid prior art—which exists in these proceedings (§ 42.221).”[4]  But the PTAB almost never grants these motions to amend.[5]  Thus, as a practical matter, the agency’s basis for adopting “broadest reasonable interpretation” is illusory.  The administrative law does not allow agencies to have things both ways—the PTO can’t both uniformly deny motions to amend and point to that “right” as justification for broadest reasonable interpretation.

The strong argument is based in administrative law.  While most “arbitrary and capricious” cases are hard, a few subcategories are easy.  PTAB decisions frequently raise issues that can be slotted into these easy subcategories for appeal.

The PTAB’s Trial Regulations Were Issued with Insufficient Attention to Rulemaking Procedure

Cuozzo also affirms the PTO’s choice of “broadest reasonable interpretation” as the standard for claim construction. However, the PTO’s “broadest reasonable interpretation” rule—like many of the PTO’s other regulations—is subject to challenge because the PTO was less than rigorous in following rulemaking procedure.

Agency rulemaking is governed by a number of statutes, including the Administrative Procedure Act, Regulatory Flexibility Act, Paperwork Reduction Act, Information Quality Act, E-Government Act of 2002, Independent Offices Appropriations Act, regulations on Information Collections, guidelines on Information Quality, and Executive Order 12,866.  These laws require specific procedures, disclosures, and analyses.  For example, they require an agency to disclose its assumptions, factual and statistical information and models and their underlying support on the agency’s web site.  The agency must ask specific questions to seek comment.  The agency must show cost-benefit analyses to asses effect on small entities and overall economic effect, and must show that the agency has sought to minimize (not just reduce, but minimize) paperwork burdens.  The agency must show its work, and provide supporting evidence, similar to that required for a peer-reviewed journal article.

The Paperwork Reduction Act is especially interesting, because it is little known and exceptionally powerful.  As you may recall, the PTO had to stand down on its Appeal regulation on the morning it was to go into effect because the Office of Management and Budget withheld the PTO’s power to enforce those regulations, after a number of letters pointed out PTO violations of the PRA.  (I had a little influence in that outcome.)  Likewise, OMB directed PTO to stand down on the Continuations, 5/25 Claims, and IDS regulations (I also had something to do with that).

During the rulemaking process for the PTO’s AIA regulations, several of the comment letters noted procedural deficiencies in the PTO’s Notices of Proposed Rulemaking and its supporting materials.  The letters warned that these deficiencies would expose the PTAB’s decisions to challenge because the PTAB’s regulations were not validly promulgated.  The oversights were not corrected before the final regulations were published.

Many PTAB decisions present winnable issues for appeal based on faulty procedure during rulemaking.  Cuozzo likely could have been such a case, but administrative law opportunities were missed.

Conclusion

Some administrative law statutes permit issues to be raised at any time, and such issues have been successfully raised for the first time in courts of appeals.  Unfortunately, in Cuozzo, these administrative law arguments weren’t squarely raised.  The lesson of Cuozzo is that patent attorneys—especially those that practice in contested cases before the PTAB and in appeals to the Federal Circuit—need to know the administrative law as well as they know the patent law.

= = = = =

David Boundy is a patent attorney in Cambridge Massachusetts, specializing at the intersection of administrative law and patent law.  While Vice President for Intellectual Property at Cantor Fitzgerald, in 2006-10 Mr. Boundy led teams that advocated with the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President for the withdrawal by the PTO of the Continuations, 5/25 Claims, IDS, and Appeal rules.  Mr. Boundy consults and provides legal services on administrative law issues for intra-PTO trials and judicial review cases.

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[1] 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(D).

[2] Bowen v. Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667, 672 n.3 (1986)

[3] Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).

[4]  Patent and Trademark Office, Changes to Implement Inter Partes Review Proceedings, Post-Grant Review Proceedings, and Transitional Program for Covered Business Method Patents; Final Rule, 77 Fed. Reg. 48680, 48693 (Aug. 14, 2012).

[5] Richard Neifeld, “Kill Rate of the Patent Death Squad, and the Elusory Right to Amend in Post-Grant Reviews,” Intellectual Property Today, (April 2014), at http://www.neifeld.com/pubs/Kill%20Rate%20of%20the%20Patent%20Death%20Squad%20-%20Part%20I.pdf

IPR Petition Response => Claim Construction Disclaimer

Aylus Networks v. Apple (Fed. Cir. 2017)

The court here holds that claim construction “prosecution disclaimer” applies to statements made by the patentee in a preliminary response to an IPR proceeding.  This holding makes sense and was entirely expected — however it also sets yet another trap for patentees seeking to enforce their patent rights.

The appeal here involves Aylus infringement lawsuit against Apple that alleges AirPlay infringes U.S. Patent No. RE 44,412.  After Aylus sued Apple for infringement, Apple responded with two inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging all of the patented claims.  However, the Director (via the PTAB) refused to grant the petition as to several claims, including 2, 4, 21, and 23.

Back in the litigation, Aylus amended its complaint to only allege infringement of those non-instituted claims.  In its subsequent motion for summary judgment of non-infringement, Apple argued for a narrow interpretation of the claimed use of “CPP logic . . . negotiate media content delivery between the MS and the MR.”  As evidence for the narrow interpretation, Apple and the district court focused on statements by the patentee (Aylus) in its preliminary response to Apple’s IPR petition.  On appeal here, the Federal Circuit has affirmed:

[S]tatements made by a patent owner during an IPR proceeding, whether before or after an institution decision, can be relied on to support a finding of prosecution disclaimer.

Those of us closely following IPR doctrine will raise some hairs at this statement since the Federal Circuit has previously held that “IPR does not begin until it is instituted.” Shaw Indus. Grp., Inc. v. Automated Creel Sys., Inc., 817 F.3d 1293, 1300 (Fed. Cir. 2016).   Here, the court recognized that general holding, but found that it dies not apply “for the purposes of prosecution disclaimer.” Rather, for this situation, the court found that the proceedings begin with the IPR petition.

If I were writing the opinion, I would have come to the same result – that statements by the applicant to the PTO can form prosecution disclaimer.  However, I would have reached the conclusion without upsetting and further complicating the definition of an IPR proceeding.

= = = = =

An oddity of all of this is that the Federal Circuit appears quite concerned in this case about the linkages between claim construction during inter partes review and subsequent litigation, but previously ignored that issue during the prior cuozzo debate.   My take has long been that we should be applying the actual claim construction in both situations.

= = = = =

This case focused on prosecution disclaimer and the finding of a clear and unmistakable disclaimer of claim scope.  However, the same approach should also apply in applying IPR statements as primary intrinsic evidence used in the claim construction analysis even when short of disclaimer.

Interpreting the Interpretation of the Broadest Interpretation

By Dennis Crouch

Nestle USA v. Steuben Foods (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential)

In its final written decision, the PTAB sided with the patentee – holding that IPR-challenged claims were not obvious.  U.S. Patent No. 6,945,013 claims 18-20 (aseptic bottling at > 100 bottles per minute).  On appeal, Nestle has successfully argued that Board incorrectly construed the claim term “aseptic.”

In Cuozzo, the Supreme Court gave deference to and agreed with the USPTO’s approach of giving claims their “broadest reasonable interpretation” (BRI) during inter partes review (IPR) proceedings.[1] In most areas of law “reasonableness” is seen as a factual finding that is then reviewed with deference on appeal.  Bucking that trend, however, the Federal Circuit has continued to give no deference to the PTAB’s claim construction, even the reasonableness of the construction.  The one exception is that “factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence” are reviewed for substantial evidence.[2]

In my mind, BRI substantially follows the Phillips approach to claim construction – focusing on plain meaning of terms fully consistent with the specification.  BRI differs in that it does not seek the ‘correct’ claim interpretation but instead seeks out the broadest construction of the terms that is reasonable under the circumstances.  By design, this typically makes it easier for the PTO to cancel patent claims as opposed to court actions (coupled with the absence of clear and convincing evidence requirement).

Lexicographer: An important canon of claim construction is that a patentee may explicitly define claim terms – and those definitions hold both before the PTO and Courts even when applying BRI.  Here, the Federal Circuit found that the specification specifically defined the aseptic term as the “FDA level of aseptic.”  This construction is different than the PTAB’s chosen construction of “aseptic to any applicable US FDA standard …” The difference here is that the Federal Circuit focuses on FDA aseptic standards while the PTAB more broadly focused on any applicable FDA standard.

Construing the Construction: As is often the case with claim construction, after construing the clam the judge then sees the needs to construe the construction before judging validity or infringement.  Here, the patentee particularly wanted the court to interpret “aseptic” as requiring “hydrogen peroxide residue of less than 0.5 ppm.”  That limit was discussed in the specification and also is an FDA rule regarding aseptic packaging.

In the appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that hydrogen peroxide standard should not bind the aseptic definition.   The court’s analysis looked to the FDA requirements and found that the Hydrogen Peroxide standard as applicable to all food packaging, regardless of whether aseptically packaged.   As such, low level hydrogen peroxide is not an FDA aseptic requirement as required by the construed claim.  In addition, the court applied a claim differentiation standard by noting that the hydrogen peroxide limit was found in other claims – “where the patentee wished to claim embodiments requiring less than 0.5 ppm of hydrogen peroxide residue, it did so using express language.”

Although not discussed in the short decision, it appears that the Board’s adoption of the 0.5 ppm hydrogen peroxide was critical in avoiding prior art, and the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded that decision.  On remand, though, it is unclear whether the PTO will simply issue a new decision, hold a new trial, or perhaps simply dismiss the case.

= = =

[1] Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

[2] See Teva; Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyonn, Inc. 789 F.3d 1292 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

CAFC: Prior Judicial Opinions Do Not Bind the PTAB

Novartis v. Noven Pharma (Fed. Cir. 2017)

This short opinion by Judge Wallach affirms the PTAB findings that the claims of two Novartis patents are invalid as obvious. See U.S. Patent Nos. 6,316,023 and 6,335,031.  Several prior court decisions (including those involving the petitioner here) had upheld the patent’s validity against parallel obviousness challenges.

The most interesting aspects of the decision are found under the surprising heading: Prior Judicial Opinions Did Not Bind the PTAB.  When taken out-of-context, we can all agree that the statement is silly and wrong. The PTAB is obviously bound by Supreme Court and other precedent.  In my view, the statement is still silly and wrong even when applied in context. 

The context: In Novartis Pharm. Corp. v. Noven Pharm., Inc., 125 F. Supp. 3d 474 (D. Del. 2015)), the district court considered Noven’s obviousness argument and fount it lacking merit. Same story in Novartis Pharm. Corp. v. Par Pharm., Inc., 48 F. Supp. 3d 733 (D. Del. June 18, 2014) and Novartis Pharm. Corp. v. Watson Labs., Inc., 611 F. App’x 988 (Fed. Cir. 2015), albeit with different parties.

In the Inter Partes Review, the USPTO concluded that those prior court decisions regarding obviousness need not be considered since the record was different at the PTAB – albeit admittedly ‘substantively the same.’   [edited] On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected the PTAB’s reasoning as a trivial likely insufficient distinction, but instead found that the different evidentiary standard was what justified the result:

Nevertheless, even if the record were the same, Novartis’s argument would fail as a matter of law. The PTAB determined that a “petitioner in an inter partes review proves unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence (see 35 U.S.C. § 316(e)) rather than by clear and convincing evidence[] as required in district court litigation,” meaning that the PTAB properly may reach a different conclusion based on the same evidence.

The idea here is that in litigation, invalidity must be proven with clear and convincing evidence while inter partes review requires only a preponderance of the evidence. As explained by the Supreme Court on Cuozzo, this may lead to different outcomes:

A district court may find a patent claim to be valid, and the [USPTO] may later cancel that claim in its own review. . . . This possibility, however, has long been present in our patent system, which provides different tracks—one in the [USPTO] and one in the courts—for the review and adjudication of patent claims. As we have explained . . . , inter partes review imposes a different burden of proof on the challenger. These different evidentiary burdens mean that the possibility of inconsistent results is inherent to Congress’[s] regulatory design.

Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131, 2146 (2016) (citation omitted).

My view: As suggested here, we have a failure of system design – a party who challenges a patent’s validity in court and loses should not later be allowed to re-challenge validity. [Cite the 100’s of cases and articles supporting finality of judgments.]  In this situation, the PTAB / Federal Circuit should at least be required to distinguish its factual findings from those of the federal courts.

Obviousness Aside: A quirk of this case not addressed by the court is that it is an obviousness case – and obviousness is a question of law.  The differences in invalidation standards for courts and the PTAB are evidentiary standards and do not apply to questions of law. Rather, questions of law should be decided identically in both fora.

En banc denial in Challenge to Versata-Review of CBM Decisions

by Dennis Crouch

Unwired Planet v. Google (Fed. Cir. 2017) (en banc denied)

The Federal Circuit has denied Google’s petition for rehearing en banc.  The patent challenger asked the Federal Circuit to overturn Versata in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Cuozzo.  The issue is well known to attorneys involved in the post-grant review of covered-business-method (CBM) patents.

According to the statute, the CBM process begins with a petition and institution decision by the Director.  Once instituted, the PTAB holds trial and issues a final decision.  The statute indicates that CBM review may be instituted “only for” CBM patents but that the Director’s institution decision “shall be final and nonappealable.”

In Versata, a divided Federal Circuit panel held that the CBM question could be reviewed since – a non-CBM patent is “outside the PTAB’s invalidation authority.”  In its briefing, Google argued that Versata was wrong when it was decided, and was extra-wrong following the Supreme Court’s Cuozzo decision that gave substantial force to the non-appealable provision of the statute.  Of course, Cuozzo offered a number of ‘outs’ – suggesting generally that there will be times when appeals of initiation decisions may still be allowed.

Versata v. SAP: Federal Circuit Claims Broad Review of CBM Decisions

In what appears to be a unanimous denial, the Federal Circuit has rejected Google’s petition. Judge Hughes wrote a short concurring opinion in dissent – arguing (as he did in the original Versata case) that the statute no-appeal provision should be given more weight.

I continue to believe that Versata was incorrectly decided. I further believe that Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016) confirms that our review of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision should be limited to the ultimate merits of the patent validity determination and should not, with narrow exception, extend to any decisions related to institution. Those exceptions may include the rare circumstances where the agency acts unconstitutionally or in complete disregard of the limits on its statutory authority.

I expect that the Supreme Court would agree with the Federal Circuit on this particular issue based upon how the court sees eligibility as a threshold and almost jurisdictional issue and the close tie between the CBM definition and patent eligibility.  In the eyes of the Supreme Court, these issues are categorically different from the likelihood-of-invalidation question that is the substantive focus of initiation decisions.

Despite my prognostications here, Google is likely to petition for writ of certiorari.  Top Supreme Court Litigator Neal Katyal handled the failed petition here that particularly asked two questions: (1) Whether the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction to review a PTAB determination that a patent is a “covered business method” patent. (2) Whether the Federal Circuit should defer to the Patent and Trademark Office’s reasonable interpretation of the definition of a “covered business method” patent.

I have discussed the first question above. The second question is also an interesting issue of administrative law that may be mooted if Congress enacts the Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2017.

Separation of Powers Restoration Act

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.

Supreme Court Update: Are Secondary Indicia of Invention Relevant to Eligibility?

by Dennis Crouch

The Supreme Court is on recess until Feb 17.

I don’t know if my end-of-April prediction will hold true, but I do expect Neil Gorsuch to become a Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  As a 10th Circuit Judge, Gorsuch never decided a patent case, but does have a handful of interesting IP cases.

There are a few petitions filed that we have not discussed here: 

 In its newest petition, DataTreasury takes 101 for a new spin by taking the 101/103 analysis to its next logical level.  If we are going to include a 103 analysis as part of the eligibility doctrine then lets go whole hog.  Thus, DataTreasury asks: whether a court must consider secondary indicia of invention as evidence in its eligibility analysis? In the case, the Federal Circuit had affirmed the PTAB judgment without opinion under R.36. A second eligibility petition is found in TDE Petroleum Data Solutions, Inc. v. AKM Enterprise, Inc., dba Moblize, Inc. TDE asks the court to “please reconcile Diehr and Alice.” (I’m not literally quoting here).  The patent at issue (No. 6,892,812) claims a four-step process of “determining the state of a well operation.” (a) store several potential “states”; (b) receive well operation data from a plurality of systems; (c) determine that the data is valid by comparing it to a threshold limit; and (d) set the state based upon the valid data.

In Wi-LAN v. Apple, the patentee revives both Cuozzo and Markman claim construction arguments – this time focusing on “whether claim terms used to define the metes and bounds of an invention are generally given their “plain and ordinary meaning,” or are redefined (limited) to match the scope of the exemplary embodiments provided in the specification.”

duPont v. Macdermid asks whether summary judgment of obviousness is proper because of the factual disputes at issue.  Similarly, in Enplas v. Seoul Semiconductor, the petitioner argues that a finding of anticipation by the PTAB must be supported by findings each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art.  In Enplas, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB on a R.36 Judgment Without Appeal — it difficult for the petitioner to point to the particular deficiencies.

 

=== THE LIST===

1. 2016-2016 Decisions:

  • Design Patent Damages: Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., No 15-777 (Total profits may be based upon either the entire product sold to consumers or a component);  GVR order in parallel case Systems, Inc. v. Nordock, Inc., No. 15-978.  These cases are now back before the Federal Circuit for the job of explaining when a component

2. Petitions Granted:

3. Petitions with Invited Views of SG (CVSG): 

4. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Pending:

  • Claim Construction: Wi-LAN USA, Inc., et al. v. Apple Inc., No. 16-913 (“plain and ordinary meaning”)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Boston Scientific Corporation, et al. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, No. 16-470 (how closely must a state court “hew” federal court patent law precedents?) (Appeal from MD State Court)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Google Inc., et al. v. Arendi S A.R.L., et al., No. 16-626 (can “common sense” invalidate a patent claim that includes novel elements?) (Supreme Court has requested a brief in response)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Enplas Corporation v. Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd., et al., No. 16-867 (“Whether a finding of anticipation under 35 U.S.C. § 102 must be supported by findings that each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art?”)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company v. MacDermid Printing Solutions, L.L.C., No. 16-905 (summary judgment of obviousness proper)
  • Jury Trial: Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, et al., No. 16-712 (“Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”) [oilstatespetition]
  • Jury Trial: Nanovapor Fuels Group, Inc., et al. v. Vapor Point, LLC, et al., No. 16-892 (Can a party forfeit a properly demanded trial by jury without an explicit, clear, and unequivocal waiver?)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Big Baboon, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, No. 16-496 (Appeal of APA seeking overturning of evidentiary admission findings during reexamination – heard by Federal Circuit or Regional Circuit?)
  • LachesMedinol Ltd. v. Cordis Corporation, et al., No. 15-998 (follow-on to SCA); Endotach LLC v. Cook Medical LLC, No. 16-127 (SCA Redux); Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., et al, No. 16-202 (SCA Redux plus TM issue)
  • Eligibility: TDE Petroleum Data Solutions, Inc. v. AKM Enterprise, Inc., dba Moblize, Inc., No. 16-890 (Please reconcile Diehr and Alice)
  • Eligibility: DataTreasury Corporation v. Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., No. 16-883 (secondary indicia as part of eligibility analysis).
  • Eligibility: IPLearn-Focus, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 16-859 (evidence necessary for finding an abstract idea)

5. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Denied or Dismissed:

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Guest Post: Challenging PTO Institution Policies (If Not Institution Decisions)

endrunThe following is a guest post by Oliver Richards (Fish & Richardson).  Mr. Richards is a NYU Law alum and a former clerk for Judge Dyk on the Federal Circuit. 

After several rounds at the Federal Circuit and a trip to the Supreme Court, the law surrounding what aspects of the PTAB’s decision to institute on a petition for inter partes review are reviewable remains unclear. In light of the Federal Circuit’s decision to again revisit this issue in the grant of a petition for rehearing en banc in Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corporation (No. 2015-1944, -1945, -1946), I wanted to share a few thoughts on what, exactly, should be reviewable under 35 USC 314(d).   I believe that the yes/no decision of the PTAB as applied to any particular petition should be unreviewable.  However, in my view, review of PTAB regulations should be available either through appeal from the PTAB, or (preferably) through an APA challenge in district court. [1]  The distinction between review of specific PTAB institution decisions and general review of PTAB regulations and policies, I believe, makes sense for at least three reasons:

First, this distinction comports with the language of the statute.  314(d) prohibits judicial review of “[t]he determination . . . whether to institute an inter partes review.”  The statute should be read to mean what it says.  A review of “the” decision to institute in any case is not allowed.  General review of any agency regulation is not review of “the determination . . . whether to institute” even if the result of that review overturns the decision in any particular case.

In McNary v. Hatian Refugee Ctr. Inc.498 US 479 (1991) the Supreme Court drew a similar distinction relating to reviewability of “special agricultural worker” (“SAW”) eligibility decisions of immigration officials under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  In McNary, the Supreme Court was asked whether 8 U.S.C. § 1160(e)—which prohibits “administrative or judicial review of a determination respecting an application for adjustment of status”—deprived a district court of jurisdiction over a suit challenging agency policies and procedures.

The Supreme Court allowed the challenge.  According to the Court, “[t]he critical words in § 210(e)(1) … describe the provision as referring only to review ‘of a determination respecting an application’ for SAW status. Significantly, the statutory reference to “a determination” describes a single act rather than a group of decisions or a practice or procedure employed in making decisions.”  McNary, 498 U.S. at 491–92.  Thus the language prohibiting review indeed prohibited “direct review of individual” determinations but did not prohibit “general collateral challenges to unconstitutional practices and policies used by the agency in processing applications.”    “[H]ad Congress intended the limited review provisions of § 210(e) of the INA to encompass challenges to INS procedures and practices, it could easily have used broader statutory language” such as by prohibiting “all causes arising under any of the provisions” of the immigration program as it had done in other places.  Id. at 494. [2]

In my view, the patent law’s statutory language – “The determination . . . whether to institute” similarly indicates that § 314(d) was intended to apply to only individual determinations, not to prohibit any and all review of PTO procedures and policies relating to institution.

Second, the distinction strikes a fair balance between making sure the PTAB is complying with its statutory mandate and maintaining the efficiency of the IPR system.  Perhaps wary of a flood of appeals clogging the courts and the corresponding slow down in IPR determinations, Congress choose efficiency in section 314(d) by prohibiting an appeal relating to every single IPR institution decision.  On the other hand, allowing parties to turn to courts to check potentially problematic regulations or practices by the PTAB is an important check on that body’s power.  Seee.g.Unwired Planet, LLC v. Google Inc., 841 F.3d 1376, 1382 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (concluding that the PTAB’s definition of a “covered business method patent” exceeded the statute.”)[3]   Prohibiting challenges to each and every institution decision but allowing general challenges provides for efficient review of PTAB regulations, policies, and procedures without slowing down the whole IPR system.

Third, the distinction is consistent with most Federal Circuit decisions on the topic.  Although the distinction I suggest was not provided as the reasoning, the CAFC has notably found many PTAB regulations/policies relating to institution reviewable.  See, e.g.Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. Covidien LP, 812 F.3d 1023 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (hearing a challenge to 37 C.F.R. § 42.4 – “Institution of trial.  The Board institutes the trial on behalf of the Director”); Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corp., 814 F.3d 1309 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (hearing a challenge to 37 C.F.R. § 42.108, titled “Institution of inter partes review”).  The cases where the Federal Circuit has found issues not to be reviewable are typically cast in case-specific ways.  Seee.g. Achates Reference Publ’g, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 803 F.3d 652 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (reviewing “whether Apple’s petition was time barred”); Cuozzo, 793 F.3d at 1272 (“Cuozzo argues that the PTO improperly instituted IPR on claims 10 and 14 because the PTO relied on prior art that Garmin did not identify in its petition as grounds for IPR as to those two claims.”)

Any resolution of the reviewability issue must comply with the statute, must put teeth to Congress’s embrace of efficiency, and at the same time must make sure that the rights of patent holders are adequately protected.  The approach I have outlined above, in my view, adequately balances efficiency with appropriate supervision of the PTAB.   I’m curious to see what you all think, and I look forward to reading the comments.

Note: The views views expressed here are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my firm or any clients.

___________________

[1] The CAFC left open the question of whether the APA allowed for challenges to PTAB regulations in district court in Synopsys, Inc. v. Lee, 812 F.3d 1076 (Fed. Cir. 2016).   From a practical standpoint, an APA challenge in a district court would seem to be a better option–the parties will have an opportunity to develop a fuller record removed from the facts of any particular IPR, and a district court may well provide a better first look than than the agency that promulgated the challenged regulation.

[2] NcNary follows other Supreme Court decisions distinguishing between specific challenges to a particular determination and general challenges to regulations.  See Bowen v. Michigan Acad. of Family Physicians, 476 U.S. 667, 675 (1986).

[3] For individual determinations where the PTAB clearly exceeds its statutory authority, mandamus remains available.  See, e.g.In re Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC, 793 F.3d 1268, 1274 (Fed. Cir. 2015),  aff’d sub nom. Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

 

Supreme Court 2017 – Patent Preview

by Dennis Crouch

A new Supreme Court justice will likely be in place by the end of April, although the Trump edition is unlikely to substantially shake-up patent law doctrine in the short term.

The Supreme Court has decided one patent case this term. Samsung (design patent damages).  Five more cases have been granted certiorari and are scheduled to be decided by mid June 2017. These include SCA Hygiene (whether laches applies in patent cases); Life Tech (infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(1) for supplying single component); Impression Products (using patents as a personal property servitude); Sandoz (BPCIA patent dance); and last-but-not-least TC Heartland (Does the general definition of “residence” found in 28 U.S.C. 1391(c) apply to the patent venue statute 1400(b)).

Big news is that the Supreme Court granted writs of certiorari in the BPCIA dispute between Sandoz and Amgen.   The BPCIA can be thought of as the ‘Hatch Waxman of biologics’ – enacted as part of ObamaCare.   The provision offers automatic market exclusivity for twelve years for producers of pioneer biologics.   Those years of exclusivity enforced by the FDA – who will not approve a competitor’s expedited biosimilar  drug application during the exclusivity period.   The statute then provides for a process of exchanging patent and manufacturing information between a potential biosimilar producer and the pioneer – known as the patent dance.  The case here is the Court’s first chance to interpret the provisions of the law – the specific issue involves whether the pioneer (here Amgen) is required to ‘dance.’ [Andrew Williams has more @patentdocs]

A new eligibility petition by Matthew Powers in IPLearn-Focus v. Microsoft raises eligibility in a procedural form – Can a court properly find an abstract idea based only upon (1) the patent document and (2) attorney argument? (What if the only evidence presented supports eligibility?).  After reading claim 1 and 24 (24 is at issue) of U.S. Patent No. 8,538,320, you may see why the lower court bounced this. Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling without opinion under Federal Circuit Rule 36 and then denied IPLF’s petition for rehearing (again without opinion).

1. A computing system comprising:

a display;

an imaging sensor to sense a first feature of a user regarding a first volitional behavior of the user to produce a first set of measurements, the imaging sensor being detached from the first feature to sense the first feature, the first feature relating to the head of the user, and the first set of measurements including an image of the first feature, wherein the system further to sense a second feature of the user regarding a second volitional behavior of the user to produce a second set of measurements, the second feature not relating to the head of the user; and

a processor coupled to the imaging sensor and the display, the processor to:

analyze at least the first set and the second set of measurements; and determine whether to change what is to be presented by the display in view of the analysis.

24. A computing system as recited in claim 1, wherein the system capable of providing an indication regarding whether the user is paying attention to content presented by the display.

=== THE LIST===

1. 2016-2016 Decisions:

  • Design Patent Damages: Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc., No 15-777 (Total profits may be based upon either the entire product sold to consumers or a component);  GVR order in parallel case Systems, Inc. v. Nordock, Inc., No. 15-978.  These cases are now back before the Federal Circuit for the job of explaining when a component

2. Petitions Granted:

3. Petitions with Invited Views of SG (CVSG): 

4. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Pending:

  • Is it a Patent Case?: Boston Scientific Corporation, et al. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, No. 16-470 (how closely must a state court “hew” federal court patent law precedents?) (Appeal from MD State Court)
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Google Inc., et al. v. Arendi S A.R.L., et al., No. 16-626 (can “common sense” invalidate a patent claim that includes novel elements?) (Supreme Court has requested a brief in response)
  • Civil Procedure – Final Judgment: Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. v. Rembrandt Vision Technologies, L.P., No. 16-489 (Reopening final decision under R.60).
  • Anticipation/Obviousness: Enplas Corporation v. Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd., et al., No. 16-867 (“Whether a finding of anticipation under 35 U.S.C. § 102 must be supported by findings that each and every element of the subject patent claim is disclosed in the prior art?”)
  • Post Grant Admin: Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, et al., No. 16-712 (“Whether inter partes review … violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”) [oilstatespetition]
  • Eligibility: IPLearn-Focus, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 16-859 (evidence necessary for finding an abstract idea)
  • Post Grant Admin: SightSound Technologies, LLC v. Apple Inc., No. 16-483 (Can the Federal Circuit review USPTO decision to initiate an IPR on a ground never asserted by any party)
  • Is it a Patent Case?: Big Baboon, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, No. 16-496 (Appeal of APA seeking overturning of evidentiary admission findings during reexamination – heard by Federal Circuit or Regional Circuit?)
  • LachesMedinol Ltd. v. Cordis Corporation, et al., No. 15-998 (follow-on to SCA); Endotach LLC v. Cook Medical LLC, No. 16-127 (SCA Redux); Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., et al, No. 16-202 (SCA Redux plus TM issue)
  • Eligibility and CBM: DataTreasury Corporation v. Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., No. 16-883 (I have not seen the petition yet, but underlying case challenged whether (1) case was properly classified as CBM and (2) whether PTAB properly ruled claims ineligible as abstract ideas) (Patent Nos. 5,910,988 and 6,032,137).

5. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Denied or Dismissed:
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Wi-Fi One v. Broadcom: Mine-Runs and Shenanigans in Inter Partes Review

by Dennis Crouch

Wi-Fi One v. Broadcom (Fed. Cir. 2017)

First en banc order of the year: the Federal Circuit will review the following question:

Should this court overrule Achates Reference Publishing, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 803 F.3d 652 (Fed. Cir. 2015) and hold that judicial review is available for a patent owner to challenge the PTO’s determination that the petitioner satisfied the timeliness requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) governing the filing of petitions for inter partes review?

en banc order. Briefs of amicus curiae may be filed without consent.

One Year Filing Deadline: Section 315(b) creates a statute of limitations for inter partes review proceedings – indicating that the petition for IPR must be filed within one-year of “the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”  Here, Wi-Fi argues that Broadcom was in privity with entities involved in parallel district court litigation involving challenged patents — creating a time bar under 315(b).

The PTAB rejected Wi-Fi’s argument and call for discovery on the issue — holding that the “privy” requirement could only be met if Broadcom had the right to control the District Court litigation.

No Appeal: On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed – holding Section 314(d) prohibits appellate review of the institution issue.  In particular Section 314(d) states that

The determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.

In Achates, the court ruled that the one-year-deadline determination is an institution decision – “even if such assessment is reconsidered during the merits phase of proceedins and restated as part of the Board’s final written decision.”

In the background stands the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Cuozzo.  In that case, the Supreme Court gave effect to the no-appeal provision of 314(d).  However, the Supreme Court noted that unusual questions – such as constitutional questions – might still be appealable.  The foundation for the en banc review decision will be its interpretation of the following Cuozzo excerpts:

We conclude that [314(d)], though it may not bar consideration of a constitutional question, for example, does bar judicial review of the kind of mine-run claim at issue here, involving the Patent Office’s decision to institute inter partes review. . . .

Nevertheless, in light of §314(d)’s own text and the presumption favoring review, we emphasize that our interpretation applies where the grounds for attacking the decision to institute inter partes review consist of questions that are closely tied to the application and interpretation of statutes related to the Patent Office’s decision to initiate inter partes review. See §314(d) (barring appeals of “determinations . . . to initiate an inter partes review under this section” (emphasis added)). This means that we need not, and do not, decide the precise effect of §314(d) on appeals that implicate constitutional questions, that depend on other less closely related statutes, or that present other questions of interpretation that reach, in terms of scope and impact, well beyond “this section.” . . .  Thus, contrary to the dissent’s suggestion, we do not categorically preclude review of a final decision where a petition fails to give “sufficient notice” such that there is a due process problem with the entire proceeding, nor does our interpretation enable the agency to act outside its statutory limits by, for example, canceling a patent claim for “indefiniteness under §112” in inter partes review. Such “shenanigans” may be properly reviewable in the context of §319 and under the Administrative Procedure Act, which enables reviewing courts to “set aside agency action” that is “contrary to constitutional right,” “in excess of statutory jurisdiction,” or “arbitrary [and] capricious.”

The question then for court is whether we have a shenanigan here.

 

 

Federal Circuit Orders PTO to limit business method review trials (CBM) to “financial products or services” since that is the law

by Dennis Crouch

In Unwired Planet v. Google, the Federal Circuit has vacated a PTAB covered business method decision – holding that the PTO’s definition of a “covered business method” was unduly broad.

The America Invents Act created a powerful set of post-issuance administrative review procedures known generally as AIA trials, including the covered business method (CBM) review. CBM is designed as a transitional proceeding that will sunset in the year 2020 barring congressional action. The most popular form of AIA trial is inter partes review (IPR) that allows for review of any issued patent but is limited to only novelty and obviousness challenges based upon prior art.  CBM review applies to a much narrower set of patents – only “covered business methods” – but those patents can be challenged on almost any patentability ground, including eligibility.  Here, the Board found the challenged claims unpatentable subject matter under section 101.

The term covered business method is particularly defined to include any patent “that claims a method or corresponding apparatus for performing data processing or other operations used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service, except that the term does not include patents for technological inventions.” AIA § 18(d)(1).  In its implementing rules, the PTO did not further define or explain the CBM definition within its official rules – although the PTO did propose the “incidental” or “complementary” language in its official responses to comments on its proposed rules.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has rejected the more expansive definition as contrary to the statute.

Here Unwired’s Patent No. 7,203,752 claims a method of using privacy preferences to configure when various applications are permitted to access a wireless device’s location information.  PTAB found CBM claims by noting that businesses may want “to know a wireless device is in its area so relevant advertising may be transmitted.” The PTAB’s finding here was not conjecture but instead came from the patent’s written description.  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit found the required “financial product or service” link too tenuous.  The court explains:

The Board’s application of the “incidental to” and “complementary to” language from the PTO policy statement instead of the statutory definition renders superfluous the limits Congress placed on the definition of a CBM patent.

The court then provides a few analogies:

The patent for a novel lightbulb that is found to work particularly well in bank vaults does not become a CBM patent because of its incidental or complementary use in banks. Likewise, it cannot be the case that a patent covering a method and corresponding apparatuses becomes a CBM patent because its practice could involve a potential sale of a good or service. All patents, at some level, relate to potential sale of a good or service. Take, for example, a patent for an apparatus for digging ditches. Does the sale of the dirt that results from use of the ditch digger render the patent a CBM patent? No, because the claims of the ditch-digging method or apparatus are not directed to “performing data processing or other operations” or “used in the practice, administration, or management of a financial product or service,” as required by the statute. It is not enough that a sale has occurred or may occur, or even that the specification speculates such a potential sale might occur.

The decision here thus appears to eliminate any chance that the patent will be considered a CBM and thus the Section 101 decision by the PTAB goes away.

No Appeal? Like IPR proceedings, CBM proceedings begin with an initiation decision followed by a trial decision.  And, like IPR proceedings, the decision to initiate a CBM is not appealable.  In Versata, however, the Federal Circuit held that the initiation question of whether a patent is a CBM patent may be reviewed on appeal.  Despite the statutory language and the intervening Supreme Court decision in Cuozzo, the court here held that it still has jurisdiction to review the CBM initiation question on appeal.

Deference: In reviewing the PTAB determination, the court gave no deference to the Board’s interpretation of the law. “We review the Board’s statutory interpretation de novo.”  The Court also gave no deference to the PTO’s “policy statement” made in its notice of final rules.  The court does implicitly suggest – as it did in Versata – that implementation of a more thorough definition in the CFR rules would be given deference. However, the PTO has not taken that approach.

I do not know yet whether Google will push this case to the Supreme Court.  The strongest argument is that Cuozzo implicitly overruled Versata. That is the holding suggested by Alito’s dissenting interpretation of the Cuozzo majority.

 

Supreme Court Patent Cases: Post Sale Exhaustion

by Dennis Crouch

Substantive Patent Law: Newly filed petition in Merck & Cie v. Watson Labs raises a core substantive patent issue – does the on sale bar apply to secret sales? The defendant asks:

Whether the “on sale” bar found in § 102(b) applies only to sales or offers of sale made available to the public, as Congress, this Court, and the United States have all made clear, or whether it also applies to non-public sales or offers of sale, as the Federal Circuit has held.

The Merck petition is focused on pre-AIA patents.  The PTO (and patentees) are arguing more forcefully that the AIA certainly intended to exclude secret sales from the scope of prior art in cases now pending before the Federal Circuit.

The second new substantive patent law case is Google v. Arendi that challenge’s the Federal Circuit’s limitations on the use of common sense in the obviousness analysis.  In its decision, the Federal Circuit limited KSR to combination patents and held that “common sense” cannot be used to supply missing limitations.  Google argues that the Federal Circuit’s approach is contrary to the broad and flexible obviousness analysis required by KSR.  Patentees bristle term “common sense” – they see an overly flexible analysis as providing opportunities to invalidate patents without evidence.  The question: “Did the Federal Circuit err in restricting the Board’s ability to rely on the common sense and common knowledge of skilled artisans to establish the obviousness of patent claims?”

As these new petitions were being filed, the Supreme Court has also denied the pending obviousness, anticipation, and eligibility petitions.  In addition, Cooper v. Square has also been denied.

Civil Procedure: In J&J v. Rembrandt, the defendant J&J won at trial. However, Rembrandt later learned that J&J’s expert had testified falsely and the Federal Circuit ordered the case re-opened under R.60(b)(3) that empowers district courts to revisit final judgments after a showing of “fraud …, misrepresentation, or misconduct by the opposing party.”  The various circuits follow different standards and procedures for analyzing process and J&J has asked the Supreme Court to reconcile these (in its favor).  Another CivPro petition was also filed by Eon Corp that questions whether an appellee needed to file a R.50 JMOL motion to overturn a jury verdict that was based upon a faulty legal conclusion by the district court (here claim construction).  The Question Presented is:

Whether the Federal Circuit erred in ordering entry of judgment as a matter of law on a ground not presented in a Rule 50 motion in the district court, even though the ground presented a purely legal question.

Both J&J and Eon are only marginally patent cases, the core procedure case now pending is TC Heartland that would substantially upset the status quo of patent lawsuit concentration in E.D. Texas. Briefing continues in TC Heartland. In recent weeks a set of seven amici briefs were filed on the top side.

Next week Supreme Court conference includes review of the most likely-to-be-granted petition of Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. that focuses on important questions of post-sale exhaustion of patent rights.  The setup – If I buy a used product that was made and sold by the patentee, do I still need to worry that I might get sued for patent infringement?  The Federal Circuit says yes. The Supreme Court is likely to add some caveats to that.  The US Government (Obama Administration via DOJ) has argued that the case should be reviewed and that the Federal Circuit’s position should be rejected. Both parties then filed supplemental responsive briefs.  Lexmark’s best argument here is that these principles are well settled and that Congress can take on the role of tweaking them if needed.

Upcoming Supreme Court Oral Argument: Life Tech (export of components) set for December 6, 2016.

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Medtronic: On Rehearing the Court Restates that IPR Termination Decision is Not Appealable

by Dennis Crouch

On rehearing in Medtronic v. Robert Bosch, the Federal Circuit panel has reaffirmed its earlier determining that the PTAB’s vacatur of an IPR institution decision is a decision as to “whether to institute an inter partes review” and therefore is “final and nonappealable.”  The original Medtronic decision had been released prior to Cuozzo v. Lee (2016) and the rehearing decision now explains that “nothing in Cuozzo is to the contrary.”

Although I continue to cringe at the prospect of no appeal, the decision here makes logical sense based upon the statutory and procedural structure. Here, the termination decision was based upon the petitioner’s failure to identify all real parties at interest — a core requirement of a complete petition.  Base upon that failure, the Board determined that the petitions were incomplete and therefore “cannot be considered.”  With that conclusion, the Board terminated the petitions and vacated the prior institution decisions.   In this framework, it makes sense for the termination/vacatur to be a decision on institution and thus not subject to appeal.  I could imagine a different scenario where the PTAB terminates an IPR based upon some other ground that is not a petition requirement — such as failure to prosecute or improper post-institution attorney conduct. In that hypothetical situation, the termination would be substantially divorced from the institution and – in my view – would no longer fall under the no-appeal requirement.

An additional difficulty with all of this stems from the pending Ethicon petition and the difference between action by the Director and action by the PTAB.  The statute separates the roles – indicating that the PTO Director’s role is in determining “whether to institute” an IPR.  Under the statute, the PTAB then steps in to conduct the trial.  Those separate roles were then combined by PTO regulation which states “The Board institutes the trial on behalf of the Director.” 37 CFR 42.4.   A question – unanswered in this case – is whether the Director’s regulatory delegation above should be interpreted to also extend to vacating and terminating petitions.  I’m not sure that it does.