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Navigating the Interplay Between the ITC, PTAB and District Courts

Recent changes in intellectual property law in the US International Trade Commission (ITC), the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and federal US District Courts have had major impacts on litigation strategy and business operations. Within these venues, key changes often run parallel to each other, and understanding and maximizing the interplay between them is critical to formulizing an IP strategy. A panel of McDermott attorneys, including Charlie McMahon, Amol Parikh, Jay Reiziss and Jiaxiao Zhang, recently hosted a webinar exploring these issues in collaboration with IAM and Lexology. Click here to watch their discussion of the complexities of these related developments as well as innovative and practical insights to help you navigate them.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The rate at which the PTAB institutes petitions for Inter Partes Review (IPR) has been steadily declining, with a newer low expected this year. The falling institution rate over the last several years is attributable in part to discretionary denial under § 314(a).
  • Until 2020, there was still uncertainty behind the contours of how the PTAB’s discretionary denial would be applied when there was a co-pending district court or ITC proceeding. Last year, the PTAB designated as precedential its decision in Apple v. Fintiv, setting forth factors intended to guide the discretionary decision to institute when there are parallel proceedings.
  • Post-Fintiv, it looks less likely that litigants will be able to simultaneously pursue district court litigation and a PTAB proceeding. One of the benefits of the PTAB is the lower burden of proof to demonstrate that a patent is unpatentable. Removing this tool from the litigation toolbox could have a profound impact on defensive strategy.
  • It is still unclear how the PTAB’s Finitiv decision will apply to ITC investigations. Fitness technology companies, among others, have since asked the PTAB’s Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) to determine whether Fintiv should apply to parallel ITC investigations.
  • There have also been additional developments at the ITC related to the use of licensing to satisfy the domestic industry requirement. The pending Advancing America’s Interests Act (AAIA) would significantly change how complainants can rely upon licensing activities to establish a domestic industry.

 




It’s Highlighted and Verified: Reversal of PTAB Non-Obviousness Decision

In a relatively unusual outcome, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision finding non-obviousness in an inter partes review (IPR). Becton, Dickinson, and Co. v. Baxter Corp. Englewood, Case No. 20-1937 (Fed. Cir. May 28, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

Becton petitioned the Board for IPR of Baxter’s pre-America Invents Act (AIA) patent, directed to a system for preparing patient-specific doses and a method for telepharmacy. The Board decided that the patent claims were not shown to be invalid as obvious, but also found that Baxter’s secondary considerations evidence was “weak.” Becton appealed based on two contested limitations: a verification limitation and a highlighting limitation. The Federal Circuit reversed the Board, concluding that the challenged claims were obvious and explained that weak evidence of secondary considerations could not overcome the strong showing of obviousness.

First, the Federal Circuit decided that the Board erred in finding that a prior art reference that taught a remote pharmacist may verify a dose preparation did not render obvious a claimed method where a remote pharmacist must verify. The reference made clear that a non-pharmacist could not further process work without the verification step. Baxter’s own expert witness conceded that, in accordance with the teachings of the prior art, a non-pharmacist would be disciplined for continuing to process dose preparation without authorization. The Court concluded there was no significant difference between the teaching in the prior art reference and Baxter’s verification requirement.

Second, the Federal Circuit decided that the Board erred in finding that the “highlighting” limitation as it relates to a set of drug preparation steps on a computer was non-obvious. In what it characterized as a “close case,” the Board decided that a prior art reference’s teachings highlighting patient characteristics when dispensing repackaged medication did not make obvious highlighting, in a drug formulation context, prompts for additional information. Citing KSR v. Teleflex, the Court explained that the “combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable results.” The reference taught highlighting in terms of various inputs and information delivered. Becton’s expert testified that one of ordinary skill would understand from the reference that other information, such as prescription order information, could be displayed on the user interface. Baxter’s expert did not contradict Becton’s expert. Because “a person of ordinary skill is also a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton,” the Board erred in using that one reference as the only source for what one of ordinary skill would consider.

Lastly, Baxter unsuccessfully argued that under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. § 102(e)(2), one of the patent references was ineligible as prior art. Sec. 102(e)(2) provides that a prior art reference may be a “patent granted” on another’s application filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant. Baxter argued that since the claims of the reference were cancelled after a 2018 IPR, the reference no longer qualified as a “patent granted” [...]

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Prosecution History Prevents Patent Owner from “Intercepting” Win on Appeal

In reviewing whether the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) correctly interpreted the meaning of “intercepting” in the context of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the claim language and prosecution history supported the Board’s decision. The Court thus affirmed the Board’s construction and subsequent finding of obviousness. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Apple Inc., Case Nos. 20-1403, -1404 (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2021) (Prost, C.J.)

Uniloc owns a patent directed to a system and method for using various VoIP features, such as caller-ID, call waiting, multi-line service, and different levels of service quality known as the “codec specification.” The patent explains that in order to generate revenue for these features, service providers must maintain control over which subscribers have paid for these additional features. To achieve that control, the system employs an enforcement mechanism that sits between the sender of the communication and the intended recipient. The enforcement mechanism ensures that both parties are authorized to use the particular features by intercepting the signaling message, determining whether the client is authorized, and filtering the signaling message based on the authorization. The majority of the claims require authorization related to only one service type. However, one of the claims (claim 18) requires authorization related to at least two service types.

Apple filed a petition for inter partes review (IPR), alleging that all claims of the patent were invalid as obvious over a prior art patent referred to as Kalmanek. Kalmanek discloses signaling messages that are routed through at least one “gate controller,” which can authenticate the identity of the calling party and authorize the services sought. The services include at least caller-ID and enhanced levels of call quality. Kalmanek’s process is accomplished by sending a SETUP message, which the calling party sends to the gate controllers and then to the intended recipient. After receipt, the called party sends a SETUPACK message along a return path to the gate controllers and then to the caller.

During the IPR, Apple asserted that the term “intercepting” a signaling message associated with the call, as recited in all independent claims, should be interpreted to mean “the signaling [message] is received by a network entity located between the endpoints of the call.” Uniloc disagreed and argued that the term should be interpreted as excluding the receipt of a signaling message by the intended recipient of the message. The Board agreed with Apple’s construction and subsequently found that all terms were invalid as obvious with the exception of claim 18. With respect to claim 18, the Board concluded that Apple failed to meet its burden to show that Kalmanek disclosed authorization related to a codec service. Furthermore, the Board opined that even assuming Apple had properly advanced such an argument, it would have lost on the merits.

On appeal, Uniloc challenged the Board’s construction of the “intercepting” term, and Apple cross-appealed the Board’s finding with respect to the non-obviousness of claim 18. The Federal Circuit affirmed [...]

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If You Can’t Build it, They Won’t Come: No Obviousness Based on Fanciful Engine Design

Reaffirming that a person of ordinary skill in the art must have been able to actually create a disclosure at the time of invention in order for it to serve as an obviousness reference, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decision by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (the Board) in an inter partes review (IPR), concluding that a patent covering certain turbofan engine technology was not rendered obvious by a prior art publication that could not be realized into practice. Raytheon Techs. Corp. v. General Electric Co., Case No. 20-1755 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 16, 2021) (Chen, J.)

The issue on appeal was relatively straightforward. In an IPR, GE challenged as obvious a Raytheon patent that covered a specific design of geared gas turbine engine that provided for a “power density” higher than previously invented turbine engines. The patent defined “power density” as a “sea-level-takeoff thrust” divided by the engine turbine volume. During the IPR, GE relied on a 1987 NASA technical memorandum as art and argued that the reference, which envisioned superior performance characteristics based on an advanced engine that was made entirely of composite materials, rendered the challenged claims obvious. The parties did not dispute that this engine was unattainable in 1987, and may still be impossible today, because the envisioned composite materials do not yet (and may never) exist. The memorandum disclosed several performance factors, but not power density, sea-level-takeoff thrust or turbine volume. Nonetheless, GE argued, and the Board agreed, that the memorandum disclosed performance parameters that would have permitted an ordinarily skilled artisan to derive power densities that would have fallen within the range claimed in Raytheon’s patent.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed with Raytheon, concluding that the imaginary engine of the NASA memorandum could not serve as an invalidating reference. In reversing the Board, the Federal Circuit reiterated two bedrock principles of obviousness law:

  • An obviousness reference must be enabled by the knowledge of an ordinarily skilled artisan at the time of the invention (but need not be self-enabling).
  • An invention cannot be rendered obvious by a non-self-enabling reference if no other prior art evidence or reference enables the non-self-enabling reference.

In addition, when a reference’s enablement is challenged, the party offering the reference bears a burden to establish that the reference, itself or in combination with other contemporaneous knowledge, was enabled.

Applying these principles here, the Federal Circuit determined that GE had not met its burden to show that the memorandum was indeed enabled. The Board, wrongly in the Court’s view, focused solely on whether an ordinarily skilled artisan was taught the parameters to ascertain a power density, rather than whether the prior art disclosed a turbofan engine possessing the requisite power density. Finding no evidence in the record to conclude that “a skilled artisan could have made the claimed turbofan engine with the recited power density,” the Court reversed.

Practice Note: Although this case does not break new obviousness ground, it reinforces the general [...]

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No Second Bite at the Apple: Injury Must Be Imminent and Non-Speculative to Support Standing

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that a party did not have Article III appellate standing to obtain review of a final ruling of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board because the underlying district court proceedings had been dismissed with prejudice after a settlement and license agreement were reached. Apple Inc. v. Qualcomm Inc., Case Nos. 20-1561; -1642 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 7, 2021) (Moore, J.)

After Qualcomm sued Apple in district court, Apple filed petitions for inter partes review (IPR) of the asserted patent claims. The Board instituted on both petitions but found that Apple did not prove the challenged claims were obvious. Apple appealed the Board’s final written decisions finding non-obviousness.

While the IPR proceedings were pending, the parties settled their litigation worldwide. The settlement included a license to Apple and payment of royalties to Qualcomm. The parties filed a joint motion to dismiss Qualcomm’s district court action with prejudice, which the district court granted.

At the Federal Circuit, Qualcomm argued that Apple waived any argument to establish its appellate standing by failing to address or submit supporting evidence in its opening brief. However, the Federal Circuit exercised its discretion to reach the issue of standing, explaining that the issue of standing was fully briefed, there was no prejudice to Qualcomm, and the question of standing impacted these and other appeals. Qualcomm sought leave to file a sur-reply addressing Apple’s evidence and arguments on standing, and agreed that if its motions to file a sur-reply were granted, it would not suffer any prejudice, and that evaluating the evidence may resolve standing in other pending cases. The Court granted Qualcomm leave to file a sur-reply.

Apple argued that it had appellate standing based on its ongoing payment obligations that conditioned certain rights in the license agreement, the threat that Apple would be sued for infringing the two patents-at-issue after the expiration of the license agreement, and the estoppel effects of 35 USC § 315 on future challenges to the validity of the asserted patents. The Federal Circuit disagreed.

LICENSE RIGHTS

Distinguishing the 2007 Supreme Court case MedImmune v. Genentech (where standing was found based on license agreement payment obligations after analyzing evidence for injury in fact or redressability), the Federal Circuit explained that Apple did not allege that the validity of the patents-at-issue would affect its contract rights and ongoing royalty obligations. The license agreement between the parties involves tens of thousands of patents. Apple did not argue or present evidence that the validity of any single patent (including the two patents-at-issue) would affect its ongoing payment obligations, or identify any related contractual dispute that could be resolved through determining the patents-at-issue’s validity. Accordingly, the Court concluded that Apple failed to establish Art. III standing under MedImmune.

THREAT OF POST-LICENSE SUITS

Apple’s second argument was based on the possibility that Qualcomm might sue Apple for infringing the patents-at-issue after the license expired. The Federal Circuit found the mere possibility of any such suit [...]

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The Road Less Traveled: IPR Denial Decisions Appealable via Mandamus

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that while it did not have jurisdiction to consider the direct appeal of a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision denying institution, it could review the decision under its mandamus jurisdiction. Mylan Laboratories Ltd. v. Janssen Pharmaceutica, N.V., Case No. 20-1071 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 12, 2021) (Moore, J.)

In 2019, Janssen sued Mylan in district court for infringement of one patent. Less than six months later, Mylan petitioned the Board for inter partes review (IPR) of that patent. Opposing institution, Janssen argued that the IPR would be an inefficient use of Board resources because of two co-pending district court actions (one involving Mylan and one involving a third party) that implicated the same validity issues as the IPR petition. Janssen also argued that those district court actions would likely reach final judgment before any IPR final decision. The Board agreed with Janssen. Mylan appealed and also requested mandamus relief.

On appeal, Mylan argued that the Board’s determination to deny institution based on the timing of a separate district court action that did not involve Mylan undermined constitutional and due process rights.

Before addressing the merits of the appeal, the Federal Circuit addressed two jurisdictional questions: whether it had jurisdiction over Mylan’s direct appeal and whether it had jurisdiction over the mandamus request. As to the first question, the Court relied on its decision in St Jude Medical v. Volcano, finding that decisions denying institution are not subject to review on direct appeal. As to the second question, the Court concluded that judicial review was available in extraordinary circumstances, and particularly in situations involving denial of petitions. The Court stated that “[t]o protect our future jurisdiction, we have jurisdiction to review any petition for a writ of mandamus denying institution of an IPR.”

Having found that it had jurisdiction, the Federal Circuit turned to the merits. The Court explained that when a mandamus petition challenges a decision denying institution, it will be especially difficult to satisfy the requirements for mandamus because the relevant statute bestows the Board with significant discretion. The Court concluded that there is no reviewability of a Board denial of institution except for colorable constitutional claims. The Court found that Mylan lacked a clear and indisputable right to relief and also failed to state a colorable claim for constitutional relief since it did not identify a deprivation of “life, liberty or property” necessary to a procedural due process claim. The Court also found that there were no substantive due process claims since there is no fundamental right to have the Board consider whether to institute on an IPR petition based only upon co-pending litigation to which petitioner is a party. The Court thus denied Mylan’s petition.




Doesn’t Scan: Skin Cancer Detection Device Just Combination of Familiar Elements

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a finding of non-obviousness of certain claims relating to a device for the detection of skin cancer, finding that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board erred in applying the law of obviousness. Canfield Scientific, Inc. v. Melanoscan, LLC, Case No. 19-1927 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 18, 2021) (Newman, J.)

Canfield Scientific filed a petition for inter partes review challenging the validity of claims of a Melanoscan patent as obvious in view of several prior art references. After the Board upheld the validity of the challenged claims, Canfield appealed.

The device disclosed in the patent is “an enclosure fitted with cameras and lights arranged in a manner that allows for imaging of [all or part] of non-occluded body surfaces in order to detect health and cosmetic disease.” The two challenged independent claims both required:

  • An enclosure configured to receive a person or portion thereof, wherein the enclosure defines a specified imaging position for placing the person or portion thereof within the enclosure
  • A plurality of imaging devices, wherein the plurality of imaging devices are vertically spaced relative to each other, a plurality of the imaging devices are located on opposite sides of the centerline of the specified imaging position
  • A plurality of light sources spaced relative to each other and peripheral to the plurality of imaging devices.

Canfield listed four references in support of its obviousness argument—Voigt, Hurley, Crampton and Daanen. Voigt disclosed an enclosure containing cameras and lights for analyzing and measuring images on the skin of a patient. Voigt did not disclose imaging devices (cameras) vertically and laterally spaced and on opposite sides of the center line. Instead, Voigt taught positioning the subject along the wall and positioning the cameras in a single direction.

Hurley, Crampton and Daanen each taught placement of a subject in the center of the enclosure, with cameras arranged vertically, laterally and on opposite sides of the centerline.

Canfield argued that the combined teachings of the prior art would have reasonably suggested the subject matter of the challenged claims. The Board found this argument unpersuasive, concluding that “Voigt’s rear wall would have blocked the view of the two rear-facing cameras, and Voigt’s horizontally adjustable sliders would have partially blocked the views of the remaining cameras.” Thus a person of skill in the art would not have been motivated to combine “the unmodified Voigt system with Hurley’s arrangement of imaging devices.” The Board did not discuss Crampton or Daanen.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with the Board’s conclusion and stated that the references showed the subject being imaged placed against a wall in Voigt, and centrally placed within the framework in Hurley, Crampton and Daanen. The references showed the cameras laterally and vertically spaced to each other about a center line. Citing the seminal Supreme Court KSR obviousness decision, the Federal Circuit noted that “[t]he combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable [...]

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Jetting along the Thin Line between Appellate Standing and Admitting Infringement

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that an inter partes review (IPR) petitioner that had not been accused of infringement had standing to appeal a final decision in an IPR because the petitioner alleged facts establishing that there was a substantial risk of infringement of the challenged claims. General Elec. Co. v. Raytheon Techs. Corp., Case No. 19-1319 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 23, 2020) (Hughes, J.)

Raytheon owns a patent directed to a configuration for mounting a turbofan gas turbine engine to an aircraft pylon. Turbofan engines rely on four main component sections—the fan, compressor, combustor and turbine—to generate thrust from the continuous ignition of a mixture of fuel and pressurized air. The compressor and turbine sections are further divided into high-pressure and low-pressure segments. Each of these segments consists of stages, which include a matched set of rotating blades and stationary airfoils. The patent claims recite a “first” spool, which the parties equate with a low-pressure spool, turbine and compressor, and a “second” spool, consisting of the high-pressure spool, turbine and compressor. The claimed “second” spool includes “at least two stages.”

General Electric (GE) competes with Raytheon in the commercial aviation engine market and petitioned for IPR, challenging several claims based on two prior art references, Wendus and Moxon. Wendus discloses all elements recited in the challenged claims, except that it teaches a single-stage high-pressure turbine instead of the claimed “at least two-stage” high-pressure turbine. Moxon states that to improve fuel efficiency, “a move to one instead of two HP turbine stages is thought unlikely.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that all elements recited in the challenged claims were found in the prior art but found that the claims were not proven to be non-obvious, in part because Wendus expressly considered at least some of the one-stage versus two-stage tradeoffs and specifically chose the one-stage option. This express consideration meant that Wendus taught away from combination with Moxon, the Board reasoned. GE appealed.

Before reaching the merits of the appeal, Raytheon moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing, arguing that it had never sued or threatened to sue GE for infringing the patent. Accordingly, the standing dispute centered on whether GE had sufficiently alleged an injury in fact. The Federal Circuit explained that “when an appellant relies on potential infringement liability . . . it must establish that it has concrete plans for future activity that creates a substantial risk of future infringement or would likely cause the patentee to assert a claim of infringement.” In the context of an appeal of an IPR proceeding, “it is generally sufficient for the appellant to show that it has engaged in, is engaging in, or will likely engage in activity that would give rise to a possible infringement suit.” GE presented evidence that it spent $10 to $12 million in 2019 developing a geared turbofan architecture and design and that it offered its geared turbofan design to Airbus in response to a request for [...]

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Patent Owner’s Disavowal of Appeal from District Court’s Noninfringement Judgment Moots IPR Appeal

Addressing the standard for mootness in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings following a district court noninfringement judgment, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that a petitioner’s IPR appeal was moot after the patent owner decided not to appeal the final judgment of noninfringement. ABS Global, Inc. v. Cytonome/ST, LLC, Case No. 19-2051 (Fed. Cir., Jan. 6, 2021) (Stoll, J.) (Prost, C.J., dissenting in part).

In June 2017, Cytonome/ST filed a complaint against ABS asserting infringement of six patents, including the patent of interest in this case. ABS filed a petition for IPR of all claims of the patent. In April 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB, the Board) issued its final written decision invalidating certain claims of the patent. Two weeks later, the district court granted ABS partial summary judgment, holding that the accused products did not infringe any of the asserted patent’s claims. In June 2019, ABS appealed the PTAB’s final written decision. In a briefing before the Federal Circuit, Cytonome/ST’s counsel filed an affidavit stating that Cytonome/ST “has elected not to pursue an appeal of the district court’s finding of non-infringement as to the patent and hereby disclaims such an appeal.” In June 2020, the district court entered final judgment, including as to non-infringement of the patent.

The Federal Circuit dismissed ABS’ appeal of the PTAB’s final written decision on the ground that the appeal was moot in view of the district court’s non-infringement judgment. The Court characterized the question as one under the voluntary-cessation doctrine. In the context of intellectual property infringement cases, the voluntary-cessation doctrine requires the property owner claiming mootness to prove that the “allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur,” i.e., that it will not assert the intellectual property right against the same accused products again. If it does, the burden shifts to the accused infringer to show that it “engages in or has sufficiently concrete plans to engage in activities” that would not be covered by the property owner’s non-assertion decision.

Applying the doctrine, the Federal Circuit concluded that Cytonome/ST could not reasonably be expected to assert infringement of the patent against ABS because ABS had already secured a district court judgment that the accused products do not infringe and Cytonome/ST disclaimed any appeal of the non-infringement judgment. In effect, ABS was insulated from liability for infringement, including for future infringement for products that are “essentially the same” as ABS’ currently accused products pursuant to the Kessler doctrine. Further, the Court found that ABS had not demonstrated it could reasonably expect Cytonome/ST to sue it for infringement of the patent in the future as ABS had not shown it had current or concrete future plans to engage in activities not covered by Cytonome/ST’s disavowal: “Cytonome’s disavowal of its right to appeal the summary judgment of noninfringement ‘estops Cytonome from asserting liability against ABS for infringement of the…patent claims in connection with the accused products, thereby allowing ABS to make, use, and sell those products [...]

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State University Challenges Board on Sovereign Immunity in Inter Partes Review

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reiterated that “[s]overeign immunity does not apply to IPR proceedings when the patent owner is a state.” Board of Regents of the University of Texas System v. Baylor College of Medicine, Case No. 20-1469 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 10, 2020) (per curiam).

Baylor College of Medicine petitioned for inter partes review (IPR) of two patents owned by the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System (UT). UT moved to dismiss the petitions on state sovereign immunity grounds. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board denied the motion, citing Regents of the University of Minnesota v. LSI Corp. (IP Update, Vol. 22, No. 7).

UT appealed, arguing that University of Minnesota was wrongly decided, but admitted that the panel was bound by it. Predictably, the panel affirmed the Board.

Practice Note: UT’s strategy implies that it intends to use its case as a vehicle to seek en banc (and possibly Supreme Court) review of the University of Minnesota decision.




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