Over the years, the PTAB has shed it’s “super-examiner” role to more of that of an umpire— calling balls and strikes. That is to say, the PTAB has drifted toward a relatively narrower view of the scope of issues it will substantively review on appeal, perhaps as a matter of necessity in dealing with the crushing weight of the growing appeal backlog.
Yesterday, in Rexnord Industries v. Kappos (2011-1434), the Federal Circuit shifted the focus of the PTAB away from their recent umpire-like practices toward a more traditional judicial review model.
The Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB for failing to consider all theories raised by an appellee in support of an examiner’s decision in an inter partes patent reexamination irrespective of whether the theory or ground was adopted by the examiner. Rexnord, the third party requester, had proposed rejections based on a combination of references with the added rationale that a certain claimed feature – a gap of less than 10 mm – was merely an obvious design choice. The examiner rejected the claims on the proposed combination of references but did not adopt the design choice theory, instead, opting to substitute his own reasoning. Namely, the examiner’s rejection was premised on an interpretation of the claims which permitted the gap to be 0 mm, or nonexistent.
The PTAB reversed the examiner but refused to consider Rexnord’s “obvious design choice” argument as an alternative basis for affirming the examiner. The PTAB reasoned that its role on appeal Read the rest of this entry »
CAFC Finds SNQ Denial Not Subject to Appeal in Inter Partes Patent Reexamination
Back in March of 2011, an expanded panel of the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences (BPAI) decided Belkin International et al., v. Optimumpath LLC. Belkin’s appeal stemmed from a denial of a proposed SNQ of an inter partes patent reexamination request of U.S. Patent 7,035,281 (95/001,089). The initial request for inter partes patent reexamination was granted as to claims 1-3 and 8-10, but denied as to claims 4-7 and 11-31.
The denial of the SNQ targeting claims 4-7 and 11-31 was petitioned to the Director of the Central Reexamination Unit (CRU). Upon reconsideration, the Director refused to reverse the examiner. On the other hand, Belkin did not petition the denial of SNQs pertaining to the claims being actively reexamined (claims 1-3 and 8-10). During prosecution of the reexamination, the rejection of claims 1-3 and 8-10 was withdrawn by the examiner. Thereafter, Belkin appealed the withdrawn rejection of claims 1-3 and 8-10 together with the denial of the SNQs pertaining to those reexamined claims.
The procedural issue before the Board was whether or not denied SNQs, which pertain to claims being actively reexamined (i.e., claims 1-3 and 8-10) must be petitioned rather than appealed to the BPAI. The Board found that:
[I]f the Director makes the non-appealable determination that no substantial new question of patentability has been raised, then reexamination is not performed for those claims in question with respect to the corresponding prior art references. There cannot have been a final decision (either favorable or unfavorable) on the patentability of the claims in question under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), the claims not having been reexamined in the first place for lack of a substantial new question of patentability. (emphasis added)
Yesterday the CAFC weighed in on the debate. Read the rest of this entry »
How Often Are Examiner Claim Confirmations Upheld in Inter Partes Patent Reexamination
For challengers in an inter partes patent reexamination (IPX), confirmation of patent claims by the examiner can pose a significant set back. That is to say, the challenger would be estopped (35 U.S.C. § 317(b)) from raising invalidity defenses that “could have been raised” relative to the confirmed claims during the IPX proceeding, in a later court proceeding.
Although IPX is no longer available as an option to patent challengers, the rate of affirmance by the PTAB in such situations will still be of significant interest in the years to come thanks to the avalanche of IPX filings submitted to the USPTO earlier this month.
Based upon the outcomes of the IPX decisions issued so far in 2012, challengers have about a 50/50 chance of reversing at least one claim of the examiner confirmation. Read the rest of this entry »
Working Patent Reexamination Developments Into the Appeal Record
Previously, I discussed how an appellant sought relief at the CAFC from an earlier Markman Order under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). The Appellant argued on appeal that a recently concluded ex parte patent reexamination of the patent at issue constituted new evidence requiring relief from the earlier decision. The appellant theorized that the USPTO’s analysis as to claim scope should carry significant weight, and were contrary to the court’s earlier Markman and SJ findings. While the CAFC accepted the argument under Rule 60, they ultimately found for the Appellee.
Recently, yet another appeal rule was leveraged to inform the CAFC of USPTO findings in patent reexamination. Read the rest of this entry »
USPTO Explains Appeal Fee Setting
The America Invents Act (AIA), Section 10 provides fee setting authority to the USPTO. As a result, the Office has been busy preparing new fee proposals that will take effect in early 2013. For example, the new USPTO fee setting authority permits the USPTO to revise the fees set by Congress under 35 U.S.C. §§ 41 (a) and (b) based on the aggregate costs of funding the USPTO, which in some cases has led to proposals to dramatically raise certain filing fees.
The USPTO has also proposed a recalibration of appeal fees and payment timing. In a post on the USPTO web site yesterday (here) the Director explained that upon further investigation, some of the initial appeal fee proposals are unfeasible.
In constructing our preliminary fee proposal, our initial thought was to refund most appeal fees if the application did not proceed to the BPAI. However, this proved to be a non-viable option as the law does not permit us to provide refunds of appeal fees.
As an alternative, the Office presented an option during the preliminary proposal at the PPAC hearings that included two components: (1) Shifting the payment timing for some of the appeal-related fees, and (2) Offering a combined $0 PGPub and Issue fee if the examiner withdraws a Final Rejection prior to an appeal being forwarded to the BPAI.
The second aspect of the initial proposal ($0 PGPub and Issue fee) raised implementation issues. As originally envisioned, a $0 PGPub and Issue fee would have been considered if the examiner withdrew a Final Rejection prior to an appeal being forwarded to the BPAI. However, withdrawing the Final Rejection can happen under many circumstances, including times when there is no error in prosecution by the examiner. For example, examiners often properly consider After Final amendments filed after notice of appeal, resulting in an allowance. Assessing when a $0 PGPub and Issue fee would be proper would require the USPTO to review the circumstances of each withdrawal of Final Rejection on a case-by-case basis, increasing the cost of patent operations.
Another consideration is that a $0 PGPub and Issue fee would eliminate the need for the notice of issue fee payment. Applicants often use this notification to decide if there is a need to file a continuing application. So after reviewing the resources that would be required to consider these situations on a case-by-case basis, and the possible negative impact applicants would experience, this particular piece of the initial proposal will not be pursued.
However, the Office does plan to maintain the first component in our rulemaking proposal as a means to provide savings to applicants—shifting the timing of when some of the appeal-related fees are paid. This approach provides the benefits related to the staging and timing of fee payments, without creating potential harm to applicants or additional implementation issues.
CAFC Forced to Disturb Earlier Ruling Based on More Liberal Patent Reexamination Standards
Patent reexamination is often initiated in parallel with an ongoing infringement litigation. In some cases, an infringer that fails to prove invalidity in the courts can effectively “undo” the effect of the earlier court judgement via an ex parte patent reexamination (EXP) filing.
Back in December, the CAFC considered this “do over” tactic in the case of In re Construction Equipment. Last week, the very same procedural fact pattern presented itself to the CAFC. Once again, Judge Newman decried the potential undermining of previously settled court rulings via ex parte patent reexamination. Read the rest of this entry »
New Appeal Rules Effective January 23, 2012
This past Monday the USPTO released the final rule package pertaining to the Rules of Practice Before the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences in Ex Parte Appeals. (here).
This final rule notification stems from the earlier notice of proposed rule making issued last November. The rules are limited to ex parte proceedings only and have no bearing on patent interferences, or inter partes patent reexamination. Likewise, the new rules will not control Inter Partes Review or Post Grant Review. The final rules become effective on January 23, 2012. (for appeals initiated on or after the effective date)
In response to the original publication of the rules, I pointed out that the proposal provides an interesting safeguard against new rejections in an Examiner Answer. Namely, the filing of a 1.181 petition challenging such a rejection tolls the period for filing a Reply brief. Thus an Applicant may await decision on the petition before filing the Reply. This provision will be very helpful in patent application prosecution, but may aggravate ex parte reexamination pendency if abused. Read the rest of this entry »
Shift in BPAI Fact Finding Necessitates New Rejection
Back in February, In re Stepan (or In re Side-steppin if it helps you remember the case) was argued before the CAFC. In a previous post, I explained how this case demonstrated a problem addressed by the 2010 proposed rule package for practice before the BPAI. Namely, the shifting in rejection grounds during appeal relative to that of the originally applied rejection. The newly proposed Rules attempt to liberalize the manner by which an Applicant/Patent Holder may challenge a “new ground of rejection” as presented in an Examiner Answer. The idea being, it is unfair for the Office to change course once prosecution is closed as no new rebuttal evidence may be entered.
Unchecked, a modification to the Office’s fact finding/legal theory in an Examiner Answer or BPAI decision can be quite prejudicial during patent reexamination. This is because, Read the rest of this entry »
BPAI Agrees Invalidated Claims are Invalid
In a strange development, the BPAI issued a decision yesterday invalidating claims 1-6 of U.S. Patent 6, 961,737. While the decision itself is straight forward, it is odd in that claims 1, 3, 4 and 6 were previously invalidated by the CAFC.
As discussed this time last year, the ‘737 Patent was one of the patents at issue in In Dow Jones & Co., Inc. v. Ablaise Ltd., (Fed. Cir. 2010). On May 28, 2010, the CAFC determined that all but claims 2 and 5 of the ‘737 Patent were invalid based upon prior art, including a patent identified as the “Bobo Patent.” The decision was noteworthy as footnote 3 explained the final rejection status of the reexamination, lamenting that the appeal may have been mooted altogether had the reexamination been at a more advanced point. At that time I pointed out that had the defendants not delayed their request for some two years that they may have been able to save themselves the cost of the CAFC appeal.
Yesterday, the BPAI essentially agreed with the CAFC, invalidating all claims based on the Bobo Patent, but such was a waste of time and resources. (decision here)
As noted in MPEP 2286, a final Federal Court holding of invalidity or unenforceability (after all appeals), is binding on the Office. Upon the issuance of a final holding of invalidity or unenforceability, the claims being examined which are held invalid or unenforceable will be withdrawn from consideration in the reexamination.
So why did the BPAI waste the time in issuing this appeal decision? Read the rest of this entry »
BPAI Considers Whether a Purchased Publication is Publicly Available
In preparing a request for reexamination, often times, user manuals and other proprietary documents are uncovered. As discussed back in March,the degree of public accessibility of such references is key to determining whether or not a given reference qualifies as prior art. In the March decision, public accessibility was not found for a reference limited to confidential distribution among members of a technical group.
Yesterday in Ex ParteePlus Inc, the BPAI considered an appellant’s theory that a proprietary user manual was not publicly accessible since it required a purchase, and included boiler plate language identifying its proprietary nature.
Read the rest of this entry »