Assignor Estoppel Precluded by AIA Statutes…But What of Other Equitable Defenses?

The doctrine of assignor estoppel bars the assignor of a patent from challenging the validity of the patent after it is assigned. In considering this defense to an AIA trial proceeding, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) had consistently held that this common-law doctrine is subject to abrogation by statute, and that the AIA statutes do exactly that. The Federal Circuit recently agreed.

However, the Board has considered and applied other equitable defenses. For example, the Board has applied waiver (prior to the Federal Circuit’s determination that tribal immunity did not apply to the PTAB). Thus, equitable defenses that do not conflict with the AIA statutes may be leveraged.

One equitable defense that could become more prominent going forward —given the alignment of claim construction standards between the PTAB and courts— is judicial estoppel.

Continue Reading Equitable Defenses at the PTAB

Final Rule Publishes Tomorrow

As predicted last week, the final rule package to switch the to the Phillips claim construction for AIA trial proceedings at the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) will publish Thursday. (advanced copy here). The change will apply to inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and the transitional program for covered business method patents (CBM) proceedings before the PTAB.

The final rule replaces the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard with the federal court claim construction standard that is used to construe a claim in a civil action under 35 U.S.C. § 282(b). This is the same claim construction standard articulated in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc), and its progeny. Additionally, under the final rule, when construing a claim term in an IPR, PGR, or CBM, the PTAB will take into consideration any prior claim construction determination that has been made in a civil action, or a proceeding before the International Trade Commission (ITC), if that prior claim construction is timely made of record in that IPR, PGR, or CBM.  The weight accorded to such determinations will vary depending upon circumstances.

The final rule will not be retroactively applied and instead will apply only to IPR, PGR, and CBM petitions filed on or after the effective date of the final rule, which is Nov. 13th, 2018.

Phillips Claim Construction Rule Imminent

Back in May, the USPTO issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to switch from the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI) standard to a Phillips claim construction for AIA Trial Proceedings (here).  Thereafter the agency collected comments from the public, most of which favored the change, and submitted the issue to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for final regulatory approval. On Wednesday October 3rd the regulatory approval was given by OMB’s Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  Thus, the USPTO may now publish a Final Rule Package to make the proposed switch to Phillips.

The Final Rule Package, which I expect will publish in the Federal Register next week does not take effect immediately. Rather, there will be an effective date 30-60 days after the date of publishing. Assuming publication next week, that would provide an effective date as early as the first full week of November, or as late as December. (There have been discussions that this change would be retroactive, but that is not my expectation. Too much re-work for existing proceedings, and on the heels of SAS, I just don’t see it.)  I expect that any petition filed on or after the effective date will be subject to the Phillips standard.

As I have pointed out previously, while I don’t expect this change will impact trials in a significant regard, it will impact filing strategies. That is, there will be an avalanche of petitions coming into the PTAB before the effective date. Continue Reading PTAB Rule Package Dropping BRI Clears Final Hurdle

Change in Claim Construction Standard Provides Greater Appellate Opportunity

Some months back the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) proposed dropping the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) in favor of the so-called “Phillips construction” of the courts. That final rule package, while expected to have been issued by now, is hung up in the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for regulatory review. (While described in the proposed rule as a change that was not deemed “significant,” should OMB disagree, the final rules will be delayed until the necessary regulatory hoops can be navigated).  Nevertheless, whether in 2018 or 2019, it is clear that the agency intends to move PTAB trial proceedings away from BRI to the Phillips standard.

While this change may not move the needle very much for PTAB trials, it should provide enhanced appellate opportunity. Continue Reading What a Phillips Construction Could Mean for PTAB Appeals

Informative Decision Led to Confusion

Last month the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) designated Ex Parte Jung 2016-008290, “informative.” An informative decision is one that expresses the “Board’s general consensus on recurring issues and guidance to examiners, appellants, patent owners, or petitioners in areas where parties routinely misapply the law.”

In Jung, the Board construed the claim terminology “at least one of A and B” to be conjunctive. That is, this language was determined to be properly construed (following the Federal Circuit precedent of SuperGuide Corp. v. DirecTV Enters., Inc.), as “at least one of A and at least one of B.”  However, the Board also noted that a patent’s claims, specification, or prosecution history may necessitate a broader meaning. Thus, in some scenarios, “at least one of A and B” is properly construed in the disjunctive as “at least one of A or B.”

Since being designated informative, however, Jung seems to have created confusion on whether or not the PTAB was making new law. Continue Reading PTAB De-Designates Ex Parte Jung as Informative Decision

Pro-Patent Owner Options

The new Director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in record time. With only a few weeks on the job, the Director issued a NPRM to switch the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI) currently used in Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) trial proceedings to a Phillips claim construction. The proposal was quickly lauded by Patent Owners believing that the application of the Phillips standard by the PTAB will lead to narrower claim constructions, and thus, more patents being upheld by the agency. But, as I pointed out previously, in practice, BRI is rarely different from a Phillips construction. In fact, utilizing the same standard at the PTAB as in the courts might only make matters worse for Patent Owners from a monetization perspective.

Impact of the proposed claim construction change aside, the speed at which the Director has acted speaks to his keen interest in improving the PTAB playing field for Patent Owners. With the Director expected to issue further proposals to aid Patent Owners, below are some likely candidates. Continue Reading How Might the Director Improve the PTAB for Patent Owners?

Existing BRI Litigation Cover Will Be Blown

While the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (PTAB) plan to switch from the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) toPhillips claim construction may not be the magic bullet that Patent Owner’s expect, the switch will pose strategic problems for petitioners. Even though the PTAB rarely discerns a difference between a BRI and Phillips constructions, the courts think very differently than the expert agency. For this reason, Petitioners often cited to the different claim construction standards to explain away the application of a broader read at the PTAB as compared to that urged in the court. This enabled petitioners to take positions on claim breadth in PTAB petitions that would otherwise undermine a non-infringement position if advanced under Phillips.

Going forward at the PTAB under Phillips, petitioners will be forced to commit to a one-size-fits-all claim construction. Continue Reading A Phillips Construction Will Complicate PTAB Petition Drafting

Change in PTAB Claim Construction May Make Matters Worse for Patent Owners

As I pointed out back in March, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (PTAB) switch from the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI) standard to a Phillips claim construction for AIA Trial Proceedings was telegraphed in advance. The rule package, released today (here), is limited to AIA trial proceedings (IPR, PGR, CBM). Left untouched are patent interference, reexamination, reissue, supplemental examination and derivation proceedings. Upon final rule issuance (late summer/fall) AIA trial proceedings will apply a district court or “Phillips” claim construction. Given the current proposal it appears that this change will apply to all pending proceedings.

Patent Owners were quick to applaud the proposed claim construction change as a huge win……it’s not. Continue Reading Patent Owners May Rue the Day They Pushed the PTAB to Phillips

New Director’s Interest in Predictability To Drive PTAB Change

As pointed out yesterday over at IPWatchdog, the USPTO Solicitor has withdrawn as Intervenor in the Federal Circuit appeal between Telebrands Corporation and Tinnus Enterprises (stemming from PGR2015-00018, challenging a patent pertaining to the well-known Bunch-o-Balloons® product on indefiniteness grounds). The USPTO intervened in the earlier appeal to defend the indefiniteness standard applied in the PGR. This is because the applied standard was stricter than that enunciated in Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2120 (2014). The application of a different, stricter standard caught some by surprise that had not realized that the Federal Circuit endorsed that very standard for agency proceedings in In re Packard, 751 F.3d 1307, 1310 (Fed. Cir. 2014).

I pointed out at the time of this appeal that the Packard indefiniteness standard is grounded in ex parte examination policies and practices.  As such, it was unclear whether the Court’s holding in Packard could be properly extended to AIA trial proceedings. Yet, the Solicitor’s decision to withdraw as Intervenor in the Tinnus dispute is not a sign that the agency lacks faith in its brief. Rather, the change is indicative of a new direction for PTAB trial proceedings. Continue Reading PTAB Likely to Adopt a Philips Construction for AIA Trials in 2018

Prosecutor’s Tool Box 2017

Patent prosecutors navigate complex USPTO rules and seemingly esoteric examinational requirements to procure patent rights. In doing so, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) does not have the full force and effect of law. Nevertheless, patent examiners (rarely trained lawyers) adhere to their interpretation of the Manual requirements. To budge examiners off of entrenched, legal positions, savvy prosecutors will keep a trained eye on the Federal Circuit for help.

2017 provided several decisions of immediate value to patent prosecutors. Continue Reading 2017 CAFC Guidance for Patent Prosecutors