Archive for the ‘315(b) One Year Bar’ Category

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

Monday, 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.

Patent Board Denies First Data Corp. IPR Petitions Based on Real Party In Interest and One-Year Bar

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

October 21, 2014

In 2013, Cardsoft, LLC (Patent Owner) sued First Data Corp. (Petitioner) and First Data Merchant Services Corp. for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Texas, serving its complaint on May 2, 2013.  (Cardsoft (Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors) LLC v. First Data Corp., Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-290 (E.D. Tex.).)  The complaint alleged infringement of U.S. 6,934,945 and U.S. 7,302,683, relating to sending and receiving information over a network.

On April 30, 2014, Petitioner filed IPR petitions requesting review of the ‘945 and ‘683 patents (IPR2014-00715 and IPR2014-00720, respectively).  An issue arose in the IPRs because VeriFone had a duty of indemnification to First Data Corporation. But VeriFone had been sued in 2008 by Cardsoft LLC for patent infringement of the same patents, and therefore was statutorily barred under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  (Cardsoft, Inc. v. VeriFone Systems, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:08-cv-00098 (E.D. Tex.).)

The Mandatory Notices of the ‘945 IPR Petition state:

The real party in interest is First Data Corporation []. We believe that VeriFone is NOT a real party in interest. VeriFone, per an indemnity with First Data, is providing the funding for this petition. However, the sole and exclusive control over this petition rests entirely with First Data. To the extent that the VeriFone indemnity agreement provided for any ability to assume control of any litigation, VeriFone has disclaimed any right to such control (see Ex. 1011 ). First Data determined which counsel to use, and is using its normal patent counsel for this petition, not counsel for VeriFone. The prior art used in this petition was discovered from the Cardsoft v. VeriFone litigation records, but First Data decided which references to use. Copies of some prior art were obtained from VeriFone, and VeriFone counsel indicated certain references which it believed rendered the subject patent invalid, but First Data counsel exercised independent judgment in determining which prior art to use and in fact selected different prior art references than those which VeriFone believed were the strongest.

It should be noted that First Data was sued after Cardsoft obtained a jury verdict victory against VeriFone. Instead of suing VeriFone for willful infringement for post-verdict sales, Cardsoft elected to sue First Data, likely with knowledge of the indemnity which provides indemnification for some although not all of the accused devices. It would be contrary to the reasons for establishing Inter Partes Reviews to deny First Data the opportunity for an IPR challenge in such a situation.

(‘945 Petition, pp. 1-2 (IPR2014-00715).)  The Petition summarized different PTAB decisions which declined to find a real party in interest based on funding and sharing of prior art.  It also referenced PTAB Chief Judge James Smith:

Chief Judge James Donald Smith of the BPAI explained that the Proposed Rules from February of 2012 deliberately declined to promulgate particular factors as the future Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) intends to consider each case on its specific facts. [Explanation of Real Party in Interest Requirement provided by Chief Judge James Donald Smith, Board of Patent and Appeals and interferences (“BPAI”). Available at http:/ /www.uspto.gov/aia implementation/smith-blogextravaganza. j sp#heading-2.]

(Id., p. 3.)  The ‘683 Petition in the -00720 proceeding includes similar Mandatory Notices.

But in parallel Decisions dated October 17, 2014, the Board disagreed with the Petitioner and found VeriFone to be a real party in interest in both proceedings.  The Board also decided that each petition was barred under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), based on the following factors:

Petitioner’s Control and Funding:

The evidence demonstrates that VeriFone desires an inter partes review of the ’945 patent and has controlled, and/or has had an opportunity to control, the events leading up to the filing of the Petition. Petitioner acknowledges that “VeriFone, per an indemnity with [Petitioner], is providing the funding for this petition.” Corr. Pet. 1. Per the Letter Addendum, we understand this “funding” to include Petitioner’s attorney fees and at least the nearly $24,000 petition fees associated with filing the Petition. Ex. 1011, 1; Master Engagement Agreement, Section 6.1. We find that per this same indemnity agreement VeriFone had an opportunity to control all of the events leading up to the filing of the Petition. In particular, Section 6.1.3 of the Master Engagement Agreement indicates that VeriFone “shall have the right at its expense to employ counsel . . . to defend against Claims that VeriFone is responsible for . . . and to compromise, settle and otherwise dispose of such Claims.” Id., 3. The Letter Addendum indicates that “VeriFone has agreed to this associated indemnification as to the IPR.” Id., 1. Thus, up to April 28, 2014 (i.e., two days prior to the Petition being filed), VeriFone had every opportunity and right, per the indemnification agreement, to control the filing of the Petition and pursue an inter partes review of the challenged patent. That the opportunity to control ended just two days prior to filing the Petition, does not negate the control or opportunity to control the events leading up to the filing of the Petition. By Petitioner’s own admission, and during the period leading up to the filing of the Petition, counsel for VeriFone communicated with counsel for Petitioner about initiating an IPR, including discussing what prior art to assert. Corr. Pet. 2. Moreover, VeriFone agreed to, and did, pay for all costs associated with the filing of the Petition. We have considered Petitioner’s arguments that it alone decided to use different prior art for this proceeding compared to the prior art that VeriFone asserted in the 2008 Litigation. See id. Petitioner, however, does not provide sufficient evidence that would support this assertion, and in any event, even if true, that alone would not outweigh the other evidence of record that tends to show that VeriFone controlled and/or had the opportunity to control the filing of the Petition.

Decision Denying Institution, IPR2014-00715, Paper 9, Oct. 17, 2014, pp. 7-8.

VeriFone’s Current Interest in the Proceeding:

The Board found that VeriFone had an interest in the outcome of these IPR proceedings:

Moreover, we find that VeriFone has an interest in the review of the ’945 patent in this proceeding. VeriFone was found to have infringed the ’945 patent in the 2008 Litigation and was unable to invalidate the ’945 patent in that proceeding. See Ex. 1007 ¶ 8. VeriFone also must defend and indemnify Petitioner in the 2013 Litigation for Petitioner’s alleged willful infringement of the ’945 patent from the sale of VeriFone products that were found to have infringed the ’945 patent in the 2008 Litigation. Invalidity of the ’945 patent has been asserted in the 2013 Litigation that VeriFone is defending under its indemnity agreement with First Data Merchant Services. Ex. 2003, 3 (second affirmative defense). VeriFone has an interest in an inter partes review of the ’945 patent at least equal to that of Petitioner. The record evidence establishes, however, that VeriFone could not have pursued an inter partes review on its own or in conjunction with the Petitioner, because VeriFone would have been barred from doing so pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).

Id., pp. 8-9.

Petitioner’s Failure to Name RPI Within One Year Bar

The Board also found that the Petition itself lacked a proper statement of the real parties in interest, and therefore was barred under § 315(b) because Petitioner’s correction would have occurred after the one year bar date:

Moreover, because VeriFone is a real party-in-interest, the Petition does not identify “all real parties in interest” as required by 35 U.S.C. § 312(a). As a result, the Board determines that the Petition is incomplete.

Section 42.106(b) of Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides:

(b) Incomplete petition. Where a party files an incomplete petition, no filing date will be accorded, and the Office will dismiss the petition if the deficiency in the petition is not corrected within one month from the notice of an incomplete petition.

Ordinarily, because the Petition is incomplete, the Board would give Petitioner one month from the date of this decision to correct the deficiency and list VeriFone as a real party-in-interest. In this instance, however, curing the omission of VeriFone as a real party-in-interest would be futile because, even if corrected, the earliest filing date that could be accorded to the Petition that identifies VeriFone as a real party-in-interest would not fall within the one-year period specified by 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).

Id., p. 10.

So the Board seems to have denied these IPR petitions on the grounds that: (1) a real party in interest (e.g., VeriFone) would have been barred due to the 2008 litigation, and (2) because, procedurally, any correction of the petition would also fall necessarily outside of the statutory one-year bar of the 2013 litigation.  This case provides another example of how the Board interprets facts relating to real parties in interest and an example of the Board’s decision to apply the one-year IPR bar under 35 U.S.C. 315(b) to corrections of real parties in interest in IPR petitions.

 

PTAB Applies “Issue Joinder” Analysis to Deny Microsoft’s IPR Joinder Requests

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

October 1, 2014

The reader may recall that last week an expanded PTAB panel announced an interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) that essentially ruled out a joinder request for a subsequent IPR petition made by an existing party to the instituted proceeding.  Target Corp. v. Destination Maternity Corp. (IPR2014-00508 and -00509.)  In Target, the Board adopted a “party joinder” interpretation of the § 315(c) IPR joinder statute that provided for new persons to join an instituted IPR, but not for joinder of new issues raised by the same petitioner.

This interpretation was a departure from an earlier interpretation of § 315(c) that allowed a party to the instituted IPR the ability to request joinder of a later-filed petition based on new issues (“issue joinder”).  As noted by the Board in Target:

In other decisions, the Board has granted joinder of an additional petition or proceeding (as opposed to an additional person) to an instituted inter partes review. See Ariosa Diagnostics v. Isis Innovation Ltd., Case IPR2012-00022 (PTAB Sept. 2, 2014) (Paper 66) (“Ariosa”); Samsung Elecs. Co. v. Virgina Innovation Scis., Inc., Case IPR2014-00557 (PTAB June 13, 2014) (Paper 10) (“Samsung”); Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., Case IPR2013-00109 (PTAB Feb. 25, 2013) (Paper 15); ABB Inc. v. Roy-G-Biv Corp., Case IPR2013-00286 (PTAB Aug. 9, 2013) (Paper 14); Sony Corp. v. Yissum Research Dev. Co. of the Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem, Case IPR2013-00327 (PTAB Sept. 24, 2013) (Paper 15).

Decision Denying Motion for Joinder for IPR2014-00508 at p. 3.

The issue joinder interpretation provided a petitioner a mechanism to attempt to “cure” a partial institution based on new grounds of unpatentability or to challenge claims newly added to the litigation since the filing of the original IPR petition.  And this could be done even if the later-filed IPR petition was filed after the § 315(b) one-year bar date.

This week, the Board rejected four IPR petitions with joinder requests based on the earlier ‘issued joinder” interpretation of  § 315(c).  In Microsoft Corp. v. Enfish LLC (IPRs 2014-00574, -00575, -00576, and -00577), the Board denied joinder, but only after it made a full analysis of Microsoft’s joinder request based on the issues raised by Microsoft.  Since Microsoft was the Petitioner in the underlying instituted proceedings, these later-filed IPR petitions and their respective joinder requests were made by the same party (Microsoft), yet the Board did not apply the “party joinder” interpretation announced in Target.  Had the Board used the party joinder interpretation the decisions would have been much shorter.

Microsoft had filed these four IPRs and their respective joinder requests after the one-year IPR bar, so failure to obtain joinder resulted in each later-filed petition being denied based on the § 315(b) one-year bar.

The Target and Microsoft decisions were only four days apart.  It may take more time to determine whether the Board intends to use the issue joinder or party joinder approach to decide future IPR joinder motions.

 

PTAB Joinder Practice Update: Board Interprets 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) to Require Party Joinder

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Sep. 30, 2014

In at least two decisions last week, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) interpreted the IPR joinder provision, 35 U.S.C. § 315(c), to preclude a joinder request by an existing party to the proceeding.  The Board had allowed this practice in the past, for example, when a party timely filed its request for joinder with a petition that asserted new grounds of challenging one or more claims of the patent under IPR.  In these most recent decisions, the Board seems to have decided that § 315(c) requires “party joinder.”

In two IPRs styled Target Corp. v. Destination Maternity Corp. (IPR2014-00508 and -00509) the Board provided its rationale for why subsequent IPR petitions by Target could not be joined to the instituted IPR proceedings (IPR2013-00531 and -00533, respectively).  The Decision Denying Motion for Joinder for the -00508 IPR provides this reason (which is referenced by the parallel Decision Denying Motion for Joinder in the -00509 IPR):

The statute does not refer to the joining of a petition. 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.

The -00508 IPR Decision included a dissent which summarized prior cases allowing such joinder:

The majority opinion chooses not to address the issues as presented by the parties. Instead, the majority bases its decision to deny the motion entirely on a construction of 35 U.S.C. § 315(c), concluding that the statute enabling joinder does not apply here because it allows only joinder of parties, not joinder of issues. According to the majority, the language in § 315(c) addresses only joinder of a “party” to a proceeding, and does not permit joinder in the situation present in this case, where Petitioner seeks the “joinder” of additional grounds by the same party. The majority opinion acknowledges, however, the Board has consistently allowed joinder of additional grounds by the same party See, e.g., Ariosa Diagnostics v. Isis Innovation Ltd., Case IPR2012-00022 (PTAB Sept. 2, 2014) (Paper 66)(“Ariosa”); Samsung Elecs. Co. v. Virginia Innovation Scis., Inc., Case IPR2014-00557, (PTAB June 13, 2014) (Paper 10); Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., Case IPR2013-00109 (PTAB Feb. 25, 2013) (Paper 15); ABB Inc. v. Roy-G-Biv Corp.,Case IPR2013-00282 (PTAB Aug. 9, 2013) (Paper 15).

As the majority opinion observes, the Board in Ariosa concluded that the language in § 315(c) that allows joinder of “any person who properly joins a petition under section 311” should be construed as not prohibiting the joinder of inter partes review proceedings involving the same party. Here, however, the majority opinion concludes that “the relief described in § 315(c) is something an existing party already has, namely, party status in the instituted inter partes review.” The majority opinion states further in a footnote that

solely focusing upon “any person” does not give full effect to the other words in the statute that limit who “any person” may be. Other language in § 315(c) excludes from “any person” at least two persons from among those who may be joined to a proceeding. More specifically, the phrase “who properly files a petition under section 311” excludes the patent owner, and “as a party,” excludes persons who are already a party.

We note initially that as this issue of statutory construction was not addressed, and thus not briefed, by the parties, the majority should not have denied joinder solely on statutory construction grounds. Apart from and independent of this failure to address the issues presented by the parties, however, we disagree with the majority’s construction of § 315(c), for the reasons discussed below.

Joinder is of particular importance to PTAB practitioners because the AIA imposes strict rules on the timing and content of IPR petition filings to challenge patentability.  It is especially important in IPRs, because a petitioner is barred from filing another petition over a year after service of a complaint alleging infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  Before the decisions of the past week, a petitioner had one more chance to argue a different ground of challenge in an IPR using § 315(c) joinder.  Although not guaranteed, on occasion the Board had allowed joinder of a later-filed petition by the same petitioner to an instituted proceeding when the later-filed petition met certain conditions of timeliness and where the later-filed petition will not pose an undue delay or burden on the existing proceeding.  This afforded the petitioner one more opportunity to “tune” challenges when the Board granted partial institution of the claims challenged in the instituted IPR after the one-year bar.  It also afforded the petitioner another chance to challenge claims newly added in a parallel litigation after the one-year IPR bar.  Essentially, the former practice gave the petitioner one more opportunity to consolidate challenges in one proceeding.

If the Board follows the recent decisions precluding joinder requests by a party to the proceeding, petitioners will have to be more diligent to challenge every claim that could be possibly asserted in the parallel litigation.  Petitioners will have to continue to be thorough in exploring the best prior art challenges in the original petition and to assert robust grounds of unpatentability that will withstand the Board’s institution decision.  Accordingly, time will tell if last week’s ruling will be the rule for joinder and whether it will result in more IPR petitions to meet these challenges.  After all, in post-grant practice, that which you do not successfully challenge is likely to be harder to challenge later.

Federal Circuit Dismisses Appeals by Petitioners Who Were Denied Inter Partes Reviews

Friday, April 25th, 2014

The Federal Circuit issued two orders on April 24, 2014 dismissing appeals by petitioners in proceedings where the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied institution of inter partes review (IPR).  Each appeal is summarized as follows:

St. Jude Medical, Cardiology Div. v. Volcano Corp. & Michelle K. Lee (as Deputy Director) – Appeal of Denial of IPR Petition

St. Jude brought suit against Volcano for patent infringement of five patents in 2010.  St. Jude Med., Cardiology Div., Inc. v. Volcano Corp., No. 10-cv- 631 (D. Del. filed July 27, 2010).  Volcano counterclaimed alleging patent infringement of its U.S. Pat. 7,134,994 in September of 2010.  More than two years later, the district court dismissed all claims relating to the ‘994 patent (based on stipulations by the parties).

About a half year after the district court dismissal, St. Jude filed a petition for IPR of the ‘994 patent.  IPR2013-00109.  But that petition was dismissed by the Board (acting as a delegee of the Director) based on the one-year bar for IPR petitions.  35 U.S.C. § 315(b).  In a case of first impression, the Board determined that a counterclaim alleging infringement of a patent asserted over a year before the filing of the IPR petition triggered the 315(b) bar.  St. Jude appealed the Board’s decision not to institute IPR to the Federal Circuit.  Volcano and the PTO Director moved to dismiss St. Jude’s Federal Circuit appeal.

The Federal Circuit dismissed St. Jude’s appeal, holding that it may not hear appeals from the Director’s denial of petition for inter partes review.  In making its decision, the Court applied 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) and explained that an appeal to the Federal Circuit of a decision on IPR lacks jurisdiction unless the Board institutes trial:

Chapter 31 authorizes appeals to this court only from “the final written decision of the [Board] under section 318(a).” Id. § 319. Likewise, section 141(c) in relevant part authorizes appeal only by “a party to an inter partes review . . . who is dissatisfied with the final written decision of the [Board] under section 318(a).” Id. § 141(c). What St. Jude now challenges, however, is the Director’s non-institution decision under section 314(a) & (b). That is not a “final written decision” of the Board under section 318(a), and the statutory provisions addressing inter partes review contain no authorization to appeal a noninstitution decision to this court.  . . .

The statute thus establishes a two-step procedure for inter partes review: the Director’s decision whether to institute a proceeding, followed (if the proceeding is instituted) by the Board’s conduct of the proceeding and decision with respect to patentability.  . . . The statute provides for an appeal to this court only of the Board’s decision at the second step, not the Director’s decision at the first step.

The Federal Circuit’s position on direct appeals from the Director’s decision whether to institute an inter partes review is summarized in the next paragraph:

In fact, the statute goes beyond merely omitting, and underscoring through its structure the omission of, a right to appeal the non-institution decision. It contains a broadly worded bar on appeal. Under the title, “No Appeal,” Section 314(d) declares that “[t]he determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.” Id. § 314(d). That declaration may well preclude all review by any route, which we need not decide. It certainly bars an appeal of the non-institution decision here.

The Court’s holding in St. Jude Medical was also used to dismiss the next appeal which requested mandamus relief:

In re Dominion Dealer Solutions, LLC. – Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the USPTO

Dominion Dealer Solutions filed several IPR petitions to challenge the patentability of several patents owned by AutoAlert, Inc.  IPR2013-00220, -00222, -00223, -00224 and -00225.  The Board denied institution of trial for five of the IPR petitions.  Dominion filed requests for rehearing, but they were also denied by the Board.  Dominion then filed an action in the Eastern District of Virginia to challenge the Board’s decision under the Administrative Procedures Act (see my earlier post).  Dominion also filed a “Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the Director” with the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit denied the petition for mandamus.  In denying Dominion’s appeal, the Federal Circuit referenced the St. Jude Medical decision made that same day:

In another Order issued today, we dismiss an appeal by a patent challenger seeking review of the Director’s decision not to institute an inter partes review. See Order Dismissing Appeal, St. Jude Med., Cardiology Div., Inc. v. Volcano Corp., No. 2014-1183 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 24, 2014). We explain that such a challenger may not appeal the non-institution decision to this court. We conclude that such an appeal is precluded by the statutory provisions addressing inter partes review, including section 314(d)’s broad declaration that the Director’s decision “whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable,” and by our jurisdictional statute. See St. Jude, slip op. at 5-6.

Those conclusions require denial of Dominion’s petition for mandamus relief. At a minimum, given our conclusions about the statutory scheme, Dominion has no “clear and indisputable” right to challenge a noninstitution decision directly in this court, including by way of mandamus. That is all we need to decide.

The Court noted Dominion’s appeal in the Eastern District of Virginia, and its dismissal on April 18, 2014, but concluded “[w]e need not decide that issue here.”

_______

These decisions remind petitioners that they should take every reasonable measure to obtain institution of trial, because appeals of Board decisions denying institution of trial will not easily survive a motion for dismissal in light of the holding in St. Jude Medical. It will be interesting to see whether Dominion will decide to appeal the district court’s dismissal of its APA challenge now that the Federal Circuit has rejected mandamus relief under the St. Jude Medical holding.

Litigation Defendants Cannot Rely on Joinder to Avoid Timing Requirements of Inter Partes Reviews

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

In my last post, we explored the interplay of the one-year bar under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) and joinder in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings.  That case involved a Petitioner who could not have filed an IPR petition prior to the 315(b) bar date because the bar triggered prior to the date that the America Invents Act (AIA) authorized filing of IPR petitions.  That Petitioner was barred from joining another set of IPRs when those IPRs were terminated early (before decision on institution).

Consider the situation where a prospective petitioner could file an IPR under the AIA, but observes another Petitioner has already filed an IPR petition, so the prospective petitioner hesitates to file pending the results of the earlier-filed IPR petition.  Shouldn’t that  prospective petitioner just wait to see if the first petition is successful in obtaining institution of trial, and then join if the first petitioner is granted?  If so, the prospective petitioner could file its petition with a request for joinder to join the first IPR under 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) and 37 C.F.R. § 42.122(b), correct?  Perhaps, but what happens if the first Petitioner settles with Patent Owner before the Board’s institution decision?  If the prospective petitioner files its petition after it is barred under 315(b), and the first IPR terminates before institution of trial, the prospective petitioner will have lost its right to join the earlier-filed IPR and its late petition will be dismissed.  That’s precisely what recently happened in IPR2014-00244:

The Board agrees with Patent Owner that Fifth Third Bank should not have delayed in filing its petition until after it learned of the settlement, allowing the one-year period under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) to lapse. By doing so, Fifth Third Bank took a risk that the inter partes review proceeding would terminate prior to a decision on institution, as 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) only permits joinder to a previously instituted case. See 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) (“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 . . .”). We do not find persuasive Fifth Third Bank’s arguments of prejudice. Fifth Third Bank made a litigation choice, and now must face the consequences.

Because Fifth Third Bank delayed its filing, and IPR2013-00341 has been terminated, the joinder statute’s prerequisite of an instituted review cannot be met. Fifth Third Bank’s request for joinder is, therefore, denied.

Fifth Third Bank v. Leon Stambler, IPR2014-00244, Paper 4 (December 17, 2013) at p. 5.

Under the statute, joinder is available if institution occurs.  But since settlement and termination can occur before institution of trial, a prospective petitioner must be careful not to allow the 315(b) bar to block its filing if that can be avoided.