Posts Tagged ‘federal circuit’

PTAB Dismisses Three IPR Petitions Based on Sovereign Immunity

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Covidien LP had a license to U.S. Patent 7,062,251, owned by the University of Florida Research Foundation (UFRF, Patent Owner).  UFRF alleged breach of contract by Covidien, and sued Covidien in Florida state court for breach of license.  Covidien counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that it does not infringe the ’251 patent, and removed the action to federal court.

In June of 2016, Covidien (Petitioner) filed three petitions seeking inter partes review (IPR) of the ’251 patent.  After the IPRs were filed, UFRF sought to dismiss the federal court action on the ground it was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from Covidien’s declaratory judgment counterclaim.  The District Court agreed with UFRF and remanded the action back to state court.  Covidien’s appeal of this decision is pending in the Federal Circuit (Appeal No. 16-2422).

UFRF requested a conference call with the Board to ask for permission to file a motion to dismiss the IPR petitions on the basis of sovereign immunity.  The Board authorized UFRF to file its Motion to Dismiss, Covidien to file its opposition, and for UFRF to file a reply.

The Board went through a lengthy analysis of administrative precedent relating to sovereign immunity and comparisons of IPR practice with litigation.  On January 25, 2017, the Board dismissed the three IPRs finding “Eleventh Amendment immunity bars the institution of an inter partes review against an unconsenting state that has not waived sovereign immunity.”

The Board went through another lengthy analysis to determine that the UFRF is an arm of the State of Florida.

The Board concluded sovereign immunity applies:

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Eleventh Amendment immunity applies to inter partes review proceedings, and that UFRF, having shown it is an arm of the State of Florida, is entitled to assert its sovereign immunity as a defense to the institution of an inter partes review of the ’251 patent. Accordingly, the Petitions in IPR2016-01274, -01275, and -01276 are dismissed.

The Board went through great lengths and 39 pages to analyze and document UFRF’s sovereign immunity claim.  One has to wonder if the District Court decision remanding the case to state court weighed heavily on the Board’s decision to find sovereign immunity and dismiss the IPRs.  It will be interesting to see whether the appeal of the District Court remand is maintained and if this Board decision is appealed.  But at least for now, it appears that a state-owned patent will not be subject to IPR unless it has waived sovereign immunity.

PTAB Relies on the Federal Circuit’s Recent § 101 Decision to Deny CBM Institution

Monday, June 6th, 2016

On May 12, 2016, the Federal Circuit issued a decision on 101 patent eligibility  that overturned a summary judgment finding of § 101 invalidity for software used for databases.  Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., No. 2015-1244, 2016 WL 2756266 (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2016).  The Enfish v. Microsoft decision interpreted the “abstract idea” first prong of patent eligibility under the Mayo/Alice line of cases.  It reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgement based on § 101, finding that the data storage and retrieval system for a computer memory recited by five claims on appeal of U.S. Pat. No. 6,151,604 were patent-eligible.

Two weeks later, in a CBM review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied institution on the reviewed claims of U.S. Pat. No. 6,006,227 on § 101, referencing Enfish v. Microsoft.  Apple v. Mirror World Technologies, CBM2016-00019, Paper 12, May 26, 2016.  Mirror World’s ‘227 patent covers a “Document Stream Operating System,” as represented by claim 13:

13. A method which organizes each data unit received by or generated by a computer system, comprising the steps of:

generating a main stream of data units and at least one substream, the main stream for receiving each data unit received by or generated by the computer system, and each substream for containing data units only from the main stream;

receiving data units from other computer systems;

generating data units in the computer system;

selecting a timestamp to identify each data unit;

associating each data unit with at least one chronological indicator having the respective timestamp;

including each data unit according to the timestamp in the respective chronological indicator in at least the main stream; and

maintaining at least the main stream and the substreams as persistent streams.

The Board determined that the ‘227 was a covered business method patent eligible for review under AIA § 18, but that the claims do not recite an abstract idea.  The Board based its decision on a number of reasons, including:

  • Patent Owner demonstrated that the claims recite a solution to a problem that is “necessarily rooted in computer technology,”
  • Patent Owner identified a number of problems solved by the claimed invention that did not exist in the pre-computer world, and
  • The Board was persuaded by Patent Owner’s assertion that the claims cannot be performed entirely by the human mind or with pen or paper, and that certain steps of the claims specifically call for operations that must be performed by a computer.

The Board then relied on this excerpt from Enfish:

We do not read Alice to broadly hold that all improvements in computer-related technology are inherently abstract and, therefore, must be considered at step two. Indeed, some improvements in computer-related technology when appropriately claimed are undoubtedly not abstract, such as a chip architecture, an LED display, and the like. Nor do we think that claims directed to software, as opposed to hardware, are inherently abstract and therefore only properly analyzed at the second step of the Alice analysis. Software can make non-abstract improvements to computer technology just as hardware improvements can, and sometimes the improvements can be accomplished through either route. We thus see no reason to conclude that all claims directed to improvements in computer-related technology, including those directed to software, are abstract and necessarily analyzed at the second step of Alice, nor do we believe that Alice so directs. Therefore, we find it relevant to ask whether the claims are directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea, even at the first step of the Alice analysis.

Decision at p. 16 citing Enfish v. Microsoft at *4,  (emphasis added).

The Board concluded that the first prong of the Mayo/Alice test was not met.  The Board also went on to find that the second prong of the Mayo/Alice test was not met, noting DDR Holdings.  Consequently, the Board issued its order denying CBMR.

As noted in earlier posts, the Board has been known to rapidly adopt decisions from the courts, and this case demonstrates the velocity at which decisions are integrated into practice before the Board.

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 Reinforces PTAB’s Authority to Institute Trial on Selected Claims in Synopsis v. Mentor Graphics Appeal

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Newcomers to post-grant proceedings are often surprised by the PTAB’s claim-by-claim approach to patent challenges under the America Invents Act.  When reporting statistics about IPRs, commentators tend to ignore these considerations:

  • First, an IPR petition can be drafted to challenge all or some of the claims of a patent.  So the set of challenged claims can be less than the set of issued patent claims.
  • Second, if the PTAB decides to institute trial, it will exercise its authority to identify exactly which claims it will institute for trial.
  • Third, of the claims instituted for trial, should the case result in a final written decision, all or some of those claims may be found unpatentable and any remaining claims may pass through the process unscathed.

A recent Federal Circuit majority opinion reinforced the PTAB’s interpretation that the AIA gave it authority to institute trial on less than all of the challenged claims.  In Synopsis, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics the majority found that the PTAB could exercise its authority to institute trial on a subset of the challenged claims and to enter its final written decision on the instituted claims.  (Synopsis, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics v. Lee,  Fed. Cir., 2014-1516, 2/10/16).  Synopsis argued that the AIA required the PTAB to provide a patentability determination of every challenged claim.  But the Federal Circuit disagreed, finding instead that the PTAB need only issue its final written decision on the claims instituted for challenge.

Judge Pauline Newman dissented, arguing that the PTAB’s interpretation it is contrary to the AIA and to the AIA’s purpose to provide an alternative and efficient forum for resolving patent validity issues, and that it leads to duplicative proceedings in the PTAB and the district courts.  Her interpretation of the AIA urges a final written decision for each of the claims challenged.  However, absent a petition for cert, the PTAB’s institution and final written practices will not be reversed any time soon based on Synopsis.

 

Patent Trends to Watch in 2016

Friday, January 29th, 2016

2016 is starting off with a bang!  A number of interesting new developments have occurred as we enter into this new year:

AIA 2015 Stats

 

So we will monitor practices by the courts, the PTAB, stakeholders, and patent practitioners to observe the effects and interplay of these decisions and actions over the course of the year.  In particular, it will be interesting to see how the Board and the courts handle claim construction issues knowing that BRI may be revised by the Supreme Court.  Also of great interest is how parallel patent infringement trials will be impacted by the PTAB proceedings on the underlying patents.

 

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.

Target Wins Rehearing of IPR Joinder Decision with Expanded Panel

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

The statute under which Petitioner seeks relief provides:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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.

See You at the AIPLA 2014 Spring Meeting!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

I am presenting at the AIPLA Spring Meeting on May 15, 2014 in Philadelphia and hope to see you there.  My task is to provide strategies for filing inter partes reviews, covered business method reviews and post-grant reviews.  I hope to see you there!

I just got back from the PLI Post-Grant Conference held in San Francisco.  The new world of patent litigation has only just begun and we are seeing many interesting ways that the AIA post-grant provisions are changing the way we view and value patents.  This year already has brought a lot of patent-related decisions from the PTAB, Federal Circuit, and Supreme Court.  There will be a lot to process in the months to come.  Stay tuned.

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.”

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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.