October 17, 2014
Last month, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) interpreted the IPR joinder provision, 35 U.S.C. § 315(c), to preclude joinder requests by an existing party to an ongoing proceeding. (Target Corp. v. Destination Maternity Corp., IPR2014-00508 and IPR2014-00509.) In these recent decisions, the Board decided that § 315(c) requires “party joinder” and not only “issue joinder.” Interestingly, before this interpretation was announced the Board had allowed “issue joinder” without requiring joinder of a new party to the proceeding (Microsoft v. Proxyconn, IPR2013- 00109), and after this interpretation was announced at least one panel of the Board applied an analysis that did not appear to adopt this new interpretation (Microsoft Corp. v. Enfish LLC, IPRs 2014-00574, -00575, -00576, and -00577).
Last week, 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, some of which include:
- The AIA was implemented for broad remedial purposes to improve patent quality and to provide a more efficient system for challenging patents that should not have issued.
- These broad remedial purposes of the AIA empower the PTO to administer IPR proceedings in a way to reduce duplication of efforts and costs.
- Laws pertaining to patent quality which are “remedial in nature, based on fundamental principles of equity and fairness” can be construed liberally.
- The PTAB should interpret the joinder provision liberally to allow for consistency of prior decisions, and reduce gamesmanship in parallel district court litigation.
On that last point Target’s motion states:
Target’s Joinder Motion sets forth the unique facts of this case, which reveal that a significant prior art reference long known to the patent owner was withheld from Target in the parties’ parallel district court litigation until several weeks after Target’s one-year deadline under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b). (Paper 3, at 1-6.) Under the Board’s decision here, a patent owner in parallel litigation with a petitioner can readily subvert the purposes of the AIA, see supra Part II.A, and the IPR process by withholding any significant prior art it may be uniquely aware of, or additional asserted claims, until after the petitioner’s one-year deadline under § 315(b).
Of course, joinder motions cannot be filed any time after institution of the prior proceeding — they must be filed within a month after the date of institution of the IPR for which joinder is requested:
§ 42.122 Multiple proceedings and Joinder.
(b) Request for Joinder. Joinder may be requested by a patent owner or petitioner. Any request for joinder must be filed, as a motion under § 42.22, no later than one month after the institution date of any inter partes review for which joinder is requested. The time period set forth in § 42.101(b) shall not apply when the petition is accompanied by a request for joinder.
However, in many cases the possibility of joinder of issues to a petitioner about a year after service of the lawsuit is still quite valuable to the petitioner and has been used to assert improved grounds and to attack newly asserted claims. (Microsoft v. Proxyconn, IPR2013- 00109.)
It will be interesting to see what the PTAB decides to do in Target’s IPR proceedings. More importantly, it would be a great thing if this rehearing would result in consistent joinder practice across panels in the future.