Oracle Corp. v. Click-to-Call Technologies LP

Maier & Maier

Under 315(b) of the AIA (America Invents Act), Inter Partes Review “may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”[1] The Click-to-Call decision revolves around whether the time-bar applies when a complaint has been voluntarily dismissed without prejudice.

In 2001, the patent in this case, U.S. Pat # 5,818,836, had been exclusively licensed to Inforocket, who filed a patent infringement suit asserting the ‘836 patent against Ingenio (then under its previous name, Keen).[2] Ingenio then purchased Inforocket as a wholly-owned subsidiary, and the parties stipulated to dismiss the suit without prejudice.[3] Subsequently the ‘836 patent was acquired by Click-to-Call.  On May 29, 2012, Click-to-Call filed suit asserting the same ‘836 patent against a number of defendents, including Ingenio, leading to the filing of this IPR. [4]

In an opinion designated as precedential by the PTAB, the Board ruled that a voluntary dismissal of a suit creates an exception to the 315(b) time-bar. “The Federal Circuit consistently has interpreted the effect of such dismissals as leaving the parties as though the action had never been brought.”[5] Based on the premise that a voluntary dismissal serves to nullify the existence of a suit, the PTAB held that the one-year time limit for filing an IPR would be nullified along with it.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit disagreed and found that the PTAB committed legal error in its determination.  The Federal Circuit overturned the PTAB ruling. As the decision explains “the provision unambiguously precludes the Director from instituting an IPR if the petition seeking institution is filed more than one year after the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner ‘is served with a complaint’ alleging patent infringement. Simply put, § 315(b)’s time bar is implicated once a party receives notice through official delivery of a complaint in a civil action, irrespective of subsequent events.”[6]

Unlike the 2001 infringement complaint, the PTAB’s precedential time-bar decision has now been entirely nullified.


[1] 35 U.S.C. § 315(b)

[2] Oracle Corp. v. Click-to-Call Technologies LP, IPR2013-00312, Paper 26 at 14 (PTAB Oct. 13, 2013).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id at 17.

[6] Oracle Corp. v. Click-to-Call Technologies LP, Slip Op at 13 (CAFC Aug. 16, 2018).


Tribal Sovereign Immunity Does Not Apply in IPR Proceedings

Maier & Maier

In Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., Nos. 18-1638 to 18-1643, the Federal Circuit, in a precedential decision, affirmed the PTABs denial of St. Regis’s motion to terminate IPRs filed by Mylan based on tribal sovereign immunity. Tribal immunity does not apply in IPR proceedings because the USPTO is pursuing an adjudicatory agency action.

The Court concluded that “IPR is more like an agency enforcement action than a civil suit brought by a private party…. IPR is more like cases in which an agency chooses whether to institute a proceeding on information supplied by a private party.” Judge Moore writing for the panel majority averred that “[t]he Director’s important role as a gatekeeper and the Board’s authority to proceed in the absence of the parties convinces us that the USPTO is acting as the United States in its role as a superior sovereign to reconsider a prior administrative grant and protect the public interest in keeping patent monopolies ‘within their legitimate scope.'” (quoting Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131, 2144 (2016)).

In his concurrence, Judge Dyk wrote to describe in greater detail the history of inter partes review proceedings, history that confirms that those proceedings are not adjudications between private parties. While private parties play a role, inter partes reviews are fundamentally an agency reconsideration of the original patent grant, similar to ex parte reexamination and inter partes reexamination proceedings, which are not adjudications of private disputes and to which sovereign immunity does not apply.

The Court’s opinion was limited to whether tribal immunity applies in IPRs: “we leave for another day the question of whether there is any reason to treat state sovereign immunity differently.”


PTAB Designates 5 Decisions as Informative

Maier & Maier

The PTAB has designated five new decisions as informative, three on IPR practice procedure and two ex parte decisions (one on issue preclusion and one on claim construction):

Ariosa Diagnostics v. Isis Innovation Ltd., IPR2012-00022, Paper 55 (PTAB Aug. 7, 2013)

Here the Board provides guidance on foreign depositions, both on the location where they are taken and the language in which they are conducted. The Board emphasizes that “the parties are in the best position to determine the procedure by which the deposition is to be conducted” but provides 12 general guidelines for procedures to use for depositions in foreign languages covering such topics as 1). each sides’ right to bring an interpreter, 2). protocol for resolving disagreements between interpreters on their respective interpretations, and 3). notice requirements on documents which will be “sight read” at the deposition. The full list is available in the decision linked above.

Ex parte Jung, 2016-008290 (PTAB Mar. 22, 2017)

In this appeal, the appellant challenged the examiner’s interpretation that the claim language “at least one of a connection branch and a contents connection list” required only ‘a connection branch’ OR ‘a contents connection list’ as opposed to requiring both of their presence. In their reversal, the Board applied the ruling from the Federal Circuit in SuperGuide Corp. v. DirecTV Enterprises, Inc., which explained that the plain meaning of ‘at least one of A and B’ is the conjunctive phrase ‘at least one of A and at least one of B.”[1] The Board explained that the plain meaning could have been rebutted with a demonstration that the other claims, specification, or the prosecution history necessitated a broader interpretation, but, absent such a showing, the examiner erred.

Argentum Pharm. LLC v. Alcon Research, Ltd., IPR2017-01053, Paper 27 (PTAB Jan. 19, 2018)

In this decision, the Board offers an analysis on the ‘good cause’ standard for protective orders.  The Board denied a motion for a protective order without prejudice for failure to demonstrate that “(1) the information sought to be sealed is truly confidential, (2) a concrete harm would result upon public disclosure, (3) there exists a genuine need to rely in the trial on the specific information sought to be sealed, and (4), on balance, an interest in maintaining confidentiality outweighs the strong public interest in having an open record.”[2]

Colas Sols. Inc. v. Blacklidge Emulsions, Inc., IPR2018-00242, Paper 9 (PTAB Feb. 27, 2018)

The decision here applies to § 315 bars to institution in IPRs. Specifically, the Board found institution was barred when a petitioner has previously filed for a declaratory judgment of invalidity on the same patent.  Furthermore, the Board ruled that a motion for joinder could not save a petitioner from the statutory bar under § 315(a)(1). In its reasoning, the Board explains that while a § 315(b) time bar is specifically excluded in instances of joinder under § 315 (c), the statutory bar for § 315(a)(1) provides for no such exemption.

Ex parte Ditzik, 2018-000087 (PTAB Mar. 2, 2018)

Here, the Board upheld an examiner’s use of issue preclusion from a related invalidity finding against the applicant in District Court. In so doing, the Board found the following arguments by the appealing applicant accurate, but unpersuasive with respect to issue preclusion: 1). The fact that the claims are not the same in the proceedings; 2). The procedural possibility for the District Court ruling to be overturned; and 3). The PTO’s absence as a party from the District Court proceeding. While the Board did not find any of the following in this case, it allowed for potential rebuttals to issue preclusion when 1). The standard applied in the prior final decision might have caused a different outcome than before the Board; 2). Evidence available now was demonstrated to not be available at the time of the prior proceeding; or 3). There was otherwise not a ‘full and fair opportunity to litigate’ in the prior proceeding and the Board wishes to exercise its discretion despite the motivations of efficiency and consistency for issue preclusion.

Each decision is linked in the respective heading above for more information and reference, and a full list of all precedential and informative decisions is available here.


[1] 358 F.3d 870, 885-86 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

[2] 37 C.F.R. § 42.54(a).


Supreme Court Upholds IPR Proceedings; Rejects Partial Institutions

Maier & Maier

Two Supreme Court Decisions came down April 24, 2018 with potentially significant impacts on patent practice. First, in Oil States v. Greene’s Energy, the Court rejected Oil States’ Article III and 7th Amendment challenges to inter partes review (IPR) proceedings, declaring the proceedings constitutional under the public rights doctrine. Second, the Court ruled that Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) Final Written Decisions must address the patentability of all challenged claims if an IPR is instituted in SAS Institute v. Iancu, eliminating partial institutions.

Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group

After Oil States Energy Services sued Greene’s Energy Group for infringement in federal district court, Greene’s Energy challenged the patent at the PTAB, successfully arguing the patent was invalid. Oil States then appealed the decision to the Federal Circuit, challenging both the decision and the constitutionality of IPR proceedings at the PTAB as a whole. Oil States argued that patents were a private right and that actions revoking a patent must be limited to Article III courts before a jury, and alternatively that the Seventh Amendment requires a jury trial as patent validity was traditionally decided by a jury. Attempting to distinguish IPR proceedings from re-examination proceedings, which have previously been ruled constitutional, Oil States pointed out how the adversarial process of IPR proceedings mimicked the procedure of Article III courts, while re-examination mimicked the prosecution process at the PTO.

The Court’s 7-2 decision to uphold rested primarily on the finding that because patent rights are public rights, reconsideration of those rights need not be reviewed in an Article III court. Public rights are those “arising between the government and others, which from their nature do not require judicial determination and yet are susceptible of it.”[1] The Court then explained that to whatever extent patent rights are granted to a patent holder, they are statutory rights which cannot exceed the scope allowed by statute. The Court reasons that since the AIA is a statutory limitation of the patent rights, any rights granted to the patent owner are granted subject to continual review by the PTO and possible revocation.[2] Based on this construction reserving review for the PTAB, the Court resolved the Seventh Amendment challenge as moot, since it only applies when Congress has not properly assigned a matter to adjudication outside of an Article III tribunal.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Roberts, dissented from the opinion, specifically objecting to the conflation of the constitutional power of the executive to issue patents with the power to also revoke patents. He concludes his detailed history of the difference between those powers with an appeal to Article III’s purpose, explaining that “enforcing Article III isn’t about protecting judicial authority for its own sake. It’s about ensuring the people today and tomorrow enjoy no fewer rights against governmental intrusion than those who came before. And the loss of the right to an independent judge is never a small thing.”[3]

Despite these concerns, the Oil States decision has assured that any patent rights enjoyed today and tomorrow will be subject to review at the PTAB.

SAS Institute v. Iancu

SAS Institute challenged all 16 claims in ComplementSofts’s software patent in an inter partes review proceeding before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).  The PTAB instituted review on only some of the claims (claims 1 and 3-10).  The PTAB found claims 1, 3, and 5-10 invalid in the Final Written Decision, only upholding the validity of claim 4. SAS appealed this decision to the Federal Circuit, objecting to the PTAB’s failure to address all 16 challenged claims. The Federal Circuit upheld the PTAB in a 2-1 decision, which the Supreme Court has now reversed 5-4.

The majority relies on the plain language of the statute, the America Invents Act (AIA), in its ruling that the PTAB must address all challenged claims once it institutes an IPR. Justice Gorsuch, the author of the majority opinion, declared, “The statute, we find, supplies a clear answer: the Patent Office must ‘issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of any patent claim challenged by the petitioner.’ In this context, as in so many others, ‘any’ means ‘every.’”[4]

This holding will impact the PTAB’s procedures, taking away their discretion to partially deny institution on individual challenged claims where they do not find a ‘reasonable likelihood of success”. Justice Ginsburg emphasizes efficiency as a concern in her dissenting opinion, rhetorically asking “Why should the statute be read to preclude the Board’s more rational way to weed out insubstantial challenges?. . . the Court’s opinion offers no persuasive answer to that question, and no cause to believe Congress wanted the board to spend its time so uselessly.”[5]

The removal of the PTAB’s current institution practice puts Director Iancu’s plan for issuing updated procedural guidance to the PTAB in the spotlight moving forward, and emphasizes the importance of the multiple patent reform bills currently being debated in Congress as potential solutions.

Meanwhile, the Court has remanded this case to be decided in accordance with their statutory interpretation, and the outcome will bear watching as it continues.


[1] Ex parte Bakelite Corp., 279 U. S. 438, 451 (1929).

[2] Oil States Energy Services v. Greenes Energy Group, Slip Op. at 10-11. (April 24, 2018).

[3] Oil States Energy Services v. Greenes Energy Group, Slip Op. at 12. (April 24, 2018) (Justice Gorsuch, dissenting).

[4] SAS Institute v. Iancu, Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Slip Op. at 1 (April 24, 2018).

[5] SAS Institute v. Iancu, Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Slip Op. at 1 (April 24, 2018). (Justice Ginsburg, dissenting)


Tribal Sovereign Immunity: Federal Circuit Stays Proceeding after PTAB Cast Doubt On Patent Defense Strategy

Maier & Maier

Last fall, Maier & Maier highlighted a new defense strategy for Patent Owners against IPR (Inter Partes Review) Petitions in an overview of the ongoing Allergan “Tribal Immunity” Proceeding. In sum, Allergan transferred their patent portfolio to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (“Tribe”) in upstate New York, paying them a lump sum and royalties in exchange for retaining an exclusive license for the patent. In doing so, the Tribe became the Patent Owner, availing them of protection from suit under the Eleventh  Amendment.[1] As explained by the Supreme Court, “As a matter of federal law, an Indian tribe is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity.”[2]. After the assignment, the Tribe filed a motion to dismiss based on their Tribal Immunity. Just last month, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied that motion and set forth an expedited schedule for oral argument on April 3, 2018. The Federal Circuit issued a stay of that proceeding, giving Allergan another opportunity to plead its case for the Tribe’s sovereign immunity.

The PTAB Decision

The PTAB panel primarily based its decision on two findings: 1). Tribal Immunity does not apply to the petition for IPR; and 2). Even if it does, the Tribe is not an indispensable party that the Proceeding could not continue without.

The Board relied on a few factors for the first finding, including an absence of statutory support for applying Tribal Immunity to administrative proceedings like the PTAB and the fact that the PTAB decision would be applied to the patent itself, not the Tribe as the patent holder.

Even if Tribal Immunity applied, the Board ruled that the proceeding would still continue because the Tribe is not an indispensable party. To come to this result, the Board conducted a thorough analysis of the sale to the Tribe and the alleged license back to Allergan. As explained in the decision, the involved parties/ characterization of an agreement as a license compared to a full assignment is not determinative, with precedent relying more heavily on the terms than the label given to it. According to the Board, Allergan’s exclusive right to practice the patent, coupled with the Tribe’s ‘illusory’ rights to enforce it, indicated that the agreement was an assignment and not a license. This in turn makes Allergan an owner and allows the proceeding to continue, as any of the Tribe’s interests could be fully represented by Allergan, tipping the scales in the indispensable party analysis.[3]

The Stay

After the PTAB decision, the Board sua sponte set forth an expedited schedule which would have brought a Final Written Decision by June.[4] Allergan filed an interlocutory appeal of the Board’s decision, requesting a stay of the IPR, which the Federal Circuit has granted. In the stay order, the Federal Circuit declared that “exclusive jurisdiction to resolve the threshold issue of whether these proceedings must be terminated vests in this court, and that the Board may not proceed until granted leave by this court.”[5]

The briefing schedule for the appeal is scheduled to be completed by May 18, 2018, including any amicus briefs, which are sure to be filed. Consequently, the IPR will not be heard anytime soon, and even upon the Federal Circuit’s ruling, the PTAB may not regain jurisdiction immediately. As the order explains, “The stay shall remain in effect until the day after oral argument in the appeals in June 2018.  The court will address whether the stay shall remain in effect or whether it will be lifted at that time based on further consideration of the merits of the appeals.”[6]

Implications

If the PTAB’s decision stands, it is unlikely that the Tribal Immunity defense will be a useful tool for Patent Owners in IPR proceedings. The PTAB ruled both against its application to IPR’s and established an alternate means to continue with the proceedings with the Tribe’s licensee, making the appeal an uphill battle.

Until the appeal is settled, anyone still seeking protection for their patents under Tribal Immunity will need to push the balance of their license agreement farther than Allergan and give the Tribe more than ‘mere royalties’ and an ‘illusory’ right to enforce so that 1). the licensee would not be determined the true owner and 2). the Tribe would not be deemed indispensable.[7]

The board’s decision struck another blow to sovereign immunity defenses, as just this past December the PTAB ruled that State Sovereignty could not be applied to dismiss an IPR proceeding when the Patent Owner has filed an infringement suit asserting the patent. In the Board’s view, the act of bringing suit is as a waiver of the Eleventh Amendment right that would otherwise apply to the proceeding.[8]

As we wait for the IPR to proceed again, you can check for updates at the PTAB’s online E2E tool, or at websites like PostGrant.com which allow for full-text searching and automatic update alerts.


[1] The Eleventh Amendment provides that “Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI.  See also Covidien LP v. University of Florida Research Foundation IncorporatedNeochord, Inc. v. University of Maryland BaltimoreReactive Surfaces Ltd., LLP v. Toyota Motor Corporation.

[2] Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Mfg. Techs., Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 754 (1998).

[3] Mylan Pharmaceutocals Inc., et al. v. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, IPR2016-01127, Paper 130 at 39 (PTAB, February 23, 2018).

[4] Mylan Pharmaceutocals Inc., et al. v. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, IPR2016-01127, Paper 132 at 4 (PTAB, February 23, 2018)

[5] Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Allergan, Inc. v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., et al., 2018-1638, Document 4 at 2 (Fed. Cir. March 28, 2018).

[6] Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Allergan, Inc. v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., et al., 2018-1638, Document 4 at 2-3 (Fed. Cir. March 28, 2018).

[7] See Luminara Worldwide, LLC v. Liown Elecs. Co., 814 F.3d 1343, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“a financial interest . . . without more does not amount to a substantial right.”); see also Propat Int’l Corp. v. RPost, Inc., 473 F.3d 1187, 1191 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (“[T]he fact that a patent owner has retained a right to a portion of the proceeds of the commercial exploitation of the patent, . . . does not necessarily defeat what would otherwise be a transfer of all substantial rights in the patent.”)

[8] Ericsson Inc. v. Telfonaktiebolaget Lm Ericsson, IPR2017-01186, Paper 14 at 4 (PTAB, December 19, 2017).


Tribal Sovereign Immunity: PTAB Decision Casts Doubt On Patent Defense Strategy

Maier & Maier

Last fall, Maier & Maier highlighted a new defense strategy for Patent Owners against IPR (Inter Partes Review) Petitions in an overview of the ongoing Allergan “Tribal Immunity” Proceeding. In sum, Allergan transferred their patent portfolio to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (“Tribe”) in upstate New York, paying them a lump sum and royalties in exchange for retaining an exclusive license for the patent. In doing so, the Tribe became the Patent Owner, availing them of protection from suit under the Eleventh  Amendment.[1] As explained by the Supreme Court, “As a matter of federal law, an Indian tribe is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity.”[2]. After the assignment, the Tribe filed a motion to dismiss based on their Tribal Immunity. Just last month, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied that motion.

The Decision

The PTAB panel primarily based its decision on two findings: 1). Tribal Immunity does not apply to the petition for IPR; and 2). Even if it does, the Tribe is not an indispensable party that the Proceeding could not continue without.

The Board relied on a few factors for the first finding, including an absence of statutory support for applying Tribal Immunity to administrative proceedings like the PTAB and the fact that the PTAB decision would be applied to the patent itself, not the Tribe as the patent holder.

Even if Tribal Immunity applied, the Board ruled that the proceeding would still continue because the Tribe is not an indispensable party. To come to this result, the Board conducted a thorough analysis of the sale to the Tribe and the alleged license back to Allergan. As explained in the decision, the involved parties/ characterization of an agreement as a license compared to a full assignment is not determinative, with precedent relying more heavily on the terms than the label given to it. According to the Board, Allergan’s exclusive right to practice the patent, coupled with the Tribe’s ‘illusory’ rights to enforce it, indicated that the agreement was an assignment and not a license. This in turn makes Allergan an owner and allows the proceeding to continue, as any of the Tribe’s interests could be fully represented by Allergan, tipping the scales in the indispensable party analysis.[3]

Implications

Moving forward, it is unlikely that the Tribal Immunity defense will be a useful tool for Patent Owners in IPR proceedings. The PTAB has ruled against its application to IPR’s, established an alternate means to continue with the proceedings with the Tribe’s licensee, and any appeal to the Federal Circuit would face an uphill battle.

In the meantime, anyone still seeking protection for their patents under Tribal Immunity will need to push the balance of their license agreement farther than Allergan and give the Tribe more than ‘mere royalties’ and an ‘illusory’ right to enforce so that 1). the licensee would not be determined the true owner and 2). the Tribe would not be deemed indispensable.[4]

This decision strikes another blow to sovereign immunity defenses, as just this past December the PTAB ruled that State Sovereignty could not be applied to dismiss an IPR proceeding when the Patent Owner has filed an infringement suit asserting the patent. In the Board’s view, the act of bringing suit is as a waiver of the Eleventh Amendment right that would otherwise apply to the proceeding.[5]

Allergan and the Tribe will now continue their defense in the IPR Proceeding with the PTAB, with a Final Decision expected by June, at which point it will likely go to the Federal Circuit for an appeal.[6] You can check for updates using the USPTO E2E platform or subscribe to case alerts here: www.postgrant.com.


[1] The Eleventh Amendment provides that “Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI.  See also Covidien LP v. University of Florida Research Foundation IncorporatedNeochord, Inc. v. University of Maryland BaltimoreReactive Surfaces Ltd., LLP v. Toyota Motor Corporation.

[2] Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Mfg. Techs., Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 754 (1998).

[3] Mylan Pharmaceutocals Inc., et al. v. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, IPR2016-01127, Paper 130 at 39 (PTAB, February 23, 2018).

[4] See Luminara Worldwide, LLC v. Liown Elecs. Co., 814 F.3d 1343, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“a financial interest . . . without more does not amount to a substantial right.”); see also Propat Int’l Corp. v. RPost, Inc., 473 F.3d 1187, 1191 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (“[T]he fact that a patent owner has retained a right to a portion of the proceeds of the commercial exploitation of the patent, . . . does not necessarily defeat what would otherwise be a transfer of all substantial rights in the patent.”)

[5] Ericsson Inc. v. Telfonaktiebolaget Lm Ericsson, IPR2017-01186, Paper 14 at 4 (PTAB, December 19, 2017).

[6] Mylan Pharmaceutocals Inc., et al. v. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, IPR2016-01127, Paper 132 at 4 (PTAB, February 23, 2018)


Maier & Maier Secures IPR Victory for Foxrun Development before the PTAB

Maier & Maier

The internationally recognized Maier & Maier PLLC law firm won a major IPR victory for Foxrun Development securing a non-institution decision from the PTAB, overcoming 4 challenges to their network security patent asserted by Terralink in IPR2017-02102.

The patent reviewed (9,460,319 B1) relates to enhancing computer network security by physically blocking unused computer ports with “linear actuators” and a “securing member”. Terralink challenged the patent on two counts of obviousness, one count of anticipation and one count under 35 U.S.C. § 112(f) by referencing two patent applications (US 2016/0294098 and US 2015/0020189 A1), which also related to physically blocking unused computer ports.

In response to the September 13, 2017 Petition by Terralink, Maier & Maier argued that the § 112(f) ground was invalid for an IPR proceeding, while the other three grounds failed to meet the statutory standard. As the PTAB decision explained, Terralink neglected to explain “where each element of the claim is found in the prior art patents or printed publications relied upon” by failing to identify both corresponding components and corresponding functionality.

Maier & Maier successfully argued that none of the asserted grounds for unpatentability demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success as discussed above, and obtained the PTAB’s non-institution decision for Foxrun Developments on March 6, 2018-less than six months after the petition was filed.


IPR Time-Bar Institution Decision Is Appealable

Maier & Maier

In Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., 15-1944 – 2018-01-08, the Federal Circuit reviewed whether an inter partes review (IPR) Institution Decision can be appealed based on a time-bar under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  Sitting en banc, the Federal Circuit ruled Institution Decisions made under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) are appealable.

35 U.S.C. § 315(b) states “[a]n inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”

In 2010, the owner of the patents at issue, Ericsson, filed a complaint against three defendants in the Eastern District of Texas.  Broadcom was not a named defendant.  Ericsson prevailed on the infringement claims.  In 2013, Broadcom filed three separate petitions with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) for inter partes review (IPR) against the individual patents at issue.  Wi-Fi One, LLC acquired the patents at issue from Ericsson while the IPRs were pending.  Wi-Fi argued that Broadcom was time-barred from filing the IPRs because Broadcom was in privity with the defendants of the previous lawsuit filed more than 1 year prior.  Wi-Fi filed a motion with the PTAB seeking indemnity agreements, defense agreements, payments, and communications as evidence of such privity.  The PTAB denied Wi-Fi’s motion, instituted the IPR proceedings, and found the claims unpatentable.

Wi-Fi One appealed the Final Written Decisions to the Federal Circuit including arguments that the PTAB’s time-bar determination be overruled.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Decisions relying precedent from Achates Reference Publishing, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 803 F.3d 652, 658 (Fed. Cir. 2015), which ruled § 315(b) time-bar determinations are final and nonappealable under 35 USC § 314(d).

Despite this ruling, Wi-Fi again sought relief by petitioning for a rehearing en banc.  This petition was granted.

On January 8, 2018, the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled that PTAB institution decisions made based the statutory timing provisions of 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) of the America Invents Act are appealable.  In the majority Opinion, Judge Reyna emphasized the “strong presumption” for judicial review, noting “[i]n view of this strong presumption, we will abdicated judicial review only when Congress provides a ‘clear and convincing’ indication that it intends to prohibit review.” Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., 15-1944 – 2018-01-08 (citing Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131, at 2140 (2016)).

35 U.S.C. § 314(d) states “[t]he determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.”  The en banc Federal Circuit determined the natural reading of “under this section” limits its reach to institution determinations made under § 314.  Since the time-bar provision is found in section 315(b) of the statute and not § 314, the en banc Federal Circuit ruled that 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) did not apply and consequently the institution decision was appealable.  This decision overruled the prior Federal Circuit holding in Achates.


Oral Arguments in Oil States Show a Divided Supreme Court

Maier & Maier
On November 27, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in Oil Sates Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC. This much anticipated case is set to determine whether inter partes review proceedings at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) violate the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
Over 50 amicus briefs were filed leading up to oral arguments in the widely anticipated and heavily scrutinized case.  The amicus briefs showed a relatively even split in support for the positions of the Petitioner and the Respondent.  Similarly, there appeared to be a split among the Supreme Court Justices during oral arguments.  The Justices asked tough questions of all parties and it will be interesting to see how they ultimately rule.
A large portion of the questions directed to the Petitioner, Oil States, centered around whether ex parte reexam and inter partes reexam proceedings are constitutional, and, if so, how inter partes review is distinguishable.  Counsel for Oil States conceded that ex parte reexam and inter partes reexam are constitutional, calling out that those proceedings are examinational and not adjudicational in nature.  In other words, those proceedings are between the USPTO and the Patent Owner, whereas inter partes review proceedings are between two private parties.
Questions for the Respondent, Greene’s Energy, included a focus on due process, whether patents are a public or private right, and whether a patent owner’s rights could ever vest due to reliance on the patent’s presumed validity.  Lastly, counsel on behalf of the federal government faced questions on the USPTO’s ability to decide infringement and concerns of panel stacking at the USPTO.
While it is dangerous to speculate on the ultimate ruling based merely on oral arguments, it does appear unlikely that the Court will rule unanimously.

Federal Circuit Opens the Door for IPR Amendments

Maier & Maier
In Aqua Products, Inc. v. Matal, No. 2015-1177 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2017), an en banc Federal Circuit determined that it was improper for the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to place the burden of establishing the patentability of mid-IPR claim amendments on the patent holder.  Instead, the ruling determined that the burden should be placed on the petitioner to prove any amended claims are unpatentable.
Previous panels of the Federal Circuit had held that, if the patent owner in an inter partes review proceeding (IPR) wanted to amend the claims of the patent, the patent owner was required to show that the amended claims would be patentable over the prior art.
The en banc Federal Circuit in Aqua Products instead held that the AIA’s statutory language in 35 USC §316(e), which places the burden of proving a proposition of unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence onto the petitioner in an IPR case, would likewise extend to claim amendments. While the en banc court produced five different opinions, a majority of judges held that the statute that establishes the evidentiary standard for IPRs, 35 U.S.C. § 316(e), was ambiguous with regard to whether the burden of persuasion of establishing the unpatentability of substitute claims should be on the petitioner. As such, the court was required to reach step two of Chevron. From this, the court reached two legal conclusions: first, that the PTO has not adopted a rule that is entitled to deference that would place the burden of persuasion on the patent owner, and, second, that in the absence of such a rule entitled to deference, the PTO was not entitled to place that burden on the patent owner.
However, even though this decision is likely to result in many more patents being able to survive the inter partes review process in some form or another, it is unlikely to be a permanent solution. The en banc decision is narrow and makes clear that the Patent Office would have the ability to again place the burden of persuasion for claim amendments back on the patent owner. The Federal Circuit noted that, because a majority of the judges in the en banc proceeding only overturned the PTO’s present amendment practice because they believed that the statute was ambiguous with regard to amendments, if an official interpretation of the statute was made by the Director of the Patent and Trademark office, the court would be required to give deference to it under the Chevron standard. However, to do this, the USPTO would have to first go through proper notice and comment stages for such rule-making.
There are also certain downsides to filing claim amendments for the patent owner. Any amended claim will likely be subject to “intervening rights,” where the change in scope of the claim restricts its applicability to past or present infringement. Because many if not most patents in IPR proceedings will also be involved in concurrent district court litigation, if an IPR can be used to force the patent owner to make an amendment to the asserted claims, the litigation may not be able to continue.