The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found, in the context of an appeal from an inter partes review (IPR) decision, that the appellant had Article III standing and affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision, holding the challenged claims unpatentable as obvious. ModernaTX, Inc. v. Arbutus Biopharma Corporation, Case No. 20-2329 (Fed. Cir. Dec 2, 2021) (Lourie, J.)
Arbutus owns a patent pertaining to “stable nucleic acid-lipid particles (SNALP) comprising a nucleic acid (such as one or more interfering RNA), methods of making the SNALP, and methods of delivering and/or administering the SNALP.” Moderna petitioned for IPR of the patent, asserting three grounds:
- Moderna alleged that all claims of the challenged patent would have been anticipated and/or obvious in light of International Pat. Publ. WO 2005/007196 (‘196 PCT) or US Pat. Publ. 2006/0134189 (‘189 publication).
- Moderna alleged that all claims of the challenged patent would have been obvious over a combination of the ‘196 PCT, the ‘189 publication, Lin and Ahmad.
- Moderna alleged that all claims of the challenged patent were anticipated by US Pat. Publ. 2006/0240554 (‘554 publication), and alternatively that the claims would have been obvious over the ‘554 publication.
The Board rejected each of Moderna’s allegations, finding that the claims were not unpatentable as obvious. Moderna appealed.
Before addressing Moderna’s appeal on its merits, the Federal Circuit addressed whether Moderna had proper standing to challenge the Board’s decision. The Court stated that well-established precedent dictates that an appellant seeking review of a Board decision in an IPR must have suffered an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the appellee and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The Court underscored that under IPR statute, there is no standing requirement for petitioners to request institution of IPR by the Board, meaning that a requester need not have a concrete stake in the outcome. Additionally, where the statue itself grants judicial review (such as in the case of an IPR), standing criteria of immediacy and redressability may be “relaxed.” Nonetheless, the Court explained that a party’s participation in the underlying IPR alone does not confer standing on that party to appeal the Board decision before an Article III court such as the Federal Circuit. The party seeking review (in this case Moderna) must show that it possesses requisite injury for standing to appeal.
Moderna asserted that substantial risk existed that Arbutus would bring an infringement suit against Moderna based on Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine if the challenged patent was to remain valid. In support, Moderna submitted a declaration from its senior vice president and deputy general counsel that Moderna was working to harness proprietary mRNA technology and planned on releasing and applying for emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020. The declaration also described how Arbutus’s conduct created a substantial risk that it would bring subsequent infringement action against Moderna. An example of such conduct was a series of public statements [...]