14,000 Words to Win It: Why Medtronic’s Appeal Strategy Backfired

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit’s new decision in Medtronic v. Teleflex delves into the old pre-AIA law of inventorship and prior art.  It also provides an important appellate procedure lesson with the court finding the appellant waived a key argument. 

Teleflex’s U.S. Patent No. RE46,116 claims methods for using a special extension for its guide catheter. Medtronic filed a pair of IPR petitions, asking the USPTO to cancel the claims. Although the PTAB granted the petitions, it eventually sided with the patentee — agreeing that one of the asserted references did not qualify as prior art.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed.

The basic question is whether Itou (7,736,355) qualifies as prior art against Teleflex’s patent (RE46,116). The Itou application was filed about nine-months before the Teleflex application.

Under the AIA Teleflex would clearly lose. Itou was filed first and eventually published and therefore qualifies as prior art under AIA 102(a)(2).  And,  the AIA limited 1-year grace period under 102(b)(2) would not apply since Teleflex did not first disclose the invention. But, these applications are all pre-AIA.

In this situation, Medtronic wants Itou to qualify as prior art as of its application filing date.  That means that we apply pre-AIA 102(e).  35 U.S.C. 102(e) provided that a person shall not be entitled to a patent if the claimed invention was described in a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent.   Thus, Itou is prior art so long as it was filed prior to the Teleflex invention date.

Proving Invention Date.  Establishing invention date requires determining when the inventor both conceived of the complete invention and then reduced it to practice.  Conception is typically seen as the most important aspect of invention, but invention is not complete until it is reduced to practice. Conception occurs when an inventor forms a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention in their mind. This is the critical inception of the invention. However, conception alone is not enough – the inventor must also reduce the invention to practice. This can occur either by actually building and testing the invention to show it works for its intended purpose (actual reduction to practice).  But, in patent law we also observe the legal fiction that filing a patent application describing the invention in sufficient detail to enable a person skilled in the art to make and use it will also qualify (constructive reduction to practice).

When proving a prior invention date, the law allows inventors to claim all the way back to their provable date of conception, so long as they also show reasonable and continuous diligence by the inventor to reduce the invention to practice.  Thus, if the inventor conceived the invention but then set it aside for a long period before filing a patent application or resuming diligent efforts to reduce it to practice, this can negate the prior invention date.  Once the invention is reduced to practice, diligence is no longer required, but the inventor must be careful not to unduly delay in filing for patent protection because it could create abandonment, estoppel, or laches issues.

In this case, the PTAB agreed with Teleflex that Itou was not prior art, finding that the invention was both actually and constructively reduced to practice before Itou’s filing. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed on the grounds of constructive reduction to practice, declining to reach the issue of actual reduction to practice. Constructive reduction to practice requires (1) conception prior to the filing date of the asserted reference, and (2) reasonably continuous diligence from just before the reference’s filing until the priority application.

Here, Teleflex provided dated technical documents about the “GuideLiner” product it was developing sufficient to prove diligence and submitted declarations and other supporting evidence showing ongoing development of the invention through the filing date of the patent application.   These included records of prototypes, emails, testic documents, manufacturing prep, etc.

On appeal, Medtronic argued that the PTAB erred in finding that Teleflex established an actual reduction to practice before Itou’s filing date. Specifically, Medtronic asserted that the plain language of Teleflex’s claims requires in vivo testing, as the claims recite steps like “advancing a distal end of a guide catheter . . . through a main blood vessel to an ostium of a coronary artery.” According to Medtronic, Teleflex’s bench testing in an anatomical model was insufficient to meet this limitation and demonstrate actual reduction to practice.  In response, Teleflex contended that actual reduction to practice allows some flexibility rather than rigidly requiring that every claim limitation be performed exactly as stated. Teleflex pointed to cases like In Re Spiller finding reduction to practice despite variations from the explicit claim language. However, the Federal Circuit panel questioned whether Spiller actually supports such flexibility, and whether the Board properly construed the precedent it relied on.

Ultimately, the Federal Circuit declined to decide the issue of actual reduction to practice, affirming solely on the grounds of constructive reduction to practice since Medtronic had seemingly waived its diligence arguments on appeal through improper incorporation by reference.

Incorporation by Reference Doesn’t Work: For anyone appealing to the Federal Circuit, the waiver aspect of this case will be the most important part.   Appellants get 14,000 words in their appeal brief. Although that word length is quite a lot — it gets eaten up pretty quickly and appellants are regularly cutting arguments that they feel could be winners. Here, Medtronic attempted to incorporate 20 pages of briefing from another case by reference that detailed its argument on lack-of-diligence.  The brief itself only included a cursory statement that if the Federal Circuit vacated the diligence finding in the parallel case, it should also vacate and remand on diligence here. But, Medtronic did not substantively argue against the PTAB’s diligence analysis in the brief proper. During oral arguments, Judge Chen offered the following remarks:

We have a 14,000 word count limit to our briefing. You’re at 13,979 and on page 41 you want to incorporate 20 pages of briefing from a separate appeal, which would obviously blow right through the 14,000 word count.  So I’m trying to figure out what to do here. We’ve got 14,000 word count limit that’s being blown through. And likewise, we have a pretty strong precedent that says you’re not allowed to incorporate by reference arguments made in other documents into your briefing. So I don’t know if we can read this as a permissible incorporation by reference.

In the decision, the court concluded that the 14,000 word count limit for principal briefs under Federal Circuit Rule 32(a) along with prior precedent prohibits incorporation by reference to ensure parties fully develop their arguments within the allotted word limits. Despite Medtronic asserting the diligence issue was fully briefed in the other case, the Federal Circuit held Medtronic waived any challenges to the PTAB’s diligence determination and affirmed on the basis of Teleflex’s constructive reduction to practice. According to the court, Medtronic made a strategic decision (a bet) regarding how to allocate its words, and could not undo that choice by asking the court to consider extra-record briefing (without a successful motion to extend the word count).  Thus, while Medtronic contested the finding of diligence before the PTAB, the Federal Circuit found this challenge waived on appeal due to inadequate briefing.


15 thoughts on “14,000 Words to Win It: Why Medtronic’s Appeal Strategy Backfired

  1. 5

    At page 9 of the opinion, the court shows it knows the difference between forfeiture and waiver, but still finds the arguments waived (as opposed to forfeited) even despite there being clear intention to have the arguments included, albeit in an end-run around the word limit.

    I’m puzzled as to why the court decides to find a clear intention to do something as the opposite–clear intention *not* to do the thing–especially since it wouldn’t matter, as forfeiture and waiver would have the same effect in this case.

  2. 4

    Medtronic needs to hire some of our brilliant commenters here. Plainly the simplest and cheapest course of action to clear the way would be to publicly accounts it was practicing Teleflex’s claims in Northern California. Then when Teleflex sues, make the straightforward easy argument that Teleflex’s claims are an abstraction under 101 (like everything!). And of course the California court will happily adopt the argument (whatever it is) because California can’t stand patents. At worse, this tactic has only a 50% chance of losing, like a coin toss, given how confusing and unpredictable eligibility determinations are. But the cost of the litigation will be super minimal given how straightforward the argument for ineligibility is. And if they lost at the district court, it’ll be almost a guaranteed reversal at the CAFC which likes patents even LESS than California, especially if the science-despising judges are given a chance to tank the patent under 101 which they would do just to spite Judge Newman for being correct so much more often than they could ever hope to be with their tiny unscientific minds.

    Is there any evidence to suggest that any of the above is inaccurate? Of course not. Only the Marxists who have taken over the government and academia would ever question this.

    1. 4.1

      Funny that – you actually refuse to engage on the merits of the points presented to you.

      By the by, which side have you taken in the Middle East conflict?

  3. 3

    Disputes over invention dates allegedly earlier than filing dates in pre-AIA patent litigation will continue for awhile longer with more risks of errors, as the few real legal experts on that subject were a small number of extensive interference litigation practitioners now rapidly disappearing along with most interferences due to the AIA.

    1. 3.1

      Correct me if I am in error, but did not the protocols for derivations under the AIA pretty much simply pull over (lock stock and barrel) all of that interference stuff?


          “Nope,” you are not going to correct me? (I might be correct or not, you are just not going to weigh in?)

          “Nope,” some, but not all was adopted?

          “Nope,” none of it was adopted?

          Please clarify.


            I’m not going to write an article here on the differences, but I will respond briefly with some in hopes that that was a genuine question of interest.
            The most relevant difference to my initial point is that there have only ever been 2 actually conducted “derivation proceedings” as far as I am aware in its entire existence. So, no significant practitioner experience opportunities. Also, even the prior derivation proceedings were only a small and abnormal part of old “first to invent” interference proceedings. Basically, derivation is a stolen invention and false filing allegation. Difficult to prove, typically with directly conflicting declarations rather than admitted.
            Here is what the PTO says, very briefly: “A derivation proceeding is a trial proceeding conducted at the Board to determine whether (i) an inventor named in an earlier application derived the claimed invention from an inventor named in the petitioner’s application, and (ii) the earlier application claiming such invention was filed without authorization. An applicant subject to the first-inventor-to-file provisions may file a petition to institute a derivation proceeding only within 1 year of the first publication of a claim to an invention that is the same or substantially the same as the earlier application’s claim to the invention. The petition must be supported by substantial evidence that the claimed invention was derived from an inventor named in the petitioner’s application. The procedure for derivation took effect on March 16, 2013.” Note that AIA “first inventor to file” rules otherwise apply, not the old first to invent tests of “prior conception date plus reasonably continuous diligence until filing”, or “actual reduction to practice” before filing. Also note the substantial evidence of derivation test to even start a derivation contest. [A difficult “threshold” test.]


              Rarity or not does not bear on my supposition.

              I am talking about the procedural aspects (at the least).

              Certainly, BOTH were difficult and rare. But the point still has been suggested (and not rebutted – regardless of rarity), that derivation procedures were simply (and largely) adapted from interference procedures.

              And yes, this is in earnest. Why would you think otherwise?


              Speaking of rarity (different than above that was created with the AIA), has there been even a single case in which the ‘new’ power of Prior User Rights has been flexed in the court system?


                Here’s a report from a law firm from a few years ago:
                “Recently, a colleague inquired about prior user rights. Knowing that we have not heard much about it since the passing of the AIA, we took a look at what has been happening, only to find not much.
                Having historical origins reaching back to provisions in the Patent Act of 1836, when enacted in 1999, the prior user rights defense was limited to business method patents. With the passage of the AIA, the defense was expanded to cover all technologies. Reportedly, however, the defense is rarely asserted, even more rarely litigated on the merits, and does not appear to have ever been successfully used in the US. These findings can be attributed to its narrow scope and numerous exceptions, difficulties in establishing proofs, and other limitations and risks associated with the defense.”
                [I had made similar predictions about this on this blog when the AIA was enacted in response to some scare predictions.

  4. 1

    Perhaps justice would be better served if in any situation that waiver MAY occur, word limits themselves should be waived.

    I “get” not wanting to be bogged down, but simple alternatives and ‘right to reserve’ seems a better way to maintain integrity that any type of Grammar
    I effects.

Comments are closed.