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Another week, another patent litigation stayed in a California court pending a concurrent USPTO  reexamination.  This week, Judge M. James Lorenz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has ordered a stay of the patent litigation between Synthes and GM Dos Reis Jr. Ind. Com. De Equip. Medico (“GMReis”) over Synthes’ U.S. Patent No. 7,128,744 (“the ’744 patent”) covering locking bone plates used in surgery to secure fractured bones.  In his Order Judge Lorenz stated that “[t]o proceed with the case during [inter partes] re-examination [of the ’744 patent] would needlessly duplicate the effort of the USPTO and forgo the benefit of its expertise and analysis.”  He noted that “if the USPTO cancels the patent’s claims the issue of infringement will be moot.”  On the other hand, if “the USPTO reaffirms the patent, the court will have the benefit of the agency’s analysis of the same prior art that GMReis is relying on to challenge the patent’s validity.”  Because the dates for discovery, the Markman claim construction hearing and trial had yet to be set, the judge indicated that these factors weighed in favor of granting a stay of the litigation pending the outcome of the inter partes reexamination proceedings.  The judge was unimpressed by the undue prejudice argument raised by the patent owner, since in the three years that the litigation was pending, “Synthes had not requested a preliminary injunction.”

The Order illustrates the value of an early filed reexamination.  In this case, Smith & Nephew employed a common third party tactic of quickly filing an ex parte reexamination request at the outset of a dispute to get the reexamination going, followed up by a later filed inter partes reexamination request.  This one-two-punch of ex parte and inter partes requests allow the requestor to initiate reexamination quickly, without having to worry about the comprehensiveness of the ex parte request, prior art search, etc.  As the later filed inter partes request is subject to the “could have been raised” aspect of the 35 U.S.C. 315(c) estoppel provision, the later requests is prepared more carefully.

Smith & Nephew filed their ex parte reexamination proceeding (Control No. 90/009,377) on January 8, 2009.  On May 5, 2009 the inter partes request was filed (Control No. 95/000,465).  On July 14, 2009, the USPTO merged the proceedings.  On November 5, 2009, the USPTO issued a non-final Office Action rejecting all of the ’744 patent claims for obviousness over a number of printed publications.