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)


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.

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

Maier & Maier

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

Maier & Maier

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.