by Dennis Crouch
In its new en banc opinion, the Federal Circuit has confirmed that the Patent Act does not require patent applicants to pay the USPTO’s attorney fees in Section 145 actions. The USPTO had requested $100,000+ to compensate for the time of its in-house attorneys.
NantKwest, Inc. v. Iancu, 16-1794, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 20932 (Fed. Cir. 2018) (en banc).
35 U.S.C. 145 provides an unsuccessful patent applicant with the option of either (a) appealing the PTAB decision to the Federal Circuit or (b) filing a “civil action” in district court. One kicker though – the statute provides that “All the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant.”
Back in 2010, the Federal Circuit ruled that the statute allows the USPTO to collect expenses “regardless of the outcome.” Hyatt v. Kappos, 625 F.3d 1320 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc).
In NantKwest, the original panel split on the meaning of “all the expenses” — with the majority holding that “expenses” include USPTO attorney fees (including in-house salaried attorney fees).. That panel decision has now been rejected in a 7-4 decision with Judge Stoll penning the majority decision. Chief Judge PROST wrote in dissent and was joined by Judges Dyk, Reyna, and Hughes.
The court’s reasoning here is that the “American rule” on fees (each party pays for its own attorney fees) is a strongly embedded and any statutory rejection of the rule must be “specific and explicit.” The “all the expenses” language here does not meet that requirement — especially since such an interpretation would render this the only federal statute requiring “a private litigant to pay the government’s attorneys’ fees without regard to the party’s success in the litigation.”
The bottom line here is that patent applicants who challenge a PTAB decision will still be forced to pay other expenses such as printing costs and expert fees — but will not be required to pay the PTO attorney fees as a matter of course.