The Patent Trial & Appeal Board of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) canceled all challenged claims across five patents because the patent owner failed to meet its duty of candor by selectively and improperly withholding material information that was inconsistent with its patentability arguments. Spectrum Solutions, LLC v. Longhorn Vaccines & Diagnostics, LLC, IPR2021-00847; -00850; -00854; -00857; -00860 (PTAB May 3, 2023) (Braden, Yang, Derrick, Pollock, APJs) (per curiam) (Braden, APJ concurring).
The Board instituted inter partes reviews (IPRs) against five Longhorn patents based on petitions filed by Spectrum. During the proceedings, Longhorn filed motions to amend, after which the Board issued preliminary guidance suggesting that Spectrum established a reasonable likelihood that the proposed substitute claims were unpatentable. Longhorn engaged Assured Bio Labs (ABL) to conduct biological testing that would support its arguments distinguishing a prior art reference, but Longhorn made attorney work product objections in Spectrum’s ABL depositions and withheld testing data inconsistent with its arguments on the patentability of the original and proposed substitute claims. The Board subsequently allowed additional questioning on certain ABL testing, after which Spectrum filed a motion for sanctions, requesting judgment against Longhorn, a finding that the prior art reference taught the claim limitations and precluding Longhorn from contesting the finding, and an award to Spectrum of compensatory expenses, including attorneys’ fees.
The Board determined that sanctions of adverse judgment as to all challenged claims was appropriate because Longhorn failed to meet its duty of candor and good faith. The Board explained that parties have a duty of candor and good faith before the Board that requires any factual contentions to be well supported by evidence. Parties have “a duty to disclose to the [PTO] all information known . . . to be material to patentability.” (37 C.F.R. §1.56(a).) Information is material to patentability when it is “not cumulative to information already of record or being made of record in the application and . . . it refutes, or is inconsistent with, a position the applicant takes in . . . asserting an argument of patentability.” Taking a position contrary to any known fact while shielding factual information from the Board violates the duty of candor and good faith to the PTO, even if the party may otherwise withhold the information as being immaterial to patentability or privileged.
The Board criticized Longhorn’s proposed claim constructions as too narrow and contrary to the express language in both the original and proposed substitute claims. The Board explained that although Longhorn was free to maintain arguments grounded on Longhorn’s claim constructions, that did not excuse Longhorn’s duty of candor and good faith dealing, including disclosing material information relating to the Board’s preliminary claim constructions. Longhorn could not “simply withhold information” that the PTO would find material to patentability and should instead contest the Board’s constructions at trial.
The Board also explained that Longhorn took an overly strict view of what was material to claim patentability and a lax view as to the duty of candor [...]