by Dennis Crouch
The decision in this case is short and non-precedential, but raises an interesting Arthrex issue on Unconstitutional Appointments.
Snyders Heart Valve LLC v. St. Jude Medical, LLC (Fed. Cir. 2020) (SnydersStJude)
Snyders’ US Patent No. 6,821,297 covers a collapsible artificial heart valve that can be attached through a blood vessel rather than open-heart surgery.
Rather than addressing the merits of the obviousness case, the Federal Circuit has followed its precedent set by Arthrex and has has vacated the PTAB’s judgment because the judges were appointed in an unconstitutional manner. On remand, a reconstituted–and now magically constitutional–PTAB panel will re-do the trial (unless the Supreme Court intervenes before then).
In its argument, Snyders suggested that it should receive some particular treatment from the court because of a potential conflict of interest with Dir. Iancu. Prior to joining the USPTO, Iancu was in private practice and represented St. Jude in a parallel proceedings. Although Dir. Iancu has recused himself from the case, Snyders argues that the Director’s conflicts are not so easily erased. Rather, an attorneys conflicts regularly extend to subordinate employees as well. Here, the Arthrex remedy comes into play because the court in that case gave more direct authority supervisory to the PTO Director. The following argument comes from Snyders’ brief:
The concept that disqualification of an attorney may extend to that attorney’s subordinate employees is well established. For example, the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct recognize a conflict where representation of a client is materially limited by an attorney’s personal interest. See Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.7(a)(2) (2016). Those rules also recognize that disqualification of an attorney due to a personal conflict may be imputed to fellow employees where the employees would be materially limited due to their loyalty to the attorney.
The Federal Circuit found the argument here “without merit . . . the Deputy Director’s role sufficiently removes any potential taint of the Director’s conflict.” The Court did not address the particular issue here regarding the heightened supervisory authority of PTAB judges coming-out-of Arthrex.