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.