The 2011 America Invents Act (AIA) provided a variety of new ways to administratively challenge patents, including the now widely used inter partes review (“IPR”) procedure.  In two recent appeals of IPR decisions, Genentech has challenged the constitutionality of IPR proceedings when applied to patents that were already issued as of the date that the AIA was enacted.

Genentech has filed two appeals to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) involving decisions by the U. S. Patent Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) invalidating certain patent rights issued to Genentech on immunotherapy biologics. (Federal Circuit Docket Nos. 18-1933 and 18-1959.)  These patents have been asserted against a number of competitors seeking to market biosimilar products to Genentech’s Avastin® and Herceptin® antibody therapeutics.

The appeals stem from two IPR Petitions filed by Hospira, IPR2016-01771 and IPR2016-01837, that challenged claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,622,115 and 7,807,799, respectively. The ’115 Patent issued in November 2009 and the ’799 Patent issued in October, 2010 – both issuance dates being well before the 2011 enactment of the AIA.  The PTAB initiated trials on both patents and ultimately found all of the challenged claims to be invalid over the prior art presented by Hospira.

Genentech’s briefs assert “the retroactive application of inter partes review to a patent issued before that procedure existed is unconstitutional, a taking without just compensation and a denial of due process,” in violation of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

The Federal Circuit has now certified Genentech’s constitutional challenges to the U.S. Attorney General, who has been directed to inform the Court whether the United States intends to intervene in the appeals within 30 days.

Genentech’s position may seem like a “Hail Mary pass” effort to save its patents, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, No. 16-712, 138 S. Ct. 1365 (2018) (“Oil States”), where the Court rejected the patent owner’s argument that revoking patent claims as a result of an IPR proceeding is unconstitutional under Article III and the Seventh Amendment.

In the Oil States case, the Court held that the decision to grant a patent is a matter involving public rights and, hence, a challenge to a patent’s validity need not be heard exclusively in an Article III federal court and does not require a jury trial.  (For our detailed analysis of the Oil States decision, click here.)

However, Genentech’s arguments are based on the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on taking private property for public use without just compensation by a process that did not exist when the property rights were granted. The author of the Oil States decision, Justice Clarence Thomas, emphasized the narrowness of the holding in the Oil States case and made it clear that the case addresses “only the precise constitutional challenges . . . raised here.” Oil States at 1369.
Continue Reading Attorney General’s Office May Weigh In on Constitutionality of IPRs involving Pre-AIA Patents

On May 23, 2018, in XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C., CAFC held that its affirmance of PTAB’s invalidity decision regarding certain claims of a patent owned by XY in a separate appeal involving a different defendant must be given “immediate issue preclusive effect” with respect to the same claims in the present

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week in SAS Institute v. Iancu has upended a major provision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) regulations for inter partes and post grant review proceedings conducted by its Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).  By concluding in a 5-4 decision that the agency lacks the authority

A few months ago, the Irish drug company Allergan moved to shield its key patents on its dry-eye drug Restasis from challenge at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the U.S. Patent Office by assigning these patents to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in return for a commitment by the tribe, as new owner of the patents, to invoke “sovereign immunity” and request that the PTAB dismiss pending administrative challenges.

However, a recent decision in an unrelated case before the PTAB casts doubt on the viability of this strategy.  In Ericsson v. Regents of the University of Minnesota, IPR2017-01186 (Paper 16 PTAB Dec. 19, 2017), an expanded panel of seven PTAB judges denied the University of Minnesota’s motion to dismiss an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding on the basis of sovereign immunity.  According to the PTAB panel, by filing a patent infringement suit that asserted the challenged patent, the University had waived its immunity at least with respect to the defendants.  One of defendants in that suit, Ericsson, Inc., had initiated the IPR proceeding.

The Ericsson decision involved the questionable practice of “panel-packing” by the PTAB’s chief judge, David Ruschke.  In this instance, the Chief Judge added himself and three of his deputies to the original three judges assigned to the case for the purpose of deciding the University’s motion to dismiss, ostensibly to address the “exceptional nature of the issues presented.”

Two prior PTAB decisions by different panels of judges involving University-owned patents have upheld the sovereign immunity principle.  In Covidien LP v. Univ. of Fla. Research Found., Inc., Case IPR2016-01274 (PTAB Jan. 25, 2017) and NeoChord, Inc. v. Univ. of Md., Balt., Case IPR2016-00208 (PTAB May 23, 2017), prior panels of PTAB judges faced with this issue had found that an IPR proceeding was an adjudicatory proceeding of a federal agency from which state entities are immune.

Judge Ruschke’s opinion on behalf of the enlarged panel confirmed that the sovereign immunity defense was generally available to state universities (and, by implication, other sovereigns like native American tribes) but the immunity was not absolute.  By suing in federal court, Ruschke reasoned that University of Minnesota had waivered this immunity.  He distinguished the prior PTAB panel decisions dismissing IPR petitions on sovereign immunity grounds because they did not involve “a State that filed an action in federal court alleging infringement of the same patent.”  (The Covidien v. Florida case arose out of a licensing dispute in which the university had sued to enforce a patent license agreement and the disgruntled licensee then challenged the patent via an IPR petition.  The Neochord v. Maryland case likewise involved a licensing dispute.)

Nonetheless, Judge Ruschke’s opinion has a logical weakness.  The panel’s finding of a waiver appears to turn on the fact that an invalidity challenge to a patent in a federal infringement case is a compulsory counterclaim.  Because the invalidity challenge must be brought or “be forever barred from doing so, it is not unreasonable to view the state as having consented to such counterclaims.”  The opinion fails to explain why the counterclaim inherent in an infringement suit (i.e. a trial of the invalidity issue in the federal court) is not sufficient in and of itself or why the compulsory nature of the counterclaim should spawn a right to raise this issue in an alternative forum with significantly different (challenger-friendly) rules. 
Continue Reading Allergan’s Mohawk Gambit May Be Doomed – PTAB Rethinks the Scope of Sovereign Immunity

On October 4, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, overruled an earlier panel decision and found that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) had been impermissibly placing the burden of proving the patentability of amended claims on the Patent Owner, rather than the Petitioner.   See, Aqua Products

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals again vacated a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) panel decision for failing to properly evaluate “objective evidence of non-obviousness” and remanded the case for determinations consistent with its opinion. Specifically, the Fed. Cir. panel faulted the PTAB’s analysis Patent Owner’s objective evidence of unexpected results and further found

In an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the meaning of terms used in challenged claims of an unexpired patent are given their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the claim language and the specification. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently reversed the Board’s interpretation of a claim term in an IPR proceeding (IPR2015-00460) in which Samsung had challenged the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,146,997 of Home Semiconductor Corp. (“Home”) because it found that Board had adopted a claim construction “without regard to the context” in which the term was used in the claims and the specification. In a decision written by Judge Lourie last month, the Federal Circuit panel found that the PTAB had adopted an erroneous interpretation and reversed the decision stating that the PTAB’s finding of invalidity based by anticipation of claim 2 was “not supported by substantial evidence.” (See, Home Electronics v. Samsung Electronics, CAFC Decision No. 2016-2215, July 25, 2017).

The ’997 Patent concerned “a simplified method for forming a self-aligned contact hole,” in which a conductive plug can be formed to electrically connect the semiconductor device to other circuit elements. Independent claim 1 of the ‘997 Patent recites a method of forming a self-aligned contact hole in a semiconductor substrate having a gate electrode and a diffusion region by

forming a conformal layer of etch barrier material overlying the substrate surface including the diffusion region and the upper surface and the sidewalls of the gate electrode,

forming an insulating layer overlying the barrier layer, etching an opening through the insulating layer self-aligned and borderless to the diffusion region by using the barrier layer as an etch stop, and

anisotropically etching the barrier layer underneath the opening, thereby exposing the diffusion region and simultaneously forming a spacer of the etch barrier material on the sidewall of the gate electrode.

Claim 2 of the ‘997 Patent, which depends on claim 1, further recites “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region and on the sidewalls of the gate electrode by thermal oxidation prior to forming the barrier layer.”

The construction of the phrase “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region” was at issue in this proceeding. The Patent Owner, Home, argued that this phrase should mean “forming an oxide layer covering the diffusion region,” while the Petitioner, Samsung, argued that the broadest reasonable construction of this phrase is “forming an oxide layer above the diffusion region.” Samsung argued that construing “over” as “covering” was too narrow a reading for a person of ordinary skill in the art. The Board adopted Samsung’s proposed construction for this term and hence held that claims 2 and 9-14 of the ‘997 Patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,277,720 (“Doshi”).

The CAFC held that the Board’s construction of “over” as meaning “above” is unreasonable in light of the claim language and the specification. The CAFC noted that “[i]n adopting the ‘full breadth’ of the term as advocated by Samsung, the Board focused on the word ‘above,’ rather than the claim term ‘over.’ That was error.” The CAFC further emphasized that “[e]ven when giving the claim term the broadest reasonable interpretation, the Board cannot construe the claims ‘so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.’”

The CAFC reasoned that the language at issue “is not simply ‘over,’ but is ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region,” and the use of the term ‘over’ in ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region’ connotes more than an insignificant or incidental vertical overlap between the oxide layer and the diffusion region. Although ‘over’ and ‘above’ can be interchangeable in certain contexts, they are not coextensive here, and the full scope of ‘above,’ which is not a claim term, cannot be adopted to give meaning to the actual claim term ‘over’ if that adoption would result in an unreasonable interpretation of the claim term in the context.”
Continue Reading CAFC Finds Another PTAB Claim Construction Unreasonable and Again Reverses an Invalidity Holding

In a decision last month, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit gave petitioners in AIA proceedings yet another weapon to invalidate patents – by affirming a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decision that relied, at least in part, on new evidence introduced by the petitioner in its reply brief. (Genzyme Therapeutic Products LP v. BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., Fed. Cir. No. 15-1720).

Writing for a three-judge Fed. Cir. panel, Judge William C. Bryson said it should be expected that petitioners will introduce new evidence during the course of an Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceeding. Judge Bryson dismissed the notion that the record of an IPR is essentially closed following the PTAB’s institution decision.

“There is no requirement either in the board’s regulations, in the [Administrative Procedures Act] or as a matter of due process for the institution decision to anticipate and set forth every legal or factual issue that might arise in the course of the trial,” according to Judge Bryson.

Genzyme had argued that it was impermissible for the PTAB to relied on different evidence than the evidence relied upon in the institution decision.

“Genzyme’s argument that the institution decision must refer to every bit of evidence that is relied on by the board in its final written decision reflects a misunderstanding of the role of the institution decision in inter partes review proceedings before the board,” said the judge.

The opinion draws a distinction between new grounds for invalidity and new evidence that supports the grounds on which the trial was initiated.   According to Judge Bryson, if the PTAB decision is based on the same grounds, due process is satisfied as long as the opposing party is notified and given a chance to respond.
Continue Reading PTAB Can Rely on New Evidence Introduced by Petitioner in its Reply

IPR petitioners wary of the statutory estoppel under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) may have reason to be cautiously optimistic.   Judge Sue Robinson of the Federal District Court of Delaware recently held that Toshiba is not estopped from presenting invalidity grounds at trial that it did not raise in an earlier IPR.  Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Toshiba Corp. No. 1:13-cv-00453, D.I. 559 & 574 (D. Del. December 19, 2016 & January 11, 2017).

35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) reads in relevant part:

The petitioner in an inter partes review of a claim in a patent under this chapter that results in a final written decision under section 318(a) . . . may not assert . . . in a civil action arising in whole or in part under section 1338 of title 28 . . . that the claim is invalid on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.

In her opinion, Judge Robison noted that the Federal Circuit has interpreted Section 315(e)(2) very literally. “[E]stoppel applies to grounds for invalidity upon which the Board instated review in the IPR proceeding, whether or not the Board addresses those grounds in its final decision (‘instituted grounds’). . . . [T]here likewise can be no dispute that estoppel does not apply to invalidity grounds that were raised by a petitioner in an IPR, but rejected by the Board as instituted grounds (i.e., ‘noninstituted grounds’).” Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Toshiba Corp. No. 1:13-cv-00453, D.I. 574 (D. Del. January 11, 2017).

As background, Intellectual Ventures sued Toshiba for infringement of claims 17 and 19 of the ’819 Patent in Delaware in 2013. Toshiba petitioned for IPR of the ’819 Patent in 2014. Toshiba prevailed in the IPR, with the PTAB invalidating claims 17 and 19 in a final written decision. Toshiba Corp. v. Intellectual Ventures II LLC, No. IPR2014-00418, Paper No. 28 (P.T.A.B. Aug. 7, 2015).

Before the Delaware court, Intellectual Ventures moved for summary judgment that Toshiba is estopped from raising one of its invalidity grounds at trial because the ground was based on publicly available prior art that could have been raised in Toshiba’s IPR petition. Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Toshiba Corp., No. 1:13-cv-00453, D.I. 559 at p.26 (D. Del. December 19, 2016). Judge Robinson disagreed, citing Shaw Indus. Group, Inc. v. Automated Creel Systems. Id. In Shaw, the Federal Circuit held that Section 315(e)(2) does not estop a ground rejected by the PTAB at the institution stage because, since “[t]he IPR does not begin until it is instituted,” the petitioner “could [not] have reasonably raised – the [rejected] ground during the IPR.” 817 F.3d 1293, 1300 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original). Extending the Shaw logic, Judge Robinson found that Toshiba is not estopped from raising its invalidity ground that was not raised at all in IPR. No. 1:13-cv-00453, D.I. 559 at 27 (D. Del. December 19, 2016). But Judge Robinson expressed misgivings at this result, noting that “[a]lthough extending the [Shaw] logic to prior art references that were never presented to the PTAB at all (despite their public nature) confounds the very purpose of this parallel administrative proceeding, the court cannot divine a reasoned way around the Federal Circuit’s interpretation in Shaw.” Id.
Continue Reading IPR Estoppel Provisions May Not Be That Scary After All

In Covidien LP v. University of Florida Research Foundation Inc., the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the “Board”) upheld a defense of sovereign immunity asserted by the University of Florida Research Foundation (the “Foundation”) and dismissed three Petitions for Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) filed by Covidien LP (“Covidien”) against a patent owned by the Foundation. (See IPR2016-01274, IPR2016-01275, IPR2016-01276) The Board relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Fed. Mar. Comm’n v. South Carolina State Ports Auth., 535 U.S. 743 (2002) (“FMC”) in its determination that the sovereign immunity defense applies to IPR proceedings, and it concluded that the Foundation was eligible to assert the defense as an “arm of the State” under Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, *1309 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

The Eleventh Amendment provides that 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 for any foreign State.” The Supreme Court has interpreted the Eleventh Amendment as a grant of immunity to the States against certain adjudicative proceedings brought against them by private parties. In FMC, the Supreme Court held that the sovereign immunity defense applied to administrative adjudications before the Federal Maritime Commission, grounding its determination in the similarities between the Commission’s proceedings and civil litigation. The Board relied on the Supreme Court’s analysis in FMC in determining whether the sovereign immunity defense could similarly be implicated in IPR proceedings.

Covidien filed IPRs against the Foundation as a counter-action to a breach of license suit brought by the Foundation against it. The Foundation argued that the IPRs should be dismissed, asserting that it was an arm of the State of Florida, and as such entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Board’s decision was limited to the Foundation’s sovereign immunity defense. This decision appears to be the first extension of the sovereign immunity defense to an IPR proceeding.

Covidien argued that under FMC the sovereign immunity defense should not apply to IPR proceedings, distinguishing IPRs from civil litigation. Most notably, Covidien argued that IPRs are adjudications directed against the validity of a patent itself, unlike civil litigation which resolves disputes between two parties. Thus, Covidien argued, the subject of the IPRs were the Foundation’s patents, not the Foundation itself, and therefore the IPRs were not proceedings brought against the State. Covidien also warned that implicating the sovereign immunity defense in IPR proceedings would effectively insulate invalid patents from scrutiny just because they were owned by a State, an outcome that would thwart the purpose of creating IPRs. In addition, Covidien noted that if the Foundation’s defense was upheld, a private party could never counter a State’s infringement action by petitioning for IPR proceedings, giving States a stronger position in district court actions.

Relying on FMC, the Board rejected Covidien’s distinctions between IPRs and civil litigation. The Board noted that IPRs are adversarial proceedings between two parties decided by an impartial adjudicator, the Board. The Board also likened the discovery rules and procedures of IPRs with those in civil litigation, and noted that final decisions by the Board created issue estoppel. Additionally, the Board noted that the Federal Circuit had previously held that interference proceedings can be characterized as a lawsuit when determining whether sovereign immunity can be applied in Vas-Cath, Inc. v. Curators of University of Missouri, 473 F.3d 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Thus, the Board held that the similarities between civil litigation and IPR proceedings were sufficient to implicate the sovereign immunity defense in IPR actions under FMC.


Continue Reading State Universities Rejoice: PTAB Recognizes Sovereign Immunity Defense