Introduction of New Patent Legislation in Congress Looms Over PTAB Litigation Practice

Maier & Maier

Two new pieces of legislation were introduced in the past few weeks, one each in the House and the Senate, and both could have drastic implications for PTAB practice. The PACED Act, introduced in the Senate, would eliminate Tribal Immunity as a defense for all Patent Owners in proceedings before the Patent Office. The STRONGER Patents Act, introduced to the House as the counter part to the previous iteration in the senate, would make a number of changes to patent enforcement, including the reversal of the Supreme Court by making the validity standard in the PTAB match the standard in District Court.

The PACED Act

The ongoing Allergan appeal in the Federal Circuit on Tribal Immunity in an IPR is the apparent inspiration for the PACED Act, which would explicitly remove Tribal Sovereign Immunity as an option for defense in IPR’s. The PACED (“Preserving Access to Cost Effective Drugs”) Act, introduced by Senator Tom Cotton, abrogates sovereign immunity in all derivations, reexams, IPRs, post-grant reviews, and in federal reviews of the aforementioned proceedings.[1]

Cotton makes the motivation behind the bill clear, explaining that “This bill will make sure unscrupulous patent holders can’t game the system and block their competitors from entering the market”[2] referring to the ongoing appeal by Saint Regis and Allergan described here. The bill seeks to remove Allergan’s strongest argument, that Sovereign Immunity exists unless the Tribe has waived it or congress has specifically permitted the suit, as outlined by the Supreme Court.[3]

It should be noted that the proposed bill specifically limits the scope of these exceptions to Sovereign Immunity, explicitly stating that “shall apply only to the extent permitted under the 11th amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Whether the PACED Act successfully passes through the Senate and on to the House will be something to watch moving forward, though it is possible the Allergan appeal may resolve the issue without legislative intervention.

The STRONGER Patents Act

The STRONGER (“Support Technology & Research for Our Nation’s Growth and Economic Resilience”) Patents Act is the House version of the act introduced to the Senate with the same name last June, co-sponsored by senators Chris Coons, Tom Cotton, Mazie Hirono, and Dick Durbin. The House bill was introduced by the bipartisan duo of Steve Stivers and Bill Foster, and would represent the biggest overhaul of the U.S. patent system since the AIA in 2011[4].

Most of the notable changes proposed for the PTAB involve the relationship between the PTAB and federal District Court, with a goal of increasing efficiency and limiting litigation. Specifically, the bill would align the PTAB’s invalidity standards with the District Court’s, require the PTAB to consider District Court claim constructions along with prosecution history, and preclude institution if validity on § 102 or § 103 grounds had already been decided by a Federal Court or by the ITC.

Additional language weighing the scales in Patent Owners’ favor would require petitioners to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood of being sued for infringement of the patent or competitive harm from the validity of the patent and allow Patent Owners access to an expedited amendment process before a patent examiner during IPR and PGR proceedings. Conversely, the bill would also empower the ITC and state attorneys to curb bad faith demand letters for misleading language about their right to enforce a patent against the recipient.

With the bill now being introduced in both houses of Congress by bipartisan sponsors, and gaining considerable support, it will be worth monitoring moving forward.


[1] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s2514/text

[2] https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=901

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

[4] https://stivers.house.gov/uploadedfiles/stronger_patents_act.pdf


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)