In a first of its kind decision with important ramifications for patentees, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) denied a petition to suspend or temporarily rescind remedial orders issued in Investigation No. 337-TA-945 pending appeal of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“PTAB”) separate finding that the patent claims at issue are invalid. The ITC has therefore decided to continue to exclude products it found to be infringing certain patents, regardless of the PTAB invalidating the very patents the exclusion order is based upon in separate IPR proceedings. While this decision aiding patentees may surprise some, it is consistent with the ITC’s practices regarding stays and of giving little deference to IPR proceedings.
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.
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) issued Final Written Decisions regarding Cisco’s U.S. Patent Nos. 6,377,577 (the “’577 Patent”) and 7,023,853 (the “’853 Patent”) on May 25, 2017 and U.S. Patent No. 7,224,668 (the “’668 Patent”) on June 1, 2017. The PTAB found the ’577 and ’668 Patents invalid but upheld the validity of the ’853 Patent. The Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) proceedings were brought by Arista Networks in retaliation to Cisco’s accusations of infringement brought in multiple venues, including at the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”), which had just a few weeks earlier upheld the validity of these very same patents and determined that Arista infringed the ’577 and ’668 Patents, and issued exclusion and cease and desist orders accordingly. Since the IPR decisions issued Arista has filed a petition asking the ITC to suspend its limited exclusion order regarding the ’577 Patent based on the PTAB’s decision and is expected to file a similar request with respect to the ’668 Patent. On the other side, Cisco plans to appeal the PTAB’s decisions to the Federal Circuit. The uncertainty created by these inconsistent outcomes is an issue for patent owners, and it will be interesting to see how these cases are resolved. In addition, this case shows that even though the ITC does not stay its investigations for IPRs, IPRs may still impact ITC proceedings.
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.
In its opinion in Aylus Networks, Inc. v. Apple Inc., the Federal Circuit expanded the scope of prosecution disclaimer to statements made by a patent owner during Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings. The Court explained that extending the doctrine to cover patent owner statements, made either before or after institution of an IPR, ensures that claims are not argued in one way to maintain patentability and a different way to support infringement allegations. The Court also noted that its conclusion promotes the public notice function of intrinsic evidence and protects the public’s reliance on statements made during IPR proceedings.
The Federal Circuit has now reversed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision in Synopsys, Inc. v. ATopTech, Inc. finding claims 1 and 32 of U.S. Patent No. 6,567,967 (the “‘967 patent”) as being “not supported by substantial evidence.”
Synopsys sued ATopTech in 2013 for allegedly infringing the ‘967 patent. ATopTech subsequently filed two inter partes review (IPR) petitions (IPR2014-01150 and IPR2014-01159) challenging the validity of all claims of the ‘967 patent. The ‘967 patent aims to improve circuit performance by splitting large components into small subcomponents and optimizing the connections between subcomponents. Claim 1 requires “flattening each of said plurality of hierarchically arranged branches by eliminating superfluous levels of hierarchy above said atomic blocks.” Claim 32 requires “determining optimal placement of each of the hard blocks, if any, within the predefined area.” The Board found both claims either obviousness or anticipated in view of the Fields and/or Su references.
Today, the Federal Circuit, vacated-in-part and remanded the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s obviousness determination regarding a Securus Technologies patent directed to systems and methods for reviewing conversation data for certain events and bookmarking portions of the recording when something of interest is said, finding that the Board failed to provide any explanation for its decision with respect to certain challenged claims.
On April 7, 2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced it has launched an initiative to develop ways to improve Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings, particularly inter partes review proceedings. The effort includes analyzing five years’ worth of historical data covering PTAB proceedings and user experiences. The USPTO hopes to use this data analysis to ensure the proceedings are as “effective and fair as possible within the USPTO’s congressional mandate to provide administrative review of patentability of patent claims after they issue.”
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.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the Federal Circuit) has more recently been indicating to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the Board) the importance of explaining its reasoning when invalidating patent claims. The Federal Circuit’s decision in Icon Health and Fitness v. Strava, finding that the Board did not make requisite factual findings or provide adequate explanations, is the latest reminder from the Court.
Appellee Strava sought inter partes reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 7,789,800. The Examiner found certain claims obvious over various prior art references. The Board affirmed the Examiner’s rejection of all pending claims as obvious. Appellant Icon Health and Fitness appealed the rejection of twelve claims to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part as to three of the twelve claims, but vacated and remanded in part as to the other nine, stating that the Board’s decision “contain[ed] no substantive discussion of the limitations at issue.” Continue Reading Federal Circuit Reminds PTAB to Explain its Reasoning