In a nonprecedential opinion on remand from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and a US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director-granted request for review, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) reconstrued claim terms it had previously construed in consideration of the patent specification, prosecution history and Federal Circuit construction of similar terms in a related case. Apple Inc. v. Personalized Media Communications, LLC, IPR2016-00754, IPR2016-01520 (P.T.A.B. Sept. 8, 2022) (Turner, APJ.)
In March 2016, Apple filed a petition to institute an inter partes review (IPR) against a patent (’635 patent) owned by Personalized Media Communications, LLC (PMC). After PMC filed its Patent Owner Preliminary Response (POPR), the Board instituted the IPR on some, but not all, of Apple’s requested grounds. Per Board procedure, PMC filed its Patent Owner Response (POR) and a contingent motion to amend its patent’s claims. In response, Apple filed a reply and an opposition to the contingent motion, and PMC filed a reply to Apple’s opposition. After oral argument the Board issued a Final Written Decision (754-FWD) finding all challenged claims unpatentable and denying the contingent motion to amend. PMC first sought rehearing of the Board’s decision and, after rehearing was denied, appealed the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit.
Similarly, in July 2016, Apple filed another petition against the same PMC patent. After considering PMC’s POPR, the Board instituted an IPR on some of Apple’s requested grounds. PMC again filed a POR and a contingent motion to amend, to which Apple filed a reply and opposition (to which PMC filed its reply and Apple a sur-reply). Again, the Board held an oral hearing and issued a Final Written Decision (FWD) finding all challenged claims unpatentable and denying the contingent motion to amend. PMC again sought rehearing of the Board’s decision and, after rehearing was denied, appealed the Board’s decision to the Federal Circuit.
On appeal of each proceeding, PMC moved, and the Federal Circuit granted remand in light of and consistent with the 2021 Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Arthrex, Inc., where a five-justice majority found that the appointment of Board administrative patent judges was unconstitutional and a seven-justice majority concluded that the remedy was to vest the PTO Director with authority to overrule Board decisions.
On remand to the PTO, PMC filed a request for director review, which the Commissioner for Patents (performing the functions and duties of the PTO Director) granted. The Commissioner’s Granting Order agreed with PMC’s argument that the Board, in these two cases, had construed the claim terms “encrypted” and “decrypted” in a manner that could include “scrambling and descrambling operations on digital information, but could also include … on analog information” and was inconsistent with the Federal Circuit’s partial reversal of the Board’s construction in yet another IPR proceeding (755-IPR regarding another related PMC patent) between Apple and PMC. As to the related patent IPR, the Federal Circuit ultimately construed “encrypted digital information transmission including encrypted information” as “… limited [...]