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Federal Circuit Has Jurisdiction over Constitutional Questions in AIA Appeals

Addressing for the first time whether a district court has jurisdiction to hear constitutional challenges to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (Board) final written decisions in an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over AIA appeals, including constitutional questions. Security People, Inc. v. Iancu, Case No. 2019-2118 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 20, 2020) (Hughes, J.).

Security People’s patent was challenged in an IPR, and the Board issued a final written decision invalidating all challenged claims. Security People appealed the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit, which affirmed. The Supreme Court then denied Security People’s petition for certiorari. After the Supreme Court denied certiorari, Security People filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California, challenging the Board’s final written decision as unconstitutional. The district court dismissed Security People’s claim because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, citing the America Invents Act’s (AIA) provision giving the Federal Circuit jurisdiction over appeals from Board decisions in IPRs. Security People appealed.

Security People argued that because the Board lacks authority to consider constitutional claims, only a district court can hear factual issues underlying a constitutional challenge. Security People also argued that its constitutional challenge was not ripe until the Federal Circuit finally resolved the Board’s decision, and that it had to exhaust its claims on the merits before raising its constitutional claims.

The Federal Circuit disagreed. The Court found that in the rare instances where fact finding would be necessary for resolving a constitutional challenge, the Federal Circuit had authority to decide those factual issues through judicial notice. The Court explained that “finality” of the agency’s decision did not require the merits appeals to fully conclude before addressing constitutional issues, because the Board’s decision-making is complete when it issues a final written decision. In short, Security People was required to bring its constitutional challenge at the same time it challenged merits of the Board’s decision. The Court found its reasoning supported by the text, structure and history of the AIA, which gave the Federal Circuit wide authority to review Board decisions without any exception for constitutional challenges. The Court also reasoned that the Administrative Procedures Act’s (APA) general authorization to review agency action in the district courts does not override the specific framework in the AIA providing judicial review to the Federal Circuit. Indeed, there is no need to look to the APA’s general authorization in this regard, because the Federal Circuit is an adequate forum to resolve any issues challenged with respect to the Board’s final written decisions.

Challenge to PTAB’s Finding of Non-Obviousness Fails to Pay Out

Addressing whether the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in finding that a dependent claim was valid despite the patent owner’s lack of validity arguments beyond those advanced for the corresponding and invalid independent claim, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s ruling and found no APA violation. FanDuel, Inc. v. Interactive Games LLC, Case No. 19-1393 (Fed. Cir. July 29, 2020) (Hughes, J.) (Dyk, J. concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Interactive Games owns a patent directed to a method for allowing users to gamble remotely via a mobile device, according to certain game configurations. Specifically, the independent claim is directed to altering a user’s game outcome based on the gaming configuration associated with the location of a user’s mobile gaming device. A dependent claim adds the additional limitation of “accessing a lookup table which contains an ordered list of locations and associated game configurations.”

FanDuel petitioned for inter partes review (IPR) of the patent as obvious based on three references. The first reference (Carter) disclosed a mobile wagering system capable of determining a gambler’s location and restricting access based on the location. Carter’s system used a database that correlated various locations with applicable access levels. Importantly, the reference generally indicated that the system may employ various components such as “memory elements, processing elements, logic elements, look-up tables, and the like.” The second reference (Walker) disclosed enabling or disabling certain features on a mobile gaming device based on a user’s location. And the third reference (the webpage) included a list of slot payouts by casino, city and state, alphabetically organized by state. FanDuel also submitted an expert declaration that the use of look-up tables was well known in the art and that it would have been an obvious design choice to store Carter’s jurisdictional information in an “ordered list” similar to the webpage.

In its Preliminary Patent Owner Response, Interactive incorporated its validity arguments for the independent claim into its arguments for the dependent claim, but did not otherwise advance any substantive arguments specific to the dependent claim. The PTAB instituted IPR for all challenged claims. Following institution, Interactive submitted a patent owner response, which again did not advance any substantive arguments specific to the dependent claim. While Interactive did submit an expert declaration, the statements made by FanDuel’s expert specific to the dependent claim were uncontested. Ultimately, the PTAB found the independent claim invalid, but found the dependent claim valid. FanDuel appealed.

FanDuel argued that the PTAB’s decision with respect to the dependent claim violated the APA because the PTAB changed its obviousness theory midstream. FanDuel alleged that no further record development was presented regarding the dependent claim after institution, and therefore a finding of validity in light of the PTAB’s decision to institute amounted to a changed position by the PTAB, to which FanDuel was entitled notice and an opportunity to respond.

The Federal Circuit disagreed and affirmed the PTAB’s decision. In finding [...]

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Explain Yourself: “Untethered” Obviousness Determination Reversed

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated in part and remanded a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) determination of unpatentability because the Board did not adequately support its reasoning as to certain claims. Alacritech, Inc. v. Intel Corp., Case No. 19-1467 (Fed. Cir. July 31, 2020) (Stoll, J.).

Intel petitioned for inter parties review (IPR) of a patent owned by Alacritech that is directed to performing network processes on a dedicated network card (INIC) instead of on a computer’s central processing unit (CPU). Intel asserted that the claims would have been obvious over prior art Thia in view of Tanenbaum. The Board agreed, finding claims of the patent were obvious. Alacritech appealed.

Addressing the standard of review as set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Circuit explained that the Board is obligated to provide a record which shows the evidence on which its findings are based, as well as its reasoning in reaching its conclusions. While “perfect explanations” are not required, it must be sufficient for the Court to see that the agency has “done its job.” The Court found that the Board’s analysis as to three claims in the patent did not meet this standard.

The Court explained that the Board, after only briefly reciting the parties’ arguments, “merely concluded” that the relevant claim limitation was present in the subject claims and the prior art, and in so doing “misapprehend[ed] both the scope of the claims and the parties’ arguments.” The Court went on to explain that the crux of the dispute was where the claim limitation at issue took place—in the CPU (as in the prior art), or in the INIC (as required by the claims). The Court found that the Board’s analysis did not acknowledge this aspect of the parties’ dispute or explain how the prior art taught such a limitation. Without an explanation of its reasoning, the Court could not reasonably discern whether the Board followed the proper path in making its determination.

Intel argued that, while the Board did not itself expound on its reasoning, it did sufficiently support its position by citation to and adoption of Intel’s arguments. While the Federal Circuit noted that it has upheld Board determinations that flowed from the rejection or adoption of a party’s arguments, in this case the Board’s decision was “untethered from either party’s position.” Specifically, both parties focused their arguments on the Thia reference, while the Board relied on Tanenbaum to support its findings. Thus the Court was unable to infer the Board’s argument from those founded on a different basis.

The Federal Circuit also rejected as “fundamentally incorrect” Intel’s assertion that any evidentiary support in the record—even if not cited to by the Board—is sufficient to support the Board’s determination. The Court retorted that Intel’s sole citation to a footnote in a 2002 case was at odds with the clear precedent confining the Court’s review to the actual grounds on which the Board relied. Accordingly, the Court vacated the [...]

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PTAB May Reject Substitute Claims Under Any Basis of Patentability

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit considered for the first time whether a district court’s invalidity determination, when made final after all appeals are exhausted, divests the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of jurisdiction in a co-pending inter partes review (IPR) proceeding involving the same claims, and held that it does not. The Court also held that in an IPR proceeding, the PTAB is free to reject proposed substitute claims for failing to meet the subject matter eligibility requirements of § 101. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Hulu, LLC, Case No. 19-1686 (Fed. Cir. July 22, 2020) (Wallach, J.) (Dyk, J., dissenting).

Hulu filed an IPR petition challenging claims of Uniloc’s patent directed to adjustable software licensing for digital products. After the PTAB instituted review, Uniloc filed a motion for substitute claims, conditional on whether the PTAB found the original claims unpatentable. Before the PTAB issued its final determination and before it ruled on the motion for substitute claims, a district court, in a related proceeding, held Uniloc’s asserted claims invalid as directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. Shortly thereafter, the PTAB issued a final written decision finding the challenged claims unpatentable over the prior art, and it found the substitute claims unpatentable under § 101. Uniloc appealed the PTAB’s use of § 101 to invalidate its substitute claims.

While Uniloc’s appeal of the Hulu IPR was pending, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s invalidity finding as to the original claims. With respect to the Hulu appeal, the Federal Circuit ordered the parties to address whether the appeal was moot in view of the ultimate finality with respect to invalidity of the original claims, thereby divesting the PTAB of jurisdiction over the IPR.

The majority held that the finality of the district court’s invalidity finding did not necessarily divest the PTAB of authority to consider substitute claims. It determined that the mootness issue was waivable, and that Hulu had waived the argument because it failed to raise mootness during the pendency of the IPR at the time the district court issued its decision. Even if Hulu had not waived the argument, the majority found that the PTAB’s authority to consider substitute claims does not depend on any live dispute about the original claims, as long as the motion to amend in the IPR was timely filed.

As to the PTAB’s rejection of the claims under § 101, the majority held that although the PTAB is restrained in an IPR proceeding to invalidating a patent’s original claims only under the anticipation and obviousness grounds raised in the petition, the PTAB may use other invalidity tools as a “new ground of rejection” for substitute claims, including for lack of patentable subject matter under § 101. The majority also suggested that other grounds of patentability would be within the scope of the PTAB’s authority, including rejections under the various subsections of § 112. The majority was concerned that limiting the PTAB’s review might force it to issue substitute claims that fail to meet all the statutory [...]

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Delicate Balance: Details of Parallel Proceeding Tip Scales for Discretionary Denial

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) designated two decisions informative as they relate to weighing factors for determining how a parallel district court proceeding may impact the Board’s determination of whether to discretionarily deny institution under § 314(a).

In Apple Inc. v. Fintiv, Inc., Case No. IPR2020-00019, Paper 15 (USPTO May 13, 2020) (Horner, APJ) (designated informative on July 13, 2020), the Board had previously requested supplemental briefing in a pre-institution order in this case (itself now designated by the Board as precedential) regarding six factors for weighing the impact of the parallel district court proceeding on whether to discretionarily deny institution.

As to factor (1), whether the district court action is stayed or evidence exists that a stay may be issued, the Board weighed this factor as neutral because neither party had requested a stay and the district court had given no indication as to whether it would entertain a stay. Absent definitive statements by the district court as to the specific case, the Board declined to infer how a judge might rule if a motion were to be filed.

Under factor (2), the proximity of the court’s trial date to the Board’s projected statutory deadline for a final written decision, the Board found this factor weighed slightly in favor of a discretionary denial. Even though the district court’s initial trial date had been pushed back, the new date was still two months earlier than the Board’s one-year deadline for issuing a final written decision. In addition, the new date appeared to be relatively certain, and mere speculation about the further delays being typical was not enough to weigh this factor in favor of a discretionary denial.

As to factor (3), the court’s and parties’ investment in the parallel proceeding, the Board found this weighed somewhat in favor of discretionary denial. Even though expert reports had not been served, the district court had already issued a detailed Markman order construing seven claim terms, and the parties had already served their final invalidity contentions.

Under factor (4), the extent of overlap of the issues raised in the petition compared to those raised in the parallel proceeding, the Board found this factor favored discretionary denial because the Petitioner was pursuing the same prior art on the same claims in district court.

Under factor (5), the parties in the district court action were the same as the IPR, so this factor weighed in favor of discretionary denial.

As to the catch-all factor (6), including considering the merits of the challenge, the Board found that there were key weaknesses in the petition that helped tip the scales toward discretionary denial. In sum, the Board found that the weight of the factors tipped toward exercising its discretion to deny institution.

In Sand Revolution II, LLC v. Continental Intermodal Group–Trucking LLC, Case No. IPR2019-01393, Paper 24 (USPTO June 16, 2020) (Flax, APJ) (designated informative on July 13, 2020), the Board came to slightly different conclusions for some of the factors, ultimately granting the Petitioner’s request [...]

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Joined Parties Have Rights Too

In vacating an unpatentability decision by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the rights of a joined party to an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding applies to the entirety of the proceedings and includes the right of appeal. Fitbit, Inc. v. Valencell, Inc., Case No. 19-1048 (Fed. Cir. July 8, 2020) (Newman, J.).

Apple petitioned the Board for IPR of certain claims of a patent owned by Valencell. The Board granted the petition in part, instituting review of certain claims and denying review of other claims. After institution of the Apple IPR, Fitbit filed an IPR petition for the instituted claims and moved for joinder with Apple’s IPR. The Board granted Fitbit’s petition, granted the motion for joinder and terminated Fitbit’s separate proceeding.

After the Apple/Fitbit IPR hearing, but before any Final Written Decision was issued, the Supreme Court decided SAS Institute v. Iancu (IP Update, Vol. 21, No. 5), holding that the America Invents Act requires that all patent claims challenged in an IPR petition must be reviewed by the Board if the petition is granted. Accordingly, the Board re-instituted the Apple/Fitbit IPR to add the previously denied patent claims. The Board’s Final Written Decision found the originally instituted claims unpatentable, but the newly instituted claims not unpatentable. After the decision, Apple withdrew from the proceeding. Fitbit appealed the decision as to newly instituted claims that had been found not unpatentable.

On appeal, Valencell challenged Fitbit’s right to appeal as to the newly instituted claims. 35 U.S.C. § 319 provides that “[a]ny party to the inter partes review shall have the right to be a party to the appeal.” Valencell argued that Fitbit does not have the status of “party” for purposes of appeal because Fitbit did not request review of the newly instituted claims in its initial IPR petition, did not request leave to amend its initial petition after the Supreme Court’s decision in SAS Institute and did not submit a separate brief with respect to the non-instituted claims after the joined IPR was re-instituted. Valencell also argued that because the Board stated that Fitbit would have “limited participation, if at all, and required Fitbit to seek authorization from the Board before filing any papers,” Fitbit was not a full participant in the joined IPR.

Fitbit responded that Valencell did not object to Fitbit’s joinder and did not object to or seek to qualify Fitbit’s continued participation after the Board re-instituted the joined IPR to include the new claims, so there was only one IPR. Fitbit also cited the Board’s statement in granting its joinder motion that the “[d]ecision addressing the status of each challenged claim in this proceeding applies to all parties.” Fitbit acknowledged that it did not seek to file a separate brief after the new claims were added to the IPR, but claimed no separate brief was needed to present the issues.

The Federal Circuit agreed with Fitbit, finding that the circumstances [...]

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Reliance on Common Sense Permitted in Obviousness Analysis

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a final written decision from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) finding patent claims directed to aircraft lavatories obvious based on prior art because a skilled artisan would have used common sense to incorporate a missing limitation into the prior art. B/E Aerospace, Inc. v. C&D Zodiac, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1935, -1936 (Fed. Cir. June 26, 2020) (Reyna, J.).


“Seams” Like Activity Giving Rise to Infringement Risk Supports Appellate Jurisdiction

Adding to its body of jurisprudence on standing to challenge an adverse final written opinion in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found a petitioner had constitutional standing to appeal where it showed it engaged in activity that would give rise to a possible infringement suit. Adidas AG v. Nike, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1787; -1788 (Fed. Cir. June 25, 2020) (Newman, J.).


Fee Shifting Under § 285 Does Not Apply to Conduct Solely Arising in IPR

Considering for the first time whether fee shifting of § 285 applies to exceptional conduct arising solely from an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that § 285 does not authorize an award of fees based on conduct at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) during the course of an IPR proceeding. Amneal Pharma. LLC v. Almirall, LLC, Case No. 2020-1106 (Fed. Cir. June 4, 2020) (Dyk, J.).

Almirall owns certain Orange Book-listed patent rights to medication used to treat acne. Its competitor, Amneal, planned to market a generic version of the acne medication. Before seeking approval to do so, Amneal filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of certain claims of Almirall’s patents. Amneal then filed an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA), identifying Almirall’s patents in the Paragraph IV certification. Almirall subsequently filed a district court action against Amneal for infringement. Shortly after the district court action was filed, the parties entered into settlement negotiations, during which Almirall offered Amneal a covenant-not-to-sue, provided that Almirall drop its pending IPR. The parties were unable to reach agreement at that time, and the IPR culminated in the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)’s final written decision, finding the challenged claims not unpatentable. Amneal appealed the PTAB’s final determination. Shortly after the appeal was filed, the parties reached an agreement and jointly moved to dismiss the appeal. Almirall also moved for fees under § 285 for Amneal’s allegedly unreasonable conduct in maintaining its IPR, even after Amneal offered it a covenant-not-to-sue.

Comparing IPRs to interference proceedings, the Federal Circuit looked to a decision of its predecessor, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, which determined that § 285 did not extend to appeals of administrative proceedings at the USPTO, and IPRs were no different. Stopping short of proclaiming a categorical rule that § 285 applies only to conduct in district court proceedings, the Court explained that at most, § 285 speaks to awarding fees that were incurred during, in close relation to, or as a direct result of district court proceedings. In the circumstance here, where the alleged exceptional conduct was solely before the USPTO and an appeal of the USPTO decision—not a district court’s decision—an award under § 285 was not appropriate. In addition, the Court noted that the USPTO has its own procedures for sanctioning exceptional conduct under 37 C.F.R. § 42.12, where the PTAB may award “compensatory expenses, including attorney’s fees,” among other sanctions.

Arthrex Extended to Inter Partes Re-examination

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a petition for panel rehearing regarding the constitutionality of decisions issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), holding that its decision in Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. (IP Update, Vol. 22, No. 11) also applies to final decisions issued by administrative patent judges (APJs) in inter partes re-examinations. Virnetx v. Cisco Systems, Inc., Case No. 19-1671 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2020) (O’Malley, J.). The Court also denied (per curiam) a concurrently filed petition for rehearing en banc.