Even Preliminary Proceeding Arguments Notice the Public

It is well-established that statements made by a Patent Owner during an inter partes review (IPR) can constitute prosecution disclaimer— even in papers filed by a Patent Owner before the trial. Aylus Networks, Inc. v. Apple Inc., No. 2016-1599 (Fed. Cir. May 11, 2017)

As a reminder, prosecution disclaimer prevents a patentee that clearly and unmistakably disclaimed a certain meaning for its patent claims during prosecution from recapturing this same meaning during claim construction in a subsequent litigation. As was the case in Aylus, Patent Owners are learning that the timing of such a disclaimer, or lack of express adoption by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB), is of no moment. Continue Reading Beware Prosecution History in PTAB Trials

ITC Staff Attorney Not Bound by Estoppel

Plaintiffs are painfully aware of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) and its potential to derail a patent litigation. Indeed, post-SAS patent owners facing motions to stay pending PTAB review are left with even less to argue. Even where a stay is avoided, the speed of the PTAB can undermine traditional litigation pressure points that traditionally drove parties to settlement (e.g., Markman). As such, plaintiffs are increasingly viewing the International Trade Commission (ITC) as the strongest foil to a PTAB attack.

The ITC, having its own mandate for speed does not stay pending PTAB review.  Likewise, an ITC Exclusion Order can be issued within the same time frame as a PTAB Final Written Decision, or faster. These advantages are not insignificant in today’s patent monetization landscape. But, the ITC is not without its PTAB trade-offs for Patent Owners.

Continue Reading PTAB Estoppel May Not Stick at ITC

Invalidity Contentions Serve as Estoppel Benchmark

A Patent Owner may only avail itself of an IPR estoppel defense in court upon demonstrating that a competent prior art search would have uncovered the art that is asserted post-IPR (i.e., raised or reasonably could have raised during the IPR. 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2))  This demonstration of proof can be complicated by a number of factual questions such as the degree of skill of the searcher, the complexity of the art, and what was known by the petitioner and when.

A recent decision in the Southern District of Texas looks to simplify such disputes by utilizing invalidity contentions as estoppel markers.  Continue Reading Invalidity Contentions as IPR Estoppel Markers

The Impact of SAS Institute on Statutory Estoppel

IPR estoppel is established under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2), which provides that “the petitioner in an inter partes review of a claim in a patent . . . that results in a final written decision . . . may not assert . . . in a civil action . . . that the claim is invalid on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.” (emphasis added). Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in SAS Institute, the courts did not apply statutory estoppel to grounds upon which the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) refused to institute trial. The reasoning was that statutory estoppel under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) only applied to grounds adjudicated in a Final Written Decision (FWD).  As such, grounds shaken out (i.e., partial institutions) prior to trial could not be covered by such estoppel.

Post-SAS, of course, there are no longer partial institutions and this previous distinction simply goes away.  But what happens to those partially instituted cases that remain pending, can a petitioner side-step the revived SAS grounds in the hope of holding onto this estoppel exception?  Continue Reading Failure to Pursue SAS Grounds Leads to Statutory Estoppel

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?

PatentsPostGrant.com + IPO’s IP Chat Channel CLE This Week

I have written extensively about the threat of PTAB estoppel to established patent prosecution practices. This Thursday, I, along with my co-panelists, will explore PTAB estoppel as well as other aspects of res judicata and issue preclusion in the IPO Chat Channel program (2-3PM EST) entitled: Patent Prosecution Estoppel from PTAB Proceedings

Register: (here).  

On Wednesday, this month’s edition of the PatentsPostGrant.com free webinar series will be held @ 2PM (EST). The March Webinar is entitled: Evolution of PTAB Trial Practices.

Register: (here)

I am looking forward to both of these programs.

SAS Institute To Send Patent Owners Screaming Into the Night?

The Supreme Court will get a heavy dose of the PTAB on November 27th. That is the day the High Court will hear oral arguments in both the Oil States and SAS Institute appeals. While almost all of the focus to date has been on Oil States, the case that is likely to have the biggest impact on the PTAB is SAS.

As a reminder, SAS argues that partial PTAB trial institutions are inconsistent with the controlling statutes of the America Invents Act (AIA).  That is, if the PTAB finds that at least one claim is demonstrated as reasonably likely to be proven (RLP) unpatentable, the PTAB should institute an IPR trial for all petitioned claims. As of today, if a petitioner challenges, say claims 1-10 of a patent, the PTAB assesses each claim as to the RLP standard.  So, if the PTAB is not satisfied as to claims 5-6 of claims 1-10, trial would only go forward on claims 1-4 and 7-10.

If SAS is successful on appeal, PTAB trials would go forward on all claims as long as a single claim of the petition was deemed to meet the RLP standard. This would be a significant change to PTAB trial practice with unfortunate consequences for Patent Owners. Continue Reading SAS Institute & The PTAB: Be Afraid Patent Owners

Ex Parte Patent Reexamination Practices Adjusted to Account for Estoppel

The new estoppel provisions of Inter Partes Review (IPR) and Post Grant Review (PGR) differ from the previous estoppel provisions of inter partes patent reexamination in that they not only prevent a subsequent request for IPR/PGR from the same requester (or privies) on issues that were raised or reasonably could have been raised in the first proceeding, but prevent the filing or maintenance of any other “office proceeding.”

By definition a Post Grant Review (PGR) can only be conducted prior to an IPR. This is because an IPR can only be filed once the 9 month PGR window has ended, or after any ongoing PGR concludes. As such, the primary office proceeding that can be requested, or maintained in this regard (i.e., after IPR/PGR estoppel attaches) is ex parte patent reexamination (EXP).

As pointed out previously, in order to properly estop an ongoing EXP proceeding or filing, the Office must implement a system to track EXP filings with respect to the real party in interest. This tracking is complicated by the fact that many EXP proceedings are filed anonymously. Last Thursday, the USPTO issued their plan. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Changes to Implement Miscellaneous Post Patent Provisions of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (here), the Office proposes the following mechanisms to track potential EXP estoppel.

(6) A certification that the statutory estoppel provisions of both inter partes review (35 U.S.C. 315(e)(1)) and post grant review (35 U.S.C. 325(e)(1)) do not prohibit the ex parte reexamination.

(7) A statement identifying the real party(ies) in interest to the extent necessary to determine whether any inter partes review or post grant review filed subsequent to an ex parte reexamination bars a pending ex parte reexamination filed by the real party(ies) in interest or its privy from being maintained.

In essence, EXP filers must, once the proposed rules become effective, certify that IPR and PGR estoppel do not apply to their filing. Likewise, anonymous filers must disclose their identity to the agency, under seal. The Notice provides in more detail that:

An ex parte reexamination requester has the option to remain anonymous. In order to do so, the requester must: (1) Submit the statement identifying the real party(ies) in interest as a separate paper; (2) title the paper as a statement identifying the real party(ies) in interest; (3) request in the paper that the Office to retain the paper in confidence by sealing it; and (4) include, in a clear and conspicuous manner, an appropriate instructional label designating the statement as a non-public submission, e.g., NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC FOR OFFICE USE ONLY. The Office will then maintain the real party(ies) in interest statement as a sealed, non-public submission

The Notice also clarifies that statements submitted under Rule 1.501(a)(2) (Patent Owner Statements and associated information on claims cope) may only be used to interpret claims once reexamination has been ordered, they may not be used to form an SNQ.

Estoppel Effect of USPTO Decision Attaches Only After All Appeals Exhausted

Estoppel, as it relates to inter partes patent reexamination (IPX) proceedings and the new inter partes review (IPR) of the AIA, has been a topic of discussion here over the past few weeks. As if on cue, the CAFC has chimed in with a bit of clarification on the topic of (IPX) estoppel as it relates to 35 USC § 315.

The USPTO has maintained the position that IPX estoppel (35 USC § 317) only attaches after all appeals are exhausted. That is to say, the USPTO will not honor an intermediate court result to for the purposes of vacating an ongoing IPX, or denying a new request, by operation of estoppel. Instead, the USPTO awaits a final appeal decision (or time for filing of such to pass). The Office has not had much opportunity to comment on the complimentary statute § 315 (c), which provides the estoppel effect of a USPTO decision on the district courts.  This analysis was performed this past week by the CAFC.

The timing of 315 estoppel attachment was explored in Bettcher Industries, Inc. v. Bunzl  USA, Inc., (Fed. Cir. 2011). During ther litigation dispute between the parties, Bunzl sought IPX of  U.S. Patent 7,000,325 (relating to a meat cutting assembly). In the reexamination, a Right of Appeal Notice was issued (RAN) confirming the patentability of certain claims at issue in the parallel litigation.

Bettcher took the position that the RAN was a final determination of patentability in accordance with 315 (c). In pursuing this argument before the district court, Bettcher convinced the court to refuse consideration of the prior art considered in the IPX based on an estoppel theory. For their part, Bunzl argued that IPX estoppel could not attach until the appeals process concluded, consistent with the USPTO interpretation of 317.

This dispute over the time of estoppel attachment was pursued to the CAFC, along with other issues.  Specifically at issue was the meaning of “final determination” as recited in 315 (c).

In deciding this issue of first impression, the CAFC examined legislative history of the IPX statutes and the language used across the various IPX statutes. The Court also considered the USPTO’s interpretation of 317, according Chevron deference. Ultimately, the CAFC held that the estoppel effect of a USPTO determination under 315 does not attach until all appeals are exhausted (consistent with the USPTO interpretation of 317), explaining that:

The relevant House and Senate records confirm that § 317(b) applies “after any appeals.” 145 Cong. Rec. 29276, 29973 (1999). And the Patent Office has interpreted § 317 consistent with this legislative history in M.P.E.P. § 2686.04 (emphases in original):

While Congress desired that the creation of an inter partes reexamination option would lead to a reduction in expensive patent litigation, it nonetheless also provided in the statute that a court validity challenge and inter partes reexamination of a patent may occur simultaneously; but once one proceeding finally ends in a manner adverse to a third party, then the issues raised (or that could have been raised) with respect to the validity of a claim in that proceeding would have estoppel effect on the same issues in the other proceeding.

. . .

The 35 U.S.C. 317(b) estoppel applies only in a situation where a final decision adverse to the requester has already been issued. If there remains any time for an appeal, or a request for reconsid-eration, from a court (e.g., District Court or Federal Circuit) decision, or such action has already been taken, then the decision is not final, and the estoppel does not attach.

While we believe that § 317(b) is clear, even if it were ambiguous, the Patent Office’s interpretation that § 317(b) does not apply “[i]f there remains any time for an appeal” would be entitled to deference. See Cooper Techs. Co. v. Dudas, 536 F.3d 1330, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (holding that the “Patent Office had the authority under 35 U.S.C. § 2 to interpret section [of the act creating inter-partes reexamination] because that interpretation both governs the conduct of proceedings in the Patent Office, not matters of substantive patent law, and is a prospective clarification of ambiguous statutory language.”).

The CAFC also justified the consistent interpretation of 315 and 317 on other statutory interpretation grounds, the full opinion (here) is worth a read.

Of course, once the case heads back down to the lower court for consideration of the IPX art, the IPX appeal will be before the CAFC. Absent a reversal of the USPTO determination in the IPX, this maybe a hollow victory for Bunzl as estoppel will attach upon such a final determination of the CAFC (barring further appeal).

As noted last week, the new estoppel provisions of IPR provide for estoppel attachment at the time of a written PTAB decision.

Petition or Appeal?–Pursuit of SNQ Denial at the USPTOWhen pursuing inter partes patent reexamination, denial of a Substantial New Question of Patentability (SNQ) by the USPTO can be especially troubling to third party requesters. This is because a third party is estopped from asserting in litigation the “invalidity of any claim finally determined to be valid and patentable on any ground which the third-party requester raised or could have raised during the inter partes reexamination proceedings.” 35 U.S.C. § 315(c).Denied SNQs raise the fear of potential district court estoppel relative to the prior art underlying the denied SNQ. For this reason, third parties will almost always dispute such denials internal to the USPTO–even where the claims of the patent remain rejected based upon other SNQs of the same request.But, what is the appropriate vehicle for such a dispute, petition or appeal? The answer to this question will depend upon whether or not the denied SNQ pertains to a claim that is being actively reexamined on other grounds. As explained by an expanded panel of the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences (BPAI) yesterday in Belkin International et al., v. Optimumpath LLC, the denial of an SNQ in inter partes patent reexamination is  petitionable, not appealable. In Belkin U.S. Patent 7,035,281 was reexamined (95/001,089). The request was granted as to claims 1-3 and 8-10, but denied as to claims 4-7 and 11-31.The denial of the SNQs applied to claims 4-7 and 11-31 was petitioned to the Director of the Central Reexamination Unit. Upon reconsideration, the Director refused to reverse the examiner. During prosecution, the rejection of claims 1-3 and 8-10 was later withdrawn by the examiner. Thereafter, the third party appealed the withdrawn rejection and the denial of the SNQs. On appeal, the BPAI affirmed the examiner’s decision to withdraw the rejection and confirm the patentability of claims 1-3 and 8-10. As to the appeal of the denied SNQs, the BPAI explained that such issues may not be appealed to the Board. . . . 35 U.S.C. § 312 states that the Director makes such determinations (of whether a substantial new question of patentability exists) and that the determination “by the Director . . . shall be final and non-appealable.” Only when the Director makes the determination that a substantial new question of patentabilityaffecting a claim of a patent is raised (i.e., that a substantial new question of patentability exists for a particular claim) shall an inter partes reexamination of the claim(s) in question be performed for resolution of the question (35 U.S.C. § 313). Therefore, on the other hand, when the Director makes a determination that a substantial new question of patentability affecting a particular claim is not raised, the Director does not order inter partes reexamination of the patent with respect to those claims. Under those circumstances, no reexamination is performed with respect to those proposed substantial new questions of patentability. Also, as pointed out above, the Director’s determination that no substantial new question of patentability was established for any particular claim(s) is final and non-appealable (35 U.S.C. § 312(c)).Since, under 35 U.S.C. § 312 and 35 U.S.C. § 313, reexamination of the patent claims in question cannot proceed when the Director makes a determination that a substantial new question of patentability has not been raised for those claims and that the Director’s determination is non-appealable, no final decision, whether favorable or unfavorable, can be rendered pertaining to those claims. Under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), a third-party requester may appeal with respect to any “final decision favorable to the patentability” of disputed claims. However, as described above, if 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)The decision continues on to explain that the denial of SNQs is propoerly pursued by petition to the Director (which Belkin filed to no avail; 37 C.F.R. § 1.927). Note that had an SNQ been found but the corresponding rejections not adopted, appeal of non-adopted rejections would have been appropriate.Of course, a patent owner’s seeking to reverse an accepted SNQ in ex parte patent reexamination may pursue the matter to the BPAI

When pursuing inter partes patent reexamination, denial of a Substantial New Question of Patentability (SNQ) by the USPTO can be especially troubling to third party requesters. This is because a third party is estopped from asserting in litigation the “invalidity of any claim finally determined to be valid and patentable on any ground which the third-party requester raised or could have raised during the inter partes reexamination proceedings.” 35 U.S.C. § 315(c).

Denied SNQs raise the fear of potential district court estoppel relative to the prior art underlying the denied SNQ. For this reason, third parties will almost always dispute such denials internal to the USPTO–even where the claims of the patent remain rejected based upon other SNQs of the same request.

But, what is the appropriate vehicle for such a dispute, petition or appeal? The answer to this question will depend upon whether or not the denied SNQ pertains to a claim that is being actively reexamined on other grounds.

As explained by an expanded panel of the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences (BPAI) yesterday in Belkin International et al., v. Optimumpath LLC, the denial of an SNQ in inter partes patent reexamination is  petitionable, not appealable. In Belkin U.S. Patent 7,035,281 was reexamined (95/001,089). The request was granted as to claims 1-3 and 8-10, but denied as to claims 4-7 and 11-31.

The denial of the SNQs applied to claims 4-7 and 11-31 was petitioned to the Director of the Central Reexamination Unit. Upon reconsideration, the Director refused to reverse the examiner. 

During prosecution, the rejection of claims 1-3 and 8-10 was later withdrawn by the examiner. Thereafter, the third party appealed the withdrawn rejection and the denial of the SNQs. 

On appeal, the BPAI affirmed the examiner’s decision to withdraw the rejection and confirm the patentability of claims 1-3 and 8-10. As to the appeal of the denied SNQs, the BPAI explained that such issues may not be appealed to the Board.

 . . . 35 U.S.C. § 312 states that the Director makes such determinations (of whether a substantial new question of patentability exists) and that the determination “by the Director . . . shall be final and non-appealable.” Only when the Director makes the determination that a substantial new question of patentabilityaffecting a claim of a patent is raised (i.e., that a substantial new question of patentability exists for a particular claim) shall an inter partes reexamination of the claim(s) in question be performed for resolution of the question (35 U.S.C. § 313). Therefore, on the other hand, when the Director makes a determination that a substantial new question of patentability affecting a particular claim is not raised, the Director does not order inter partes reexamination of the patent with respect to those claims. Under those circumstances, no reexamination is performed with respect to those proposed substantial new questions of patentability. Also, as pointed out above, the Director’s determination that no substantial new question of patentability was established for any particular claim(s) is final and non-appealable (35 U.S.C. § 312(c)).

Since, under 35 U.S.C. § 312 and 35 U.S.C. § 313, reexamination of the patent claims in question cannot proceed when the Director makes a determination that a substantial new question of patentability has not been raised for those claims and that the Director’s determination is non-appealable, no final decision, whether favorable or unfavorable, can be rendered pertaining to those claims. Under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), a third-party requester may appeal with respect to any “final decision favorable to the patentability” of disputed claims. However, as described above, if 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)

The decision continues on to explain that the denial of SNQs is propoerly pursued by petition to the Director (which Belkin filed to no avail; 37 C.F.R. § 1.927). Note that had an SNQ been found but the corresponding rejections not adopted, appeal of non-adopted rejections would have been appropriate.

Of course, a patent owner’s seeking to reverse an accepted SNQ in ex parte patent reexamination may pursue the matter to the BPAI.