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

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

Under 35 U.S.C. 315(e)(1), a petitioner in an inter partes review of a claim in a patent that has resulted in a final written decision by the Board may not request or maintain a proceeding before the Patent Office with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have

The USPTO has gone ahead and finalized new rules for post-grant proceedings under the America Invents Act (AIA) – despite heavy criticism that the rules do little to alter the lopsided nature of these proceedings. The new rules were published at 81 FR 18750 on April 1, 2016 and go into effect on May 2, 2016.

Technically this “final rulemaking” amends various portions of 37 C.F.R. 42, the rules that govern post-grant proceedings under the AIA, including inter partes review (IPR), covered business method review (CBM), and post-grant review (PGR).

Perhaps the most significant change is that under the new rules the patent owner will be able to submit testimonial evidence, such as an expert declaration, as part of a patent owner’s preliminary response to a patent challenge before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decides to institute an IPR, CBM, or PGR trial. (Under the existing rules, the Patent Owner usually cannot present testimonial evidence until after the institution decision and the PTAB makes its decision to institute trial after hearing only one side of the story, e.g., from the petitioner’s expert.)

However, 37 CFR 42.108(c) has been revised such that if the patent owner presents testimonial evidence as part of a preliminary response, any “genuine issue of material fact created by such testimonial evidence will be viewed in the light most favorable to the petitioner solely for purposes of deciding whether to institute an inter partes review.” An analogous new rule in 37 CFR 42.208(c) for a post grant review has also been finalized. Under the new rules petitioners may also seek leave to file a reply to any preliminary response filed by the patent owner.

These changes beg the questions: what do the patent owners have left to say after institution if their experts’ opinions have already been considered and found unpersuasive, and will the PTAB judges ever change their minds during trials when the petitioner’s evidence is not viewed in its most favorable light?
Continue Reading New Final Rules for Post-Grant Proceedings Published by USPTO on April Fools Day

It’s time for an update on Kyle Bass’s efforts to rid America of the pharmaceutical patents that support high priced drugs.  Between February and September 2015, at least eleven investment funds organized by J. Kyle Bass and Erich Spangenberg (the Coalitions for Affordable Drugs Series I – XI) filed nearly three dozen different petitions for review of patents held by various drug companies.  The petitions were designed to take advantage of the new inter partes review (IPR) proceedings established under the America Invents Act (AIA) in 2012.

Speculation has been rampant as to how Bass’s investors will benefit.   Most people think that the funds have been shorting (or will short) the shares of the publicly traded pharmaceutical companies that own the patents; wait for the stock values to tumble and then cover their short positions by buying the stocks at a hefty discount caused by their patent challenges.  Others suggest that the funds will invest in generic drug manufacturers that will be able to compete once the drug patents are eliminated.

In the fall of 2015, Bass and Spangenberg appear to have switched gears and began filing petitions in their own names rather than in the names of the various Coalitions for Affordable Drugs (CAD) funds.  Whether this represents an actual change in the funding of the IPR challenges or just a legal nicety (i.e. a conclusion that the underlying CADs need not be named under USPTO rules) is not clear.

The hopes of the pharmaceutical industry that these petitions would be quickly dismissed out of hand have been dashed by the Patent Office.  Despite initial setbacks for the CADs early last year, over half of the petitions (18 out of 33) have now been found to present a reasonable likelihood of success.  In each of these instances, a trial is underway to determine whether the patent is invalid.  Given the high statistical likelihood (over ninety percent) that patents challenged under the AIA are ultimately found at least partially invalid once a trial is completed, the pharmaceutical companies have reason to be worried.
Continue Reading Bass Continues Fishing; Pharma Seeks Sanctuary

According to 35 U.S.C. §315(a), an inter partes review may not be instituted if, before the date on which the petition for such a review is filed, the petitioner or real party in interest filed a civil action challenging the validity of a claim of the patent.  In a recent decision, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board dealt with the issue of whether a petition would be barred under Section 315(a) when the petitioner previously had raised an affirmative invalidity defense as part of a motion to intervene as a defendant in a federal patent infringement suit.  The Board decided that the petition was not barred by Section 315(a) and instituted a trial on the merits.  (IPR2015-01872, Paper 10, March 14, 2016.)

Ericsson Inc. (the Petitioner) filed a petition to institute an inter partes review of claims 1-25 of U.S. Patent No. 7,385,994 of Intellectual Ventures II LLC (the Patent Owner).  In a preliminary response, the Patent Owner argued that the Petition was time barred under Section 315(a) because prior to the IPR Petition Ericsson had filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in a patent infringement litigation, initiated by the Patent Owner against AT&T and Cingular Wireless, along with an Answer in Intervention, in which the Petitioner had raised an affirmative defense of invalidity of the ‘994 patent.  The Patent Owner characterized the intervention initiated by the Petitioner as “initiating a new dispute,” when none existed beforehand.

The Board disagreed with the Patent Owner and relied on the reasoning put forth in Ariosa Diagnostics v. Isis Innovation Limited (IPR2012-00022) to hold that Ericsson’s answer did not constitute a civil action challenging the validity of a claim of a patent.
Continue Reading Affirmative Defense of Invalidity As Part of a Motion to Intervene Does Not Bar Filing of a Subsequent IPR Petition

Two recent cases show that simply avoiding a post-grant review proceeding at the U.S. Patent Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) not only does not preclude a defendant in underlying patent infringement litigation in a federal district court from raising the same invalidity arguments again, it also may not even influence the court’s claim construction. Moreover, the patent owner may not be allowed to make reference to its prior success in avoiding an administrative trial at the Patent Office as well.

Although 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) provides an estoppel binding on a petitioner (or any party in privity with the petitioner) from raising the same issue in federal court patent infringement litigation if they lose in a PTAB final written decision, it is increasingly clear that a PTAB decision not to institute a trial is not likely to carry much weigh in federal court.

In Adidas AG v. Under Armour Inc. et al, C.A. No. 14-130, slip op. (D. Del. Dec. 15, 2015), the District Court of Delaware denied a defendants’ motion to modify the court’s claim construction order based on a PTAB decision denying institution of an inter partes review (IPR). The patent at issue covers “location aware” fitness trackers, which Addidas has alleged are infringed by Under Armour’s fitness and exercise monitoring systems. Even though Under Armour didn’t get a trial initiated on the Addidas patent at the PTAB, it did like the way the board construed the claims and urged Judge Sleet of the Delaware federal district court to adopt the same construction.

The Delaware District Court declined to change its construction of the term “with respect to a route path.”  Judge Sleet noted in a footnote that the “PTAB’s choice not to institute an IPR is not the type of adjudication that leads to issue preclusion.” The order further noted that the PTAB had not reached a final decision on the claim construction and consequently, the Court “is not bound by a preliminary claim construction used by the PTAB for the limited purpose of denying an IPR request.”
Continue Reading A Decision Not to Institute a Trial at the PTAB Does Not Carry Much Weight in Federal Court

In SightSound Technologies, LLC v. Apple, Inc. (CBM2013-00020), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the patent appellate court) recently affirmed the decision of Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to invalidate certain claims of SightSound’s patents 5,191,573 and 5,966,440 in a covered business method (CBM) proceeding based on an obviousness ground that was not expressly raised by the petitioner (Apple).

The ‘573 and ‘440 patents relate to methods for electronic sale and distribution of digital audio and video signals. Each of the relevant claims required forming a connection, through telecommunications lines, between a party’s first memory and a second party’s second memory, selling the desired digital signals for a fee through the telecommunications lines, transmitting the desired signal from the first memory to the second memory through the telecommunications lines, and storing the transmitted signal in the second memory.

In instituting the review of the challenged claims, PTAB found that the patents qualified for CBM review because they involved an activity that was “financial in nature,” namely, the electronic movement of money between financially distinct entities. The PTAB further found that the challenged claims did not include inventive technological features that would have otherwise excluded them from CBM review. The PTAB instituted the review not only based on anticipation grounds advanced by Apple but also based on an obviousness ground that was not specifically alleged by Apple, though the evidence upon which the PTAB relied for the obviousness ground was included in Apple’s petition. This evidence involved a series of disclosures relating to a computer system developed by CompuSonics in 1980’s. The Board reasoned that its reliance on this evidence was proper because while Apple’s petitions did no explicitly assert obviousness based on those disclosures, they nonetheless supported such a ground based on Apple’s detailed explanation of the CompuSonics references.
Continue Reading Fed. Circuit Affirms PTAB’S CBM Decision Based on a Ground Not Raised By Petitioner