On May 14, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, In re: ZTE (USA) Inc., No. 2018-113, held that Federal circuit law governs the burden of proof for venue challenges under 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b) and that the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff to demonstrate proper venue upon a defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of venue. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit granted defendant ZTE USA’s petition for mandamus and vacated an order from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas denying ZTE USA’s motion to dismiss for lack of venue.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced a proposed change to the standard for construing both unexpired and amended patent claims in Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings under the America Invents Act (“AIA”). The change would replace the current Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (“BRI”) standard with the standard articulated in Phillips v. AWH Corp. 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). This change would harmonize the claim construction standard applied in inter partes review, post-grant review, and covered business method patent proceedings before the PTAB with the one used by federal district courts and the International Trade Commission. The proposed amendment would also allow the PTAB to consider any prior claim construction determination concerning a term of the involved claim in a civil action, or an ITC proceeding, that is timely made of record in an AIA proceeding.
In a precedential opinion issued on October 11, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Patent Trial and Appeals Board’s (“PTAB”) finding of non-obviousness where the prior art taught away from some, but not all, of the embodiments covered by the challenged claims. In Owens Corning v. Fast Felt Corp., No. 2016-2613 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 11, 2017), the panel held that the PTAB had applied an unreasonably narrow construction to the exclusion of embodiments that were not taught away from by prior combinations disclosing all of the claim elements.
PTAB’s Improper Claim Construction
Fast Felt owns U.S. Patent No. 8,137,757 (“the ‘757 patent”), which it asserted against Owens Corning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. In turn, Owens Corning petitioned for inter partes review of the claims of ‘757 patent, and the PTAB instituted trial. Owens Corning contended that the challenged claims were rendered obvious by prior art combinations disclosing all elements of the independent claims. However, in its final written decision, the Board determined that Owens Corning failed to provide a motivation to combine and upheld the patentability of the challenged claims. Owens Corning timely appealed.
On September 6, 2017, an expanded panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issued an “informative” decision in General Plastic Industrial Co., Ltd, v. Canon Kabushiki Kaisha setting forth the Board’s framework for analyzing follow-on inter partes review (IPR) petitions. In response to five concurrent requests for rehearing, a panel of seven administrative patent judges reviewed the factors articulated in NVIDIA Corp. v. Samsung Elec. Co., IPR2016-00134, Paper 9 (PTAB May 4, 2016) and, in doing so, denied all five requests. While acknowledging that multiple petitions challenging the same patent may be permitted based on specific facts of each case, the Board explained that follow-on petitions run the risk of undue inequities and prejudices to patent owners, and petitioner’s submission of multiple, staggered petitions constituted “an inefficient use of the inter partes review process and the Board’s resources.”
In EmeraChem Holdings LLC v. Volkswagen Group of Am. Inc., the Federal Circuit reminded the PTAB that it must abide by the APA’s requirements of adequate notice and an opportunity to respond when conducting a post-grant review. While affirming certain challenged claims as being obvious under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. § 103(a), the Court reversed the PTAB’s obviousness determination on a trio of claims and remanded them for further consideration and clarification. The PTAB’s conclusion that claims 3, 16 and 20 were obvious was based on the inclusion of a reference that was not properly identified in the petition or Institution Order and which the patent owner never had the opportunity to address during the inter partes review proceeding.
On May 10, 2017 and following a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) reexamination decision upholding certain claims, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in Cisco Systems, Inc. v. Cirrex Systems, LLC that all of the appealed claims of a fiber optic patent held by Cirrex are invalid for lack of a written description support required by 35 U.S.C. § 112. The panel applied its own construction of a key claim term requiring that a recited functional limitation take place in a specific location which the specification failed to describe.
On March 14, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit clarified, in a precedential opinion, that an anticipating reference must supply all of the claim elements, regardless of what a person of skill in the art might envision when reading the reference. In Nidec Motor Corporation v. Zhongshan Broad Ocean Motor Co. Ltd., et al., the Federal Circuit explicitly rejected the notion that a patent claim may be anticipated by a prior art reference lacking a claim element when a skilled artisan reading the reference would “at once envisage” that missing element. Reversing the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”), the Federal Circuit panel held that Nidec’s patent was not anticipated.
On March 3, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reaffirmed, in a precedential opinion, that prosecution disclaimers may only limit the scope of a claim where the disclaimer is “both clear and unmistakable to one of ordinary skill in the art.” In Technology Properties Ltd. v. Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., the Federal Circuit made clear that statements made during patent prosecution will not constitute a disclaimer of claim scope where the statements are “ambiguous or amenable to multiple reasonable interpretations,” but that a disclaimer based on unambiguous statements during prosecution may serve to surrender more claim scope than was necessary to overcome a rejection. Continue Reading Federal Circuit Reiterates That Patent Prosecution Disclaimers Must Be “Clear and Unmistakable”
When the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issues a final written decision finding against an IPR Petitioner, can that Petitioner necessarily appeal that adverse decision? In a case of first impression, the Federal Circuit recently answered “no.”
In Phigenix, Inc. v. ImmunoGen, Inc., the Federal Circuit held that Petitioner Phigenix lacked standing to appeal the PTAB’s final IPR decision in favor of Patent Owner ImmunoGen because Phigenix failed to prove that there was an actual “case or controversy” between it and ImmunoGen concerning the challenged patent. According to the Federal Circuit, although such a “case or controversy” may not be necessary for Phigenix to appear in an IPR proceeding before an administrative agency like PTAB, it remains a requirement for Phigenix to seek appellate review in a federal court.
Plaintiffs bringing patent infringement complaints under the Iqbal/Twombly pleading standard should take notice. On September 30, 2016, a panel of the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a deficient complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). The panel agreed held that a complaint for joint infringement of a patent must show which alleged actor performed each of the required claim elements. The plaintiff’s amended complaint failed to plausibly allege that the defendants exercised the required “direction or control” such that the performance of every claim step could be attributable to them.