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

We first covered the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Oil States Energy Servs., LLC v. Greene’s Energy Grp., LLC, 137 S. Ct. 2239 (2017), a case with the potential to substantially alter the patent litigation landscape, back in June. On Monday, November 27, 2017 the Court heard oral arguments on whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) since September 16, 2012 to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum and without a jury.

Advocates and commentators on both sides of the argument weighed in extensively prior to Monday’s argument, culminating in almost 60 amicus curiae briefs, the most of any case this term. Parties urging the Court to reject Oil States’ argument included, for example, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, GE, Apple, the Internet Association (which represents Amazon, Facebook and Google), and the current Solicitor General of the United States, Noel Francisco. On the other side, inventors, venture capitalists, law professors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, amongst others, urged the Justices to abolish inter partes review.  Protesters, including some organized by websites such as www.usinventor.org, gathered outside the Court on Monday to support Oil States armed with signs stating “PTAB Kills American Dreams” and “Innovation: Don’t Kill it!”

Continue Reading Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Oil States Regarding Constitutional Challenge to Inter Partes Review

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

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 public version of ALJ Shaw’s Initial Determination (ID) in U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation Certain Magnetic Data Storage Tapes and Cartridges Containing the Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-1012 (1012 Investigation), provides important guidance on enforcement of standard-essential patents (SEPs) in the ITC.  Respondent and accused infringer Sony argued that several of the patents asserted by patentee Fujifilm wereessential to the LTO-7 standard (relating to “linear tape open” magnetic media) and therefore that Fujifilm had waived its right to injunctive relief and was obligated to license its patents on FRAND terms.  ALJ Shaw ultimately found that Sony had not met its burden of demonstrating essentiality, but he nevertheless provided helpful instructions on the quantum of proof necessary to make out such a claim, as well as other factors relevant to ITC enforcement of SEPs, all of which affirmed that the ITC is a viable forum for enforcement of SEPs.  In sum he ruled that:

  • The party arguing that a patent is essential bears the burden of proof on that point;
  • Unless a patent is, in fact, essential to a given standard, there can be no breach of the standard-setting organization (SSO) agreement(s) giving rise to the FRAND obligation at issue;
  • Breach of an SSO agreement and of forum selection clauses are not valid defenses in ITC investigations; and
  • Respondents bear the burden of proving that a complainant/patentee relinquished its rights to equitable relief by joining the SSO in question.

Continue Reading ALJ Shaw: ITC is a Viable Forum for Enforcement of SEPs

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

The decision in U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation Certain Magnetic Data Storage Tapes and Cartridges Containing the Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-1012 (“1012 Investigation”), is still confidential, but the ITC has issued a notice stating that ALJ Shaw has ruled in favor of patentee Fujifilm against Sony and recommended that an exclusion order be issued.  This is important because it is the first time the ITC has issued an exclusion order on standard-essential patents (SEPs), and may be the first time any U.S. tribunal has issued exclusionary or injunctive relief on patents which were declared standard essential.   In the opinion, which should become public in a few weeks, ALJ Shaw, who presided over the case, is expected to address a number of key issues relating to the assertion of SEPs in general, and at the ITC specifically. In this case many of Sony’s affirmative defenses relate to the alleged essentiality of the asserted patents and the Administrative Law Judge was asked to answer a number of questions relating to SEPs generally and the ability to enforce them at the ITC.

Continue Reading Upcoming Opinion in ITC Expected To Provide Important Guidance on FRAND and SEPs

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.

Continue Reading ITC Denies Suspension or Temporary Rescission of Remedial Orders After PTAB Invalidates Patents at Issue

In a move that could drastically change the patent law landscape, the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group LLC, No. 16-712, to answer the question whether the inter partes review (IPR) process violates the U.S. Constitution by “extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”

In 2001, Oil States Energy Services LLC (“Oil States”) was granted U.S. Patent No. 6,179,053 for a lockdown mechanism to ensure a mandrel is locked in an operative position during fracking.  Oil States sued Greene’s Energy Group LLC (“Greene’s Energy”) in the Eastern District of Texas in 2012 for infringing this patent, and in turn, Greene’s Energy petitioned the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to institute an IPR on the patent.  This petition was granted. After the proceedings, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the administrative body of the USPTO that handles IPRs, concluded the challenged patent claims were invalid.  Oil States appealed to the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the decision, and Oil States then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.

Continue Reading Supreme Court to Decide the Constitutionality of Inter Partes Review