Appointments Clause
Subscribe to Appointments Clause's Posts

The Board Is Back in Town: Arthrex Can’t Save Untimely Motions to Terminate

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) unpatentability finding and denial of a motion to terminate, finding that the Board had already issued final written decisions that were not vacated at the time the Board denied the parties’ motion to terminate. Polaris Innovations Ltd. v. Derrick Brent, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of The United States Patent and Trademark Office, Case No. 19-1483 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 15, 2022) (Prost, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Polaris owns two unrelated patents directed to computer memory. The first patent relates to improved control component configuration, and the second patent relates to a shared-resource system in which logical controls are used to manage resource requests. In 2016, Polaris filed a complaint accusing NVIDIA of infringing both patents. NVIDIA responded by filing petitions for inter partes review (IPR) against each patent. In 2017, the Board issued its final written decisions, finding the challenged claims of both patents unpatentable. Polaris appealed.

The Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s decision in view of Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. (Arthrex I). On remand, the Board administratively suspended the IPR proceedings pending potential Supreme Court review of Arthrex I. During the administrative suspension, Polaris and NVIDIA filed a joint motion to terminate the proceedings. While those motions were pending, the Supreme Court vacated Arthrex I, substituting an alternative remedy for violation of the Appointments Clause in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. (Arthrex II). In view of Arthrex II, the Supreme Court vacated the Federal Circuit’s vacatur of the Board’s final written decision, thus reinstating those decisions.

On remand to the Board, Polaris argued that the Board should grant Polaris’s then-pending motion to terminate. The Chief Administrative Law Judge responded that termination was not appropriate because the Supreme Court’s decision meant that the “final written decision in each of these cases is not vacated, and it is not necessary for the Board to issue a new final written decision in either of these cases.” Polaris filed a request for Director rehearing. The Director denied rehearing. Polaris appealed.

Polaris argued that the Board erred by failing to grant the joint motions to terminate filed in both proceedings before the Board on remand. Relying on 35 U.S.C. § 317, the Federal Circuit explained that motions to terminate should be granted “unless the Office has decided the merits of the proceeding before the request for termination is filed.” The Court found that the Board had already decided the merits of the cases in final written decisions that were not vacated at the time the Board made its decision denying Polaris’s motions to terminate. The Court therefore affirmed the Board’s decision that termination was inappropriate.

Polaris also raised two claim construction arguments. Polaris argued that the Board misconstrued the term “memory chip” in the IPR involving one of the challenged patents and misconstrued the term “resource tag buffer” in the IPR involving the [...]

Continue Reading




Not “Use It or Lose It”: Even if Unexercised, Director’s Authority over Institution Decisions Remains

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied mandamus relief, finding that a party is not entitled to petition the director for review of a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision denying institution of an inter partes review (IPR) or post-grant review (PGR) proceeding. This ruling reflects the Court’s ongoing consideration of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., which held that Board judges cannot constitutionally render final decisions in IPRs without US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director oversight. Click here for our discussion of the case on remand, for which the Federal Circuit just denied en banc rehearing. In re Palo Alto Networks, Inc., Case No. 22-145 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 16, 2022) (Dyk, Chen, JJ.) (Reyna, J., concurring).

After being sued by Centripetal Systems for patent infringement, Palo Alto Networks filed petitions for IPR and PGR of some of the asserted patents. The Board denied institution, and Palo Alto Networks filed requests for Director rehearing. Although the PTO acknowledged receipt of the request, it informed Palo Alto Networks that the Director was not considering requests for rehearing of institution decisions “at this time.” Thereafter, Palo Alto Networks sought a writ of mandamus from the Federal Circuit. Between the request for mandamus and the Court’s decision, the PTO issued guidance explaining that although the PTO was not considering requests for rehearing, “the Director has always retained and continues to retain the authority to review such decisions sua sponte after issuance (at the Director’s discretion),” and indeed, exercised its authority to initiate sua sponte review since.

The Federal Circuit rejected Palo Alto Networks’ claim that the Director’s refusal to consider petitions for rehearing of institution decisions amounted to an abdication of authority prohibited by the Appointments Clause. Even assuming that institution decisions were “final decisions on how to exercise executive power” implicating the Appointments Clause, the Court found that the Director maintains statutory and regulatory authority to review institution decisions (unlike in Arthrex), and that the Board renders such decisions only based on the Director’s delegation of authority (also unlike Arthrex). Accordingly, the structural authority maintained by the Director is sufficient, even if such authority goes unexercised, according to the Court.

Writing separately, Judge Reyna agreed that no Appointments Clause violation had occurred but on different grounds. Although Judge Reyna noted that a categorical rejection of requests for rehearing by the Director might raise constitutional concerns, he concluded that mandamus was inappropriate for several reasons. First, the Director’s caveat that she refused to accept requests “at this time” did not constitute a categorical refusal but rather an exercise of discretion. Second, the Director’s invocation of her sua sponte authority to review belied a lack of exercise of discretion. The Director did in fact exercise sua sponte authority to consider Palo Alto Networks’ request, even though briefing in the Federal Circuit was pending, and thus a writ of mandamus was inappropriate.




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 [...]

Continue Reading




PTO’s Financial Benefits from IPR Don’t Render PTAB Unconstitutional

A split panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that the structure and functions of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) survived yet another constitutional challenge, this time based on the PTAB’s fee and compensation structure, lack of director review over the institution decision and applicability of the Takings Clause. Mobility WorkX, LLC v. Unified Patents LLC, Case No. 20-1441 (Fed. Cir.) (Dyk, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

With the dust barely settled after the Supreme Court’s ruling in US v. Arthrex, Inc. that the PTAB’s rendering of final written decisions without director review violated the Appointments Clause, this case presented a whole new slate of potential deficiencies with the PTAB. Although none of these deficiencies were initially raised with the PTAB, the Court exercised its discretion to nonetheless consider the challenges based on publicly available records that it could judicially notice.

The first challenge, already made in many other cases, was that the Federal Circuit remand for the director to consider a rehearing petition in view of Arthrex. This remedy, already afforded in other post-Arthrex challenges, was a simple grant. Yet, here, Mobility asked for something more, arguing that because the director did not resolve the inter partes review (IPR) within the 12-month statutory period, the director must confirm the claims or dismiss the IPR. The Court declined to rule on this issue, instructing Mobility to raise the issue on remand.

The issue receiving the most attention by the Federal Circuit was Mobility’s claims that the PTAB’s fee structure and bonus payments to administrative patent judges (APJs) based on their workload violated the Due Process Clause. According to Mobility, the APJs have a financial incentive to institute IPRs (i.e., significant fees), which provide a significant benefit to the agency. But the Court concluded that the APJs (even the leadership APJs) have only an attenuated role in budget control and thus have an insignificant interest in the financial health of the US Patent & Trademark Office as a whole. Because Congress holds the purse strings and the more significant budget responsibilities fall on the director and the president, the majority held that little connection existed between institution decisions and the agency’s overall financial health, which was consistent with the Court’s own precedent regarding reexaminations and other circuits’ precedents regarding executive agency fee collection. This attenuated connection differentiated the PTAB’s collected fees from Supreme Court cases that found due process violations based on the structure of certain executive courts presided over by a mayor who also held concomitant budget responsibilities.

Similarly, the Federal Circuit held that the APJs’ incentive to render a certain number of decisions—i.e., APJs receive bonus payments if they earn at least 84 decisional units, and the number of decisions is part of performance evaluation—did not provide an unconstitutional incentive to institute. The majority reasoned that ample alternative means existed for the APJs to earn their bonuses, namely, the ability to volunteer for non-America Invents Act (AIA) decisions (such as [...]

Continue Reading




TTAB Judicial Appointments are Determined Constitutionally Sound

Addressing for the first time whether the Supreme Court of the United States’ recent decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. also applied to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that it did not, upholding the constitutionality of TTAB judicial appointments and affirming the TTAB’s cancellation of the SCHIEDMAYER trademark. Piano Factory Group, Inc. v Schiedmayer Celesta GMBH, Case No. 20-1196 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2021) (Bryson, J.)

Schiedmayer Celesta is the remaining corporate entity from a centuries-old line of German keyboard instrument manufacturers that uses the SCHIEDMAYER trademark in connection with the sale of its products. Sweet 16 Musical Properties and Piano Factory Group (collectively, Piano Factory) operated Hollywood Piano retail outlets where it sold “no-name” pianos purchased from China that were affixed with “Schiedmayer” labels. The owner of Piano Factory, believing the SCHIEDMAYER mark had been abandoned, applied to register the SCHIEDMAYER mark, and the registration issued in 2007.

In 2015, Schiedmayer filed a petition to cancel Piano Factory’s registration, alleging that it falsely suggested a connection with Schiedmayer and, thus, violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After the TTAB granted the petition to cancel, Piano Factory appealed.

Between the time that the parties filed their appeal briefs and the Federal Circuit issued its decision, the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Arthrex, holding that the appointment of Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) administrative judges violated the Appointments Clause of Article II of the Constitution. On appeal, Piano Factory argued that the appointment of TTAB administrative judges (specifically, the administrative judges who issued the decision Piano Factory was appealing) was likewise unconstitutional. However, the Court disagreed, citing language from the Arthrex decision that “effectively confirmed that . . . the statutory scheme governing TTAB decision-making is not subject to the Appointments Clause problem the Court identified with regard to the PTAB.”

Additionally, Piano Factory cited the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 (TMA)—which explicitly addressed this issue—for support. Piano Factory argued that since the TMA was not enacted until after the TTAB’s decision to cancel the SCHIEDMAYER registration, its enactment indicated that the TTAB was previously flawed. Again, the Federal Circuit disagreed, stating “the 2020 legislation itself makes clear that it merely confirmed, and did not alter” the framework that was in place prior to the TMA.

Piano Factory also challenged the merits of the TTAB’s decision, including its application of the four-factor test for false association, which considers:

  1. Whether the challenged mark is identical or nearly identical to a name previously used by another person;
  2. Whether the mark would be understood as a unique and unmistakable reference to that person;
  3. Whether the person referenced by the challenged mark was connected with the applicant’s activities and
  4. Whether the earlier user’s name has sufficient fame such that a connection with applicant would be presumed when the contested mark was used to identify the applicant’s goods.

Piano Factory disputed the [...]

Continue Reading




PTO Updates Arthrex Guidance

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) updated its June 29, 2021, interim procedure to implement the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in U.S. v. Arthrex, Inc., and specifically updated the Arthrex Q&As section. The PTO’s July 20, 2021, updates address the effect of Arthrex on Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings generally and ongoing proceedings in particular. In Arthrex, the Supreme Court held that appointment of PTAB administrative patent judges violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, and that the proper remedy was to vest the PTO director with discretion to overturn the PTAB’s decisions.

In section A of the Q&As, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on PTAB proceedings, the PTO explained that the director has the option to sua sponte initiate director review of any final written decision at any point before the filing of a notice of appeal or before the time for filing such a notice has expired. The updated Q&As further explain that a request for director review is not an opportunity for a party to make new arguments or submit new evidence and imposes a 15-page limit on any request. The updated Q&As also clarify the mechanism to request review by the director. The update clarifies that a party cannot request both director review and a panel rehearing after the issuance of a final written decision, and if a party requests both it will be treated as a request for director review. However, if a panel rehearing is granted, a party can request director review of the rehearing panel decision.

In section B of the update, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on ongoing PTAB proceedings, the PTO clarified the deadline for requesting a rehearing by the director and the circumstances under which the director will consider granting extensions of the rehearing deadlines.

In addition, the PTO added a new section, section D, pertaining to the interim internal process for director review. In section D, the Q&As address:

  1. What happens to a director review request when it is received by the PTO?
  2. What criteria does the advisory committee use when evaluating director review requests?
  3. How will the director identify decisions for sua sponte director review?

Regarding 1), the Q&As explain that requests for director review will be evaluated by an advisory committee established by the director. Regarding 2), the Q&As explain there is no exclusive list of criteria, but list criteria the advisory committee may consider. Regarding 3), the Q&As explain that the PTAB internal management review team will alert the director to decisions that may warrant director review.




IP Implications of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

On December 27, 2020, Congress signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, into law. The omnibus act includes new legislation affecting patent, copyright and trademark law. A brief summary of key provisions is provided below.

Patents – Section 325 Biological Product Patent Transparency

42 USC § 262(k) was amended to require that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide the public with more information about patented biological products. Within six months, the FDA must make the following information available to the public on its Database of Licensed Biological Products or “Purple Book,” and it must update the list every 30 days:

  • A list of each biological product, by nonproprietary name, for which a biologics license is in effect
  • The license date and application number
  • The license and marketing status (as available)
  • Exclusivity periods

The amendment requires that the holders of a license to market a biologic drug now disclose all patents believed to be covering that drug. The new law is designed to prevent errors that could delay biosimilars from coming to the market.

Copyrights – The CASE Act of 2020

The Consolidated Appropriations Act incorporates the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020, as well as legislation designed to increase criminal penalties for the unauthorized digital streaming of copyright-protected content. The CASE Act includes revisions to the Copyright Act, 17 USC §§ 101 et seq., with the goal of creating a new venue for copyright owners to enforce their rights instead of having to file an action in federal court.

The Copyright Claims Board

The CASE Act established the Copyright Claims Board (a small claims court), which is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work. A party may opt out upon being served with a claim, choosing instead to resolve the dispute in federal court. A party to a proceeding before the Board may, but is not required to, be represented by a lawyer. A party may also be represented by a law student who is qualified under applicable law, and who provides such representation on a pro bono basis. The Board consists of three copyright claims officers who may conduct individualized proceedings to resolve disputes and must issue written decisions setting forth their factual findings and legal conclusions.

Procedural Matters

The Board must follow the law in the federal jurisdiction in which the action could have been brought if filed in federal court. Because jurisdictional conflicts may arise where a dispute may have been brought in multiple jurisdictions, the CASE Act provides that the Board may apply the law of the jurisdiction that the Board determines has the most significant ties to the parties and the conduct at issue.

Although formal motion practice is not permitted, discovery is allowed on a limited basis, including requests for documents, written interrogatories and written requests for admission. The Board may consider evidence, documentary and (non-expert) testimony, without the application of formal [...]

Continue Reading




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.

(more…)




BLOG EDITORS

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES