IPR Time-Bar Institution Decision Is Appealable

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

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

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.

Tribal Sovereign Immunity: Defense Against Inter Partes Review

On September 8, 2017, Allergan PLC (“Allergan”), a global pharmaceutical company, publicly announced the assignment of all Orange Book-listed patents for its dry-eye drug RESTASIS® to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (“Tribe”) in upstate New York. In a unified statement about the transaction, the Tribe Council stated, “This is a viable and sound opportunity for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to enter into the patent, technology and research sector as part of our overall economic diversification strategy.” Under the terms of the agreement, Allergan retains an exclusive license in the patents related to the product, while the Tribe receives an initial payment of $13.75 million and up to $15 million in annual royalties for the life of the patents. The patents are set to expire on August 27, 2024.

Allergan’s Chief Legal Officer, Bob Bailey, stated, “The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and its counsel approached Allergan with a sophisticated opportunity to strengthen the defense of our RESTASIS® intellectual property…” With the unorthodox transfer of ownership, Allergan aims to shield the RESTASIS patents from invalidity challenges at the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (“PTAB”) by asserting the Tribe’s sovereign immunity. In fact, on September 22, 2017, the Tribe did just that – filing a Motion to Dismiss the IPR proceedings for lack of jurisdiction based on tribal sovereign immunity.

Inter Partes review (“IPR”) is an adjudicatory proceeding conducted by the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (“PTAB”) in which a petitioner can challenge the validity of any issued patent.[1] The proceeding became an available vehicle for post-grant opposition of patents one year after the enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act in 2011. An IPR proceeding is initiated by the filing of a petition requesting to cancel as unpatentable one or more claims of the patent in dispute.[2] While there is no time limit for requesting an IPR during the life of a patent, certain limitations may bar a party from utilizing the process. For instance, under 35 USC §315 (b), a party cannot file a petition more than one year after the date on which “the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.”[3] Furthermore, a party is barred from filing a petition if “before the date on which the petition for such a review is filed, the petitioner or real party in interest filed a civil action challenging the validity of a claim of the patent.”[4] Congress implemented both of these statutory bars to avoid the redundant and costly expenses of parallel USPTO and district court proceedings.[5]

On June 3, 2016, Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc. petitioned for an IPR of U.S. Patent 8,685,930, then owned by Allergan, Inc., covering RESTASIS. The PTAB rendered a Decision to institute IPR on December 8, 2016. Mylan was later joined by Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and Akorn Inc. (additional competitor generic drug manufacturers) in the IPR proceeding.

On September 8, 2017, Allergan filed a Patent Owner’s Updated Mandatory Notices to inform the PTAB that the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (“Tribe”) had become a real party-in-interest based on an Assignment. In the Patent Owner’s Updated Mandatory Notices, the Tribe made a special appearance to request the PTAB to stay all proceedings in the IPR pending resolution of the Tribe’s motion to dismiss the IPR based on sovereign immunity.

As a federally recognized, sovereign Indian Tribe, the Tribe asserts inherent sovereign immunity.[6]  Sovereign immunity is codified in the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing “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.” The broad doctrine prohibits actions against foreign states in federal courts and administrative tribunals. Legal precedent also favors a successful defense.[7]

On September 19, 2017, the PTAB rendered an Order concluding that “briefing on the issue of Tribe’s alleged tribal sovereign immunity from these proceedings is warranted.” The Order authorized the Tribe to file a motion to terminate the IPR on the basis of sovereign immunity and the petitioners to file an opposition to the motion.


[1] See 35 U.S.C. §311.

[2] Id. Patentability of claims may only be contested on grounds under 35 U.S.C. §102 or §103, and only on the basis of prior art consisting of patents or printed publications. Id. Additionally, a petition may only be filed after the later of either nine months after the grant of the patent or the termination of a post-grant review proceeding. Id.

[3] 35 USC §315 (b)

[4] 35 USC 315(a)(1). Notice, however, that this provision does not bar a petitioner from filing both an IPR and a declaratory judgment action in federal court on the same day.

[5] See Rules of Practice for Trials Before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, 77 Fed. Reg. 48,663 (Aug. 14, 2012).

[6] See Motion to Dismiss

[7] See Covidien LP v. University of Florida Research Foundation Incorporated; Neochord, Inc. v. University of Maryland Baltimore; Reactive Surfaces Ltd., LLP v. Toyota Motor Corporation


Supreme Court to Review Constitutionality of Post-Grant Proceedings in Oil States

On June 12, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States vs. Greene’s Energy Group, et al., a case dealing with the constitutionality of the post-grant challenge procedures established by the America Invents Act (AIA). The Federal Circuit, below, had upheld the constitutionality of these procedures.

The petition for writ of certiorari submitted by Oil States presented three questions:

  1. Whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
  2. Whether the amendment process implemented by the PTO in inter partes review conflicts with Court’s decision in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S.Ct. 2131 (2016), and congressional direction.
  3. Whether the “broadest reasonable interpretation” of patent claims – upheld in Cuozzo for use in inter partes review – requires the application of traditional claim construction principles, including disclaimer by disparagement of prior art and reading claims in light of the patent’s specification.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari only as to the first question.

The petitioner, Oil States, has based much of their argument on an 1898 decision from the Supreme Court, McCormick Harvesting Mach. Co. v. Aultman & Co., 169 U.S. 606 (1898). This decision held that “the Patent Office had no power to revoke, cancel, or annul” an issued patent, because once the patent has issued, “[i]t has become the property of the patentee, and as such is entitled to the same legal protection as other property.” Oil States charges that the USPTO has acted contrary to McCormick and has unconstitutionally revoked patents through the post-grant challenges made available under the AIA, such as inter partes review.

It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule on this case. Several commentators have noted that the Supreme Court has, in the recent past, typically granted certiorari to Federal Circuit patent cases in order to overrule them; as the Federal Circuit upheld the constitutionality of these procedures, the Supreme Court may intend to strike them down. It is also noted that a majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court have adopted “private property” interpretations of patents in other cases, and as such they may find McCormick to be persuasive.

However, the constitutionality of post-grant procedures has been challenged in a number of cases, and the Supreme Court may have wished to take this case just to settle the issue. It is also noted that the facts of McCormick could be limited to the narrow facts of the case. When McCormick was decided, the USPTO did not have a revocation power expressly granted to them by Congress, and the USPTO now has such a power. The Supreme Court may decide that Congress can grant the USPTO jurisdiction over an issued patent and has properly done so.


Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Oil States to Review Constitutionality of IPRs

On June 12, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States vs. Greene’s Energy Group, et al., a case dealing with the constitutionality of the post-grant challenge procedures established by the America Invents Act (AIA). The Federal Circuit, below, had upheld the constitutionality of these procedures.

The petition for writ of certiorari submitted by Oil States presented three questions:

  1. Whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
  2. Whether the amendment process implemented by the PTO in inter partes review conflicts with Court’s decision in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S.Ct. 2131 (2016), and congressional direction.
  3. Whether the “broadest reasonable interpretation” of patent claims – upheld in Cuozzo for use in inter partes review – requires the application of traditional claim construction principles, including disclaimer by disparagement of prior art and reading claims in light of the patent’s specification.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari only as to the first question.

The petitioner, Oil States, has based much of their argument on an 1898 decision from the Supreme Court, McCormick Harvesting Mach. Co. v. Aultman & Co., 169 U.S. 606 (1898). This decision held that “the Patent Office had no power to revoke, cancel, or annul” an issued patent, because once the patent has issued, “[i]t has become the property of the patentee, and as such is entitled to the same legal protection as other property.” Oil States charges that the USPTO has acted contrary to McCormick and has unconstitutionally revoked patents through the post-grant challenges made available under the AIA, such as inter partes review.

It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule on this case. Several commentators have noted that the Supreme Court has, in the recent past, typically granted certiorari to Federal Circuit patent cases in order to overrule them; as the Federal Circuit upheld the constitutionality of these procedures, the Supreme Court may intend to strike them down. It is also noted that a majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court have adopted “private property” interpretations of patents in other cases, and as such they may find McCormick to be persuasive.

However, the constitutionality of post-grant procedures has been challenged in a number of cases, and the Supreme Court may have wished to take this case just to settle the issue. It is also noted that the facts of McCormick could be limited to the narrow facts of the case. When McCormick was decided, the USPTO did not have a revocation power expressly granted to them by Congress, and the USPTO now has such a power. The Supreme Court may decide that Congress can grant the USPTO jurisdiction over an issued patent and has properly done so.