Board Guidance on its View of Petitioner Estoppel: Westlake Services v. Credit Acceptance Corp:

July 21st, 2015
July 21, 2015

Last week, the Board provided an opinion to offer guidance on its view of the scope of petitioner estoppel.  The Westlake Services v. Credit Acceptance Corp. decision relates to the scope of estoppel to a Petitioner following a final written decision from a first petition.  Westlake Services v. Credit Acceptance Corp., CBM2014-00176, Paper 28 (PTAB May 14, 2015). 

This case addresses the question of the scope of Petitioner estoppel when only part of the claims in a CBM proceeding are instituted for trial.  In short, the first petition set forth grounds to challenge the patentability of all claims of U.S. Pat. 6,950,807.  Only some claims were instituted for trial.  Later, the Petitioner filed another petition to challenge claims that were not instituted for trial in the first proceeding.  A final written decision was issued by the Board in the first proceeding finding the instituted claims unpatentable under § 101, and the Patent Owner sought to block the second petition based on petitioner estoppel under 35 U.S.C. § 325(e)(1):

The petitioner in a post-grant review of a claim in a patent under this chapter that results in a final written decision under section 328(a), or the real party in interest or privy of the petitioner, may not request or maintain a proceeding before the Office with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that post-grant review.

The Patent Owner obtained permission to brief the Board with its reasons why the Petitioner was estopped from filing the second petition.  The Patent Owner argued that § 328(a), provides “[i]f a post-grant review is instituted and not dismissed under this chapter, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board shall issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of any patent claim challenged by the petitioner.”  In this case the Patent Owner wanted estoppel to apply to all claims to prevent Petitioner from coming back for a second bite on the claims that were not instituted for trial.  After all, the petition was trying to challenge every claim of the patent and the Board did not institute on several claims.  So the Patent Owner relied on this language to assert that the estoppel arising from the Final Written Decision applied to all claims.

Here is the Patent Owner’s logical syllogism:

A.  The Petition challenged all claims.

B.  § 328(a) provides a Final Written Decision is with respect to “any patent claim challenged by the petitioner.”

C.  Therefore, the Final Written Decision applies to all claims, even though institution was only to a subset of the claims.

D.  § 325(e) provides estoppel to all claims because the Final Written Decision is to all claims in (C) above.

E.  Accordingly, Petitioner is estopped from challenging all claims.

The Board denied the Patent Owner’s logic.  Essentially, it determined that § 328(a) and § 325(e) apply on a claim-by-claim basis, and therefore estoppel applies only to the claims instituted for trial.  The Board wanted to clarify estoppel applies only to a claim in a patent that “results in a final written decision” under § 328(a).  So the Board’s logic is different:

A.  The Petition challenged all claims.

B.  Trial was instituted to only some claims.

C.  The Final Written Decision under § 328(a) is only to the instituted claims.

D.  § 325(e) provides estoppel to “a claim in a patent” that “results in a final written decision” under § 328(a), therefore estoppel is only to the instituted claims.

E.  Accordingly, Petitioner is estopped from challenging the instituted claims.

The Board’s guidance about the scope of estoppel allows all parties to make informed decisions about how to better litigate their cases.

Board Limits Multiple IPR Challenges in Samsung Electronics v. Rembrandt Wireless Technologies

June 22nd, 2015

June 22, 2015

Rembrandt Wireless Technologies sued Samsung and Research in Motion for infringement of  U.S. Patent 8,457,228 in June 2013.  The ’228 patent relates to data communications, and in particular to a data communication system in which a plurality of modems use different types of modulation in a network.

In June of 2014, Samsung filed six IPR petitions to challenge various claims of the ’228 patent.  (IPR2014-00889 to -00893 and -00895.)   Only half of Samsung’s six petitions were instituted for trial, but claim 21 was the only claim of the ’228 patent in the district court litigation that was not instituted for trial in the PTAB.  (Rembrandt also asserted U.S. Patent 8,023,580, which was also the subject of six IPR petitions, and had additional claims not instituted for trial.)

In the original IPR challenge of claim 21 (IPR2014-00892), Samsung unsuccessfully asserted a combination of “admitted prior art” (“APA”) with U.S. Patent 5,706,428 (“Boer”).  Samsung filed another IPR petition in January 2015 with a motion for joinder to IPR2014-00892 proposing new grounds for the unpatentability of claim 21.  (IPR2015-00555.)  These new grounds combined a new reference, U.S. Patent 5,537,398 (“Siwiak”), to the originally asserted prior art.  But on June 19, 2015, the Board again denied institution of trial of claim 21 and without considering Siwiak:

We do not reach the merits of Petitioner’s additional reasoning in the instant Petition as to why Petitioner asserts that the subject matter of claim 21 would have been obvious over the combination of APA, Boer, and Siwiak. Instead, for the reasons discussed below, we exercise our discretion under 35 U.S.C. § 325(d) to deny institution of inter partes review in this proceeding.

35 U.S.C. § 325(d) states:

In determining whether to institute or order a proceeding under . . . chapter 31, the Director may take into account whether, and reject the petition or request because, the same or substantially the same prior art or arguments previously were presented to the Office.

To reject the second IPR petition, the Board integrated § 325(d) with 37 C.F.R.  § 42.1(b):  “[37 C.F.R. § 42] shall be construed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of every proceeding.”  The Board explained its denial of the petition:

Petitioner [ ] presents no argument or evidence that Siwiak was not known or available to it at the time of filing IPR ’892. In fact, Petitioner applied Siwiak in proposed grounds of rejection against claim 21 of the ’228 patent in another petition filed the same day as that in the IPR ’892 proceeding. See IPR2014-00889, Paper 2 at 58–60.  On this record, we exercise our discretion and “reject the petition” because “the same or substantially the same prior art” previously was “presented to the Office” in the IPR ’892 proceeding. [cites omitted]

Petitioner is requesting, essentially, a second chance to challenge the claims. We, however, are not persuaded that a second chance would help “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of every proceeding.” 37 C.F.R. § 42.1(b). Permitting second chances in cases like this one ties up the Board’s limited resources; we must be mindful not only of this proceeding, but of “every proceeding.”  [cites omitted]

In this proceeding, however, we are not apprised of a reason that merits a second chance. Petitioner simply presents arguments now that it could have made in IPR ’892, had it merely chosen to do so.  In view of the foregoing, and especially in light of the fact that, barring joinder, this petition is time-barred under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), we exercise our discretion [to deny the petition].

To conserve its limited resources, the Board must be more selective in petitions it will consider.  Petitioners must provide reasons why the Board should consider new grounds proffered in a subsequent petition, including why the new grounds could not have been presented in an earlier-filed petition.

Federal Circuit Interprets Board’s Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard – Part II

June 18th, 2015

In Microsoft Corp. v. ProxyConn, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee, Intervenor (Fed. Cir. cases 2014-1542 and -1543), the Federal Circuit reversed claim constructions made by the Board in the underlying IPRs.  One of the claim constructions that was reversed related to the interpretation of components of a packet-switched network.  In particular, the claims recite a gateway that is “connected to the packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers pass through [the gateway],” as stated in claim 6 of U.S. Patent No. 6,757,717:

6. A system for data access in a packet-switched network, comprising:

a gateway including an operating unit, a memory and a processor connected to said packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers pass through it;

a caching computer connected to said gateway through a fast local network, wherein said caching computer includes an operating unit, a first memory, a permanent storage memory and a processor;

said caching computer further including a network cache memory in its permanent storage memory, means for a digital digest and means for comparison between a digital digest on data in its network cache memory and a digital digest received from said packet-switched network through said gateway.

The Federal Circuit referenced Figure 11 of the patent to show one embodiment where the caching computer is connected to the gateway, and the gateway is connected to receiver and sender computers:

FIG 11

The interpretive issue is whether the “two other computers,” could be any two computers, including the caching computer recited in claim 6 immediately after the gateway.  This interpretation is important because the asserted prior art arguably included a gateway connected to at least one other computer and the caching computer, but not a gateway connected to receiver and sender computers and a caching computer.  Microsoft argued for the broader interpretation, which included the caching computer as potentially one of the two connected computers.  But ProxyConn argued for the narrower interpretation that the “two other computers” referred only to the sender and receiver computers.  The Board adopted the  broader interpretation, and decided the prior art rendered such claims unpatentable.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s construction, first by analyzing the claim language:

The Board erred in concluding that the “two other computers” could include the caching computer.  Beginning with the language of the claims, claim 6 recites a system comprising a gateway, a caching computer, and “two other computers.”  ’717 patent col. 10 l. 54–col. 11 l. 12. Not only are the “two other computers” recited independently from, and in addition to, the gateway and caching computers, the word “other” denotes a further level of distinction between those two computers and the specific gateway and caching computers recited separately in the claim.

Then the Federal Circuit turned to the specification:

The specification confirms that the phrase “two other computers” is limited to the sender/receiver and computer/receiver.  Other than in claim 6 itself, the phrase “two other computers” is used three times in the specification, each time as part of the embodiment containing the gateway and caching computer intermediaries.  [cites omitted]  And in each instance where it is used, the phrase “two other computers” describes components that are separate and distinct from the gateway and the caching computer.  [ ]

For example, the specification states: “Gateway 60 is connected to a wide-area packet-switched network in such a way that network packets sent between at least two other computers 42 and 46 pass through the gateway 60.  The caching computer 62 uses a part of its permanent storage memory for network cache memory 66.”  [cites omitted] (emphases added).  As shown in referenced Figure 11, the “two other computers 42 and 46” in this passage are the sender/computer and receiver/computer, respectively.  Read together with labeled Figure 11, this portion of the specification makes clear that the gateway, the caching computer, and the “two other computers” are each separate and distinct components of the overall system.  The Board’s construction, which expands the “two other computers 42 and 46” to include the separately identified caching computer, is unreasonably broad in light of the language of the claims and specification.

The Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s findings of unpatentability of claims 6, 7, and 9, and remanded “for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Some takeaways from this portion of the appellate decision are:

  • The Federal Circuit supports the PTO’s adoption of the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) standard for IPRs, consistent with Cuozzo.
  • It will actively provide guidance on what constitutes a proper BRI for IPRs.
  • A BRI determination may be guided by analysis of the claim language and the patent specification, including the drawings.

We will explore more about the claim constructions and decision on the Patent Owner’s motion to amend in future posts.

Federal Circuit Interprets Board’s Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard – Part I

June 17th, 2015

We know from the Federal Circuit’s decision in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, that the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) standard applies in IPRs, but in a recent appeal decision, the Federal Circuit has announced limits to the application of BRI.

Microsoft had filed two separate IPR petitions challenging certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,757,717, which were later joined.  The Board ultimately found all but one of the challenged claims unpatentable as being either anticipated or obvious.  The Board also denied Proxycomm’s motion to amend its claims, concluding it hadn’t established the patentability of its claims.  Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., IPR2012-00026 and IPR2013-00109.

On June 16, 2015, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s constructions, and thereby vacated and remanded its determinations of unpatentability of certain claims, but upheld its decision to deny Proxyconn’s motion to amend.  Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc. v. Michelle K. Lee,  Intervenor (Fed. Cir. cases 2014-1542 and -1453).  

Some of the interesting points of the Federal Circuit’s decision are:

  • The Federal Circuit followed its earlier decision in Teva Pharmaceuticals USA v. Sandoz, Inc., to review the Board’s ultimate claim constructions de novo and its underlying factual determinations involving extrinsic evidence for substantial evidence.  The Court stated that to the extent the Board relied on extrinsic evidence to construe the claims, it “need not consider the Board’s findings on that evidence because the intrinsic record is clear.”  (Id. at p. 6.)
  • The Federal Circuit clarified that even though BRI was properly adopted by PTO regulation in Cuozzo, that does not allow the Board to “construe claims during IPR so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.”
    • It cited In re Skvorecz and In re Suitco Surface, Inc. to clarify that BRI cannot result in an unfettered or legally incorrect interpretation. (Id. at p. 6.)
    • The Court also advised that “[t]he PTO should also consult the patent’s prosecution history in proceedings in which the patent has been brought back to the agency for a second review,” citing Tempo Lighting Inc. v. Tivoli LLC, In re NTP, Inc. and Suitco.  (Id. at p. 7.)

The Federal Circuit then proceeded to analyze the Board’s claim constructions and decision denying Proxyconn’s motion to amend.  These will be covered in future posts.

PTAB Denies 2Wire IPR Petitions

June 10th, 2015

June 10, 2015

TQ Delta LLC sued Pace Americas, Inc. for patent infringement in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware in November 2013.  TQ Delta LLC v. 2Wire Inc., Case no. 1:13-cv-01835-RGA. The complaint was amended to name defendants Pace PLC, Pace Americas, LLC and 2Wire, Inc. in January 2014. TQ Delta ultimately alleged infringement by the defendants of 24 patents it owned. These patents relate to digital subscriber line (“DSL”) technology, including for example asymmetric digital subscriber line (“ADSL”) technology and very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line (“VDSL”) technology.

On November 7, 2014, 2Wire, Inc. filed six inter partes review (IPR) petitions to challenge certain claims of six different patents owned by TQ Delta LLC that were asserted in the suit. (IPR2015-00239 to -00243 and -00247.)  Each IPR petition included a declaration by a technical expert and numerous exhibits. TQ Delta filed Preliminary Patent Owner Responses to each IPR petition.

On May 29, 2015, the Board denied all six IPR petitions. Why?

Each IPR petition was reviewed on its own merits, but in general the Board found that the Petitioner failed to prove its claims of obviousness:

A patent claim, however, “is not proved obvious merely by demonstrating that each of its elements was, independently, known in the prior art.” Id. at 418. “Rather, obviousness requires the additional showing that a person of ordinary skill at the time of the invention would have selected and combined those prior art elements in the normal course of research and development to yield the claimed invention.” Unigene Labs., Inc. v. Apotex, Inc., 655 F.3d 1352, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2011).  [. . .] Further, an assertion of obviousness “‘cannot be sustained by mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.’” Id. (citing In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 988 (Fed. Cir. 2006)).

Petitioner does not explain sufficiently in the Petition why a person of ordinary skill in the art would have had reason to combine the teachings of [the prior art] to achieve the method of [the challenged claims]. Petitioner merely alleges that the claims would have been “obvious” in view of the three items of prior art, and describes how [certain prior art documents] allegedly teach various aspects of the claims. . . .

(See, for example, Decision Denying Institution of Inter Partes Review, IPR2015-00240, Paper 18, pp. 8-9.)

Additionally, the Board found that the Petitioner merely stated conclusory results of the asserted combination, but did not proffer a rationale to modify the components of the prior art documents:

Petitioner’s first statement that it “would have been obvious” to combine [certain prior art references] is conclusory and does not demonstrate a reason to combine. See KSR, 550 U.S. at 417–18; Unigene, 655 F.3d at 1360; In re Chaganti, 554 F. App’x 917, 922 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“It is not enough to say that there would have been a reason to combine two references because to do so would ‘have been obvious to one of ordinary skill.’ Such circular reasoning is not sufficient—more is needed to sustain an obviousness rejection.” (citation omitted)).

(Id at 9.)

Moreover, the Board explained that the Petition must state these things explicitly, and cannot merely incorporate arguments from the expert declaration to draw its conclusions of obviousness. The Board found that the expert’s analysis was not reflected in the Petition, and relied on that to explain its decision to deny institution.  (Id at 11-12.)

* * *

One of the takeaways from this is that post-grant practitioners have to carefully consider how to best present their case to the Board.  Technical cases may involve a great deal of complex information, which must be organized and presented within the very limited pages afforded by the trial rules.  And, depending on the facts of each case, a Petitioner may not get a second chance to challenge the patent before the Board.

 

New PTAB Rule Changes Published Yesterday

May 20th, 2015

A small number of rule changes were published yesterday which affect all involved in post-grant trials at the USPTO.  The fixes make the rules more specific and make for more uniform proceedings.  They are effective May 19, 2015.  A copy of the Federal Register notice can be found here.

Are Your Patent Procurement Guidelines Outdated?

May 3rd, 2015

 

I saw a bumper sticker that said:  “Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.”  This is true in many facets of life, and it is true for patent practice.  The changes of the past few years are numerous and far-reaching.  Is your patent portfolio strategy growing with these changes?

changes

One Simple Exercise

If you are responsible for your company’s patent portfolio, try this simple exercise:  look at your patent procurement guidelines to find out when they were last updated.  If they were last revised over two years ago, chances are they do not contemplate options like:

  • Track One filings in the USPTO for faster patent examination,
  • steps to use the USPTO’s After Final Consideration Pilot (AFCP) program to rapidly resolve pending prosecution, and
  • procedures to improve your future patent filings in order to survive claim challenges from IPRs, CBMs, and PGRs under the America Invents Act.

All of these options provide tools that can issue more meaningful and robust patents for your company and trim your patent portfolio’s bottom line.

Why Are These Tools Important?

Each of these tools can provide strategic advantages for your portfolio, depending on your goals.  For example:

  • Track One filings may be used in a campaign of patent filing to rapidly assemble issued patent rights in a strategic area, to bolster an ongoing enforcement campaign, or to offset expected or pending AIA patent challenges.
  • The after final consideration pilot program (AFCP) can be used to avoid needless and expensive RCE practice and to accelerate issue of valuable claims.
  • Drafting measures that enhance your patents’ ability to survive (or even avoid) AIA patent trials will become increasingly important–especially if Congress passes legislation to moderate post-grant review estoppel.  Your company saves hundreds of thousands of dollars each time your patents avoid an AIA patent trial — not to mention the potential recoveries that the patent brings when it is clear to the challenger that it is valid and infringed.

Act Now

Of course, there are many more tools for your procurement guidelines and the ones listed above are only some examples.  Every business requires different tools and approaches to match the patent practices and opportunities of that industry.

It takes time to assemble a good set of guidelines.  Even after the guidelines are complete, know that procedures to generate better patents can take time to implement.

When asked to audit patent filings for various companies, I was surprised by a pattern of reluctance to adopt new filing practices observed with preparation and prosecution counsel.  I heard various excuses to resist change, such as “we have been drafting claims like this for years.”   That was undoubtedly true prior to the AIA; however, the scrutiny that patents receive in AIA patent trials is substantially different than prior reexamination and litigation proceedings.

AIA post-grant proceedings are not going away any time in the foreseeable future.  Therefore, we are in a new patent enforcement paradigm and patent procurement practices have to change to adapt to this new enforcement paradigm.  Make sure that your patent prosecution practices are updated to generate the most effective rights possible.

[Editor's Note:  Additional installments on patent preparation and prosecution in light of the AIA will be posted in the future.  Subscribe for updates.]

Unified Patents’ Institution Decision Gives Insight to PTAB’s Real Party in Interest Analysis

February 16th, 2015

Those watching decisions from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) have observed a trend where a patent owner challenges an IPR petition based on alleged defects in the petition’s identification of real parties in interest (RPI) to the petitioner.  As seen in earlier posts, improper identification of RPIs can result in denial of the petition, and the one-year bar imposed by 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) can preclude submission of a corrected IPR petition, resulting in a loss of the right to IPR for that petitioner.  (See my earlier post on First Data Corporation v. Cardsoft, LLC, IPR2014-00715, Paper 9, October 17, 2014.)

Identify RPIs Early in the Proceedings

The prompt identification of RPIs in post-grant proceedings is important as a mandatory notice for a number of added reasons.  An RPI that is barred under § 315(b) would bar a petitioner from institution. (35 U.S.C. § 315(b): “An inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent. . . .”)  The Board does not want to invest time and energy in petitions that are legally barred from institution, nor does it want to impose responses to them on patent owners.

Another reason to properly name RPIs is that any estoppel that may attach to a petitioner of the proceeding will likewise attach to the RPI as well.  35 U.S.C. § 315(e) states (underlining for emphasis):

(e) ESTOPPEL.—

(1) PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE OFFICE.—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), or the real party in interest or privy of the petitioner, may not request or maintain a proceeding before the Office with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.

(2) CIVIL ACTIONS AND OTHER PROCEEDINGS.—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), or the real party in interest or privy of the petitioner, may not assert either in a civil action arising in whole or in part under section 1338 of title 28 or in a proceeding before the International Trade Commission under section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 that the claim is invalid on any H. R. 1249—19 ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.

The proper naming of RPIs becomes more complicated when a petitioner receives compensation, prior art, suggestions, and/or instructions from others.  The analysis is especially important for petitioners that challenge patents for others, such as in the case of a trade industry association that challenges patents on behalf of its membership.  Those petitioners must carefully follow the Board’s determinations of what constitutes an RPI.  The stakes for petitioners representing a group are high because they represent a number of interested parties.  Therefore, one petition fail is a failure for each party.

The PTAB Trial Practice Guide provides some considerations for performing an RPI analysis.  Office Patent Trial Practice Guide, 77 FR 48756 (Aug. 14, 2012) (see pp. 48759-48760).  Funding of the post-grant activities is one factor.  Another factor is whether a party controls the proceeding, but the Trial Practice Guide notes that there is no simple test based on control:

There are multiple factors relevant to the question of whether a non-party may be recognized as a ‘‘real party in interest’’ or ‘‘privy.’’ [. . .]  A common consideration is whether the non-party exercised or could have exercised control over a party’s participation in a proceeding. See, e.g., id. at 895; see generally Wright & Miller section 4451. The concept of control generally means that ‘‘it should be enough that the nonparty has the actual measure of control or opportunity to control that might reasonably be expected between two formal coparties.’’ Wright & Miller § 4451. Courts and commentators agree, however, that there is no ‘‘bright-line test’’ for determining the necessary quantity or degree of participation to qualify as a ‘‘real party-in-interest’’ or ‘‘privy’’ based on the control concept. [Cites omitted.] Accordingly, the rules do not enumerate particular factors regarding a ‘‘control’’ theory of ‘‘real party-in-interest’’ or ‘‘privy’’ under the statute.

The Trial Practice Guide also discusses res judicata and other estoppel considerations:

Additionally, many of the same considerations that apply in the context of ‘‘res judicata’’ will likely apply in the ‘‘real party-in-interest’’ or ‘‘privy’’ contexts.

The test is fact dependent:

The Office has received requests to state whether particular facts will qualify a party as a ‘‘real party-ininterest’’ or ‘‘privy.’’ Some fact combinations will generally justify applying the ‘‘real party-in-interest’’ or ‘‘privy’’ label. For example, a party that funds and directs and controls an IPR or PGR petition or proceeding constitutes a ‘‘real party-in-interest,’’ even if that party is not a ‘‘privy’’ of the petitioner. But whether something less than complete funding and control suffices to justify similarly treating the party requires consideration of the pertinent facts. See, e.g., Cal. Physicians, 163 Cal.App.4th at 1523–25 (discussing the role of control in the ‘‘privy’’ analysis, and observing that ‘‘preclusion can apply even in the absence of such control’’). The Office will handle such questions on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration how courts have viewed the terms.

The Trial Practice Guide does recognize that mere membership in an industry association does not make a member an RPI of an association that files a petition.  The facts must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Unified Patents Inc. v. Dragon Intellectual Property, LLC

This brings us to the IPR petition that Unified Patents filed requesting review of claims 1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 13 and 14 of Dragon Intellectual Property, LLC’s (Dragon’s) U.S. Patent No. 5,930,444 (the ’444 patent).  (Unified Patents Inc. v. Dragon Intellectual Property, LLC, IPR2014-01252.) The ’444 patent covers streaming media recording and playback.  Unified Patents named no additional RPI in its petition, stating:

Pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 42.8(b)(1), Petitioner certifies that Unified Patents is the real party-in-interest, and further certifies that no other party exercised control or could exercise control over Unified Patents’ participation in this proceeding, the filing of this petition, or the conduct of any ensuing trial.

Unified Patents was founded by intellectual property professionals over concerns with the increasing risk of non-practicing entities (NPEs) asserting poor quality patents against strategic technologies and industries. The founders thus created a first-of-its-kind company whose sole purpose is to deter NPE litigation by protecting technology sectors, like content delivery, the technology at issue in the ‘444 Patent. Companies in a technology sector subscribe to Unified’s technology specific deterrence, and in turn, Unified performs many NPE-deterrent activities, such as analyzing the technology sector, monitoring patent activity (including patent ownership and sales, NPE demand letters and litigation, and industry companies), conducting prior art research and invalidity analysis, providing a range of NPE advisory services to its subscribers, sometimes acquiring patents, and sometimes challenging patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Since its founding, Unified is 100% owned by its employees; subscribers have absolutely no ownership interest.

Unified has sole and absolute discretion over its decision to contest patents through the USPTO’s post-grant proceedings. Should Unified decide to challenge a patent in a post-grant proceeding, it controls every aspect of such a challenge, including controlling which patent and claims to challenge, which prior art to apply and the grounds raised in the challenge, and when to bring any challenge. Subscribers receive no prior notice of Unified’s patent challenges. After filing a post-grant proceeding, Unified retains sole and absolute discretion and control over all strategy decisions (including any decision to continue or terminate Unified’s participation). Unified is also solely responsible for paying for the preparation, filing, and prosecution of any post-grant proceeding, including any expenses associated with the proceeding.

In the instant proceeding, Unified exercised its sole discretion and control in deciding to file this petition against the ‘444 Patent, including paying for all fees and expenses. Unified shall exercise sole and absolute control and discretion of the continued prosecution of this proceeding (including any decision to terminate Unified’s participation) and shall bear all subsequent costs related to this proceeding. Unified is therefore the sole real-party-in-interest in this proceeding.

(Pet. 2-4.)

In its Patent Owner Preliminary Response (which included redacted portions), the Patent Owner asserted:

As explained below, an inter partes review proceeding should not be instituted in this matter because Unified Patents has failed to establish that it is the “real party-ininterest,” and failed to identify the real party-in-interest when it filed its petition for inter partes review.

Unified Patents is an organization formed in 2012 for the purpose of filing and conducting inter partes review proceedings on behalf of its members so that the members can seek to avoid the estoppel provisions of 35 U.S.C. § 315. The primary value offered by Unified Patents’ to its members is the challenging through inter partes review and similar proceedings of patents asserted in litigation by non-practicing entities against Unified Patents’ members. Indeed, Unified Patents [text redacted]. Since its founding less than three years ago, Unified Patents has collected [redacted] from its members.

As a non-practicing entity itself, Unified Patents has no independent reason to challenge any patents in inter partes review, outside of Unified Patents’ interest in providing litigation “deterrence” services to members. [redacted]

Unified Patents [redacted] which include challenging patents in inter partes review proceedings. There can be no dispute that the money used to prepare and file the Petition, and the money that will be used to pay for prosecution of this proceeding, is sourced from [redacted]. Unified Patents has not identified the real parties-in-interest to this proceeding in its Petition, as it failed to identify the parties who provided the funding for Unified Patents to file this proceeding. The Board should not permit Unified Patents and its members the ‘”second bite at the apple”‘ the real party-in-interest requirement is intended to guard against. The Petition should be denied, and no trial should be instituted on the Unified Patents Petition.

(Patent Owner Preliminary Response, Paper 14, pp. 1-2.)

In its institution order, the Board rejected the Patent Owner’s challenge of the named RPIs:

Patent Owner is correct that the inquiry regarding real parties-ininterest is not limited to determining who directed or controlled a proceeding. On the record at this stage of the proceeding, however, we are not persuaded by Patent Owner’s contention that one or more other organizations paid Petitioner to file the Petition in this IPR. Patent Owner does not allege to have any direct evidence of any organization giving funds to Petitioner for the purpose of filing the Petition in this case. Additionally, even if we assume to be accurate all of Patent Owner’s allegations about circumstances related to the conduct of Petitioner’s business and the filing of the Petition in this case, they do not demonstrate that another entity paid Petitioner for the purpose of conducting this IPR proceeding. For example, even if we accept Patent Owner’s allegations that Petitioner engages in no activity of practical significance other than filing IPR petitions with money received from its members, this does not demonstrate that any member paid, directed, or suggested to Petitioner to challenge the ’444 patent, specifically. See, e.g., Prelim. Resp. 10. Nor do Patent Owner’s other circumstantial allegations, even if accurate, demonstrate as much.

(Decision on Institution of Inter Partes Review, Paper 37, p. 12.)

The Board then distinguished the present case over a collection of earlier proceedings between RPX and VirnetX that Patent Owner asserted (RPX Corp. v. VirnetX Inc.: IPR2014-00171, IPR2014-00172, IPR2014-00173, IPR2014- 00174, IPR2014-00175, IPR2014-00176, and IPR2014-00177 (“the RPX cases”)):

By contrast, in the RPX cases, the evidence demonstrated that the actions of RPX and Apple were like certain prohibited behavior discussed in In re Guan, Reexamination Control No. 95/001,045 (Aug. 25, 2008) (Decision Vacating Filing Date), which stated that

[a]n entity named as the sole real party in interest may not receive a suggestion from another party that a particular patent should be the subject of a request for inter partes reexamination and be compensated by that party for the filing of the request for inter partes reexamination of that patent without naming the party [as a real party-in-interest] who suggested and compensated the entity for the filing of a request for inter partes reexamination of the patent.

Guan at 7–8 (emphasis added); see, e.g., IPR2014-00171, Paper 57, 7. Here, the present record does not demonstrate that any of Petitioner’s members suggested or compensated Petitioner for the filing of the Petition challenging the ’444 patent.

Given this, the alleged similarities between RPX and Petitioner do not persuade us that the result here should be the same as in the RPX cases. That Petitioner likens itself to a trade association does not persuade us that its members constitute real parties-in-interest. As the Office Trial Practice Guide (“Practice Guide”) explains, membership in a trade association does not make an entity automatically a real party-in-interest to a petition filed by the trade association. 77 Fed. Reg. 48,756, 48,760 (Aug. 14, 2012); see also Paper 20, 4. Additionally, without more compelling accompanying allegations, Patent Owner’s assertion that Petitioner faces no risk of having the ’444 patent asserted against it is unremarkable, as the filing of or threat of a lawsuit is not a prerequisite for a Petition for an IPR proceeding. See 77 Fed. Reg. at 47,459.

For the foregoing reasons, on this record, we are persuaded that Petitioner did not fail to name all real parties-in-interest in the Petition. We note, however, that this Decision does not foreclose Patent Owner from continuing to argue the real party-in-interest issue in the Patent Owner Response. If the record should evolve in favor of Patent Owner on this issue, we would take appropriate action at that time.

(Decision on Institution of Inter Partes Review, Paper 37, pp. 12-14.)

In its analysis, the Board applied In re Guan to clarify that RPX v. VirnetX involved suggestion of the review proceeding and compensation to the petitioner by the RPI.  The Board found that Dragon failed to show that the members of Unified Patents suggested an IPR to Unified Patents and compensated Unified Patents for the IPR.  However, the Board did not prevent Dragon from arguing the RPI issue in its Patent Owner Response.

Trade associations and other associations desiring to petition for review of patents will be monitoring this case closely in the months to come to learn more about how the Board handles real party in interest issues.

Target Wins Rehearing of IPR Joinder Decision with Expanded Panel

February 13th, 2015

Last fall, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) interpreted the IPR joinder provision, 35 U.S.C. § 315(c), to require joinder requests by a non-party to an ongoing proceeding.  (Target Corp. v. Destination Maternity Corp., IPR2014-00508 and IPR2014-00509.)  Prior to that decision,  the Board had interpreted § 315(c) to allow for issue joinder by the petitioner of the original proceeding (see, for example Microsoft v. Proxyconn, IPR2013- 00109).  Of course, joinder was decided on a case-by-case basis, but had not previously been denied because the request was made by the petitioner of the original proceeding.

Target Corp. filed rehearing requests in both affected IPR proceedings in an effort to have the Board reconsider its interpretation of  35 U.S.C. § 315(c) with an expanded panel.  Target’s arguments are quite clearly stated in its Motion for Rehearing.  The Board granted Target’s rehearing request.  In a 4:3 decision,  the majority agreed that § 315(c) had been overly narrowly interpreted in the prior decision:

Turning now to the merits of the Request for Rehearing, the contention at the heart of Petitioner’s request for rehearing is that the denial of its Motion for Joinder was “based on an erroneously narrow interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 315(c).” Paper 22, 1. We agree with Petitioner.

The majority read § 315(c)’s reference to “any person who properly files a petition under section 311” in conjunction with § 311′s requirement that the petition filer not be the patent owner, to broadly interpret § 315(c) to include any person except the patent owner.  This interpretation is at odds with the dissent’s analysis, which reads § 315(c)’s reference to “may join as a party” to literally require a new party for joinder:

The statute under which Petitioner seeks relief provides:

(c) JOINDER.—If the Director institutes an inter partes review, the Director, in his or her discretion, may join as a party to that inter partes review any person who properly files a petition under section 311 that the Director, after receiving a preliminary response under section 313 or the expiration of the time for filing such a response, determines warrants the institution of an inter partes review under section 314.

35 U.S.C. § 315(c) (emphasis added). The statute does not refer to the joining of a petition or new patentability challenges presented therein. Rather, it refers to the joining of a petitioner (i.e., “any person who properly files a petition”). Id. Further, it refers to the joining of that petitioner “as a party to [the instituted] inter partes review.” Id. Because Target is already a party to the proceeding in IPR2013-00531, Target cannot be joined to IPR2013-00531.

While the majority decision does align with panel decisions on joinder prior to Target, one must ask whether this issue is finally resolved by this expanded panel decision.  For example, what happens if another panel does not follow this interpretation § 315(c)?  Or suppose this decision is appealed; would the Federal Circuit reverse a Board decision on joinder as it relates to institution given its recent interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) in In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies? (“We conclude that § 314(d) prohibits review of the decision to institute IPR even after a final decision. . . . Section 314(d) provides that the decision is both ‘nonappealable’ and ‘final,’ i.e., not subject to further review. 35 U.S.C. § 314(d).”)  Would a Federal Circuit appeal have to be in the form of a petition for writ of mandamus?  If so, how would that square with the mandamus decisions in In re Dominion Dealer Solutions, LLC, 749 F.3d 1379, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2014)(mandamus relief not available to challenge the denial of a petition for IPR) and in In re Proctor & Gamble Co., 749 F.3d 1376, 1378–79 (Fed. Cir. 2014)(mandamus relief not available to provide immediate review of a decision to institute IPR)?

 

 

In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies: Federal Circuit Affirms Board Finding of Unpatentability in First IPR

February 5th, 2015

The Federal Circuit affirmed the final determination of the Board in the first inter partes review under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA).   Garmin petitioned for IPR of claims 10, 14 and 17 of U.S. Patent No. 6,778,074 owned by Cuozzo Speed Technologies.  The Board found these claims obvious and denied Cuozzo’s motion to amend the ’074 patent by substituting new claims 21, 22, and 23 for issued claims 10, 14, and 17.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s final determination of obviousness, upheld the Board’s application of the broadest reasonable interpretation standard (BRI), and the Board’s denial of Cuozzo’s motion to amend.

One irony of this case is that Cuozzo challenges the Board’s adoption of BRI as an interpretive standard, yet Cuozzo asserts a construction of the phrase “integrally attached” that is broader than the definition adopted by the Board in the IPR:

Claim 10 includes the following limitation: “a speedometer integrally attached to said colored display.” ’074 patent col. 7 l. 10. Cuozzo argues that the board improper-ly construed the phrase “integrally attached.” The Board construed “integrally attached” as meaning “discrete parts physically joined together as a unit without each part losing its own separate identity.” J.A. 9. Cuozzo contends that the correct construction of “integrally attached” should be broader—“joined or combined to work as a complete unit.” Appellant’s Br. 33. Before the Board, Cuozzo stated that its construction would cover “a display that both functionally and structurally integrates the speedometer and the colored display, such that there only is a single display.” J.A. 10. Cuozzo argues that the Board’s claim construction improperly excludes a single-LCD embodiment of the invention wherein the speedometer and the speed limit indicator are on the same LCD.

Some may be confused by a patent owner who complains of the USPTO’s use of a broader interpretative standard, but simultaneously asserts a broader construction than the USPTO for a phrase.  Cuozzo needed the broader interpretation to argue that its amended claims should have been entered by the Board.   Cuozzo’s amended claims were directed to a particular embodiment of the invention employing a speedometer and speed limit indicator on the same LCD; however, the Board’s interpretation of “integrally attached” excluded that particular embodiment.  The Board relied on its claim construction to deny Cuozzo’s amended claims and the Federal Circuit upheld the Board’s narrower claim construction:

We see no error in the Board’s interpretation. The word “attached” must be given some meaning. As the Board explained, it would “be illogical to regard one unit as being ‘attached’ to itself.” J.A. 9. The specification further supports the Board’s construction that the speedometer and the speed limit are independent—it repeatedly refers to a speed limit indicator independent of any speedometer and states that “the present invention essen-tially comprises a speed limit indicator comprising a speed limit display and an attached speedometer.” ’074 patent col. 2 ll. 52–54. The Board did not err in its claim construction.

The majority opinion (filed by Judge Dyk, and joined by Judge Clevenger) and the dissent (by Judge Newman) reach several additional post-grant topics, which will be discussed in future posts.