Posts Tagged ‘patent claims’

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.

 

IPRs And Settlement of Patent Infringement Cases

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

The passage of the AIA is still relatively recent, yet statistics are starting to emerge that demonstrate the effective use of IPRs to settle patent infringement cases.  IAM magazine recently published an interesting report by Unified Patents showing that IPRs have the effect of increasing the median time to settle litigations (from 211 to 420 days), but when viewed from the time that the first IPR filing is made, the median time of the “adjusted duration” (163 days) is shorter than the median time for litigations without IPRs (211 days):

For the 15,000 cases filed between 2012 and 2014 that settled before the end of 2015, the median duration was around 211 days. By contrast, for the much smaller subset of 1,100 cases which were identified as related matters to at least one inter partes review proceeding, the median overall duration was 420 days.

At first glance, this result seems counter-intuitive and contrary to the America Invents Act’s efficiency and cost-saving goals. However, a closer look at this subset of 1,100 related matters reveals that most settled within 180 days of the earliest inter partes review filing date. Specifically, the median adjusted duration for these cases was 163 days as of the end of 2015.

This timing data demonstrates that settlement is statistically likely before an institution decision is made (which can take place as late as 6 months after the filing date of the petition).  The report offers a few explanations for the observed data:

One explanation for the increase in pre-institution settlements may be that settling the dispute earlier allows patent owners to eliminate the risk that an adverse decision could be used as grounds for institution in a later case. [ ]

A second explanation may be that defendant petitioners have an increased incentive to settle claims before institution due to the low rate of institution – although this seems less likely.

Other potential reasons why IPRs encourage settlement include:

  • Weak patent assertions are more likely to attract IPR petitions by defendants.
    • Well-educated defendant petitioners are incentivized to file IPR petitions to combat weak patents.
    • As long as there is an inexpensive validity challenge option, weak patent assertions are inherently easier to settle than cases involving strong patents.
  • IPR filings quickly inform the parties about the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s case.
    • Strong IPR petitions educate the patent owner about any potential weaknesses of the challenged patent.
    • Weak IPR petitions inform the patent owner about the weakness of the publication prior art.
    • Expectations of each party will converge more quickly if they learn more about their case early in the patent contest.
  • IPRs require the parties to communicate relatively early in a patent assertion.  These communications provide more opportunities for the parties to understand their case and to discuss and settle the dispute.

Those active in post-grant proceedings know that IPRs also provide a limited mechanism for settlement before the IPR petition is filed.  Of course, it is difficult to account for settlements that occur before an IPR petition is filed, but pre-filing settlements were discussed in an earlier post, and will be part of a half hour presentation I will be making for Patexia’s webinar series on March 24, 2016: “Posturing IPRs for Early Settlement.”  More information about that seminar can be found by clicking on this link.

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.

 

Are Your Patent Procurement Guidelines Outdated?

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

 

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

changes

One Simple Exercise

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

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

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

Why Are These Tools Important?

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

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

Act Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Join Me in San Francisco for PLI’s Post-Grant CLE Program on April 28

Friday, March 7th, 2014

I will be presenting at PLI’s “USPTO Post-Grant Patent Trials 2014” CLE Program on April 28th with a number of other post-grant practitioners. Please join us there or attend via webinar! — Timothy Bianchi

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.