It is well established that the USPTO utilizes different standards of evidence and claim interpretation in patent reexamination. Likewise, there is no presumption of validity in patent reexamination. For this reason, district court/ITC claim construction findings (i.e., Markman Orders) are not binding on the USPTO. In re Trans Texas Holdings Corp., 498 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Yet, the findings of the USPTO with regard to claim construction can have significant impact on the court rulings.
For example, this past January, in St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants, Inc. v. Canon Inc., (Fed. Cir. 2011, non-precedential), the CAFC reversed a lower court claim construction ruling, based in part, on the findings of USPTO examiners in patent reexamination, explaining:
Because an examiner in reexamination can be considered one of ordinary skill in the art, his construction of the asserted claims carries significant weight.
(See the earlier discussion of this case here)
Hoping to leverage this thinking, TDM America LLC, a plaintiff of the United States Court of Federal Claims, sought to undo an earlier adverse Markman Order and summary judgment of non-infringement. TDM sought relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) arguing that a recently concluded ex parte patent reexamination of the patent at issue constituted new evidence requiring relief from the earlier judgment. TDM argued that, as in St. Clair, the claim scope statements of the reexamination record carry significant weight, and were contrary to the court’s earlier Markman and SJ findings.
Interestingly, the court agreed that a patent reexamination that concludes after judgement does qualify as “newly discovered” evidence (citing St Clair) under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)., noting:
Defendant contends that TDM’s motion also should fail because it is not based upon “newly discovered evidence.” (Def.’s Opp’n, May 24, 2011, at 22.) Specifically, Defendant asserts that the PTO’s final determinations on the `614 and `862 patents did not occur until August 31, 2010 and February 21, 2011 respectively, well after the Court’s April 27, 2010 summary judgment decision. Id. Under Rule 60(b)(2), “newly discovered evidence” must exist at the time of the Court’s original decision. Yachts America, 8 Cl. Ct. at 281. TDM counters that, although the reexamination proceedings were not complete at the time of the Court’s summary judgment decision, the facts to which the reexamination pertained were in existence before the Court’s decision. (Pl.’s Reply Mem., June 29, 2011, at 15-16.) TDM relies on a Fifth Circuit case, Chilson v. Metropolitan Transit Authority, in which the court held that an audit completed after judgment but revealing facts that existed at the time of trial constituted “newly discovered evidence.” 796 F.2d 69, 73 (5th Cir. 1986). The Court also notes that the Federal Circuit has taken judicial notice of ex parte reexamination decisions. See St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants, Inc. v. Canon, Inc., 2011 WL 66166, at *5 n1 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 10, 2011) (”[T]his court can take judicial notice of the reexamination record.”). On the basis of these authorities, the Court will treat the ex parte proceedings as “newly discovered evidence.”
Although accepting TDM’s Rule 60(b) patent reexamination theory, the court found TDM’s allegations of contrary claim scope findings sorely lacking, and improperly focused on positions that were later reversed by the examiners.
In the 1,226-page appendix, the PTO’s examiners made many observations about the Chemfix II process and the validity of the `614 and `862 patents, but in reversing course during the proceedings, the earlier examiner observations are not consistent with the later observations. Thus, in evaluating any of the PTO examiner statements, it is important to know when the statements were made. In its motion for relief from judgment, TDM habitually cites to many of the earlier examiner comments, which were later reversed and thus carry no weight. The final PTO position is consistent with the Court’s position, and would not cause the Court to alter the outcome of the case.
Although TDM was ultimately unsuccessful, the ability to introduce a favorable reexamination record under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) appears to be a viable strategy for for patentees receiving adverse judgments concurrent to a pending patent reexamination proceeding.