By Dennis Crouch
Exelixis v. Kappos (Exelixis II) (E.D. Va. 2013)
We now have a district court split on post-RCE patent term adjustment. This decision – siding with the PTO – arises from a second Exelixis case and will be called Exelixis II (Brinkema, J.) In Exelixis I, Judge T.S. Ellis sided with the patentee in finding that the PTO was improperly under-calculating the patent term owed to patentees who had filed a request-for-continued examination during the course of prosecution. Exelixis v. Kappos, — F. Supp. 2d —, 2012 WL 5398876 (E.D. Va. Nov. 1, 2012), as amended Nov. 6, 2012. In the parallel caes of Novartis AG v. Kappos, — F. Supp. 2d –, 2012 WL 5564736 (D.D.C. Nov. 15, 2012), Judge Huvelle adopted the reasoning of Judge Ellis in siding with the patentee. Those decisions basically held that "once the three year clock has run, PTA is to be awarded on a day for day basis regardless of subsequent events." The PTO has argued that an RCE stops the running of the PTA clock.
In her newly released opinion, Judge Brinkema has sided with the PTO in holding that "'any time consumed by continued examination of the application requested by the applicant under section 132(b)' (via the filing of an RCE) does not count toward that three-year period." Quoting 35 U.S.C. §154(b)(1)(B). Exelixis I is already on appeal to the Federal Circuit and part II may be there soon as well.
The PTA statute is poorly written and thus both sides offer reasonable interpretations. In that type of scenario the most important factor is often whether deference is given to the agency's statutory interpretation. Here, Judge Brinkema determined that the PTO's interpretation of its statute should be accorded Skidmore deference because the PTO's interpretation is a "reasonable conclusion as to the proper construction of the statute." Quoting Cathedral Candle Co. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 400 F.3d 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2005). In that case, Judge Bryson wrote "we believe the Supreme Court intends for us to defer to an agency interpretation of the statute that it administers if the agency has conducted a careful analysis of the statutory issue, if the agency's position has been consistent and reflects agency-wide policy, and if the agency's position constitutes a reasonable conclusion as to the proper construction of the statute, even if we might not have adopted that construction without the benefit of the agency's analysis." Of course, that case was not a patent case. And the Federal Circuit has appeared much less willing to offer deference to USPTO decisions.
Read the new opinion here: /media/docs/2013/01/gov.uscourts.vaed.280154.31.0.pdf.