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Patent Reexamination Evidence Can Be Prejudicial to Patentees

prejudiceUsing a Parallel Patent Reexamination as Evidence of Invalidity?

Increasingly, courts are presented with evidence of a parallel patent reexamination and must determine whether/when such evidence is admissible.

Admissibility of evidence is governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence (“FRE”).  In recent cases, where the admissibility of evidence of concurrent reexamination proceedings has been offered with respect to the ultimate question of validity, patentees have attempted to use three rules of evidence to exclude such evidence, FRE 402, FRE 403, and FRE 802.

FRE 402 excludes irrelevant evidence.  Patentees, hoping to keep evidence of concurrent reexamination proceedings out of the litigation and away from the jury, have argued that this evidence is irrelevant and should be excluded under FRE 402.  Several courts have agreed.  For example, in the Northern District of Iowa, where reexamination had been granted but no office action had issued, the court stated that “evidence of incomplete patent reexamination proceedings is not admissible to prove invalidity of a patent, because it has no probative value on that issue.”  Transamerica Life Ins. Co. v. Lincoln National Life Ins. Co., 597 F. Supp. 2d 897, 907 (N.D. Iowa 2009) (citing Fed. R. Evid. 402).  Likewise, in the District of Utah, the court held that “evidence concerning the reexamination proceedings is likely irrelevant because it does not have the tendency to make any fact more or less probable than it would otherwise be.” Edizone, L.C. v. Cloud Nine, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41258, at *4 (D. Utah, May 22, 2008).  Even where reexamination proceedings resulted in the rejection of claims and the issuance of  actions closing prosecution, the Southern District of Texas still found that such evidence was irrelevant.  Tesco Corp. v. Weatherford Int’l, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121054 (S.D. Tex., Sep. 27, 2010).  The Tesco court stated that “[u]nlike in reexaminations, those challenging the validity of a patent in litigation must overcome a presumption of validity by proving by clear and convincing evidence that a patent is valid.  The conclusions of examiners as to whether a claim should be confirmed or rejected using a completely different standard have no probative value in this context.”  Id. at *27.  Nonetheless, the Tesco court held that evidence of concurrent reexamination proceedings was relevant to the issue of willful infringement.  Id. at *29-30.

However, even where such evidence has been found to be relevant, some courts have found that it fails the test of FRE 403.  FRE 403 states that “evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”  Patentees, hoping to exclude evidence of concurrent reexamination proceedings have argued that the probative value of such evidence would be far outweighed by the danger of its prejudice.  Several courts have agreed.  Where the PTO had granted a request for reexamination, the Eastern District of Texas held that “[t]he simple fact that a reexamination decision has been made by the PTO is not evidence probative of any element regarding any claim of invalidity. . . . Even if it was, its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect in suggesting to the jury that it is entitled to ignore both the presumption of validity and the defendant’s clear and convincing burden at trial.” i4i L.P. v. Microsoft Corp., 670 F. Supp. 2d 568, 588 (E.D. Tex. 2009).  The Northern District of Illinois similarly held that “telling the jury that the patent has been called into question by the Patent Office may significantly influence the jury’s application of the presumption of validity and significantly prejudice [the patentee]. The prejudicial potential of this evidence far outweighs any probative value it may have.” Amphenol T&M Antennas, Inc. v. Centurion Int’l, Inc., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 822, at *5 (N.D. Ill., Jan. 17, 2002).  Even where final rejections had been made during reexamination, the District of Delaware held that “[a]bsent unusual circumstances… non-final decisions made during reexamination are not binding, moreover, they are more prejudicial (considering the overwhelming possibility of jury confusion) than probative of validity.” SRI Int’l Inc. v. Internet Security Sys., Inc., 647 F. Supp. 2d 323, 356 (D. Del. 2009).

FRE 802 ensures the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence.  Hearsay is defined as “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”  Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).  In Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. v. Baxter International, Inc., the patentee argued that the alleged infringer was offering several PTO documents, including the grant of a request for reexamination, to prove the truth of the matters asserted therein.  No. 03-cv-1431 (N.D. Cal. May 15, 2006).  According to the patentee, such documents were hearsay.  In response, the accused infringer asserted that this evidence fell within the public records exception to the hearsay rule, FRE 803(8), and was admissible.  Id.  FRE 803(8) creates an exception for “[r]ecords, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (A) the activities of the office or agency, or (B) matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to report…, or (C) in civil actions…, factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.”  Fed. R. Evid. 803(8).  In Fresenius, the court found that evidence of a grant of reexamination fell within this exception and was not excludable as hearsay.  Id., slip op. at 4-6.  Specifically, it found that the PTO is a public office or agency, that the determination that a substantial new question of patentability exists is a final decision, and that PTO documents are trustworthy. Id. at 5.

For purposes of proving invalidity, evidence of concurrent reexamination proceedings is almost certainly to be excluded as lacking relevance under FRE 402 and/or as being more prejudicial than probative under FRE 403.

For the above reasons, parallel patent reexamination filings are almost never filed for the purpose of convincing a fact finder that a patent should be found invalid at trial.

Instead, the benefits of parallel patent reexamination have been discussed at great length here as potentially impacting other aspects of litigation, “Is Evidence of Parallel Reexamination Proceedings Admissible at Trial?” (Parts I, II, III, and IV). In past posts, we have explained the benefits of parallel patent reexamination evidence as: aiding an inequitable conduct defense, impacting claim construction,  rebutting allegations of willful infringement, obtaining patent owner admissions to support a non-infringement defense, obtaining an intervening rights defense, providing grounds to stay a district court proceeding, and supporting/opposing injunctive relief.

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