In an opinion related to its 2021 ruling that a decision in earlier inter partes reexaminations of related patents had a preclusive effect that collaterally estopped the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) from making new findings on the same issue, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s decision on remand since the patent at issue expired. SynQor, Inc. v. Vicor Corp, Case No. 20-1259 (Fed. Cir. Jun. 17, 2022) (Chen, Prost, JJ.), (Lourie, J., dissenting) (non-precedential).
After being sued by SynQor, Vicor petitioned for reexamination of several SynQor patents (including the ’021 and ’190 patents). In the ’190 patent reexamination proceeding, Vicor successfully argued that the ’190 patent claims (including new claims sought to be added by SynQor) were unpatentable over two references. After appeals to the Board (which reversed the examiner) and Federal Circuit (which reversed-in-part, vacated-in-part), the case was remanded to the Board to consider the examiner’s obviousness rejections in light of the Court’s conclusion that prior art patents anticipated certain claims.
On remand, the Board affirmed almost all of the examiner’s rejections and applied a new ground of rejection to one of SynQor’s proposed new claims. However, before the Board issued its final decision regarding the new claims, the ’190 patent expired and SynQor appealed to the Federal Circuit to vacate the Board’s decisions regarding the new claims on the ground that the ’190 patent’s expiration rendered the Board’s patentability decision moot. The Court agreed and vacated the Board’s decisions, explaining that the inability to issue the new claims meant that “the Board’s patentability determinations were unreviewable for mootness” since the Court would be “frustrated by the vagaries of circumstance” (thereby falling under the Supreme Court’s Munsingwear doctrine) from reviewing the Board’s determinations on the merits.
Similarly, in the ’021 patent’s reexamination, the examiner rejected all challenged claims, including two new claims that SynQor proposed. The Board affirmed the examiner’s rejections, and on appeal the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, vacated-in-part and remanded for the Board to reconsider two obviousness grounds it deemed the Board had unjustifiably reached inconsistent conclusions on (relative to a separate reexamination proceeding for another related patent). On remand, the Board again found SynQor’s proposed new claims unpatentable, unaware that the ’021 patent had expired over a year prior. In its rehearing petition, SynQor informed the Board of the ’021 patent’s expiration and asked the Board to vacate its decision on the merits. SynQor appealed after the Board declined to do so.
Appeal on the ’021 Patent
On appeal, SynQor requested that the Federal Circuit vacate the Board’s decision (for the same reasoning as in the ’190 patent appeal). Vicor argued that the Court lacked Article III jurisdiction to consider the request, and that SynQor was not entitled to equitable relief because of its failure to inform the Board of the ’021 patent’s expiration date, which caused the remand decision to be issued. Vicor also argued that the timing of the ’021 patent expiring before [...]