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Shots Fired: Challenger Must Have Requisite Standing Before Appealing Unfavorable IPR Decisions

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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 [...]

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Standing Challenge Brews Trouble in Trademark Dispute

Addressing for the first time Article III standing in a trademark case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that hypothetical future injury is insufficient to establish standing to oppose a trademark application. Brooklyn Brewery Corp. v. Brooklyn Brew Shop, LLC, Case No. 20-2277 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 27, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

Brooklyn Brewery brews and sells craft beers. Brooklyn Brew Shop (BBS) sells beer-making kits and related accessories. Between 2011 and 2016, the Brewery and BBS collaborated on the sale of co-branded beer-making kits. In 2011, BBS obtained a trademark in its name for beer-making kits. In 2014, BBS filed an application to register a mark in its name for several Class 32 goods, including various types of beer and beer-making kits, as well as Class 5 “sanitizing preparations.”

In 2015, the Brewery petitioned for cancellation of BBS’s 2011 trademark registration and filed a notice of opposition to BBS’s 2014 trademark application. The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) denied the petition for cancellation and rejected the opposition. The Brewery appealed.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit first addressed whether the Brewery had standing to appeal the TTAB’s decision. The Court noted that while it “ha[d] not yet had occasion to address Article III standing in a trademark case,” a party appealing a TTAB decision must satisfy both statutory and Article III requirements. The Court held that the Brewery did not have Article III standing to appeal the TTAB’s decision dismissing the opposition with respect to the Class 5 sanitizing preparations because the Brewery did not make or sell sanitizing preparations. The Court found the possibility that the Brewery might someday expand its business to include the sale of sanitizing preparations was not enough to establish the injury-in-fact prong of the Article III standing test. However, the Court found that the Brewery’s past involvement in the sale of co-branded beer-making kits with BBS was sufficient to establish the Brewery’s standing to challenge BBS’s registration and application for Class 32 beer-making kits.

On the merits, the Federal Circuit affirmed the TTAB’s decision with respect to BBS’s 2011 trademark registration. The Court agreed with the TTAB that the Brewery failed to establish inevitable confusion as to the beer-making kits and failed to establish that BBS’s mark was merely descriptive. The Court vacated the TTAB’s decision with respect to the 2014 trademark application, finding that the TTAB erred by not considering whether BBS proved acquired distinctiveness of its application and remanded for further proceedings.

Practice Note: Before seeking review of a TTAB decision in federal court, a party should ensure that it has satisfied the three-part test for Article III standing.




GOOGLES Wins Right to Sue Google

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a trademark dispute for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, noting that the dispute arose under contractual standing, which is not a jurisdictional issue. SM Kids, LLC v. Google LLC, Alphabet Inc., Case No. 19-cv-2547 (2d Cir. June 25, 2020) (Parker, J.).

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A Party May Have Standing Even with Incorrect Patent Assignment

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision that a reformation of an incorrect assignment supports Article III standing and affirmed the court’s prejudgment interest award. Schwendimann v. Arkwright Advanced Coating, Inc., Case Nos. 18-2416, 19-1012 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2020) (Wallach, J.) (Reyna, J. dissenting).

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“Non-Limiting” Prior Art Claims Support Obviousness After Standing Is Established

Addressing the issue of Article III standing and obviousness in an appeal of an inter partes review (IPR) decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the petitioner had standing to appeal because past activities created a controversy between the parties. Grit Energy Solutions, LLC v. Oren Techs., LLC, Case No. 19-1063 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 30, 2020) (Prost, CJ) (Newman, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part).

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