The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s decisions finding one set of challenged claims patentable and another set of challenged claims in the same patent unpatentable. The Court determined that the Board properly construed a disputed claim term and made factual findings regarding prior art that were supported by substantial evidence. Pacific Biosciences of California, Inc. v. Personal Genomics Taiwan, Inc., Case Nos. 22-1410; -1554 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 9, 2024) (Prost, Taranto, Hughes, JJ.)

Pacific Biosciences of California (PacBio) filed two petitions seeking inter partes review (IPR) of different claim groups in a patent owned by Personal Genomics Taiwan (PGI). The challenged patent is directed to an apparatus for “identifying a single biomolecule” and methods of using or making that apparatus. The petitions overlapped in terms of the challenged claims but differed in terms of the invoked prior art. PacBio’s challenge (on both anticipation and obviousness) was based principally on the Hassibi reference in one IPR and on the Choumane reference in the other.

The Board rejected PacBio’s challenge to certain claims of the patent in its decision on the first IPR, but it agreed with PacBio’s challenge to certain claims of the patent in its decision in the other. In reaching its decisions, the Board construed the term “identifying a single biomolecule” as requiring an apparatus capable of ascertaining the identity of one single individual biomolecule by examining only that biomolecule. In the first decision, the Board found that this limitation was not taught by the Hassibi reference. In contrast, in the other IPR, the Board found that this limitation was taught by the Choumane reference. Both parties appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed both Board decisions. First, the Court agreed with the Board’s construction that the disputed claim term (“single biomolecule”) was the ordinary meaning of the phrase in context, namely that there was no apparent reason for the inclusion of the word “single” in the claim term unless to indicate that the capability required was identification of a molecule with just that one molecule in view. The Court explained that the specification supported this understanding by repeatedly stressing that this “single biomolecule” capability was critical to the invention and by differentiating the examination of individual biomolecules from examination of an ensemble of copied biomolecules. The Court also pointed to dependent claims of the patent to provide support for the Board’s construction (in terms of claim differentiation), noting that those claims recited using the claimed apparatus for expressly described multiple-molecule examinations.

Regarding the prior issues on appeal, the Federal Circuit concluded that the Board’s factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. Turning to the Hassibi reference, the Court stated that the Board reasonably credited the testimony of PGI’s expert and the Hassibi reference itself in finding that Hassibi only disclosed the capability to ascertain the identity of a single biomolecule using a BRC assay or different assay. With respect to the Choumane reference, the Court found that the Board reasonably [...]

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