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What Preclusion? Post-IPR Reexam Moves Forward

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revived a petitioner’s validity challenge seeking ex parte review at the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO), reversing a district court decision dismissing its complaint seeking Administrative Procedures Act (APA) review of the PTO Director’s vacatur decision. The Federal Circuit concluded that the petitioner was not subject to inter partes review (IPR) estoppel from pursuing reexamination after receiving IPR final written decisions concerning the same claims of the same patents. Alarm.com Inc. v. Hirshfeld, Case No. 21-2102 (Fed Cir, Feb 24, 2022) (Taranto, Chen, Cunningham, JJ.)

This case explores the tension between the ex parte reexam statute and the IPR estoppel statute. Under 35 U.S.C. § 302, “any person at any time may file a request for reexamination . . . of any claim of a patent on the basis of any prior art cited under [§ 301].” If the PTO Director determines “pursuant to [§ 303(a)] that no substantial new question of patentability is raised,” that determination “will be final and nonappealable.” § 303(c). If a substantial new question is deemed to have been raised, “the determination will include an order for reexamination of the patent for resolution of the question.” § 304. Under § 315(e)(1), a petitioner in an IPR that results in a final written decision is estopped from requesting or maintaining a proceeding before the PTO “with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.”

Alarm.com filed several IPR petitions that resulted in three final written decisions holding that Alarm.com had not carried its burden of proving that the challenged claims at issue were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit affirmed all three decisions in its 2018 ruling in Vivint, Inc. v. Alarm.com. Alarm.com subsequently filed three requests for ex parte reexamination of the same claims under 35 U.S.C. § 302 and 37 C.F.R. § 1.510, presenting different grounds than were presented in the IPRs. Instead of rendering a § 303(a) decision on the issue of whether petitioner presented a substantial new questions of patentability, the Director vacated the requests, finding that Alarm.com reasonably could have raised its reexamination grounds in the IPRs and, therefore, was estopped under § 315(e)(1) from submitting the requests. Alarm.com filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia against the Director and the PTO under 5 U.S.C. § 702, stating that the Director’s actions were arbitrary and capricious. Following dismissal of the complaint, Alarm.com appealed.

The PTO argued that the overall ex parte reexamination scheme precluded judicial review of the Director’s vacatur decision based on § 315(e)(1) estoppel, which brought Alarm.com’s challenge within the exception to APA review, i.e., where “statutes preclude judicial review.” 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(1). The PTO did not raise any other arguments as to why judicial review would not be available under the APA.

The Federal Circuit explained that “[t]he only portion of the ex parte reexamination statutory scheme that expressly precludes judicial review is § [...]

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Ex Parte Reexamination Not Allowed After Failed IPR Challenge

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that ex parte reexamination was unavailable to a challenger who repeatedly tried and failed to raise the same arguments for the same patent in a prior inter partes review (IPR) proceeding. In re: Vivint, Inc., Case No. 20-1992 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 29, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

Vivint sued Alarm.com in 2015 for infringement of several patents. In response, Alarm requested that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) institute “a litany of post-issuance review proceedings,” including three separate IPR petitions directed to one of the patents. The PTAB refused to institute two of the petitions because Alarm failed show to a reasonable likelihood that it would prevail on at least one challenged claim and also refused to institute the third petition because it represented an example of “undesirable, incremental petitioning.” According to the PTAB, Alarm had “used prior Board decisions as a roadmap to correct past deficiencies” and allowing such “similar, serial challenges to the same patent” by the same challenger risked, not only harassment of patent owners, but also frustration of congressional intent behind the America Invents Act (AIA).

More than a year later, Alarm filed a request for ex parte reexamination of the patent—a request that used repackaged versions of arguments from its unsuccessful IPR petition. Despite the striking similarity between Alarm’s prior and current arguments, including two out of the four original IPR patentability questions being copied verbatim from the failed petition into the ex parte reexamination request, the PTAB found the petition raised substantial new questions of patentability and ordered reexamination. Vivint responded by seeking dismissal of the ex parte reexamination under 37 C.F.R. § 1.181, arguing that the PTAB has the authority under 35 U.S.C § 325(d) to deny the ex parte reexamination request because that statute applies to ex parte reexaminations and IPRs with “equal force.” The PTAB rejected Vivint’s request, stating that any § 1.181 petition raising a § 325(d) challenge must be filed before reexamination is ordered.

Vivint filed a second § 1.181 petition seeking reconsideration of the § 325(d) issue, arguing that it would have been impossible for Vivint to file the § 1.181 petition before ex parte reexamination was ordered. Vivint also argued that even if the PTAB lacked general authority to terminate the reexamination, it could exercise such authority under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Vivint also asserted that the PTAB “acted arbitrarily and capriciously by applying the same law to the same facts and reaching a different conclusion.” The PTAB rejected Vivint’s arguments and denied its second petition, finding that Vivint could have sought a waiver of the rules having to do with the required prior-to-ex parte timing of a § 1.181 petition vis-à-vis institution of ex parte reexamination. The PTAB also noted that ex parte reexamination was not inconsistent with denying the initial IPR. Ultimately, after an examiner issued a final rejection for all claims of the patent, Vivint appealed to the PTAB. The PTAB affirmed and Vivint [...]

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