PTAB Designates Three Opinions as Precedential

By on December 17, 2020

In RPX Corp. v. Applications in Internet Time, LLC, Case Nos. IPR2015-01750, -01751, -01752 (Oct. 2, 2020) (Boalick, CAPJ) (designated precedential on Dec. 4, 2020), the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) terminated institution of RPX’s petitions for inter partes review (IPR) because Salesforce—served with a complaint more than one year before—should have been named as a real party-in-interest (RPI) to the proceedings. As a result, RPX’s petition was time-barred under § 315(b).

The Board’s determination came after remand from the Federal Circuit, which vacated the Board’s prior finding that Salesforce was not an RPI. (IP Update, Vol. 21, No. 8). The Federal Circuit instructed the Board to use the common law understanding of “real party-in-interest” and a “flexible approach that takes into account both equitable and practical considerations, with an eye toward determining whether the non-party is a clear beneficiary that has a pre-existing, established relationship with the petitioner.” On remand, the Board took additional discovery to examine the relationship between RPX and Salesforce, including RPX’s business model, Salesforce’s relationship with RPX, whether RPX represents Salesforce’s interests in invalidating the patents, and the significance of the fact that Salesforce and RPX had overlapping Board members. After considering the relationship, the Board found the evidence pointed clearly toward a common interest—between RPX and its members—in invalidating the patents in IPR proceedings. It found RPX could not avoid the time bar under § 315(b), or estoppel under § 315(e) for its members, by creating the appearance that RPX acts independently of its members’ interests when filing IPR petitions.

In SharkNinja Operating LLC v. iRobot Corp., Case No. IPR2020-00734 (Oct. 6, 2020) (Melvin, APJ) (designated precedential on Dec. 4, 2020), the Board declined to address—for purposes of institution—the patent owner’s claim that the IPR petition failed to name an alleged RPI under § 312(a)(2)’s requirement that a petition “identif[y] all real parties-in-interest.” iRobot alleged that JS Global was an unnamed RPI because it was intertwined with SharkNinja’s business and was in a position to fund and exercise control over the IPR petition. The Board declined to reach a determination on the issue because it would have no impact on the proceeding, absent evidence that (1) JS Global was a time-barred or an otherwise estopped entity whose addition to the petition would result in its dismissal under § 315 or (2) SharkNinja’s omission of JS Global was done in bad faith. Even if SharkNinja was mistaken in its decision not to name JS Global as an RPI, the Board’s precedent would allow SharkNinja to correct the mistake during the proceeding.

In Apple Inc. v. Uniloc 2017 LLC, Case No. IPR2020-00854 (Oct. 28, 2020) (Quinn, APJ) (designated precedential on Dec. 4, 2020), the Board exercised its discretion to deny Apple’s motion for joinder because it would have resulted in a “serial attack” on Uniloc’s patent. Apple had previously filed an IPR petition on the same patent, alleging various grounds of invalidity. The Board denied institution because it failed to show a reasonable likelihood of success on any ground. Using different grounds of invalidity, Microsoft also filed an IPR petition on the same patent. The Board instituted review on Microsoft’s petition. After institution, Apple copied Microsoft’s petition and requested joinder under 315(c) with Microsoft’s instituted IPR. Even though the petition presented the same grounds as Microsoft’s successful petition, the Board looked to the General Plastics factors for determining whether institution was warranted, given that this would be Apple’s second petition on the same patent—the very type of “serial attack” that the Board’s discretionary power under § 314(a) was intended to address. Applying the General Plastics factors, the Board determined that the factors weighed in favor of denying institution.

Brian A. JonesBrian A. Jones
Brian A. Jones focuses his practice on patent litigation and prosecution. He has industry experience in electronic circuit design, systems integration and quality assurance, spanning the industries of wireless communication systems, electronic control systems and automotive electronics. Brian has represented clients in federal district court actions, inter partes reviews before the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Section 337 investigations of the US International Trade Commission, and appeals before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Read Brian A. Jones's bio.

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