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Prior Art Citation to Inventors’ Report Not “By Another” for § 102(e)

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that a prior art patent’s summarization of a report authored by the inventors of a patent challenged under inter partes review (IPR) did not constitute a disclosure “by another” under pre-America Invents Act § 102(e). LSI Corp. v. Regents of Univ. of Minnesota, Case No. 21-2057 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Hughes, JJ.)

The Regents of the University of Minnesota (UMN) sued LSI Corporation and Avago Technologies (collectively, LSI) for infringement of a patent related to methods for reducing errors in binary data sequences. LSI petitioned for IPR, challenging several claims of the asserted patent and arguing that they were anticipated by two prior art references, Okada and Tsang. Tsang made reference to a “Seagate Annual Report” that was published by the inventors of the asserted patent, and which was later embodied in the patent’s application.

The Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) found that one of the challenged claims was anticipated by Okada. The Board also found that LSI had not shown that the other challenged claims were rendered unpatentable by either Okada or Tsang and further rejected an invalidity (anticipation) theory first raised by LSI during oral arguments as untimely (while noting that the argument failed even if timely raised). The Board determined that the Tsang reference was not “by another” under § 102(e) because LSI’s petition relied solely on material that was originally disclosed in the inventor’s Seagate Annual Report. LSI appealed the Board’s determinations relating to invalidity based on Okada or Tsang.

The Federal Circuit noted that LSI did not challenge the Board’s untimeliness determination and rejected LSI’s argument that it did not need to because the Board nevertheless reached a merits decision on the argument. The Court cited to its 2016 decision in Intelligent Bio-Systems v. Illumina Cambridge, which held that “the Board’s rejection of arguments on the ground that they were newly raised in a reply brief was not an abuse of discretion even though the Board went on to address the merits.”

Turning to the § 102(e) issue, the Federal Circuit first explained that an invention is anticipated under § 102(e) if the invention is described in a patent application filed “by another,” but a patent owner may overcome such anticipation by establishing that the relevant prior art disclosure describes the owner’s invention. Describing the history of the Tsang reference and the patent under review, the Court explained that the inventors originally submitted a Seagate Annual Report to Seagate, a UMN collaborator. Tsang, a Seagate employee, received the report and quickly filed a patent application for an improvement on the methods described in the report. This application listed only Tsang as inventor and made direct reference to the Seagate Annual Report.

The Federal Circuit then addressed whether LSI’s IPR petition relied on Tsang’s improvement to the inventors’ report or simply on Tsang’s summary of the inventors’ report. The Court explained that while LSI’s petition relied on both Tsang’s summary of the [...]

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Arthrex, Still Without Director Review, Gets Constitutional Review from Patent Commissioner

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit considered whether the Patent Commissioner, on assuming the role of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director, can constitutionally evaluate the rehearing of Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) inter partes review (IPR) decisions. The panel concluded that neither Appointments Clause jurisprudence nor the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) impeded the Commissioner from exercising the PTO Director’s authority. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. et al., Case No. 18-2140 (Fed. Cir., May 27, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Reyna, Chen, JJ.)

Approximately one year ago, Arthrex succeeded in the Supreme Court of the United States on its argument that the Appointments Clause of the Constitution was violated unless a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed officer (such as the PTO Director) could review the Board’s final IPR decisions. (United States v. Arthrex, Inc.) The case returned to the PTO on remand. At the time, the position of PTO Director was vacant, and there was no acting director. Pursuant to the FVRA, the Commissioner of Patents (a position filled by the Secretary of Commerce) exercised the PTO Director’s authority to review Board decisions and ultimately rejected Arthrex’s challenge to the Board’s unpatentability determination. Arthrex appealed.

Arthrex contended that the Commissioner could not constitutionally exercise the PTO Director’s IPR review authority without running afoul of the Appointments Clause, that the FVRA barred the Commissioner’s exercise of authority and that the Commissioner violated separation of powers. Arthrex also challenged the ruling on the merits. None of these challenges were successful.

First, the Federal Circuit concluded that Arthrex reinforced long-settled Supreme Court precedent that an inferior officer could exercise a principal officer’s authority constitutionally on a temporary basis without violating the Appointments Clause. Here, the Court concluded that the Commissioner’s exercise of the PTO Director’s IPR review authority until a new director was installed presented no problem.

Second, the FVRA provides a statutory framework for the exercise of a principal officer’s duties under certain circumstances, which, if the law applied, would not have allowed the Commissioner to review IPR decisions. However, the Federal Circuit explained that the FVRA narrowly governs only those duties of an officer that are statutorily non-delegable (i.e., which US Congress has required to be exercised personally by the officer). According to the Court, such provisions did not apply here because nothing demonstrated that the PTO Director’s newly created authority to review IPR decisions was non-delegable.

Third, the Federal Circuit rejected Arthrex’s argument that the Commissioner’s service as the PTO Director violated the line of precedent that limits Congress’ ability to circumscribe the president’s removal authority for superior officers. Arthrex contended that the Commissioner, a non-superior officer, could be removed only for “misconduct or nonsatisfactory performance” and therefore could not fill the role of the PTO Director. The panel disagreed, explaining that the president could name an acting director “with the stroke of a pen,” and so the limits on removing the Commissioner from his role as Commissioner [...]

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