101 Statutory Changes

According to at least one hearsay report, members of Congress are working toward a new patent reform bill on subject matter eligibility – likely partially following the models prepared by the IPO and pushed by Dave Kappos (among others).  There is some chance that it will be introduced this month.

I previously discussed the IPO Proposal:

Eligibility: Explaining the IPO Legislative Proposal


Federal Circuit Refuses to Hear Private Right Issue

by Dennis Crouch

Cascades Projections v. Epson America (Fed. Cir. 2017) (en banc denial)

In a split decision, the Federal Circuit has denied Cascades petition for initial en banc hearing.  The petition asked one question: “Whether a patent right is a public right.” Because a Federal Circuit panel already decided this decision in MCM, Cascades asked the court to bypass the initial panel appeal and head straight to the en banc question.  See MCM Portfolio LLC v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 812 F.3d 1284 (Fed. Cir. 2015), cert. denied 137 S. Ct. 292 (2016).  The issue is important because the answer to the private right question could lead to a judgment that the administrative patent trial system is an unconstitutional violation of due process rights.  I previously discussed the case on Patently-O.

Whether a Patent Right is a Public Right


For judges wrote separately on the case:

Judge Newman Concurring in Denial: The important question here is “whether the statutory scheme created by the America Invents Act, in which the Office is given an enlarged opportunity to correct its errors in granting a patent, with its decision subject to review by the Federal Circuit, meets the constitutional requirements of due process in disposition of property.”  Judge Newman suggests that she would vote for re-hearing after “full opportunity for panel rehearing.”

Judge Dyk (Joined by Judges Prost and Hughes) Concurring in the Denial: “MCM was correctly decided. . . . [T]here is no inconsistency in concluding that patent rights constitute property and that the source of that property right is a public right conferred by federal statute.”

Judge O’Malley, Dissenting from the Denial: Patent rights are likely “core private rights only subject to adjudication in Article III courts.”

Judge Reyna, Dissenting from the Denial: “The state of current law compels en banc review.”   According to Judge Reyna, the clear statement from Supreme Court’s 1898 decision in McCormick Harvesting that “The only authority competent to set a patent aside, or to annul it, or to correct it for any reason whatever, is vested in the courts of the United States, and not in the department which issued the patent.” McCormick Harvesting Mach. Co. v. C. Aultman & Co., 169 U.S. 606, 609 (1898).

We’ll look for the upcoming panel decision in the case and subsequent en banc hearing.



Uncertainty: Helsinn Foreshadows Trouble with AIA Patents

By Dennis Crouch

The AIA was passed back in 2011 and the changes have gradually been implemented through the patent system.  We are finally at the point where most newly issued U.S. patents are post-AIA patents whose patentability is individually based upon the first-to-file provisions of re-drafted 35 U.S.C. § 102.  We’re talking here about hundreds-of-thousands of patents interpreted under the new rules with millions on their way.  As this huge stone is slowly building momentum, the PTO has faced a startup problem: The Agency must apply the new law even though it has almost no guidance from the courts as to how the new portions of the statute will be interpreted.  Because the PTO interpretation is given no deference and because of the many drafting holes in the AIA, I expect that the PTO interpretation will be repeatedly found incorrect.

The only substantive area that has been thus-far decided by the Federal Circuit involves the recent Helsinn decision.  In that case, the Federal Circuit rejected the PTO approach to on-sale prior art and ruled that a pre-filing sale whose existence was disclosed to the public counts as 102(a)(1) prior art even if the elements of the invention were not publicly disclosed (just the fact of the sale).  In its incorrect interpretation of the statute, the PTO had judged the statute as only counting sales as public if the elements of the invention were also disclosed publicly.[1]

There are many other potential examples of questionable language from the AIA first-to-invent provisions that will eventually come to a head:

  • Effective Filing Date: In a patent claiming priority to a prior application, does the claim’s ‘effective filing date’ depend upon whether the relied-upon filing discloses and enables the claimed invention? Section 100(i) suggests that we look only to whether there is a claimed right for priority or benefit. This could impact many written description cases.
  • On Sale: Does a purely private sale or offer to sell count as prior art? Helsinn reserves this question for a later date.
  • Public Use: Does non-disclosing public use count as prior art? Helsinn suggests yes.
  • Commercialization: Does non-disclosing commercialization of the invention by the patentee count as prior art?
  • Otherwise available to the public: Under what conditions apart from the listed publications and uses will we consider an invention to be “otherwise available to the public?” How much further does this go beyond publication and public use? Is public knowledge of the existence of the invention sufficient, or must the public be made aware of the inventions elements and how to make and use the invention? Does the invention need to be discoverable in some way?
  • Grace Period: What level of proof is required for the patentee to show its prior disclosure?
  • Disclosure: For an inventor’s disclosure to trigger the grace period, must it enable the entire invention?
  • Public Disclosure: What counts as a pre-filing ‘public disclosure’ under 102(b)(1)(B) sufficient to knock-out prior art? Is the publicness the same as 102(a)(1)?
  • Changed Disclosure: For intervening third-party disclosures or patent applications that differ from an inventor’s disclosure, what scope (if any) is knocked-out from the scope of prior art? This may be different depending upon whether focusing on 102(b)(1)(a); 102(b)(1)(b); 102(b)(1)(c); or 102(b)(1)(d).
  • Date of 102(a)(2) prior art: 102(d) modifies the 102(a)(2) prior art date for published applications and patents by looking to whether the application claims priority / benefit to a prior filing. Congress certainly intended that the priority date only counts if the priority filing disclosed the subject matter being relied upon in the rejection.  However, the statute is not so clear and suggests instead that all we need is a proper claim of priority or benefit. .

These are a handful of examples, and more certainly exist.

I have some thoughts on how provisions of the statute should be interpreted – both as a matter of statutory interpretation and a matter of patent policy.  My larger concern, however, is that we are still years away from seeing court decisions interpreting these elements in ways that settle the law.  Up to now, for instance, there are not even any public PTAB decisions interpreting the new elements of 102(b).  With the disposing of more than 500,000 patent applications per year, the office is likely to churn through millions before these issues go before the Federal Circuit.  If the first case on point (Helsinn) is any indication, the Federal Circuit is likely to disagree with at least several of the PTO’s statutory interpretations – potentially creating swaths of improperly issued patents or improperly rejected applications depending upon whether the PTO interpretation is too broad or too narrow.  Although temporary, we have the potential here of creating a real bubble that will give us another 20+ year headache in similar fashion to the PTO’s low-quality examination of software and business methods in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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[1] MPEP 2152.02(d) (“The phrase ‘on sale’ in AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1)  is treated as having the same meaning as ‘on sale’ in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), except that the sale must make the invention available to the public.”).

Written Description, Disclosed Embodiments, and BRI

By Dennis Crouch

The vast majority of written description problems arise when the patentee amends or adds claims with limitations not found in the original claim set and using language that does not directly map to specification disclosure.  In Cisco Systems v. Cirrex (Fed. Cir. 2017), the Federal Circuit provides an example of this in practice.

[The Decision: Cisco]

After the PTO initiated an inter partes reexamination, the patentee (Cirrex) dropped the original claims (1-34) and added new claims (35-124) of its ‘082 patent.[1]  In its final decision, the PTAB affirmed the examiner’s decision that most of the added claims were invalid as lacking written description support.  The Board did, however, find five of the claims patentable.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit partially reversed – finding all of the claims invalid as lacking written description support.

35 U.S.C. § 112(a) serves as the statutory source for three patentability doctrines: Written Description, Enablement, and Best Mode.

(a) IN GENERAL.—The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor or joint inventor of carrying out the invention.

In Ariad, the Federal Circuit wrote that the original written description filed by the patentee must “clearly allow persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that [he] invented what is claimed.”[2]  Channeling the old fox-law case of Pierson v. Post, courts have held that the requirement is intended to show “possession” of the claimed invention at the time of filing.  Whether the written description is sufficient is a question of fact – with the level of detail depending upon “the nature and scope of the claims and on the complexity and predictability of the relevant technology.”  Thus less description is necessary to show possession in simple technologies in predictable areas.  More description is likely required to show possession of novel structures and arrangements as compared to elements found in the prior art.

Here, the added claims at issue here are related to either equalization or discrete attenuation of fiber optic signals inside a lightguide (PLC).

The problem for Cirrex, according to the court, is that the original specification “lacks any disclosure or suggestion of how placing attenuation material inside the PLC … would result in equalizing the intensities of different wavelengths traveling in the PLC, or discretely attenuating a particular wavelength in the PLC.”  Rather, the disclosed embodiments teach equalizing to light energy outside the PLC and only collective (rather than discrete) attenuation within the PLC.   As such, the Federal Circuit held the claims lacked sufficient written description.

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Alt: Essential Element Test: An interesting issue that the court avoided stems from an odd line of written description cases that center on what the Federal Circuit repeatedly denies is an “essential element” test.  In Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp.[3], the patentee amended claims to remove a previously recited limitation (placement of recliner controls between two recliners).  In that case, the court held that the broader claim lacked written description since the specification indicated possession of only a much narrower invention.  The basic conclusion is was that since the specification consistently described the invention as including “A, B, and C all connected together,” the patentee cannot broaden its claims to claim just A and B connected together (even if there would be no enablement problem).  Whenever the court cites Gentry, it almost always restates the seemingly contrary statement that this test should not be seen as an ‘essential element’ test but rather merely an inquiry as to whether the inventor possessed the invention now claimed.

Here, the challenger argued, in the alternative, that if the claims should also be invalid if interpreted to be broad enough to include equalizing activity whether inside or outside the PLC.  The problem is that all disclosed equalizing includes operating on signals outside the PLC, and the challenger argued that the disclosure does not then extend to the full scope of the claims.  This argument roughly follows the LizardTech decision where the court held that a broadened claim lacked written description because there was no showing of possession of the “full breadth of the claim.”[4]

This alternative argument was avoided in the appellate decision because the court more narrowly interpreted the claims as discussed above.

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Broadest Reasonable Interpretation vs. Interpretation Most Likely to Invalidate: The court here did not discuss how BRI applies to its claim construction approach.  The theory behind BRI is that a broader claim interpretation typically makes it more likely to invalidate claims, and that approach helps ensure that patents released by the PTO are more likely to be upheld as valid.  The interpretation issue is typically the opposite for written description issues.  Let me explain – since the standard written description problem involves adding new particular limitations into the claims that are absent from the specification, a more narrow interpretation of the claims is actually more likely to invalidate.  (Here, I set aside the aforementioned LizardTech improper broadening issue.)  The query here is whether the PTO should be applying the reasonable interpretation most likely to invalidate rather than broadest reasonable interpretation.

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[1] U.S. Patent No. U.S. Patent No. 6,415,082.

[2] Ariad Pharm., Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc) (quoting Vas-Cath Inc. v. Mahurkar, 935 F.2d 1555, 1563 (Fed. Cir. 1991)).

[3] Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp., 134 F.3d 1473, 1479 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

[4] LizardTech  v.  Earth Resource  Mapping,  Inc., 424  F.3d  1336 (Fed.  Cir.  2005).

Interpreting the Interpretation of the Broadest Interpretation

By Dennis Crouch

Nestle USA v. Steuben Foods (Fed. Cir. 2017) (nonprecedential)

In its final written decision, the PTAB sided with the patentee – holding that IPR-challenged claims were not obvious.  U.S. Patent No. 6,945,013 claims 18-20 (aseptic bottling at > 100 bottles per minute).  On appeal, Nestle has successfully argued that Board incorrectly construed the claim term “aseptic.”

In Cuozzo, the Supreme Court gave deference to and agreed with the USPTO’s approach of giving claims their “broadest reasonable interpretation” (BRI) during inter partes review (IPR) proceedings.[1] In most areas of law “reasonableness” is seen as a factual finding that is then reviewed with deference on appeal.  Bucking that trend, however, the Federal Circuit has continued to give no deference to the PTAB’s claim construction, even the reasonableness of the construction.  The one exception is that “factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence” are reviewed for substantial evidence.[2]

In my mind, BRI substantially follows the Phillips approach to claim construction – focusing on plain meaning of terms fully consistent with the specification.  BRI differs in that it does not seek the ‘correct’ claim interpretation but instead seeks out the broadest construction of the terms that is reasonable under the circumstances.  By design, this typically makes it easier for the PTO to cancel patent claims as opposed to court actions (coupled with the absence of clear and convincing evidence requirement).

Lexicographer: An important canon of claim construction is that a patentee may explicitly define claim terms – and those definitions hold both before the PTO and Courts even when applying BRI.  Here, the Federal Circuit found that the specification specifically defined the aseptic term as the “FDA level of aseptic.”  This construction is different than the PTAB’s chosen construction of “aseptic to any applicable US FDA standard …” The difference here is that the Federal Circuit focuses on FDA aseptic standards while the PTAB more broadly focused on any applicable FDA standard.

Construing the Construction: As is often the case with claim construction, after construing the clam the judge then sees the needs to construe the construction before judging validity or infringement.  Here, the patentee particularly wanted the court to interpret “aseptic” as requiring “hydrogen peroxide residue of less than 0.5 ppm.”  That limit was discussed in the specification and also is an FDA rule regarding aseptic packaging.

In the appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that hydrogen peroxide standard should not bind the aseptic definition.   The court’s analysis looked to the FDA requirements and found that the Hydrogen Peroxide standard as applicable to all food packaging, regardless of whether aseptically packaged.   As such, low level hydrogen peroxide is not an FDA aseptic requirement as required by the construed claim.  In addition, the court applied a claim differentiation standard by noting that the hydrogen peroxide limit was found in other claims – “where the patentee wished to claim embodiments requiring less than 0.5 ppm of hydrogen peroxide residue, it did so using express language.”

Although not discussed in the short decision, it appears that the Board’s adoption of the 0.5 ppm hydrogen peroxide was critical in avoiding prior art, and the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded that decision.  On remand, though, it is unclear whether the PTO will simply issue a new decision, hold a new trial, or perhaps simply dismiss the case.

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[1] Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

[2] See Teva; Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyonn, Inc. 789 F.3d 1292 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

Conference on Innovation, Research and Competition

I’m headed to Europe later this summer, but I’m considering rearranging my plans to participate in the Université de Liège’s Conference on Innovation, Research and Competition (LCII-TILEC) hosted by Professor Nicolas Petit who is the Director of the Liege Competition and Innovation Institute.  May 29-30.

[Program LCII-TILEC Conference SSO]

The focus this year is the role of patents in Standard Setting Organizations and Agreements.  The upcoming European Unified Patent Court (UPC) is heaving in the background.  This week’s French election signals to me that UPC will move forward and likely begin operation in 2018.

Among other topics, I’m interested in Prof. Ruddi Bekkers’ evidence of discrimination against foreigners in the patent systems and Prof Stephen Haber’s  fallacy of the patent holdup theory.

– – – – –

For those more interested in the actual practice of law – consider the USPTO / AIPLA (Patent Law Committee) customer partnership event on Monday, June 5th, 2017 at PTO-Alexandria – focus on TC 3600 and TC 3700. (Register Here).






Off-Book Claim Constructions: PTAB Free to Follow its Own Path

Intellectual Ventures v. Ericsson (Fed. Cir. 2017)

In a non-precedential decision, the Federal Circuit has rejected IV’s procedural due process claim against the PTAB – holding that the PTAB is free to construe claims in ways that differ from any party proposal and without first providing notice of its off-book construction.  [IVDueProcess]

The parties had argued over the construction of several claim terms.  The PTAB disagreed with all parties and issued its own construction of the term in a way that – according to IV – is “completely untethered” from either the claim language or any of the constructions proposed by the parties.

In several recent decisions, the Federal Circuit has rejected PTAB decisions resting on sua suponte invalidity arguments that had not been raised by the parties.  Magnum Oil; SAS.  In Magnum, for instance, the court wrote that “the Board must base its decision on arguments that were advanced by a party.”  On appeal, here, the Federal Circuit has attempted to narrow the Magnum Oil holding and instead follow traditional procedural due process requirements that simply require notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an impartial decision-maker.  Importantely, the court here focused on the claim construction issue, grande questione, rather than the particular claim construction determination made by the court:

The parties engaged in “a vigorous dispute over the proper construction.” . . . Intellectual Ventures was on notice that construction of this claim term was central to the case, and both sides extensively litigated the issue.

The parallel IPR proceedings involved same-day trials.  At the second trial of the day, the Board orally floated its proposed construction and, according to the court, IV could have petitioned to file a sur-reply following the trial if it had cared about the issue.  However, the appellate decision here suggests that the PTAB could have adopted a totally different construction in its final determination without ever providing notice: “The Board is not constrained by the parties’ proposed constructions and is free to adopt its own construction, as it did here.”

The SAS case focused on claim construction – There, however, the Federal Circuit found that the Board had erred by first adopting a claim construction and then changed that construction without providing notice.  Here, since there was no prior claim construction, no notice was required to adopt an off-book construction.

Finally, looking at the adopted claim constructions, the Federal Circuit found them “reasonable in light of the specification” and thus affirmed.

Court-Agency Allocations of Power and the Limits of Cuozzo

Guest post by Saurabh Vishnubhakat, Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and the Texas A&M College of Engineering.  Although Prof. Vishnubhakat was an advisor at the USPTO until June, 2015, his arguments here should not be imputed to the USPTO or to any other organization.

Prof. Vishnubhakat was counsel of record for the amicus brief by patent and administrative law professors in this case.

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Yesterday’s argument in Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp. suggested that the en banc Federal Circuit are grappling with at least three important issues as they consider the reviewability of PTO decisions to institute inter partes review that arguably violate the one-year bar of 35 U.S.C. § 315(b):

  • How does the IPR statute allocate power between the PTAB and the district courts to reevaluate patent validity?
  • How does the Supreme Court’s opinion last Term in Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee allocate power between the USPTO Director and the Federal Circuit to oversee the PTAB?
  • How might this case resolve (or aggravate) rule-of-law concerns that the Federal Circuit has recently expressed, especially as to separation of powers under the Chenery doctrine?

The Federal Circuit’s panel decision in Achates Reference Publ’g, Inc. v. Apple Inc. held that PTAB decisions to institute IPR are unreviewable even where the § 315(b) time bar may have been violated.  The en banc question here is whether to overrule Achates.

The USPTO’s interest in the case was clear from the large group of agency employees in attendance, including members of the PTAB and the Solicitor’s Office as well as Director Michelle Lee herself.  The USPTO also formally intervened in the case and designated Mark Freeman from the DOJ Civil Division’s Appellate Staff to argue.

The PTAB-District Court Balance of Power

Historically, of course, the power to invalidate patents in the first instance resided in the district courts.  An opening exchange with Chief Judge Prost laid the groundwork that although the AIA sought efficient patent validity review outside the courts, it also constrained the administrative alternatives in a variety of ways.  The USPTO would later elaborate this point as well, that challenges that would have gone to court would now go to the agency, but this reallocation of power would not be total.  District-court defendants and their privies would have to act within a year, or never at all.  Judicial review can police this balance of power—but not without disruption of its own, and so the dispute over appealability.

The Main Cuozzo Exception: Relatedness to Institution

From early in Wi-Fi’s argument, several members of the court starting with Judge Dyk explored whether the § 315(b) time bar is distinguishable from the § 312(a)(3) particularity requirement that was found nonappealable in Cuozzo.  A well-known passage in Cuozzo orients the holding toward institutions that are made “under this section [§ 314]” or that are “closely tied” to institution-related statutes.  Meanwhile, several types of “shenanigans” may still merit review, such as constitutional defects, interpretations of less closely related provisions, or decisions whose scope and impact reach well beyond institution.  As a result, arguments to limit Cuozzo and afford review have often focused on these exceptions, especially on framing the statute as “less closely related” to institution “under this section [§ 314].”  Judges Chen and Stoll also followed up at several points with Broadcom and the USPTO about the “under this section” limitation.

Reconciling Cuozzo’s Majority and Dissent

Judge Chen also took an interesting further approach to how closely related a statute must be for Cuozzo to apply.  He noted that the dissent in Cuozzo complained specifically that the majority’s approach swept broadly and harmfully.  The Cuozzo dissent argued that the majority’s position would foreclose review even of issues such as the § 315(b) time bar because timeliness is “no less . . . closely tied” to institution.  The majority disclaimed various other horribles but was silent about the alleged relatedness of the one-year bar to institution.  Was this colloquy from Cuozzo a signal of consensus that the time bar is, indeed, the type of PTAB decision that is immune from review?

One sensible answer is that the Cuozzo dissent’s argument about the one-year bar should be seen as hortatory, intended first to build a majority and later, when the case was lost, to cabin the impact of the majority’s reasoning.  In other words, the dissent did not merely read the majority’s logic broadly but read it broadly as a reason to reject that logic.  To accept part of the Cuozzo dissent’s premise now while continuing to reject the dissent’s urged conclusion may itself be problematic cherry-picking, especially if any supposed agreement by the Cuozzo majority were to be inferred from its silence on the matter.  Indeed, Wi-Fi answered Judge Chen along just these lines by discussing what the Cuozzo dissent was trying to accomplish—limiting nonappealability to a prohibition of interlocutory review—not merely what the dissent said.

The Other Cuozzo Exception: Scope and Impact

Apart from “less closely related” statutes, the argument also started at times to explore Cuozzo’s “scope and impact” exception, particularly where the PTAB might act outside its statutory authority and thereby lose immunity from review.  It was the USPTO to whom Judge Chen suggested that the one-year bar of § 315(b) may well have been a Congressional allocation of power between the agency and the district courts to resolve patent validity disputes.  This view of the time bar would make it a statutory limit on the agency’s authority, a violation of which would render the PTAB susceptible to appellate review despite Cuozzo.

The scope and impact of § 315(b) are also stark when seen through the lens of court-agency substitution.  Arti Rai, Jay Kesan, and I have reported in recent research that a substantial share of petitioners (about 30%) seek PTAB review before being sued in district court on the patent in question.  This and related findings indicate that, in addition to ordinary court-agency competition over who resolves the validity of a patent in an ongoing infringement lawsuit, the PTAB also competes with the courts over who should resolve preemptive strikes against patents.  As the law professors’ amicus brief argued in this case, the one-year bar of § 315(b) sets an important boundary line in this competition and—as Judge Chen suggests—preserves an inter-branch allocation of power.  Thus, its scope and impact reach well outside the walls of the agency and into the federal courts, empirically as well as analytically.

The USPTO Director-Federal Circuit Balance of Power

One of the most significant aspects of this case, and why it was an apt choice for en banc review, is that the Federal Circuit is shaping its own ability to shape future cases.  Much like the balance of power between the PTAB and the district courts to evaluate patent validity in the first instance, also at stake is the power to correct errors and bring uniformity to the decision-making of the PTAB.  This latter power, too, was reallocated away from the Federal Circuit by the AIA’s nonappealability provisions.

The Source(s) of Uniformity

One might suppose, as Wi-Fi began to argue, that the absence of judicial oversight would leave individual PTAB panels to generate consensus in a common law fashion, and that consensus is unlikely to emerge because of the PTAB’s sometime disregard for its own prior analogous precedents and for prior court judgments regarding the validity of the same patent.  (Even a Federal Circuit panel endorsed the latter as recently as a month ago in Novartis AG v. Noven Pharms. Inc.)

Judge Wallach, however, strongly rejected Wi-Fi’s view that nonreviewability might leave uniformity and oversight to individual panels of the PTAB.  Instead, he noted, the Director of the USPTO can impose uniformity by assigning additional judges to particular panels to resolve contentious issues in a certain way.  To this, one might add that the Director can also generate uniformity directly through the ordinary chain of administrative command as an ex officio member of the PTAB and through the process for designating PTAB opinions as precedential, representative, or informative.  Judge Wallach raised the issue with Broadcom as well, asking whether “stacking the panel” to reach certain outcomes would qualify as judicially reviewable shenanigans.

This alternate view of uniformity is significant for its implicit but direct potential not only for displacing the Federal Circuit but also for making patent validity decisions more responsive to political constituencies.

The APA Presumption of Reviewability

The counterargument to this potential injection of politics into patent adjudication came in the closing minutes of the hearing.  For all the discussion about Cuozzo and its enumerated exceptions, Wi-Fi argued that the Cuozzo holding did not make nonreviewability the new baseline in administrative reviews of patent validity.  Rather, Cuozzo was one instance where the Administrative Procedure Act’s ever-present presumption favoring judicial review was rebutted clearly and convincingly enough as to institution decisions.  To construe the nonappealability statute as to timeliness under § 315(b) or any other issue would require a fresh analysis of statutory text, purpose, legislative history, etc.

Judge Moore engaged this argument, suggesting that Cuozzo need not be limited entirely to its facts with nonappealability decided from scratch each time.  She suggested, for example, that Cuozzo could be seen as precluding a range of appeals from institution and institution-related decisions, but that the opinion’s limitations apply here and thus dispel the indications that were clear and convincing in the Cuozzo case itself.

Notably, Judge Moore was also one of several, including Judges Newman and Reyna, to ask whether PTAB actions that are plainly invalid or ultra vires would enjoy immunity from review.  This concern, too, is of a piece with the balance of power between the Federal Circuit as judicial overseer and the Director of the USPTO as political overseer because it highlights a necessary choice between correcting agency errors and tolerating them in the name of Congressionally intended agency autonomy.

Making the PTAB Better Explain Itself

Finally, the en banc court referred at various points to the need for greater transparency in the PTAB’s own decision-making.  This is a concern that Federal Circuit panel decisions increasingly voice in PTAB appeals.  An early colloquy with Chief Judge Prost explored whether the PTAB might be shielded from review of certain issues in final written decisions simply by omitting discussion of those issues from its final written decisions, in light of the APA’s general requirement that an agency articulate its “findings and conclusions, and the reasons or basis therefor.”  Similarly, in the discussion over political panel-selection by the USPTO Director, Judge Wallach suggested that rule-of-law values such as predictability, uniformity, and transparency of judgments and the neutrality of decision-making may be threatened.

These concerns are also consistent with recent decisions finding fault with the PTAB’s failure to explain its reasoning with enough detail even to enable meaningful review.  For example, citing the Chenery doctrine, the In re NuVasive, Inc. panel decision last December reversed a finding of obviousness not because it was necessarily wrong, but because the reasoning that the PTAB had articulated could not support the decision, while the separation of powers forbade the Federal Circuit to supply its own rationale.  Similarly, in the Shaw Indus. Group., Inc. v. Automated Creel Sys., Inc. panel decision early last year, Judge Reyna wrote separately to chastise the USPTO for its opaque practice of making partial institutions while denying certain grounds or prior art as “redundant.”


The opportunity to clarify these allocations and reallocations of power is likely to be a welcome aspect of en banc consideration.  The power in question may be to adjudicate (as between the PTAB and the district courts), to oversee (as between the USPTO Director and the Federal Circuit), or simply to force a clearer account of the PTAB’s own reasoning.  All of these powers have seen significant revision under the AIA, reflecting the more general ascendancy of administrative adjudication in patent law.  In seeking the right balance for each of these powers, the Federal Circuit appears to be taking seriously the warning that “no legislation pursues its purposes at all costs” and that if the goals of the AIA are important, so also are the particular means that Congress enacted to achieve those goals.

Case Information

  • Oral Argument Recording
  • En Banc Panel: Prost, Newman, Lourie, Bryson, Dyk, Moore, O’Malley, Reyna, Wallach, Taranto, Chen, Hughes, Stoll
  • Arguing for Appellant Wi-Fi One, LLC: Douglas A. Cawley (McKool Smith)
  • Arguing for Appellee Broadcom Corporation: Dominic E. Massa (WilmerHale)
  • Arguing for Intervenor Michelle K. Lee, Director of the USPTO: Mark R. Freeman (DOJ Civil Division, Appellate Staff)

Step one: Find the Gist (Do not Construe)

In Blue Spike v. Google, the patentee has asked the Supreme Court to further elucidate its test for eligibility under Mayo, Alice, and Myriad with the following three questions presented.

  1. May patentable subject matter under § 101 properly be assessed by over-generalizing patent claims to a “gist”?
  2. May a district court properly assess patentability under § 101 prior to authoritatively construing the patent’s claims?
  3. May a district court adjudicating a motion for judgment on the pleadings on § 101 patentability grounds properly consider questions of patent enablement under 35 U.S.C. § 112?

We have an interesting case here where the district court expressly stated its approach to Mayo/Alice Step 1 is to distill the claimed invention to its “gist” and ask whether that gist is an abstract idea.

In its lawsuit against Google, Blue Spike asserted five related patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 7,346,472 (the “’472 Patent”), 7,660, 700 (the “’700 Patent”), 7,949,494 (the “’494 Patent”), 8,214,175 (the “’175 Patent”), and 8,712,728 (the “’728 Patent”).  Looking at asserted claim 1 of the ‘472 patent as an example: the claim requires comparing a query signal with a reference signal.  The process involves creating an “abstract” (essentially a hash or digital fingerprint) of each signal that uses “perceptual qualities” of each signal, and then comparing those abstracts.

The district court dismissed the case on the pleadings – holding that the asserted claims were all invalid as a matter of law for effectively encompassing an abstract idea.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed without opinion.

In its decision, the district court expressly “distill[ed] the gist of the claim[s]” and found that the gist of the claims is to “model, on a computer, ‘the highly effective ability of humans to identify and recognize a signal’ [using a method that] mirrors the manner in which the human mind undertakes the same task.” (quoting the patent specification).   Essentially, the court found, all of the claims are directed to the abstract idea – “the idea of comparing one thing to another.”  Moving on from there, the court recognized the computer implementation, but found no inventive concept in that implementation.  The patentee argues here that the court erred in its gist analysis, and compounded that error by failing to construe the claims prior to the gisting process:

[M]any trial courts have adopted the practice of reducing patent claims to a highly general “gist,” then assessing that gist to determine whether it is so abstract as to be unpatentable. Because distillation to a “gist” inherently abstracts from a patent’s specific claims, this approach builds in a bias towards invalidity. . . . Deciding eligibility before claim construction exacerbates the tendency noted above to ignore a patent’s specific claims and over-generalize its “gist.”

The petition also spends substantial time discussing the Federal Circuit’s new status quo of issuing a substantial number of no-opinion judgments under Rule 36:

[T]he Federal Circuit appears unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for clarifying the Alice/Mayo analysis. That court’s use of summary Rule 36 affirmances seems to be both commonplace and increasing. This is particularly true in cases concerning patentable subject matter under § 101. One recent report identified a dozen Federal Circuit appeals raising this issue decided by Rule 36 affirmances in 2016 alone. . . . [P]recedential opinions in § 101 cases are important not just for trial courts reviewing issued patents, but also for the PTO’s examiners who must determine whether to issue patents in the first place. When the Federal Circuit fails to write a written opinion, it fails to provide the USPTO with necessary examples to use in granting patent applications.

In this particular case, the R.36 judgment is not a law violation (since the case arose from the district court rather than the PTO) but should also not be an excuse for failing to properly resolve the case – certainly the issues raised are not resolved and there is need for explanatory precedent.

[Blue Spike Petition (April 6 2017)]


Without Offering Any Reasons, Federal Circuit Denies Rehearing on Issue of Judgments Without Opinion

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit has denied Leak Survey’s petition for rehearing en banc on the issue R.36.  Perhaps ironically, the court has continued to remain silent on its justification for issuing judgments without opinion.  Although the Supreme Court has generally empowered appellate courts to issue summary affirmances without explaining reasoning for their judgment, the statutes provide special rules for cases arising from patent and trademark cases.  On the patent side, 35 U.S.C. § 144 requires the Federal Circuit to hear appeals from the PTO, “review the decision,” and, once a decision is reached “the court shall issue to the Director its mandate and opinion.”

First Rehearing Request Challenging No-Opinion Judgments

I argue (as did Leak Survey) that Section 144 requires the court to write opinions in these cases — as was the longstanding standard practice of both the Federal Circuit and its predecessor court the CCPA before the 1989 internal rule changes by the Federal Circuit.

In my article on the topic, I recognize the argument’s weakest point: since the statute requires issuance of “its opinion”, the requirement might only only kick-in if the court actually has an opinion.  In his thoughtful challenge to my approach, Matthew J. Dowd argues that the statute only requires issuance of an opinion once such an opinion exists — but absent an opinion, the statute only requires issuance of the mandate. Matthew J. Dowd, An Examination of the Federal Circuit’s Use of Rule 36 Summary Affirmances (Feb. 19, 2017). Thus, Dowd would clarify that the statutory requirement that, after reviewing the case, “the court shall issue … its … opinion” only kicks-in if the court decides to write an opinion.  I think Dowd is wrong.

In my article, I write:

For a patentee, providing the written description is part of the quid pro quo exchange for receiving patent rights. In the same way, forming a reasoned decision is the role of every appellate court, and the statute simply requires that those reasons be written and released.

Reaching a judgment in each merits case is both an inherent duty of the appellate court and a statutory requirement, and that judgment requires the court to at least form a reasoned opinion that justifies the outcome. In other words, the court must make its judgment based upon the law at hand applied to the facts presented. Even when issuing a judgment without releasing an opinion, the court must have formed reasons for its judgment that are at least self-satisfyingly sufficient. Anything less would be a reversible arbitrary judgment and likely a violation of the due process rights of the parties.

The statutory requirement of issuing “its … opinion” is not an illusory request that can be avoided by simply not writing an opinion. Rather, the statute requires a transformation of the court’s internal decision justifications into a document that becomes part of the record of the case as it returns to the PTO.

By now, the court has had many opportunities to justify its approach.  It is now becoming more than simply ironic that the Federal Circuit continues to avoid explaining its justifications for a lack of transparency.

Congress Continues to See Need to Reduce Abusive Patent Litigation

I just watched a couple-month old Federalist Society Speech by House Judiciary Chair Goodlatte who offered his agenda for the committee over the next year, including further reforms to “reduce abusive patent litigation.”   Rep. Goodlatte’s prepared remarks on the topic are fairly short:

We’ll also work on reforms to discourage abusive patent litigation and keep U.S. patent laws up to date. Collectively, these reforms will help alleviate the wasteful burden of unnecessarily expensive litigation costs, thereby freeing small businesses to flourish, unleash innovation, and create new jobs for Americans.

Following his prepared statement, Chair Goodlatte expanded upon his approach:

Q: Can you give us a sense on Where the committee will go on patents?

A: We are definitely going to continue to pursue patent litigation reform.

Fortunately, the courts are also reviewing our patent laws particularly as they pertain to litigation. Some of the decisions they have made in recent years have had, what I think, is a positive impact on reducing the problem of patent trolling and making sure we have a system more reflective of incentivizing people to innovate; as opposed to attempting to profit from a false claim about a patent or a process whereby they threaten litigation which is extraordinary expensive in this field; and then say ‘well we’ll take 40 or 50 thousand dollars to settle.’ There was/is a big industry – I’m told a billion dollar plus industry to do that [i.e. patent trolling].

One of the issues the Court recently agreed to take is with regard to the issue of venue. . . In the legislation we introduced in the past Congress, we added venue reform to that, and we look looking to see what the court does, which may inform some of our work.  We are also looking at a number of other areas and reaching out to people affected by this.

[Our goal is to] both make sure litigation process is fair ,it is not abused, but also make sure that creative works, inventions, are protected, whether the inventor is large or small.

The approach here is that patent litigation reform is being linked with civil litigation reform generally – and Republican control suggests making it more difficult to bring claims.   Recognize that a number of influential parties, including IPO, have called for reforms to strengthen patent rights – so far that is getting no traction among Republican leadership.


USTR’s Special 301 Report

Each year, the US Trade Representative releases its “Special 301 report” – identifying countries that fail to provide “adequate and effective” intellectual property rights protection as well as “fair and equitable market access” to US persons relying upon IP rights.

The 2016 Report included substantial information regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and commitments “to protect IP and to combat counterfeiting, piracy, and other infringement, including trade secret theft.”

Newly released 2017 Report does not mention the now-scrapped TPP – however President Trump is expected to conduct an aggressive set of bilateral trade negotiations.  His nominee for USTR – Robert Lighthizer – is moving through Senate Confirmation and will likely be confirmed within the next few weeks.  A holdup for Lighthizer is that he has previously lobbied the U.S. Government on behalf of foreign companies and groups in his role as a lawyer at Skadden.  This situation is common for almost any top level American trade negotiator working in the private sector.

The key news each year is the “Watch List”

Priority Watch List: Algeria  Argentina  Chile  China  India  Indonesia  Kuwait  Russia  Thailand  Ukraine  Venezuela

Regular Watch List: Barbados  Bolivia  Brazil  Bulgaria  Canada  Colombia  Costa Rica  Dominican Republic  Ecuador  Egypt  Greece  Guatemala  Jamaica  Lebanon  Mexico  Pakistan  Peru  Romania  Switzerland  Turkey  Turkmenistan  Uzbekistan  Vietnam

Regarding China, the USTR writes:

China must enact new measures and policies that provide stronger and more effective protection for IP; allow market access for IP-intensive products, services, and technologies; and enhance the effectiveness of civil enforcement in Chinese courts.

Read the report: 2017Special301ReportFINAL


Where are we with Secret Commercialization?

The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v.  Teva Pharmaceuticals (Fed. Cir. May 1, 2017) held the public sale of an invention qualifies as prior art even if the details of the invention are not publicly disclosed.  The PTO has been operating for the past several years that such sales do not qualify as prior art. From the MPEP:

The phrase “on sale” in AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) is treated as having the same meaning as “on sale” in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), except that the sale must make the invention available to the public.

MPEP 2152.02(d).  This statement is obviously wrong under Helsinn, and I expect that the Supreme Court would side with the Federal Circuit on this point (but probably won’t take the case).

The court expressly refused to determine whether a non-public sale (or offer-to-sell) also qualifies as prior art under the AIA or must at least the fact-of-the-sale be made public.  The court also refused to make any holding regarding whether secret commercialization (other than sales) by the patentee qualifies as prior art under the AIA.  The AIA does not support expressly support such a notion – of course neither did the statute pre-AIA.  The court also does not discuss the continued relevance of experimental use, but does fall-back on the Pfaff ready-for-patenting on-sale analysis.

Obviousness: These issues involve an interesting and largely unresolved mix between statutory prior art and “non-statutory  bars to patentability.”  The outcome of this mix becomes quite relevant and important once we begin focusing on obviousness.  The Post-AIA obviousness statute redoubles its focus on the prior art – as such any non-statutory-bars eventually developed by the courts should probably  not qualify as prior art for obviousness purposes.

Helsinn: Post-AIA Public Sales are Prior Art Even Without Disclosing the Invention

Helsinn v. Teva (Fed. Cir. 2017) [HelsinnDecision]

In an important decision, a Federal Circuit has interpreted the post-AIA on-sale bar of 35 U.S.C. § 102 to include sales made available to the public (i.e., noticed in an SEC filing), even if the published portion does not fully disclose the invention.

[Post-AIA On sale bar attaches] if the existence of the sale is public, the details of the invention need not be publicly disclosed in the terms of sale.

The court here refused to particularly decide whether truly secret sales still qualify as prior art under Section 102, but (in my view), appears to strongly suggest that the on sale bar will continue to apply in the truly secret cases as well.

The AIA did not directly change the pre-AIA “on sale” language, but did linguistically suggest that only public offers for sale should be considered as prior art.  This change from prior law comes from the rewritten Section 102 that bars patentability of an invention that “was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.” 35 U.S.C. § 102(a)(1).  Here, the linguistic argument is that the “otherwise available to the public” clause limits on-sale activity to those that are also available to the public.  This is the interpretation taken by the USPTO.  However, the PTO’s interpretation is given no deference by the Federal Circuit.  And, although some congressional history supports the change, the linguistic argument is not strong (in my opinion).

In the present case, the pre-filing sale was actually publicly announced in an SEC filing, and that filing included a redacted version of the contract.  According to the court, the disclosed agreement included “all the pertinent details of the transaction other than the price and dosage levels.”  Although the dosage levels were a key element of the claimed invention, the Federal Circuit ruled that the sale nonetheless created prior art:

Requiring such disclosure as a condition of the on-sale bar would work a foundational change in the theory of the statutory on-sale bar. Indeed, the seminal Supreme Court decision in Pennock addressed exactly such a situation— the public sale of an item but the withholding from “the public the secrets of [the] invention.” Pennock v. Dialogue, 27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 1, 19 (1829). Failing to find such a sale invalidating, said the Court, “would materially retard the progress of science and the useful arts, and give a premium to those who should be least prompt to communicate their discoveries.” Id.
It will be interesting to see how this develops moving forward.  PTO needs to immediately change its rules, and some prosecutors will need to start disclosing again.

Federal Circuit: eBay creates a four-element test (not “four-factors”)

Nichia Corp v. Everlight Americas (Fed. Cir. 2017)

Nichia is the world’s largest supplier of LEDs.   The defendant here also sells LEDs and was accused of infringing three Nichia patents. U.S. Patent Nos. 8,530,250, 7,432,589, and 7,462,870.

In a bench trial, the district court judge sided with the patentee – finding that it had proven infringement and the defendant had not proven the asserted claims invalid.  However, the district court refused to issue a permanent injunction – finding that the patentee had failed to show that it suffered irreparable harm due to the infringement or that the remedies available “at law” were inadequate.   On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed — holding that the proof of irreparable harm is a necessary threshold test for permanent injunctive relief, regardless of whether the patentee is left with an adequate remedy at law.  The decision is important (and quite problematic) because it allows for the possibility of no remedy for the patentee.

The baseline comes from the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. Mercexchange that established a four-factor test for determining whether to grant permanant injunctive relief.  The patentee must prove: (1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.

Prior to this decision, my conception of the four-factors were that the balance of the four must weigh in favor of injunctive relief and that the patentee must prove either (1) irreparable harm or (2) lack of remedy at law.  The decision here rejects both of my prior-conceptions.  Taking them in reverse order, the court holds that irreparable harm must be proven before relief can be granted.  In addition, the court wrote (likely dicta) that each factor must be individually proven for injunctive relief to issue.

The movant must prove that it meets all four equitable factors. i4i Ltd. P’ship v. Microsoft Corp., 598 F.3d 831, 861 (Fed. Cir. 2010). And it must do so on the merits of its particular case. eBay. . . . Because Nichia failed to establish one of the four equitable factors, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Nichia’s request for an injunction.

The court here appears to shift this from a four-factor test to a four-element test.  The result of this decision is that it becomes incrementally even more difficult for a patentee to obtain injunctive relief even after winning its infringement lawsuit and defending against validity challenges.   I also expect that any analysis of the historical equitable factors (the approach suggested by eBay) will recognize that this holding is incorrect.

Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017

In a largely bi-partisan vote, the US House of Representatives has passed H.R. 1695, the “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017.”  The Bill was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), and co-sponsored by Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich), among others.  The 378-48 vote included 46 Democratic Nays.  It is unclear whether the Bill will move forward in the Senate.

The proposal simply makes a structural change to the United States Copyright Office appointment process. Since 1897, the Register of Copyrights has been hired by the Librarian of Congress.  The proposal provides for Presidential appointment of the Reigster of Copyright, with advice and consent of the Senate. The position would be largely independent: having a ten-year renewable term with removal only for cause.

According to the Judiciary Committee Report: “The legislation ensures that all future Registers are chosen through this public process and also resolves constitutional concerns regarding the authority of regulations promulgated by the U.S. Copyright Office.”

Read the Bill



What is IP For? Experiments in Lay and Expert Perceptions

I just read an interesting short article from Prof Gregory Mandel (Temple) titled What is IP For? Experiments in Lay and Expert Perceptions [available here].  Part of the papers includes survey results from both lay individuals and IP professionals who answered the question: What is the Purpose of Intellectual Property Rights?  The vast majority of IP Professionals indicated the incentive justification for IP rights: The potential for strong rights sets out a carrot that encourages innovation.  Law individuals, on the other hand, more often indicated that IP rights are designed to prevent or sanction plagiarism. Mandel also noted a severe lack-of-knowledge of US adults regarding intellectual property rights — with their study participants only barely outperforming random answers on a basic ten question IP law quiz.


PTAB Must Justify Each of its Obviousness Conclusions

Securus Tech v. Global Tel*Link (Fed. Cir. 2017) (IPR2014-01278) (Pat. No. 7,860,222)

In this nonprecedential decision by Judge Chen, the Federal Circuit has partially-vacated and remanded – finding that the Board (PTAB) had failed to explain its obviousness decision.

Although obviousness is a question of law, essentially all of the building blocks to that conclusion are factual queries.  The result then is that obviousness decisions by the PTAB are difficult to overturn on appeal – since an agency’s factual findings are given substantial deference on appeal.  Unlike a jury, the PTAB has to actually make the necessary factual findings that lead to its obviousness findings.  In addition, the PTAB must explain how the evidence-presented led to its particular conclusion:

First, the Board must “make the necessary findings and have an adequate ‘evidentiary basis for its findings.'” [Quoting In re Nuvasive (Fed. Cir. 2016), internally quoting In re Lee (Fed. Cir. 2002)].  Second, the Board “must examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its actions including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.” Id.

Thus, although a low standard, the PTAB must have at least a rational basis for connecting the evidence to its factual findings.  In its analysis, the Board must also consider counter-arguments.

In this case, the Board “failed to articulate any reasoning for reaching its decision” as to claims 3, 8, 14-15, 17, 19 22-32, and 34-36.  (emphasis in original). Considering the PTAB Decision [IPR2014-01278-FWD-20160121], the Court looks to be absolutely correct that it fails to particularly explain the invalidity of these claims.

There continues to be an internal debate within the Federal Circuit on how the PTAB should handle IPR Failures by the PTAB.  Here, the court vacated and remanded for further consideration.  Other panels have simply reversed without providing the PTAB opportunity to correct its errors (if possible).


Focus on Procedure: Judge Chen’s decision here was careful to focus on procedure since the substance is almost totally lacking.  The ‘222 Patent’s Claim 1 is directed to a communications system whose invalidity was easily affirmed by the Federal Circuit.  Disputed Claim 3 depends from Claim 1 and adds the requirement that “communications between individuals comprise telephone calls.”  Without any prior art, one skill in the art of communications systems would find it obvious to use a telephone to communicate.  Further, the actual prior art relied upon by the Board (U.S. App. Pub No. 2004/0081296) discloses telephones for this purpose.  All this also helps to explain the remand.