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.