Presenting IPR Arguments Too Late is . . . Well Too Late

In Dell Inc. v. Acceleron, LLC, [2017-1101](March 19, 2018), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision on remand not to consider Dell’s late-presented arguments, rather than giving Acceleron the opportunity to address them.

In the previous appearance of this IPR before the Federal Circuit, Acceleron persuaded the Federal Circuit that the Board had improperly relied upon late-presented arguments by Dell made for the first time during the oral argument to which Acceleron did not have the opportunity to respond.  The Federal Circuit remanded the case, and on remand the the Board decided the proper course was to ignore the arguments made by Dell because they were no and not responsive to Acceleron’s arguments.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board was obligated to dismiss Dell’s
untimely argument given that the untimely argument in this case was raised for the first time during oral argument.  Dell argued that ignoring evidence of unpatentability was against public policy because it will not improve patent quality, but the Federal Circuit found that due process and preserving the Board’s discretion outweigh any negative effects of not invalidating a patent claim, especially since other parties remained free to challenge the validity of the claims.

 

Collateral Estoppel Applies in IPRs Where the Issues are the Same

In Nestle USA, Inc. v. Steuben Foods, Inc., [2017-1193] (March 13, 2018), the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s construction of “aseptic” in U.S. Patent No. 6,481,468 because of collateral estoppel considerations, and remanded for further proceedings.

The Federal Circuit noted that Nestle had previously appealed the construction of “aseptic” in another IPR involving a related patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,945,013), and in that case, the Federal Circuit vacated the
Board’s construction, relying on binding lexicography in the specification for “aseptic” to construe the term to mean the “FDA level of aseptic.”

The Federal Circuit explained that collateral estoppel protects a party from having to litigate issues that have been fully and fairly tried in a previous action and adversely resolved against a party opponent, and that it is well established that collateral estoppel applies in the administrative
context.  The Federal Circuit said that it was undisputed that the claims at issue in the two appeals use the term “aseptic” (or its related variation
“aseptically disinfecting”) in a similar fashion.  More critically, the Federal Circuit said, the two patents also provide identical lexicography
for the term “aseptic” in their specifications.

The Federal Circuit concluded that collateral estoppel protects Nestlé and obviates the need to revisit an issue that was already resolved against Steuben Foods. The Federal Circuit said that collateral estoppel is not
limited “to patent claims that are identical; it is the identity of the issues that were litigated that determines whether collateral estoppel should apply.

Second and Third Bites at the Apple; Subsequent IPR Losses undo IPR Win

In Maxlinear, Inc. v. CF Crespe LLC, [2017-1039] (January 25, 2018), the Federal Circuit we vacated and remanded the PTAB’s determination that dependent claims were not unpatentable  in view of the Federal Circuit’s intervening affirmance of a second IPR that claims 1 and 17 unpatentable.

The case involved U.S. Patent No. 7,075,585 on a broadband television signal
receiver for receiving multi-standard analog television signals, digital television signals and data channels.  The Board found the only two independent claims 1 and 17 were not shown to be unpatentable, and thus did not reach the patentability of the dependent claims.

The Federal Circuit held that the two IPR’s that found claims 1 and 17 unpatentable, were binding “as a matter of collateral estoppel” in this case.  The fact that the other IPR’s became final while this case was pending on appeal is irrelevant.  The preclusive effect of the prior adjudications, and subsequent affirmations, has finally resolved the issue of the unpatentability of independent claims 1 and 17 and dependent claim 20 in this proceeding. Thus, the sole
remaining question at issue is whether the dependent claims 4, 6-9, and 21, not addressed in the earlier IPRs, are unpatentable.

Since the patentability of claims 1 and 17 was the sole basis for the Board’s decision in this IPR, and the Board had not separately addressed the dependent claims, the Federal Circuit set aside the decision as to the dependent claims and remanded for further consideration.

 

Drag things out? Disclaimer creates estoppel.

In Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., [2017-1239] (January 24, 2018), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s entry of an adverse judgment pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 42.73(b) in an IPR, after patent owner Arthrex disclaimed all claims that were the subject of the petition, despite Arthrex’s express request that no adverse judgment be entered.

After first considering and concluding that the adverse judgment was appealable, the Federal Circuit then considered whether the entry of adverse judgment was proper.  Although Arthrex specifically stated that it was not requesting an adverse judgment, the Federal Circuit found that the application of the rule on its face does not turn on the patentee’s characterization of its own request.  The rule gives the Board authority to construe a patent owner’s actions as a request for an adverse judgment, suggesting the Board’s characterization of the action rather than the patent owner’s characterization is
determinative.

The Federal Circuit held that 37 C.F.R. § 42.73(b) permits the Board to enter an adverse judgment when a patent owner cancels all claims at issue after an IPR petition has been filed, but before an institution decision.

How this affects Arthrex remains to be seen.  The Federal Circuit noted that at  the time of the adverse judgment, Arthrex had two pending continuation
patent applications that the estoppel provision would impact, and that those two applications have since issued as patents. However, Arthrex recently filed another continuation application, which remains in prosecution and therefore is
affected by the adverse judgment.  The Federal Circuit is indicating that the current prosecution is complicated by the adverse judgment, although it did not comment on the effect on the patents that issued from the applications that were pending at the time of the adverse judgment.

The estoppel provisions prevent a patentee “from taking action inconsistent
with the adverse judgment, including obtaining in any patent . . . [a] claim that is not patentably distinct from a finally refused or canceled claim.”  The estoppel provision prevents a patent owner from obtaining a patent on a pending application, but does it also prevent a patent owner from defending a claim an issued patent?  If not, then Arthrex erred by doing the right thing and disclaiming unpatentable claims; instead it should have dragged out the proceedings while rushing to get its pending applications to issue.

 

Director’s Time-Bar Determinations under § 315(b) are not Exempt from Judicial Review

In Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., [2015-1945, 2015-1946](January 8, 2018) the Federal Circuit, en banc, held that the bar on judicial review of institution decisions in 35 U.S.C. §314(d) does not apply to timebar determinations made under § 315(b), overruling Achates
Reference Publishing, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 803 F.3d 652, 658 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

Wi-Fi argued that the Director lacked authority to institute IPRs under
§315(b) because petitioner Broadcom was in privity the defendants that the prior owner of the patents (Ericsson) served with an infringement complaint more than a year before Broadcom filed the IPRs.  The Board nonetheless instituted the IPRs, finding that Wi-Fi Wi-Fi had not shown that Broadcom was in privity with the defendants in the prior litigation.  In its Final Written Decision, the challenged claims were found unpatentable.

Wi-Fi appealed the Final Written Decisions, asking the Federal Circuit to reverse or vacate the Board’s time-bar determinations, but a panel of the Federal Circuit found the §315(b) time-bar rulings nonappealable under Achates.  Wi-Fi petitioned for rehearing en banc, asking the Federal Circuit to consider whether Achates should be overruled, and hold that the Director’s § 315(b) time-bar determinations are subject to judicial review.

The majority started its analysis with the the “strong presumption”
favoring judicial review of administrative actions, including the Director’s IPR institution decisions.  In view of this strong presumption, the Federal Circuit said it would abdicate judicial review only when Congress provides a “clear and convincing” indication that it intends to prohibit review.  The Federal Circuit found no clear and convincing indication in the specific statutory language in the AIA, the specific legislative
history of the AIA, or the statutory scheme as a whole that demonstrates Congress’s intent to bar judicial review of § 315(b) time-bar determinations.

The Federal Circuit said that §315(b), which controls the Director’s authority to institute IPR that is unrelated to the Director’s preliminary  patentability assessment or the Director’s discretion not to initiate an IPR even if the threshold “reasonable likelihood” is present.  Because §314(a) does not mention the timer bar, the PTO’s position that the time-bar determination is unreviewable runs counter to the principle, as reflected in Cuozzo, that favors reading the statute to comport with, not depart from, familiar approaches to comparable issues.  The majority found this reading was consistent with the overall statutory scheme as understood through the lens of Cuozzo’s directive to examine the statutory scheme in terms of what is “closely related” to the § 314(a) determination.

The Federal Circuit concluded that whether a petitioner has complied with §315(b) has nothing to do with the patentability merits or discretion not to institute.  Thus, the majority said that the statutory scheme as a whole demonstrates that § 315 is not “closely related” to the institution decision addressed in § 314(a), and it therefore is not subject to §314(d)’s bar on judicial review.

Moreover the Federal Circuit observed that timely filing of a petition under § 315(b) is a condition precedent to the Director’s authority to act, and said that enforcing statutory limits on an agency’s authority to
act is precisely the type of issue that courts have historically reviewed.

The Federal Circuit said that the Supreme Court in Cuozzo instructed that the “strong presumption” favoring judicial review “may be overcome by ‘“clear and convincing”’ indications, drawn from ‘specific language,’ ‘specific legislative history,’ and ‘inferences of intent drawn from the statutory scheme as a whole,’ that Congress intended to bar review.” However, finding no such clear and convincing indications, the Federal Circuit held that the Director’s time-bar determinations under §315(b) are not exempt from judicial review, and overruled Achates’s contrary conclusion.

The Board Says that IPRs are Adjudicatory Proceedings — What will the Supreme Court Say?

In Ericsson Inc. v. Regents of the University of Minnesota, [IPR2017-01186, IPR2017-01197, IPR2017-01200, IPR2017-01213, IPR2017-01214, IPR2017-01219 (December 19, 2017), Chief Administrative Patent Judge Ruschke, writing for an expanded panel of the PTAB, held that 11th Amendment immunity is available to States as a defense in an inter partes review.  The 11th Amendment states;

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

So in holding that the 11th Amendment applies, the Board is conceding that it is exercising the “Judicial power” of the United States.  This was the issue in Oil States energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC where Petitioner struggled to establish that inter partes reviews are adjudicatory in nature.  In Ericsson, the Board conceded the point, stating “IPR is an adjudicatory proceeding of a federal agency from which state entities are immune.”

Ultimately the Board found that Minnesota waived its immunity by enforcing the patents in court.

To the extent that the Supreme Court in Oil States needs to decide whether IPR’s are adjudicatory proceedings involving judicial power, it has the USPTO’s admission in Ericsson.

Aqua Holds Water; Board’s Denial of Motion to Amend Vacated Because Board Improperly Put Burden on Patent Owner

In Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, LLC v. Matal, [2015-1928] (December 22, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s finding of unpatentability of claims 1, 4–15, and 20–22, of U.S. Patent No. 6,904,796, on a remote tire monitoring system, but vacated and remanded the denial of Bosch’s motion to amend as to proposed substitute claims 23–38.

On appeal Bosch primary argued lack of motivation to combine, but the Federal Circuit was bit persuaded, noting that the prior art must be considered for everything it teaches by way of technology and is not limited to the particular invention it is describing and attempting to protect.”  Bosch also argued commercial success, but the Federal Circuit found that Bosch failed to prove commercial success with a nexus to the claims.  In particular the Federal Circuit agreed that a declarant’s “understanding” that the products are covered by the patent was an insufficient foundation.

As to Bosch’s Motion to Amend, the Board rejected Boesch’s proposed amended claims 23–35 as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 2, and Bosch’s proposed amended claims 36–38 as unpatentable over the
prior art.   Among other arguments, Bosch challenged the Board’s rejection of both sets of proposed amended claims on the grounds that the Board impermissibly placed the burden on Bosch to establish patentability.

As to claims 23-35, the Federal Circuit found that the Board impermissibly assigned the burden of proof to Bosch, and vacated the Board’s denial of Bosch’s motion to amend with respect to proposed claims 23–35 and remand for the Board to evaluate the patentability of the proposed amended claims consistent with Aqua Products.  Similarly with respect to claims 36-38, the Federal Circuit found the Board improperly placed the burden of proving patentability over the prior art on Bosch, and vacated and remanded the motion to amend these claims as well.

 

Federal Circuit Affirms Board on Claim Construction, No Anticipation, and Nonobviousness

In HTC Corp. v. Cellular Communications Equipment, LLC [2016-1880] (December 18, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s Final Written Decision, finding no error in the Board’s claim construction, and that substantial evidence supported the Board’s determination that the challenged claims were not invalid.

The IPR involved U.S. Patent No. 7,941,174, which is directed to
methods and apparatuses for a radio communications system where a subscriber station, i.e., a mobile device, is assigned a plurality of codes for transmitting messages.

The Board did not expressly construe the term “message,” nor did HTC did not seek construction of the term.  However, the Federal Circuit found that Board findings establishing the scope of the patented subject matter may fall within the ambit of claim construction, reviewable on appeal.  However the Federal Circuit found HTC’s arguments unpersuasive and inconsistent.

On the asserted anticipation grounds, the Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s conclusion, and rejected arguments presented by HTC for the first time on appeal.  On the asserted obviousness grounds, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board’s reading of the prior art, and found that HTC did not point to any evidence in the record that would undermine the Board’s findings on the scope and content of the prior art.

 

Ungrammatical Language Not Ambiguous in View of Specification as a Whole

In Organik Kimya AS v. Rohm and Haas Co., [2015-1983, 2015-2001] (October 11, 2017), the Federal Circuit  affirmed the PTAB decisions in IPR2014-00185 and IPR2014-00350, sustaining the patentability of the challenged claims of U.S Patent Nos. 6,020,435 and 6,252,004, respectively.

The patents are directed to processes for preparing certain emulsion polymers having improved opacity.  In the claimed processes a base swelling agent and excess monomer are introduced into an aqueous emulsion of the polymer, under conditions in which there is no
substantial polymerization.  At issue was was the meaning of “swelling agent” which the PTAB construed as not merely as being capable of permeating a shell and swelling the core of a multistage emulsion
polymer in the abstract, but specifically under the conditions of the specific process for which the agent is to be used.  Organik argued that this improperly limited the term “swelling agent” in a manner that inappropriately distinguished the prior art.

Organik argued that the specification was ambiguous in describing the swelling agent:

Suitable swelling agents include, are those which, in the presence of the multistage emulsion polymer and monomer, are capable of permeating the shell and swelling the core. Swelling agents may be aqueous or gaseous, volatile or fixed bases or combinations thereof.

and that the PTAB improperly adopted the narrower construction.  The Federal Circuit noted that the Board did not find the language ambiguous, and agreed with the Board.  Even under the broadest reasonable interpretation, the Board’s construction cannot be divorced from the specification and the record evidence, and must be consistent with the one
that those skilled in the art would reach.

The Board found that the prior art asserted by Organik lacked the swelling agent as that term was used in the claims.  Organik argued the one example in a reference, inherently showed a swelling agent, but Rohm and Haas provided experimental evidence through expert testimony  that it did not.  While Organik contested this evidence, the Board noted that Organik neither provided its own evidence, or showed how different experiments would have yielded different data.

The Federal Circuit found that Board concluded that neither Toda nor Touda discloses or suggests a “swelling agent” as required by the
’435 and ’004 Patents, and that the Board’s decisions are in accordance
with law and supported by substantial evidence in the record, and are affirmed.

The Board Misses the BRI with a Construction that was too Narrow

In Owens Corning v. Fast Felt Corp., [2016-2613] (October 11, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB decision that the challenged claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,137,757, which describes and claims methods for printing nail tabs or reinforcement strips on roofing or building cover material, were not obvious.

On appeal Owens Corning argued that the Board effectively treated
the “roofing or building cover material” in the claims as limited to material that either has been or would be coated or saturated with asphalt or asphalt mix, and that this limited construction was incorrect under the broadest reasonable interpretation standard.

The Federal Circuit noted that that the Board construed the claim term “roofing or building cover material” to mean “base substrate materials such as dry felt, fiberglass mat, and/or polyester mat, before coating or saturation with asphalt or asphalt mix, and asphalt coated or saturated substrates such as tar paper and saturated felt.” While the Board correctly noted that this construction “does not require an asphalt-coated substrate,” when evaluating Owens Corning’s arguments regarding
motivation to combine and reasonable expectation of success, the Board made clear its understanding of its construction, and hence of the claims, as requiring materials that would eventually be coated with asphalt even if
they had not already been coated before printing.

After reviewing the Board’s rationale, the Federal Circuit concluded that the Board simply did not address roofing or building cover materials that would never be coated in asphalt, and this was a mistake.  The Federal Circuit concluded that the correct broadest reasonable construction of “roofing or building cover material” would include materials that neither have been nor are to be coated or saturated with asphalt or asphalt mix.

The Federal Circuit found that it was not necessary or appropriate to remand the case, however.  On the evidence and arguments presented to the Board, there is only one possible evidence-supported finding: the Board’s rejection of Owens Corning’s challenge, when the correct construction is employed, is not supported by substantial evidence.  Moreover, Fastfelt did not argue for remand.  The Federal Circuit reviewed the record and concluded that the challenged claims were unpatentable for obviousness.