The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director issued a precedential opinion finding that filing an inter partes review (IPR) solely to extract payment in a settlement—without the intent to prosecute the IPR to completion—is a sanctionable abuse of process. OpenSky Indus., LLC v. VLSI Tech. LLC, IPR2021-01064 (Oct. 4, 2022) (Vidal, Dir.)
In 2019, VLSI asserted two patents against Intel. In response, Intel filed two IPRs against the allegedly infringed patents, but both IPRs were discretionally denied by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) based on the advanced stage of the underlying litigation and overlapping issues. The suit proceeded, and a jury awarded VLSI more than $600 million in damages in 2021.
OpenSky Industries was founded two months after the judgment. OpenSky filed a “copycat” IPR petition based on Intel’s previous petitions (including refiling the declarations of Intel’s expert without his knowledge) targeting VLSI’s two allegedly infringed patents. The Board instituted over VLSI’s argument, noting that patentability issues were raised that had not been resolved in the district court case. Initially, OpenSky attempted to settle the IPRs with VLSI, but VLSI refused. OpenSky then reached out to Intel, offering to let Intel collaborate if it agreed to pay a success fee. Intel refused and later filed its own IPR petition and joinder motion. After Intel’s refusal, OpenSky pivoted back to VLSI, offering to “refuse to pay [the] expert for time at deposition so [the] expert does not appear at deposition” in return for payment. VLSI reported the scheme to the Board.
Intel was joined as a party to the OpenSky IPR proceeding in June 2022 based on its later-filed petition. Once Intel joined, OpenSky threatened to forego both deposing VLSI’s expert and filing its reply brief unless Intel paid it for its “prior work in the IPR” plus “additional remuneration.” Intel refused. While OpenSky did notice VLSI’s expert, it declined to file a Petitioner Reply brief, forcing Intel to draft the reply. Later, at VLSI’s request (OpenSky missed the request date), oral argument in the proceeding took place before the Board. OpenSky did not meaningfully participate.
While all this was unfolding, the Director sua sponte initiated an investigation to determine “[w]hat actions the Director . . . should take when faced with evidence of an abuse of process or conduct that otherwise thwarts . . . the goals of the Office and/or the AIA.” To begin the investigation, the Director sent discovery requests to each of the three parties. VLSI and Intel complied. OpenSky, by comparison, either incompletely complied with or directly refused each request. Based on those evasions, the Director sanctioned OpenSky for discovery misconduct, applying adverse inferences against OpenSky on each request.
Discovery sanctions in place, the Director moved to the central question: Did OpenSky abuse the IPR process? The Director answered yes.
First, the Director found that OpenSky’s conduct violated its duty of candor and good faith to the Board. In its negotiations with VLSI, OpenSky offered to deliberately sabotage its own petition to hinder Intel. In its negotiations with Intel, OpenSky did [...]