By Dennis Crouch
Hyatt v. Kappos (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc)
Summary: In a 6-2-1 en banc decision, the Federal Circuit has reversed its prior precedent and held that a patent applicant must be allowed to introduce new evidence in a Section 145 civil action filed to challenge a USPTO refusal to grant patent rights and that the issues implicated by the new facts must be considered de novo.
[W]e hold that the only limitations on the admissibility of evidence applicable to a § 145 proceeding are the limitations imposed by the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Therefore, we hold that the district court applied the wrong legal standard for the admissibility of evidence in a § 145 proceeding and abused its discretion when it excluded Mr. Hyatt's declaration. . . .
The particular significance of a § 145 civil action is that it affords an applicant the opportunity to introduce new evidence after the close of the administra-tive proceedings—and once an applicant introduces new evidence on an issue, the district court reviews that issue de novo.
However, the Court also wrote that an applicant may still be barred from presenting new "issues" in the civil action and that, when no new evidence is presented, that BPAI findings and rulings should be given deference under the Administrative Procedures Act.
Impact: This decision could be seen as relieving some pressure on applicants to ensure that their cases for patentability are exhaustively presented to the USPTO's internal Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI). The decision is especially important in light of the growing role of BPAI appeals in the ordinary course of patent prosecution. In its argument, the USPTO suggests that a strategic applicant may now choose hold-back some evidence from the BPAI appeal in order to overcome the APA deference if the case goes to the District Court.
Statute in Question: 35 U.S.C. § 145 creates a right to a "civil action" in Federal District Court against the USPTO Director whenever an applicant is "dissatisfied with the decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences in an appeal under section 134(a)." In the alternative, an applicant may appeal directly to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Background: Gil Hyatt is a well-known inventor and successful patentee. Hyatt filed a civil action in 2003 after the BPAI sustained written description and enablement rejections for seventy-nine of Hyatt's claims. The examiner had issued "2546 separate rejections of Mr. Hyatt's 117 claims" based on the doctrines of inadequate "written description, lack of enablement, double patenting, anticipation, and obviousness." The Board reversed all of the examiner rejections except for the § 112 p1 arguments. Complicating this case is the fact that the application's claimed priority date is 1975. Hyatt has aggressively pushed the bounds of USPTO practice. This decision is one of more than a dozen Federal Circuit decisions focusing on Hyatt's patent rights. When California pursued Hyatt for tax revenue for his patent licenses, Hyatt took the case to the Supreme Court and eventually won a $388 million judgment against the state of California for invasion of privacy.
After the Board affirmed a set of written description and enablement rejections, Hyatt filed a Section 145 civil action and included a declaration offering new evidence of enablement and written description. The district court excluded that inventor-declaration from evidence based on Hyatt's "negligence" in failing to previously submit the information to the PTO. In a 2009 panel decision, the Federal Circuit held that the district court had properly excluded the new evidence – holding that the district court may properly exclude evidence that Hyatt should have produced to the PTO. That opinion was penned by former Chief Judge Michel and Joined by Judge Dyk. Judge Moore wrote a vigorous dissent that supported a patent applicant's right to a full civil action including the right to submit additional evidence when challenging a PTO decision.
Judge Moore wrote the en banc decision that was joined by Chief Judge Rader and Judges Lourie, Bryson, Linn, and Prost. Judge Dyk dissented and was joined by Judge Gajarsa. Judge Newman Concurred-in-Part – arguing that the civil action should not give deference to PTO factual determinations.
A key to the majority decision is the notion that a Section 145 civil action is not an appeal, but rather a new, separate lawsuit filed to force the PTO to act. In its analysis, the court began with a focus on the 150-year history of the civil action right (and its predecessor Bill in Equity) and the reality that new evidence has always a part of those remedies. See, e.g., Gandy v. Marble, 122 U.S. 432 (1887) (explaining that the [predecessor] § 4915 suit in equity was "not a technical appeal from the Patent Office, nor confined to the case as made in the record on that office"). The court then reviewed the current text of the statute, implications of the APA, and various policy arguments before reaching its conclusions.
In a 37-page dissent, Judge Dyk argued that the majority made an improper leap from (1) the correct premise that new evidence should be admissible in the civil action to (2) the incorrect conclusion that the law provides no meaningful limits on the introduction of new evidence regardless of what was presented at the BPAI.