Agency Discretion May Permit Joinder of New Party Claims

Issue joinder practice at the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) has had a storied history to date.  As a reminder, the debate at the agency (spawning the now infamous “panel stacking” decisions) has been the proper scope of “joinder” under 35 U.S.C. § 315(c).  That is, “can an existing petitioner (party) properly “join” its own proceeding to add a new issue to that proceeding, or is this statute limited to more traditional notions of party joinder?”

From the agency’s perspective, this issue was finally settled by the Precedentiial Opinion Panel (POP) decision in Proppant Express Investments v. Oren Technologies, Case IPR2018-00914 (PTAB Mar. 13, 2019) (Paper 38)  In this decision, the POP held that 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) provides discretion to allow a petitioner to be “joined” to a proceeding in which it is already a party, and provides discretion to allow joinder of new issues into an existing proceeding (here).

Since Proppant, the Federal Circuit  has had an opportunity to consider PTAB issue joinder practices  in Facebook, Inc. v. Windy City Innovations, LLC. , and judging by the oral argument, is not in favor of endorsing this practice.  But, the USPTO has indicated in a brief (amicus brief) submitted post Facebook oral argument, that regardless of the outcome in Facebook that issue joinder practice may live on. 
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PTAB Expanded Panels Impact Less Than 1% of All AIA Trials

Last week the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) issued its decision in Nidec Motor Corp. v. Zhongshan Broad Ocean Motor Co. (here)  The decision affirmed the USPTO’s Patent Trial & Appeal Board cancellation of certain claims of Nidec’s U.S. patent 7,626,349 (IPR2014-01121 & IPR2015-00762). In this regard, the opinion was rather unremarkable. Of particular interest to PTAB critics, however, was the Court’s discussion of the Board’s expanded panel practices in its concurring opinion.

Although conceding it had no impact on the outcome of the case, the concurrence took issue with the Board’s expansion of a rehearing panel for the stated purpose of reversing the earlier decision.  That is, in order to consistently treat questions of issue joinder under 35 U.S.C. § 315(c), the PTAB expanded a panel to include judges that had ruled differently on the same question of statutory interpretation. As a result, the expanded panel reversed the earlier decision and found issue joinder to be embraced by 315(c). The Federal Circuit signaled a strong distaste of such agency practices.

Critics were quick to lambaste the PTAB’s expanded panel process in Nidec as evidence of a crooked process and an anti-patent bias.  Of course, anyone that has followed this blog knows that to be false.
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