Archive for the ‘Claim Construction’ Category

PTAB Narrows Its Preliminary Claim Interpretation To Uphold Cellular Patent

Monday, February 13th, 2017

In July, 2014 Ericsson Inc. and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (“Ericsson”) petitioned for inter partes review of claims 1, 2, 8-12 and 18-22 of U.S. Patent No. 7,787,431 owned by Intellectual Ventures II  LLC (“IV”).  In February, 2015, the Board instituted trial on claims 1 and 2 based on obviousness grounds, but denied institution of obviousness grounds for claims 8-12 and 18-22.  In a final written decision dated January 29, 2016, claims 1 and 2 of the ’431 patent were determined to be unpatentable.  (IPR2014-01195, Paper 37.)

Ericsson filed a second IPR petition in August, 2015, again challenging claims 8-12 and 18-22.  (IPR2015-01664, August 3, 2015.)  Claim 8 is representative:

8. A cellular base station comprising:

circuitry configured to transmit a broadcast channel in an orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) coreband, wherein the core-band is substantially centered at an operating center frequency and the core-band includes a first plurality of subcarrier groups, wherein each subcarrier group includes a plurality of subcarriers, wherein the core-band is utilized to communicate a primary preamble sufficient to enable radio operations, the primary preamble being a direct sequence in the time domain with a frequency content confined within the core-band or being an OFDM symbol corresponding to a particular frequency pattern within the core-band,

wherein properties of the primary preamble comprise:

an autocorrelation having a large correlation peak with respect to sidelobes;

a cross-correlation with other primary preambles having a small cross-correlation coefficient with respect to power of other primary preambles; and

a small peak-to-average ratio; and

wherein a large number of primary preamble sequences exhibit the properties; and

circuitry configured to transmit control and data channels using a variable band including a second plurality of subcarrier groups, wherein the variable band includes at least the core-band.

In its Institution Decision, the Board provided a preliminary construction of “transmit[ting] a broadcast channel in an orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA) core-band.”  (Institution Decision, p. 11.)  The Board stated: “the plain meaning of transmitting a broadcast channel in a core-band merely requires transmitting some part of the broadcast channel in a core-band and does not exclude transmitting another part of the broadcast channel outside the core-band.” Id.

IV disagreed with the Board’s preliminary construction, asserting that an ordinarily skilled artisan would have understood the limitation to exclude transmitting any portion of the recited broadcast channel outside of the core-band. (Patent Owner Resp., pp. 35–36.)  According to the Board, Ericsson did not agree with or dispute IV’s assertion, and only asserted that IV’s proposed construction adds no clarity and that no construction is necessary.

In its Final Written Decision, the Board decided that its preliminary construction was unreasonably broad in view of IV’s arguments and its expert’s testimony:

Upon further review of the ’431 patent, particularly in view of Patent Owner’s arguments supported by Dr. Zeger’s testimony discussed above, we are persuaded that our preliminary partial construction was unreasonably broad to the extent that construction indicated the transmitting a broadcast channel limitation would be met by the transmission of a broadcast channel that is only partially within the core-band. Thus, we agree with Patent Owner that to show that the transmitting “a broadcast channel in an” OFDMA core-band limitation is met, Petitioner must demonstrate that the prior art teaches or suggests transmitting a broadcast channel, wherein the entire channel is contained within the core-band.

(Final Written Decision, pp. 8-9.)  The Board determined that Ericsson’s prior art combination failed to teach transmitting a broadcast channel in an OFDMA core-band, as recited in independent claims 8 and 18.  The Board found that a particular prior art reference (Yamaura) did transmit in the OFDMA core-band at times, but it did not have sufficient evidence that at other times it did not transmit outside of that band, and therefore it did not teach the recited OFDMA core-band limitation.

Even though the second IPR was instituted for trial on claims 8-12 and 18-22 based on a broad construction of the claims, the claims were not shown to be obvious based on a narrowed interpretation of the claims adopted in the Final Written Decision.

Are Patent-Friendly PTAB Decisions On the Rise?

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Patent litigation changed with passage of the America Invents Act. Overnight the PTAB became a new venue for challenging patent claims using IPRs, CBMs and PGRs. The initial reaction by the patent bar to the PTAB’s “take charge” approach to instituting review and canceling patent claims was met with approval by businesses under attack by patent trolls and with disdain by patent owners whose patents would have likely sailed through the assertion before the AIA. Some commentators blasted the PTAB for a high percentage of patent claims invalidated in PTAB proceedings.

Those who tried to paint the actions of the PTAB with a broad brush in the first years of IPRs were bound to be both right and wrong. Yes, institution rates were at an all-time high, but factors such as these made the first years of PTAB practice particularly hard to characterize:

  • the patent bar and the PTAB were learning how to litigate these new patent trials for the first time;
  • litigation teams did not have the luxury of seeing how the PTAB viewed patents under review, and to tailor their litigations accordingly; and
  • a number of patents already in litigation were selected based on a pre-AIA (pre-IPR) enforcement economic model:
    • discovery and litigation costs established a minimal nuisance settlement value (now it is the cost of IPR);
    • thinly capitalized patent owners who previously had to outlay only minimal investment in the litigation suddenly had to secure counsel to defend patent rights in these patent reviews for the first time; and
    • the patents under review were drafted to survive district court scrutiny and enjoy the presumption of validity and a clear and convincing standard of review (and many still are).

Public sentiment was a moving target, but so was practice before the PTAB. After witnessing the PTAB’s heightened scrutiny of patentability, rather than file new suits many patent owners decided to wait and watch from the sidelines or take their assertions outside the U.S. Regardless, patent owners quickly learned the benefit of analyzing and selecting patents more likely to survive an IPR, CBM or PGR lodged by a defendant-petitioner before engaging in a patent litigation.

Now, with PTAB institution rates moderating, it remains to be seen whether the Board is easing its scrutiny on patentability or whether higher caliber patent assertions are being lodged in view of that heightened scrutiny.

For example, the PTAB recently rendered some decisions that might give patent owners reason to reconsider:

CASE STUDY 1: IPR2016-01453 – U.S. Patent 7,358,679 – Wangs Alliance Corp. d/b/a WAC Lighting Co. v. Philips Lighting North America Corp., Paper 8, (Feb. 2, 2017)

On February 2, 2017, the Board denied the ’679 IPR Petition filed by Petitioner Wangs Alliance Corp. (“WAC”) challenging Patent Owner Philips’ Lighting patent. The backstory of the dispute between Philips and WAC is quite interesting:

Philips has been embroiled in patent litigation with WAC since May, 2015. Koninklijke Philips N.V. et al. v. Wangs Alliance Corporation, Case No. 14-cv-12298-DJC (D. Mass.). Philips sued WAC for patent infringement of eight patents (not including the ‘679 patent) relating to lighting products and systems relating to LED lighting devices. WAC filed IPR petitions on seven of the eight patents, but obtained institution of only six of the seven IPR petitions. In January 2016, the district court litigation was stayed pending the outcome of the IPRs.

WAC later filed two IPR petitions against the ‘679 patent.  The ’679 patent does not appear in the litigation documents, but WAC identified it as claiming priority to U.S. 7,352,138 (which is in the litigation) and as related to U.S. 7,039,399 (also in the litigation).

The ‘679 patent relates to an LED-based lighting unit that resembles a conventional MR16 bulb having a bi-pin base connector configured to engage mechanically and electrically with a conventional MR16 socket. Claim 1 is representative:

 1. An apparatus, comprising:

at least one LED;

a housing in which the at least one LED is disposed, the housing including at least one connection to engage mechanically and electrically with a conventional MR16 socket; and

at least one controller coupled to the housing and the at least one LED and configured to receive first power from an alternating current (A.C.) dimmer circuit, the A.C. dimmer circuit being controlled by a user interface to vary the first power, at least one controller further configured to provide second power to the at least one LED based on the first power.

WAC’s ’679 IPR petition was denied when the Board adopted a claim construction of “alternating current (A.C.) dimmer circuit” that was narrower than the one proffered by Petitioner WAC.

WAC argued that “A.C. dimmer circuit” means “a circuit that provides an alternating current (A.C.) dimming signal.” WAC further asserted that it requires only receipt of an A.C. signal and the provision of power (A.C. or D.C.) to a light source. Patent Owner Philips countered that “A.C. dimmer circuit” requires an AC output from the AC dimmer circuit. The Board agreed with Philips, based on arguments and claim constructions from a related IPR (IPR2015-01294 which relates to U.S. 7,038,399), and because Patent Owner argued that “every instance of “A.C. dimmer circuit” in the ’679 patent’s specification describes an A.C. output from the A.C. dimmer circuit. (See Prelim. Resp. 4–5.)

A summary of the Philips patents and their IPR outcomes thus far (note: several decisions are still on appeal) shows that Patent Owner Philips is defending its patents well in these proceedings:

* The ’679 Patent is not appearing in litigation documents, but a claim of priority from U.S. 7,352,138 and a relationship to U.S. 7,039,399 is noted in WAC’s petitions. The ’679 IPR outcome is not yet determined because even though the -01453 IPR petition was unsuccessful the -01455 IPR institution decision remains to be decided and is not expected until later this month. Note: several of these decisions are on appeal, so these are not final results.

Philips’ IPR results are comparable to historical statistics when it comes to the number of IPRs instituted, but its results are substantially better than the statistical outcomes associated with IPR final written decisions from 2016 data. For example, early Board practice saw a very high percentage of IPR institutions (starting at ~90% in 2013 and dropping to ~70% in 2016). Upon institution, a patent owner’s chances of losing all claims if the IPR were to reach a final written decision would be roughly 70%.

In this Philips case study, the percentage of IPRs instituted remains relatively consistent with IPR institution outcomes (ignoring the ‘679 IPRs because they are not yet final, we get 5 out of 7 IPRs were instituted or ~70% ); however only one of the institutions resulted in a cancellation of all claims, which is much closer to 17% than the 2016 expected 67% cancellation rate for IPRs instituted which end in a final written decision (again, the results of the Federal Circuit appeals will not be known for some time). However, the data also shows a mixed claim decision outcome in 2 out of 6 IPRs (~33%), which equates to roughly double the typical percentage of mixed claim decisions (typically ~15%). Of course, mixed claim decisions are very hard to evaluate, because one has to know which claims are more likely to be infringed with substantial damages to know if the mixed result was a winner or a loser for a patent owner.

The Philips patent IPR outcomes are not yet final, but as of today Philips is substantially ahead of the 2016 percentages.

Let’s consider another case study:

 

CASE STUDY 2: IPR2015-01769, — U.S. Patent 7,793,433 — Zero Gravity Inside, Inc. v. Footbalance System OY, , Paper 49, (Feb. 3, 2017)

Footbalance System OY sued Zero Gravity Inside, Inc. et al. alleging patent infringement in May, 2015 and filed amended complaints, including a third one filed on October 21, 2016. Footbalance alleged patent infringement of its US Patents 7,793,433 and 8,171,589. The patents related to apparatus and method for producing an individually formed insole.

In response, Zero Gravity filed two IPR petitions challenging claims of each patent on August 19, 2015. Both IPR challenges failed.

The ’589 IPR petition alleged obviousness of claims 1-3, but was not instituted in a Decision Denying Inter Partes Review dated January 13, 2016 (IPR2015-01770, Paper No. 17, January 13, 2016).

The ’433 IPR petition was instituted based on alleged obviousness of claims 1-7, but on February 3, 2017, the Board found that Petitioner Zero Gravity failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that claims 1-7 of the ’433 patent were unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 103. Footbalance managed to maintain its claims despite institution of the IPR.

The Board decided Petitioner failed to show that the prior art taught “wherein the at least one layer of thermoplastic material is configured to reach out from under a heel of a foot only to the metatarsophalangeal joint of the foot”, as recited in Claim 1 (“the MTP limitation”).

According to the Final Written Decision, Petitioner first asserted that the MTP joint extended approximately ¾ of the way down the foot, but Patent Owner countered that a person of skill in the art would understand the MTP limitation requires a precise anatomic location of the MTP joint and not an approximation or average, such as ¾ the length of the foot. The Board found that Petitioner then shifted its argument to assert that the prior art, which taught a pad before the ball of the foot was “so close to the requirements of the MTP limitation that the MTP limitation would still have been obvious to a POSA in light of either of these teachings.” Paper 48, 8-9 (italics in original). The Board was not persuaded:

Petitioner’s contentions in the Petition are not persuasive because they are not based upon the broadest reasonable construction of the MTP limitation. As discussed above, we construe the MTP limitation to require a layer formed to extend to, but no further than, the location of the MTP joint of a specific foot. [ ]. Petitioner, however, does not sufficiently show that an insole having a ¾-length moldable support layer teaches a layer formed to extend to, but no further than, the location of the MTP joint of a specific foot. [ ]

Petitioner’s contentions in its Reply also are not persuasive. Dieckhaus discloses that thermoplastic layer 6 “extends from the back or heel portion of the insole, to approximately just short of the ball section of the foot” [ ].  Approximately just short of the ball section of the foot is not the location of the MTP joints (i.e., the location of the heads of the metatarsal bones and the corresponding proximal phalanx). [ ] Further, Petitioner does not sufficiently show that it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to modify Dieckhaus’s thermoplastic layer 6 to extend to, but no further than, the location of the MTP joint of a specific foot. Petitioner’s assertion that such a modification would have been obvious because Dieckhaus’s disclosure is “so close” is a mere conclusory statement. “To satisfy it burden of proving obviousness, a petitioner cannot employ mere conclusory statements. The petitioner must instead articulate specific reasoning, based on evidence of record, to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.” In re Magnum Oil Tools Int’l, Ltd., [cites omitted].

The Footbalance litigation is still in its very early stages, so it is too early to tell how the litigation may turn out, but the Board did not cancel claims from either patent.

These recent outcomes do not establish a trend, but they do show that some patent owners are succeeding despite the heightened scrutiny of PTAB proceedings.  They also show that the PTAB will provide relief to patent owners at both institution and final written decision stages of the PTAB trial.  They also give lessons on better patent drafting, which will be the subject of future posts.

 

Federal Circuit Employs Phillips Claim Construction to Measure Claims Amended in Reexamination for Possible Intervening Rights

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

When patent owners sue an accused infringer for patent infringement, one way for the accused infringer to avoid liability is to show noninfringement of the patent claims.  But if the claims are extremely broad, the accused infringer may find it difficult to prove noninfringement and instead may have to rely on a showing of invalidity to avoid liability.  However, a showing of invalidity requires clear and convincing evidence, which is a high standard.  Enter post-grant proceedings, which provide the petitioner (or “requester,” when employing reexamination) a lower evidence standard for patent challenges.

Should the patent be subject to review under post-grant proceedings, the patent owner will likely want to avoid amendment if possible, because amendment that results in substantive changes to the claimed invention can trigger intervening rights, which may provide some reduction of infringement liability for the accused infringer should the claim be substantively narrowed in the post-grant proceeding.  Stakeholders want to know how to determine substantive amendment, triggering intervening rights.  For example, is substantive amendment to be measured by the claim construction standard typically used in the post-grant proceeding (currently “broadest reasonable interpretation,” but pending review by the Supreme Court in Cuozzo), or the claim construction standard used in district court (Phillips)?  The Federal Circuit recently addressed this question when considering amendments made in reexamination for using the Phillips standard in Convolve, Inc. v. Compaq Computer Corp. (Fed. Cir., 2014-1732, Feb. 10, 2016).

Convolve sued Compaq and others in 2000 for infringement of its U.S. Patent No. 6,314,473 relating to minimization of vibrations of a disk drive for quieter operation.  Convolve’s patent ultimately was reexamined and in 2008 certain words were added to the claims during the reexamination.  The court considered whether the amended claims were substantively identical to decide if intervening rights would apply:

“A patentee of a patent that survives reexamination is only entitled to infringement damages for the time period between the date of issuance of the original claims and the date of the reexamined claims if the original and the reexamined claims are ‘substantially identical.’” R & L Carriers, Inc. v. Qualcomm, Inc., [ ]. “[I]t is the scope of the claim that must be identical, not that identical words must be used.” Slimfold Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Kinkead Indus., Inc., [ ]. As a result, amendments made during reexamination do not necessarily compel a conclusion that the scope of the claims has been substantively changed. [ ] This is true even where the claims at issue were amended during reexamination after a rejection based on prior art. Laitram Corp. v. NEC Corp., [ ] Rather, “[t]o determine whether a claim change is substantive it is necessary to analyze the claims of the original and the reexamined patents in light of the particular facts, including the prior art, the prosecution history, other claims, and any other pertinent information.” Laitram[ ].

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit employed a Phillips standard when reviewing the claim amendments:

In determining the scope of the claims, we apply the traditional claim construction principles of Phillips v. AWH Corp.,[ ] (en banc), paying particular attention to the “examiner’s focus in allowing the claims” after amendment. R & L Carriers [ ]; see also Laitram Corp. v. NEC Corp., [ ] (When an amendment is made during the reexamination proceedings to overcome a prior art rejection, that is a “highly influential piece of prosecution history.”).

In one example, the original claims recited “acoustic noise,” but were amended in reexamination to “seek acoustic noise.”  The issue that the Federal Circuit considered is whether this narrowing was a substantive amendment for purposes of its intervening rights analysis.  It could have been deemed the amendment to have been a substantive change, because other types of motor noises could have been ruled out by the amendment, but instead the court considered:

  • the specification, which focused on the seek process and the noise it generates;
  • the claims, which relate “acoustic noise” to the seek time and seek process; and
  • the original prosecution history of the patent, where the patent owner argued that the reason for the amendment.

It concluded:

On their face, the original claims recite only “acoustic noise,” which could encompass any manner of acoustic noise, including that generated from the spindle. But when read in conjunction with the remaining claim limitations and in light of the specification and prosecution history, a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claims to be limited to seek acoustic noise.

Consequently, the Federal Circuit decided the claim amendments resulted in substantively identical claims before and after amendment, and therefore intervening rights do not apply:

In sum, we conclude that the addition of the term “seek” before “acoustic noise” did not alter the scope of the claim.  [] Here, the language of the claims, read in light of the specification and prosecution history, especially the applicant’s 2001 remarks and amendment, compel a conclusion that the claims as originally drafted were limited to seek acoustic noise despite the lack of an express recitation in the claims.

The Federal Circuit reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement based on the lower court’s determination that liability was precluded by intervening rights.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the claim scope prior to the amendment would have been interpreted to be the same as the scope after amendment using a Phillips construction based on the specification, claims, and prosecution history.  Had the court instead relied upon the broadest reasonable interpretation from reexamination as its gauge, the claims would presumably have been deemed substantively different and the district court summary judgment would have been affirmed.  Convolve allows patent owners an opportunity to avoid intervening rights when amended claims would obtain the same Phillips claim construction as the claims prior to amendment.

 

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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

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

Thursday, 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.

Divided Federal Circuit Panel Finds Computer System Claims Not Patent-Eligible

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Posted:  September 8, 2013

On September 5, 2013, the Federal Circuit affirmed a District court holding that a computer system claim was not patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  In Accenture Global Servs., GmbH v. Guidewire Software, Inc., a divided panel affirmed a District of Delaware decision finding system claims 1-7 of U.S. Patent 7,013,284 not patent-eligible on summary judgment.  (Accenture Global Servs., GmbH v. Guidewire Software, Inc., 800 F. Supp. 2d 613, 621-22 (D.Del. 2011).)  Judge Lourie authored the majority opinion of the panel (Judges Lourie, Reyna, and Rader), and Judge Rader filed a dissenting opinion.

District Court Action Results in Summary Judgment of Invalidity Based on 35 U.S.C. § 101

Accenture sued Guidewire for infringement of the ‘284 patent in late 2007.  In 2011, the District court found claims 1-22 of the ‘284 patent invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on summary judgment.  The District court decided the summary judgment motion after the Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decisions in In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943 (Fed. Cir. 2008)(en banc) aff’d on other grounds sub nom. Bilski v. Kappos, 560 U.S. ____, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010).

Federal Circuit Appeal

Accenture appealed the District court determination only as to claims 1–7, directed to a system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, but did not appeal similar method claims 8–22.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the District court in a 2:1 split panel decision by leveraging the finding of patent ineligibility of method claims 8-22 that were not appealed:

We conclude that the district court’s decision on patent-ineligibility of the system claims must also be affirmed, both because the system claims offer no meaningful limitations beyond the method claims that have been held patent-ineligible and because, when considered on their own, under Mayo and our plurality opinion in CLS Bank, they fail to pass muster. Although the issue of the patent eligibility of the method claims is not before us, as it has not been appealed, it is plain to us that, as the district court held, those claims are ineligible for patent.

Because the ’284 patent’s method claims have been found to be patent ineligible, we first compare the substantive limitations of the method claim and the system claim to see if the system claim offers a “meaningful limitation” to the abstract method claim, which has already been adjudicated to be patent-ineligible. CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1291. Under this analysis, we compare the two claims to determine what limitations overlap, then identify the system claim’s additional limitations. Essentially, we must determine whether the system claim offers meaningful limitations “beyond generally linking ‘the use of the [method] to a particular technological environment.’” Id. (quoting Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3230).

According to the majority, one must consider if the method claims are similar enough to the apparatus claims to warrant a conclusion that the apparatus claims are equally not patent-eligible.

More about the ‘284 Patent

The ‘284 patent claims describe a computer system and method for handling insurance-related tasks.  The Federal Circuit decision summarized the claims as follows:

Claim 1 is a claim to a system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization. The system stores information on insurance transactions in a database. Upon the occurrence of an event, the system determines what tasks need to be accomplished for that transaction and assigns those tasks to various authorized individuals to complete them. In order to accomplish this, the claimed system includes an insurance transaction database, a task library database, a client component for accessing the insurance transaction database, and a server component that interacts with the software components and controls an event processor, which watches for events and sends alerts to a task engine that determines the next tasks to be completed.

Claim 8 claims a method for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization. The method takes an insurance transaction and applies rules to that transaction to determine tasks to be completed. These tasks are made accessible to authorized individuals who then complete the task.

The text of claim 1 and claim 8 are provided for comparison:

1.  A system for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, the system comprising:

an insurance transaction database for storing information related to an insurance transaction, the insurance transaction database comprising a claim folder containing the information related to the insurance transaction decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format;

a task library database for storing rules for determining tasks to be completed upon an occurrence of an event;

a client component in communication with the insurance transaction database configured for providing information relating to the insurance transaction, said client component enabling access by an assigned claim handler to a plurality of tasks that achieve an insurance related goal upon completion; and

a server component in communication with the client component, the transaction database and the task library database, the server component including an event processor, a task engine and a task assistant;

wherein the event processor is triggered by application events associated with a change in the information, and sends an event trigger to the task engine; wherein in response to the event trigger, the task engine identifies rules in the task library database associated with the event and applies the information to the identified rules to determine the tasks to be completed, and populates on a task assistant the determined tasks to be completed, wherein the task assistant transmits the determined tasks to the client component.

Claim 8 reads as follows:

8.  An automated method for generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization, the method comprising:

transmitting information related to an insurance transaction;

determining characteristics of the information related to the insurance transaction;

applying the characteristics of the information related to the insurance transaction to rules to determine a task to be completed, wherein an event processor interacts with an insurance transaction database containing information related to an insurance transaction decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format;

transmitting the determined task to a task assistant accessible by an assigned claim handler, wherein said client component displays the determined task;

allowing an authorized user to edit and perform the determined task and to update the information related to the insurance transaction in accordance with the determined task;

storing the updated information related to the insurance transaction; and

generating a historical record of the completed task.

Federal Circuit Majority Compares Apparatus Claims to Method Claims

The majority compared the method and system claims of the ‘284 patent:

It is not disputed by the parties that the ’284 patent’s system claim 1 includes virtually the same limitations and many of the same software components as the patentineligible method claims. Both claims are for “generating tasks to be performed in an insurance organization.” . . .  Both the claimed system and the claimed method contain an insurance transaction database containing information relating to an insurance transaction “decomposed into a plurality of levels from the group comprising a policy level, a claim level, a participant level and a line level, wherein the plurality of levels reflects a policy, the information related to the insurance transaction, claimants and an insured person in a structured format.” . . . Additionally, claim 1 and claim 8 both contain: a client component, . . . a task assistant, . . . and an event processor, . . . . The system claims are simply the method claims implemented on a system for performing the method.

Accenture only points to system claim 1’s inclusion of an insurance claim folder, a task library database, a server component, and a task engine in attempting to show that the system claim is meaningfully different from the ’284 patent’s method claims. However, these software components are all present in the method claims, albeit without a specific reference to those components by name. (underlining added)

The majority decision further determined that the ‘284 patent does not distinguish the system and method claims:

Indeed, even the specification of the ’284 patent makes little distinction between the system and method claims. The patent describes the invention as “[a] computer program . . . for developing component based software capable of handling insurance-related tasks.” Id. col. 3 ll. 23–25. The patent then discloses detailed software descriptions of the various software components without differentiating between the system or method claims. Further, although the patent’s Figure 1 shows a schematic diagram of the invention, one that includes computer hardware, the schematic’s hardware is merely composed of generic computer components that would be present in any general purpose computer. . . .  The patent thus discloses that the representative hardware for the ’284 patent is a generic computer. In fact, other than the preamble to claim 1 stating that it is a system claim, the limitations of system claim 1 recite no specific hardware that differentiates it from method claim 8. Indeed, in this case “[t]he system claims are [akin] to stating the abstract idea [of the method claim] . . . and adding the words: ‘apply it’ on a computer.” CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1291 (plurality opinion) (citing Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1294).

Because the system claim and method claim contain only “minor differences in terminology [but] require performance of the same basic process,” id. at 1291, they should rise or fall together. Accenture only cited four additional limitations in system claim 1, and we have already indicated why those limitations do not meaningfully distinguish the abstract idea over the patent ineligible method claim. While it is not always true that related system claims are patent-ineligible because similar method claims are, when they exist in the same patent and are shown to contain insignificant meaningful limitations, the conclusion of ineligibility is inescapable. Thus, like the unappealed method claims, the system claims of the ’284 patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Federal Circuit Majority Reviews the System Claims “On Their Own”

The majority decision included a separate section to analyze the claims on their own, stating that the system claims are ineligible for patenting because they fail to include limitations that set them apart from the abstract idea of handling insurance-related information.  The majoried identified this “abstract idea” of the claim:

The abstract idea at the heart of system claim 1 of the ’284 patent is “generating tasks [based on] rules . . . to be completed upon the occurrence of an event.” ’284 patent col. 107 ll. 25, 38–39. Although not as broad as the district court’s abstract idea of organizing data, it is nonetheless an abstract concept. Having identified the abstract idea of the claim, we proceed with a preemption analysis to determine whether “additional substantive limitations . . . narrow, confine, or otherwise tie down the claim so that, in practical terms, it does not cover the full abstract idea itself.” CLS Bank, 717 F.3d at 1282 (citing Mayo, 132 S. Ct. at 1300; Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3231; Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. at 187); see also Ultramercial, 2013 WL 3111303, at *8 (“[T]he relevant inquiry is whether a claim, as a whole, includes meaningful limitations restricting it to an application, rather than merely an abstract idea.” (citing Prometheus, 132 S. Ct. at 1297)).

The majority decided that Accenture’s position (that the claim is limited by being applied in a computer environment and within the insurance industry) was not sufficient to adequately “narrow, confine, or otherwise tie down the claim,” citing Bilski, Diamond v. Diehr, and Parker v. Flook. The decision noted that the specification was complex, but deemed the claims to recite only “generalized software components arranged to implement an abstract concept on a computer.”

Federal Circuit Majority Compares the ‘284 Patent Claims to the Ultramercial Claims

The majority differentiated claim 1 of the ‘284 patent from the claims in the Ultramercial patent (which were found to be patent-eligible by the Federal Circuit panel only recently) by finding that claim 1 is more abstract than the claims upheld in Ultramercial.  Furthermore, the majority found that the instant case raise different procedural issues than the Ultramercial case, because in Ultramercial the claims had not been interpreted and were the subject of dismissal on a 12(b)(6) preanswer motion to dismiss.

Judge Rader Dissents

Judge Rader’s dissent made the following points:

  • Judge Rader cited his decision in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 2010-1544, 2013 WL 3111303 at *8 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2013) for the proposition that (1) any claim can be simplified to an abstract idea if stripped of its concrete and tangible limitations, and (2) it is not proper for a court to go hunting for abstractions by ignoring claimed concrete and tangible limitations.
  • He disagreed with the majority’s characterization and use of CLS Bank, stating: “[N]o part of CLS Bank, including the plurality opinion, carries the weight of precedent. The court’s focus should be on Supreme Court precedent and precedent from this court.”
  • He disagreed with the majority’s position that Accenture’s failure to appeal the finding of invalidity of the method claims estopped it from arguing that the elements therein are directed to patent-eligible subject matter.
  • He countered the logic set forth by the majority that the invalidity of the method claims urged similar invalidity of system claims by citing an excerpt from the CLS Bank decision.  That excerpt stated that just because one or more method claims was invalid under § 101, that does not dictate that all associated system claims must be likewise invalid.
  • Judge Rader would have held that the specific combination of computer components rendered the claim patent-eligible under § 101.

The dissent recalled an earlier quote by the Court prior to grant of en banc review of CLS Bank:  “[N]o one understands what makes an idea abstract.”  Judge Rader finished by reiterating his view that the statute should be consulted, which offers broad categories of patent-eligible subject matter.

Observations

It seems that the Federal Circuit could not be more divided on the subject of patent eligibility than it is today.  As long as the basics of patent-eligibility remain uncertain parties will have less knowledge about the strength of their patents and will expend a lot of resources posturing and briefing on these issues.  That will impact the resources of the courts.  Regardless of your position on patents and patent-eligibility, I think we all agree that what is needed is a patent system that is as uniform, fair, and predictable as possible.  It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court is going to take this opportunity to again weigh in on patent-eligibility.

WildTangent Files its Supreme Court Certiorari Petition – Part 1

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

In September of 2009, Ultramercial, Inc. sued WildTangent, Inc., Hulu and YouTube in the Central District of California for alleged patent infringement of U.S. 7,346,545 (the ‘545 patent).  The ‘545 patent claims trading advertisement viewing for access to content over the Internet.  The Abstract of the ‘545 patent reads:

The present invention is directed to a method and system for distributing or obtaining products covered by intellectual property over a telecommunications network whereby a consumer may, rather paying for the products, choose to receive such products after viewing and/or interacting with an interposed sponsor’s or advertiser’s message, wherein the interposed sponsor or advertiser may pay the owner or assignee of the underlying intellectual property associated with the product through an intermediary such as a facilitator.

Claim 1 of the ‘545 patent is more detailed:

1. A method for distribution of products over the Internet via a facilitator, said method comprising the steps of:

a first step of receiving, from a content provider, media products that are covered by intellectual-property rights protection and are available for purchase, wherein each said media product being comprised of at least one of text data, music data, and video data;

a second step of selecting a sponsor message to be associated with the media product, said sponsor message being selected from a plurality of sponsor messages, said second step including accessing an activity log to verify that the total number of times which the sponsor message has been previously presented is less than the number of transaction cycles contracted by the sponsor of the sponsor message;

a third step of providing the media product for sale at an Internet website;

a fourth step of restricting general public access to said media product;

a fifth step of offering to a consumer access to the media product without charge to the consumer on the precondition that the consumer views the sponsor message;

a sixth step of receiving from the consumer a request to view the sponsor message, wherein the consumer submits said request in response to being offered access to the media product;

a seventh step of, in response to receiving the request from the consumer, facilitating the display of a sponsor message to the consumer;

an eighth step of, if the sponsor message is not an interactive message, allowing said consumer access to said media product after said step of facilitating the display of said sponsor message;

a ninth step of, if the sponsor message is an interactive message, presenting at least one query to the consumer and allowing said consumer access to said media product after receiving a response to said at least one query;

a tenth step of recording the transaction event to the activity log, said tenth step including updating the total number of times the sponsor message has been presented; and

an eleventh step of receiving payment from the sponsor of the sponsor message displayed.

As you can see, there are 11 method steps recited in Claim 1, so it is a very detailed claim and it cannot be summarized in a sentence or two.

The history of the case is not easy to summarize either.  In short, the District Court found that the subject matter of the patent was not patent eligible and dismissed the district court action before interpreting the claims.  In 2011, the Federal Circuit reversed the District Court decision, but the Supreme Court vacated the Federal Circuit’s decision in 2012 based on its recent opinion in Mayo v. Prometheus.  And in June of 2013 the Federal Circuit again reversed the District Court decision, leading to WildTangent’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed last week.

WildTangent’s cert petition is attached.  I will be discussing the petition and the ongoing patent eligibility battle in more detail in future posts.

 

PTAB CBM: Versata Patent Claims Unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 101

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

On June 11, 2013, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued a decision holding claims 17 and 26-29 of Versata’s 6,553,350 patent  unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  This decision arises from a petition filed on Sep. 16, 2012, in a proceeding that was accelerated when SAP agreed to focus its challenge on its proffered 101 grounds.  As discussed in prior posts, there are parallel actions in the courts, including:  a Federal Circuit decision affirming of portions of a district court decision and remanding the injunctive portion to the district court for correction; and Versata’s challenge of the PTO’s institution of this covered business method (CBM) trial in the Eastern District of Virginia by Versata.

The PTAB explained its decision in detail, and carefully set forth its bases for applying the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation standard:

Versata states that claim construction is a question of law and that claim terms should be accorded only one definition: that which is based on a district court interpretation standard. PO Resp. 62. There are, however, two claim construction standards: the Office’s BRI construction and the district court standard set forth in Phillips v. AWH [415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc)].  The difference in standards generally arises from the ability of an applicant or patent owner in Office proceedings to amend their claims, and the fact that there is no presumption of validity before the Office.[Whereas a patent is presumed “valid” unless overcome by clear and convincing evidence before a district court, a petitioner’s burden before the Office is limited to proving “unpatentability” by a preponderance of the evidence. Compare 35 U.S.C. § 282(a) and § 326(e).] Through the use of the broadest reasonable interpretation standard, the Office is able to encourage inventors to amend their claims to remove uncertainties and over breadth of claim scope.

For at least a century, the Office has encouraged clear and unambiguous claim drafting by utilizing the broadest reasonable interpretation. For example, a 1906 Commissioner of Patent’s Decision held that there is no better method of construing claims before the Office. Specifically, this early decision explains the rationale for BRI as follows:

No better method of construing claims is perceived than to give them in each case the broadest interpretation which they will support without straining the language in which they are couched. This method would seemingly give more uniform and satisfactory results than are obtained by methods largely in vogue – such, for example, as that of importing limitations from the specification according to the exigencies of the particular situation in which the claim may stand at a given moment. The method suggested also seems to have the advantage according in its results with the probable intentions of the inventor at the time when the claim is drawn. In presenting claims to the Office the object constantly sought is breadth. Where a limited meaning is intended when a claim is drawn, what possible objection can there be to imposing that meaning unmistakably upon the claim by its express terms? That a claim which does not carry its true meaning on its face misleads those affected by the patent instead of guiding them to its true scope is alone sufficient reason why the Patent Office should refuse to recognize proposed limitations of claims which have not been clearly expressed therein.

Podlesak and Podlesak v. McInnerney, 123(2) O.G. 1989, 1990 (Dec. Com. Pat. 1906, emphasis added). This standard of claim construction and its rationale have been upheld consistently by the Federal courts, including both the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals (“CCPA”) and the Federal Circuit. . . .

The Board then continued on to discuss its constructions and how it held claims 17 and 26-29 “unpatentably abstract.”  The Board concluded:

This is a final written decision of the Board under 35 U.S.C. § 328(a). We hold Versata’s claims 17, and 26-29 to be unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. §101. Specifically, the claims recite unpatentable abstract ideas and the claims do not provide enough significant meaningful limitations to transform these abstract ideas into patent-eligible applications of these abstractions.

The Board ordered that claims 17 and 26-29 of the ’350 patent are cancelled as unpatentable.

You may recall from earlier posts, that SAP also filed an ex parte reexamination to raise the prior art challenges that it passed on in this CBM to accelerate this proceeding to trial on the 101 issues.  Versata had a motion to stay that pending reexamination which the Board declined in light of this final written decision.  The Board ordered that its claim construction in this CBM is binding on the patent owner in the reexamination and that a copy of this decision be placed in the reexamination file.

Now that this PTAB CBM decision is before us, we will monitor the parties’ next steps as this conflict progresses through the various other parallel actions.

Early PTAB Orders Demonstrate Differences Between AIA Patent Trials and District Court Trials

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Patent practitioners are still absorbing some of the differences and advantages that are unique to litigation in the PTAB as opposed to district court litigation.  For example, PTAB proceedings only decide questions of validity and are not directed to rule on questions of infringement or damages, as is the practice in traditional litigation.  Another example is that PTAB trials require that the petitioner provide a lot of technical arguments and factual evidence in the original petition, as opposed to traditional litigation where parties make sure they have a good faith basis to sue and then rely on discovery to later develop the case.  Thus, a petition for review of patentability in PTAB practice is more akin to a summary judgment motion than a complaint in trial practice.  But a PTAB petition is still very different than a summary judgment motion.  And these differences can be exploited to more inexpensively and quickly resolve validity issues.

In considering summary judgment, a judge must decide if there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact,” as set forth in FRCP Rule 56.  In contrast, the technical patent judges on the Board can decide technical disputes instantly and can resolve disputes of technical and legal nature.  PTAB panels use their technical and patent law experience to quickly identify dispositive issues and focus the parties on how their respective positions are being viewed by the Board early in the proceedings.  This means that PTAB trials will put a premium on identification of technical defects in patents early in the proceedings, as opposed to traditional litigation approaches that favor discovery before attempting summary judgment or that shy away from summary judgment as a mechanism for resolution of complex technical disputes.

Examples of the Board’s unique capabilities are already being demonstrated in recent orders.  For example, in an inter partes review by Chimei Innolux Corporation against Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co.,Ltd. concerning U.S. Patent No. 8,068,204 (IPR2013-00068), the Board squarely addressed technical disputes between what the petition asserted versus what the patent owner’s preliminary statement set forth when the Board decided to institute trial.

The Board took great care to understand and sift through extremely technical differences between the claimed subject matter and the prior art as it was characterized by the parties.  This is a highly complicated task, because the patent relates to improvements for substrate bonding and electrical connections in liquid-crystal displays and because the parties were advancing very technical arguments on both sides of the validity issue.  In this early order to institute trial the Board construed a phrase from the claims and used that construction to decide the merits of the positions taken by the petitioner and patent owner.  The Board then considered technical arguments made by both parties, such as whether a reference used in combination in an obviousness challenge teaches away from the combination (page 15), or whether it would have been obvious to employ a known (contact) structure (page 18).  The Board decided that certain arguments were not persuasive and used the order to focus the parties on the issues it ruled upon.  The following excerpt from pages 19-21 of the the order instituting trial demonstrates the attention to detail that the Board is devoting to these proceedings:

SEL responds that “[. . .] a person of ordinary skill in the art does not know whether an insulating film (first insulating film) is formed between the bottom layer of the first wiring line 127 (formed in the step of forming the scanning lines Yj) and the top layer of the first wiring line 127 (formed in the step of forming the data lines Xi).” (Prelim. Resp. 31.) According to SEL, Shiba’s “‘two-layered structure’” might be “sequentially stacked” without an insulating layer therebetween. (Id.) As noted, claim 31 requires such an intervening insulating layer.

SEL’s argument is not persuasive. Shiba implies or suggests that the two wiring layers in the two-layered structure 127, formed in the same manner as the two-layered scanning and data lines as the quoted passage shows, have an insulating layer therebetween just like the scanning and data lines. [cite omitted]  [. . .  .]  Skilled artisans also would have understood that overlapping portions readily could have been “partially connected” together by known methods, including using a connecting hole through such an insulating layer. [cite omitted]

Because the two-layered structure in Shiba’s lines 127 connect to pad 751, SEL maintains that under various hypothetical scenarios, pad 751 also must have a two-layered structure, and as such, with Sukegawa’s transparent layer modified to be on Shiba’s pad as CMI proposes in its ground of unpatentability, the pad structure would become a three-layered structure. . . .  SEL also argues that the Petition inconsistently conflates or interchanges Sukegawa’s transparent layer and the top layer of Shiba’s two-layered wiring structure 127, and thereby fails to show how the combination renders obvious the external connection line and transparent conductive film as recited in claims 31 and 54. (See Prelim. Resp. 25-26.)

It is clear from the analysis set forth by the Board that it is not afraid to weigh in on very technical issues and clarify how it perceives the arguments.  Of course, the preliminary response by the patent owner is considered a first initial response and is not a comprehensive response with evidence.  Therefore, the Board’s institution of trial is based on limited argument and is well before the patent owner has had an opportunity to fully respond.  But this process focuses the parties on issues that the Board (at least initially) perceives to be negative to the patent.  It is a preliminary ruling on the disputed issues by the Board that will shape discovery to come, as opposed to traditional litigation where discovery often leads and shapes the issues brought before the court.

Parties who believe that an asserted patent has validity issues may find it difficult to challenge disputed technical issues in summary judgment motion practice.  Validity issues are frequently accompanied with fact questions and in litigation there is a clear and convincing standard for invalidity that makes it hard to prove invalidity.  And it is unlikely that counsel will recommend a motion for summary judgment before conducting at least some discovery.  In contrast, in patent reviews and reexaminations the burden of proof is based on a preponderance of the evidence and can be done without discovery.  Given the different standards and the costs of e-discovery, there are significant advantages to the PTAB patent review option for defendants with genuine validity arguments.  But one must be careful to choose the PTAB trial option carefully to avoid estoppel should the proceeding not result in destruction of the relevant patent claims.