The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that 35 USC § 314(d) did not bar its review of a Patent Trial & Appeal Board determination that a petitioner was not estopped from maintaining inter partes review (IPR) proceedings since the alleged estoppel-triggering event occurred post-institution. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Facebook Inc., Case Nos. 19-1688, -1689 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2021) (Chen, J.)
Facebook and WhatsApp (collectively, Facebook) filed two IPR proceedings challenging certain claims of Uniloc’s patents. Apple also filed a petition challenging a subset of claims of the patent. Facebook subsequently filed a third petition that was substantively identical to Apple’s petition and also filed a motion to join Apple’s IPR. LG Electronics filed petitions identical to Facebook’s three petitions and also filed motions to join Facebook’s IPRs. The Board instituted Facebook’s third petition and granted Facebook’s motion to join Apple’s IPR. The Board then instituted Facebook’s original IPRs and ordered the parties to “brief the applicability, if any, of 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(1)” against Facebook, in light of the soon-to-be-issued final written decision for Apple’s IPR. At the time, LG’s petition and motion to join Facebook’s IPRs had not been decided.
In response to the Board’s order, Facebook argued that it should not be estopped under § 315 from challenging the patentability of any claim upon the issuance of a final written decision in Apple’s IPR. Facebook argued that if the Board did find it estopped, Facebook should be able to continue as a petitioner against one of the claims, which it never challenged, in Apple’s IPR. Facebook also argued that if LG’s IPR petition was granted and LG was joined as a party to its first IPR, the IPR should proceed as to all challenged claims (regardless of whether Facebook was found estopped) because LG was not a party in Apple’s IPR. Uniloc responded, arguing that once the Board issued a final written decision in Apple’s IPR, Facebook would be estopped as to all claims challenged in its first IPR and the Board must terminate that proceeding. Uniloc also argued that allowing LG to join the IPR would create inefficiency and confusion.
The Board ultimately instituted LG’s IPR petitions and granted LG’s motion to join Facebook’s IPRs. In its Patent Owner Responses to the original Facebook IPR petitions, Uniloc argued that LG should be barred from maintaining the first Facebook IPR once the Board issued a final written decision in the Apple IPR because LG was estopped as a real party in interest (RPI) or privy to Facebook. A few months later, the Board issued a final written decision in the Apple IPR upholding the patentability of all challenged claims. The Board’s decision in the first Facebook IPR found that Facebook was estopped under § 315(e)(1) as to claims also challenged in Apple’s IPR, but not other claims since § 315(e)(1)’s estoppel provisions apply only to grounds that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised “with respect to that claim.”
In its final [...]