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Sliced and Diced: PTAB Decision Remanded for Further Analysis

In an appeal from a Patent Trial & Appeal Board final written decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision to include certain evidence first presented in the petitioner’s Reply but vacated the Board’s obviousness decision for a failure to fully and particularly set out the bases for its decision. Provisur Technologies, Inc. v. Weber, Inc., Case Nos. 21-1942; -1975 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 27, 2022) (Prost, Reyna, Stark, JJ.)

Provisur Technologies owns a patent directed to classifying slices or portions cut from a food product according to an optical image of the slice. The patent explains that certain meat products, such as bacon or cold cuts, are sold in groups of slices according to particular weight requirements. The specification also teaches that the arrangement of the slices according to quality is desirable. The independent claims are directed to an image processing system arranged above a weigh conveyor that is capable of categorizing slices by determining the surface area and fat-to-lean ratios of the slices based on pixel-by-pixel image data.

Weber petitioned for inter partes review of the patent, alleging that the claims were obvious over various prior art references. Provisur, in its Patent Owner Response, disputed Weber’s assertion that the prior art references disclosed the claimed digital imaging receiving device capable of determining a surface area from pixel-by-pixel image data. During deposition of Weber’s expert, Provisur probed the expert’s knowledge of various camera models available as of the priority date. This prompted Weber to introduce a data sheet on redirect showing various models of cameras, including a comparison between those disclosed in the prior art references and those disclosed as exemplary in the patent. Provisur moved to exclude the datasheet, but the Board concluded that the evidence was highly probative and allowable because it was submitted in response to an argument that Provisur advanced in its Patent Owner Response. The Board also found that the independent claims and various dependent claims were invalid as obvious over the references cited by Weber.

Provisur appealed the admission of the datasheet and the Board’s determination on obviousness. Regarding the evidentiary issue, the Federal Circuit found that the Board did not abuse its discretion by considering the datasheet, noting that it was reply evidence responsive to Provisur’s arguments that the prior art did not disclose a digital camera: “Importantly, Weber’s invalidity theories did not change, nor did the reply fill any holes in Weber’s petition.” Furthermore, the Court observed that Provisur had an opportunity to respond both by cross-examining Weber’s expert and in a sur-reply to the Board.

Regarding the Board’s obviousness determination, Provisur argued that the Board erred by failing to explain its rationale for how the prior art combinations specifically taught the claim element of “determining a surface area of the top slice from the [pixel-by-pixel image] data [of a top slice of the stack].” Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Board must fully and particularly set out the basis upon which it reached its [...]

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CAFC Pulls Final Loose Thread in Nike-Adidas Patent Row

Issuing a third and final decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision invalidating the last remaining claim of a Nike footwear textile patent. Nike, Inc. v. Adidas AG, Case No. 21-1903 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2022) (Prost, Chen, Stoll, JJ.) (non-precedential)

Adidas filed for inter partes review of a patent owned by Nike relating to a knitted shoe upper. After lengthy litigation, including two prior appeals to the Federal Circuit, all claims of the Nike patent were invalidated except for one substitute claim. In its second appeal, Nike successfully argued that the Board did not provide Nike an opportunity to respond to a patentability issue raised sua sponte by the Board, which included reference to a knitting textbook. On remand from the second appeal, the parties were given the opportunity to brief the Board on this new reference and argue which party bears the burden of persuasion for the patentability issue raised sua sponte by the Board.

On the merits, the Board determined that the knitting textbook did teach the disputed limitation, agreeing with adidas that a skilled artisan would have understood the textbook to teach the contested limitation, and that there was adequate reason to combine the textbook’s teachings with those of the other prior art references. The Board also concluded that the burden of persuasion must fall on the Board itself when it raised the patentability issue sua sponte. Nike appealed, arguing that the Board effectively placed the burden of persuasion on Nike.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the burden of persuasion as it relates to the grounds first raised by the Board. The Court found that the Board juxtaposed its arguments with adidas’s and that they both relied on the same disclosures and arguments. Because the Board and adidas’s arguments mirrored each other, the Court found it unnecessary to determine whether the petitioner or the Board bears the burden of persuasion. The Court also rejected Nike’s argument that the Board effectively shifted the burden to Nike by stating in its opinion that Nike’s arguments were “unpersuasive” and “inadequate.” The Court cited to its 2016 holding in In re Magnum Oil Tools International, in which it explained that the Board’s language is not the concern but rather the actual placement of the burden of persuasion. The Court found that both the Board and adidas met the burden, and that the burden was not shifted to Nike.

Turning to the Board’s obviousness determinations, the Federal Circuit rejected all of Nike’s arguments. First, Nike argued that the knitting textbook did not teach the claimed method of creating apertures in the fabric by omitting stitches. The Court found that the Board relied on specific disclosures in the reference describing the use of empty needles to product “loop displacement.” Nike also argued that there was no motivation to combine the textbook reference with the other two references and that the Board could not rely on “common sense” [...]

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PTO Can and Should Use Alice/Mayo Framework to Assess Eligibility

Addressing a challenge of the Alice/Mayo framework in the context of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision finding that patent claims directed to analyzing social security benefit applications were patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In re Killian, Case No. 21-2113 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 23, 2022) (Taranto, Clevenger, Chen, JJ.)

Jeffrey Killian filed a patent application related to a system and method for determining eligibility for social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits through a computer network. The examiner rejected the claims under § 101, finding that they were directed to the abstract idea of “determining eligibility for social security disability insurance . . . benefits” and lacked additional elements amounting to significantly more than the abstract idea because the additional elements were simply generic recitations of generic computer functionalities. Killian appealed to the Board, which affirmed the examiner’s rejection. The Board explained that the claims were directed to the patent ineligible abstract idea of “a search algorithm for identifying people who may be eligible for SSDI benefits they are not receiving,” and that the “determining” and “selecting” limitations of the claims could be performed by the human mind and thus were an “abstract mental process.” Killian appealed.

Killian raised several arguments that generally fell into three categories:

  1. The Alice/Mayo standard is indefinite under the APA.
  2. The § 101 analysis for software violated Killian’s Fifth Amendment due process rights.
  3. Step 2 of the Alice/Mayo analysis has no basis in patent law.

Addressing the first argument, the Federal Circuit noted that the APA cannot apply to the decisions of courts because courts are not agencies. Next, the Court dismissed Killian’s argument that all § 101 decisions are void because the Alice/Mayo standard is indefinite. The Court explained that it has routinely found that mental processes are abstract ideas, including claims that were directed to data gathering, analysis and notification on generic computers. The Court found that nothing in Killian’s claims provided an inventive manner to accomplish the claimed method, and thus the § 101 rejection was entirely proper. As a final point, the Court stated that it was bound to Supreme Court precedent and only new overruling precedent would change the analysis it applied.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Killian’s due process argument. Killian argued that his due process rights were violated because he did not have an opportunity to appear in the other cases regarding patent eligibility. As an initial matter, the Court noted that no “void-for-vagueness” doctrine argument was put forward, and the doctrine requires a case-by-case analysis. The Court found that this was not a close case, as data gathering and analysis methods run afoul of established § 101 precedent. Next, the Court addressed the common law approach of not requiring “a single governing definitional context” and a comparison to previously decided cases finding it appropriate. Killian’s due process rights were found to [...]

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Ex Parte Reexamination Not Allowed After Failed IPR Challenge

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that ex parte reexamination was unavailable to a challenger who repeatedly tried and failed to raise the same arguments for the same patent in a prior inter partes review (IPR) proceeding. In re: Vivint, Inc., Case No. 20-1992 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 29, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

Vivint sued Alarm.com in 2015 for infringement of several patents. In response, Alarm requested that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) institute “a litany of post-issuance review proceedings,” including three separate IPR petitions directed to one of the patents. The PTAB refused to institute two of the petitions because Alarm failed show to a reasonable likelihood that it would prevail on at least one challenged claim and also refused to institute the third petition because it represented an example of “undesirable, incremental petitioning.” According to the PTAB, Alarm had “used prior Board decisions as a roadmap to correct past deficiencies” and allowing such “similar, serial challenges to the same patent” by the same challenger risked, not only harassment of patent owners, but also frustration of congressional intent behind the America Invents Act (AIA).

More than a year later, Alarm filed a request for ex parte reexamination of the patent—a request that used repackaged versions of arguments from its unsuccessful IPR petition. Despite the striking similarity between Alarm’s prior and current arguments, including two out of the four original IPR patentability questions being copied verbatim from the failed petition into the ex parte reexamination request, the PTAB found the petition raised substantial new questions of patentability and ordered reexamination. Vivint responded by seeking dismissal of the ex parte reexamination under 37 C.F.R. § 1.181, arguing that the PTAB has the authority under 35 U.S.C § 325(d) to deny the ex parte reexamination request because that statute applies to ex parte reexaminations and IPRs with “equal force.” The PTAB rejected Vivint’s request, stating that any § 1.181 petition raising a § 325(d) challenge must be filed before reexamination is ordered.

Vivint filed a second § 1.181 petition seeking reconsideration of the § 325(d) issue, arguing that it would have been impossible for Vivint to file the § 1.181 petition before ex parte reexamination was ordered. Vivint also argued that even if the PTAB lacked general authority to terminate the reexamination, it could exercise such authority under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Vivint also asserted that the PTAB “acted arbitrarily and capriciously by applying the same law to the same facts and reaching a different conclusion.” The PTAB rejected Vivint’s arguments and denied its second petition, finding that Vivint could have sought a waiver of the rules having to do with the required prior-to-ex parte timing of a § 1.181 petition vis-à-vis institution of ex parte reexamination. The PTAB also noted that ex parte reexamination was not inconsistent with denying the initial IPR. Ultimately, after an examiner issued a final rejection for all claims of the patent, Vivint appealed to the PTAB. The PTAB affirmed and Vivint [...]

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As Due Process Recognizes, it’s Hard to Shoot at a Moving Claim Construction Target

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated several Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) decisions as violating due process and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), referencing the parties’ inability to respond to the PTAB’s sua sponte construction of a term on which the parties had previously agreed. Qualcomm Inc. v. Intel Corp., Case Nos. 20-1589; -1594 (Fed. Cir. July 27, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

After Qualcomm sued Intel over a patent directed to techniques for generating a power tracking supply voltage for a circuit that processes multiple radio frequency signals simultaneously, Intel filed six inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging the validity of Qualcomm’s patents. In each petition, Intel proposed that the claim term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” meant “signals for transmission on multiple carriers at the same time to increase the bandwidth for a user.” Qualcomm proposed a different construction: “signals from a single terminal utilizing multiple component carriers which provide extended transmission bandwidth for a user transmission from the single terminal.” Neither party disputed that the signals were required to increase user bandwidth, either at the PTAB or in a parallel proceeding before the US International Trade Commission (USITC) where the USITC adopted a construction—including the increased bandwidth requirement.

However, during the oral hearing, one of the administrative patent judges (APJs) asked Intel counsel about the inclusion of the bandwidth limitation in the claim construction. No other APJ raised, or asked Qualcomm, any questions about the increased bandwidth requirement in the claim construction. The day after the hearing, the PTAB sua sponte ordered additional briefing on the meaning of other claim terms that had been extensively discussed at the hearing.

The PTAB ultimately issued six final written decisions concluding that all challenged claims were unpatentable. In doing so, the PTAB omitted any requirement that the signals increase or extend bandwidth in construing the term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” to mean “signals for transmission on multiple carriers.” The PTAB also held that “means for determining a single power tracking signal” (power tracker limitation) was a means-plus-function limitation and that an integrated circuit (IC) board, the “power tracker 582,” was the corresponding structure.

Qualcomm timely appealed, arguing that 1) it was not afforded notice of, or an adequate opportunity to respond to, the PTAB’s construction of “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” and 2) that the PTAB’s construction of the power tracker limitation was erroneous for failing to include an algorithm in the corresponding structure.

NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND TO THE PTAB’S CONSTRUCTION

The Federal Circuit has discussed the administrative and notice requirements provided by the APA and due process in IPR proceedings: “[a] patent owner in [an IPR] is undoubtedly entitled to notice of and a fair opportunity to meet the grounds of rejection” (Belden v. Berk-Tek). The Court observed that for IPRs, the PTAB must “timely inform” the patent owner of “the matters of fact and law asserted” and, in terms of notice, “must provide ‘all interested [...]

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