United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

On Monday, November 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in SAS Institute v. Matal.

Issue presented

Whether 35 U.S.C. § 318(a) requires that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) issue a final written decision as to every claim challenged by a petitioner, or does it allow the Board to issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of only some of the patent claims challenged by the petitioner.

Background

On September 14, 2012, ComplementSoft sued SAS in the Northern District of Illinois for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,110,936.  On March 29, 2013, SAS filed a petition with the PTAB for inter partes review (IPR) of the ‘936 Patent, challenging patentability of all 16 claims of that patent.  The PTAB instituted IPR as to 9 claims (1 and 3-10) of the ‘936 patent and on August 6, 2014 issued a final written decision under 35 U.S.C. § 318(a), holding that claim 4 was not invalid over prior art, whereas claims 1-3 and 5-10 were unpatentable.  SAS’ request for rehearing before the Board was denied.  On June 10, 2016, the 2-1 divided Panel of the Federal Circuit Rejected SAS’s argument that the Board must address all claims challenged in an IPR petition in its final written decision, and affirmed the PTAB’s decision, except vacated with respect to claim 4.   The Panel consisted of Judges Stoll, Chen, and Newman, with Judge Newman dissenting in part.  As Judge Stoll stated, there is “no statutory requirement that the Board’s final decision address every claim raised in a petition for inter partes review.  Section 318(a) only requires the Board to address claims as to which review was granted.” The Federal Circuit reasoned that 35 U.S.C. § 314  and 35 U.S.C. § 318(a) are different and that § 318(a) “does not foreclose the claim-by-claim approach the Board adopted [in Synopsys] and in this case.” In a dissenting opinion, Judge Newman stated that 35 U.S.C. § 314(a) required USPTO either refuse to institute IPR entirely, or to review all challenged claims when “there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail with respect to at least 1 of the claims challenged in the petition.”

Continue Reading SAS v. Matal – Overview of Oral Arguments in the Supreme Court

In patent prosecution, the feedback loop between interested parties including patent prosecutors, inventors, and in-house counsel helps to provide the best patent applications and office action responses for a high quality issued patent. However, this work product represents only half of the overall patent prosecution effort, since the patent prosecutor works with a patent examiner sitting on the other side at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Given that, have you ever wondered how a patent examiner’s work product is reviewed to help improve patent quality? In its most recent Patent Quality Chat on November 14, 2017, a panel of USPTO quality experts provided insight on this topic in a presentation entitled “How is an Examiner’s Work Product Reviewed?”, highlights of which are provided in this article. The USPTO has provided the presentation slides and webinar video at their website.

Continue Reading Patent Quality Chat: How Is A USPTO Examiner’s Work Product Reviewed?

On November 21st, the PTAB issued guidance on motions to amend based on the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Aqua Products, Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017). In view of the Aqua Products decision, the PTAB will not place the burden of persuasion on the patent owner with respect to the patentability of substitute claims presented in a motion to amend. Instead, after the patent owner files a motion to amend, the Board will determine whether the substitute claims are unpatentable by a preponderance of the evidence based on the entirety of the record, including the opposition by the petitioner.

Continue Reading PTAB Guidance on Motions to Amend in View of Aqua Products

Earlier this week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) published a new rule governing when privilege exists for communications between clients and their domestic or foreign patent attorneys and patent agents before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”).   For context, the originally proposed amendment sought to resolve ambiguity as to when privilege extends to USPTO patent practitioners during PTAB discovery proceedings in light of prior Federal Circuit, District Court and PTAB decisions.  The now-published rule codifies the PTAB’s intent to protect communications between patent agents and clients from discovery, stating that:

“communication[s] between a client and a USPTO patent practitioner or a foreign patent practitioner that is reasonably necessary and incident to the scope of the patent practitioner’s authority shall receive the same protections of privilege under Federal law as if that communication were between a client and an attorney authorized to practice in the United States, including all limitations and exceptions[;]”

“USPTO patent practitioners and foreign jurisdiction patent practitioners shall receive the same treatment as attorneys on all issues affecting privilege or waiver, such as communications with employees or assistants of the practitioner and communications between multiple practitioners.”

Continue Reading USPTO Publishes New Rule Governing Privilege for Patent Attorneys and Agents

On November 1, 2017 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) implemented an expansion of the Collaborative Search Pilot Program (CSP), which began in 2015 and ended earlier in 2017, to expedite prosecution of related applications at the USPTO and the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) or Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO).  The original CSP is discussed in the Global IP Matters article Expediting Patent Prosecution with the New Collaborative Search Pilot Program.  The new expanded CSP eases some requirements for participation in the program and increases the number of grantable CSP petitions per year, which should make the free CSP more attractive to applicants having patent applications co-pending at the USPTO and the JPO or KIPO.

Continue Reading Expediting Patent Prosecution with the New Expanded Collaborative Search Pilot Program

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.

Continue Reading Federal Circuit Clarifies the Requirements for a Teaching Away by the Prior Art

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.”

Continue Reading General Plastic Industrial Co. v. Canon Kabushiki Kaisha: PTAB Explains Factors for Follow-On Petitions

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Aqua Products Inc., v. Matal materially changes the burden of proof associated with the patentability of amended claims during an inter partes review (“IPR”), shifting the burden from the Patent Owner seeking the amendment to the IPR Petitioner opposing it.

Prior to the Aqua decision, if a Patent Owner sought to amend claims during an IPR, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (the “Board”) placed the burden on the Patent Owner to prove that the proposed amended claims were patentable.  When Patent Owner Aqua attempted to amend its claims during an IPR challenge to its U.S. Patent No. 8,273,183, the Board found that Aqua had not met its burden and denied Aqua’s motion to amend.

Continue Reading AQUA PRODUCTS: The Federal Circuit Shifts The Burden of Proof On Amending Claims During An IPR From The Patent Owner To The Petitioner

This post is a follow-up to our prior post To Seek Design Protection or Not, That is the Question! where we discuss situations where it is worth considering seeking a design patent.  Here we highlight takeaways from a USPTO Inventor Info Webinar (the “Webinar”) held on September 21, 2017, that focused on design patent drawing requirements, as well as on other issues on design patents. The Webinar’s slides can be found here.

As a brief recap, 35 U.S.C. § 171 states that “Whoever invents any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.”  Thus, the statute requires that a design be for an article (i.e., rather than a disembodied design, a design per se) and that the article have one or both of some surface ornamentation and configuration that differs this article from others.

Continue Reading Recap on Design Patent Drawings

The Federal Circuit yesterday issued an opinion in In re: Smith Int’l, Inc., No. 2016-2303 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 26, 2017) reversing an affirmance by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the rejection of several claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,732,817 being challenged in ex parte reexamination.  In so doing, the Court held the Board’s construction of “body” in the ’817 Patent claims to be unreasonable as inconsistent with the specification.

The ’817 Patent concerns a downhole drilling tool for oil and gas operations.  In affirming the examiner, the Board found it “perfectly reasonable” to interpret the “body” of the tool as encompassing other components because neither the claims nor the specification explicitly limit the scope of the term.  Even though the specification describes the body as separate from other elements, the Board reasoned that it doesn’t expressly define “body” or otherwise preclude the examiner’s interpretation.  But according to Smith, the ’817 Patent consistently refers to and depicts the body as a component distinct from other components of the drilling tool – like the “mandrel” or “piston” located inside the drilling tool – and should be interpreted simply as an “outer housing.”

Continue Reading “In Light of the Specification”: Federal Circuit Weighs in on the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation