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Improper Claim Construction Requires Partial Remand of Obviousness Determination

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued decisions in two separate inter partes reviews (IPRs), one involving a patent related to radio frequency communication systems and the other involving a patent related to multi-processor systems. Intel Corporation v. Qualcomm Incorporated, Case No. 20-1664 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 28, 2021) (Prost, Taranto, Hughes, JJ.); Intel Corporation v. Qualcomm Incorporated, Case Nos. 20-1828, -1867 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 28, 2021) (Prost, Taranto, Hughes, JJ). Based on issues of claim construction and obviousness, the Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (Board) decision in the radio frequency communication systems patent IPR and vacated the Board’s decision in the multi-processor systems patent IPR.

Radio Frequency Communication System Patent IPR (1664)

In the IPR related to the radio frequency communication systems patent, Intel proposed that the claim term “radio frequency input signal” should take its ordinary meaning of an input signal having a radio frequency. Qualcomm argued that a person of skill in the art reading the patent would understand the phrase to reference the radio frequency signal that is received before down-conversion, and thus proposed that the term should mean “a signal centered at a carrier frequency at which the signal was transmitted/received.” The Board agreed with Qualcomm based on the intrinsic evidence.

Intel argued before the Board that certain claims of the radio frequency communication systems patent would have been obvious in light of the Der reference and the Valla reference. Qualcomm argued that a skilled artisan would not have been motivated to combine Der and Valla, because Der’s transistor would defeat the intended purpose of Valla’s amplifier. The Board agreed with Qualcomm. Qualcomm also submitted substitute claims. The Board accepted the substitute claims after finding that a skilled artisan would have lacked reason to combine Der and the Burgener reference to achieve the substitute claims. Intel appealed.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the threshold question of whether it had jurisdiction since no lawsuit had been filed against Intel. Despite the absence of any lawsuit against Intel itself, the Court found that Intel had standing because it had engaged in acts that previously resulted in assertion of the patent against one of Intel’s customers. Because Intel continues to sell the relevant products to that customer and others, it must address the risk of an infringement suit by Qualcomm. Qualcomm also refused to offer a covenant not to sue or stipulate that it would not reassert its prior infringement allegations involving the Intel products. The Court found that this refusal made Intel’s risk more than “mere conjecture or hypothesis.” Therefore, the Court found that Intel had standing to pursue the appeal.

Turning to the merits, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s construction of “radio frequency input signal.” The Court explained that while both parties’ proposed constructions had appeal when considered in a vacuum, the proper inquiry required analysis of the surrounding claim language and specification. The Court found that linguistic clues in the claims suggested that [...]

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Reprints Do Not Change Earlier Publication Date

Addressing the entirety of the evidence standard, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial and Appeal Board finding that responsive evidence can be properly considered to demonstrate the public availability of a reference relied upon in an inter partes review (IPR) petition. VidStream LLC v. Twitter, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1734, -1735 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 25, 2020) (Newman, J.)

Youtoo Technologies sued Twitter for infringement of a patent directed to recording and publishing content on social media websites. In response, Twitter filed two IPR petitions challenging the asserted patent claims as obvious. The IPR petitions relied on a textbook (Bradford) as a primary reference in both petitions. Bradford was first published in 2011, but the copy provided with the petitions indicated a reprint date of 2015. The Board granted the IPR petitions and ultimately found all claims unpatentable over combinations of art including Bradford. VidStream, which emerged as the patent owner after Youtoo went through bankruptcy proceedings, appealed.

VidStream argued that the Board erred in accepting and considering evidence that Twitter provided for the first time with its replies, instead of considering only the documents that Twitter filed with its original petitions. Specifically, Twitter filed with its replies a copy of the US Copyright Office Certificate of Registration stating that Bradford’s date of first publication was November 8, 2011; a Library of Congress copy of Bradford; and a declaration by Twitter counsel that he had compared the excerpts of Bradford that were submitted with the petition with the same pages in the 2011 Library of Congress copy of Bradford and found them “identical.” VidStream stated that the Bradford pages filed with Twitter’s petitions were published December 13, 2015, and thus argued that Twitter did not show that these pages were available before the patent’s 2012 priority date. VidStream maintained that the Board erred in considering Bradford in the obviousness combinations.

The Federal Circuit noted that VidStream had challenged the proper priority date of Bradford before the Board and had also filed a motion to exclude Bradford as improper evidence. The Board denied VidStream’s motion to exclude, finding that it was appropriate to permit Twitter to respond to VidStream’s challenge by providing additional evidence to establish the Bradford publication date. In line with its 2018 Nobel Biocare Servs. AG v. Instraden USA Inc. and Anacor Pharm. decisions, the Court found that the responsive evidence supported the Board’s finding that Bradford was published and publicly accessible before the patent’s priority date. Like the Board, the Court considered the entirety of the evidence relevant to a determination of printed publication. For example, the ISBNs of the 2011 and the 2015 printings of Bradford were the same, and a Machine-Readable Cataloging record had been created for Bradford in August 2011. Bradford was also printed by an established publisher, and the internet archive included an Amazon webpage for Bradford, further confirming that Bradford was publicly accessible in 2011 and that interested persons could access and order the book in [...]

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Analogous Art Includes Reference a Skilled Artisan Would Reasonably Consult

Addressing the standard for determining whether a prior art reference constitutes analogous art for purposes of an obviousness analysis, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision that a reference was not analogous. The Court explained that the Board did not consider the purpose and problems to which the prior art and challenged patent relate. Donner Tech., LLC v. Pro Stage Gear, LLC, Case No. 20-1104 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 9, 2020) (Prost, C.J.)

Pro Stage owns a patent directed to an improved guitar effects pedalboard. Guitar effects pedals are electronic devices that affect the amplified sound of a guitar. The pedals are controlled by foot operation switches in order to leave the user’s hands free to play the instrument. When multiple pedals are used, they must be interconnected by cables, which are typically daisy-chained between each separate pedal. Once interconnected, the pedals are placed on a wooden pedalboard and covered with foam so that the cables are not exposed. This leads to difficulty when swapping or adding new pedals because the foam must be removed from the board and the cables repositioned. Pro Stage’s patent attempts to remedy this issue by elevating one side of the pedalboard from the stage floor and providing a mounting surface and cable connection openings such that cables can pass beneath the mounting surface, as demonstrated by the patent figures shown below.

Donner petitioned for inter partes review of the patent, challenging various claims as obvious under 35 USC §103. Donner asserted three grounds of invalidity, all relying at least in part on the teachings of the Mullen patent. Mullen relates to an improved structure for supporting one or more electrical relays and for providing wiring-channel space for receiving wires connected to the relays in order to connect the relays to various control circuits. As part of its petition, Donner claimed that certain embodiments of Mullen (below), disclose a structure that is analogous to the structure claimed in the challenged patent.

The Board rejected that Donner’s obviousness challenges, finding that Donner did “not put forth any argument or evidence to explain what would have compelled a pedalboard inventor in 1999 or 2000 to consider potential solutions arising from early 1970s-era relay technologies,” notwithstanding arguments, expert and other testimony, and other evidence submitted by Donner to the contrary. Donner appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed, explaining the relevant tests to analyze whether a prior art reference is analogous. The two separate tests are (1) whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of the problem addressed, and (2) if the reference is not [...]

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Emmy Award to the Rescue – Secondary Considerations Overcome Prior Art

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board), in a decision designated as precedential, found that a Patent Owner’s substitute claims were patentable in view of evidence of secondary considerations even though the prior art weighed in favor of obviousness. Lectronics, Inc. v. Zaxcom, Inc., Case No. IPR2018-01129 (PTAB Jan. 24, 2020) (Deshpande, APJ.) (designated precedential on Apr. 14, 2020).

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Exercise of Institution Discretion During Parallel AIA and District Court Challenges

The Patent and Trial Appeal Board (PTAB) Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) refused to revisit an earlier PTAB panel decision, reiterating that it remains within the discretion of a PTAB panel to deny institution on a patent challenge because of a pending trial in federal district court. Sand Revolution II, LLC v. Continental Intermodal Group – Trucking LLC, Case No. IPR2019-01393, Paper 18 (PTAB Apr. 6, 2020) (Iancu, Dir.; Hirshfeld, Comm’r; Boalick, CAPJ, sitting as POP); Sand Revolution II, LLC v. Continental Intermodal Group – Trucking LLC, Case No. IPR2019-01393, Paper 19 (PTAB Apr. 7, 2020).

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PTAB Sets Double Standard for Qualifying Reference as “Printed Publication”

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) designated an appeal decision as precedential, holding that an examiner may apply a lower standard for establishing public availability of a prior art reference as compared to a petitioner in an inter partes review (IPR). Ex parte Grillo-López, Appeal No. 2018-006082 (USPTO Jan. 31, 2020) (Chang, APJ) (denying request for rehearing) (designated as precedential on April 7, 2020). The PTAB determined that the examiner had sufficiently established a prima facie case that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) transcript qualified as a printed publication, even though the PTAB had previously found that a petitioner in an IPR proceeding had failed to qualify the same FDA transcript as a printed publication. The PTAB held that during prosecution, the examiner must establish only a prima facie case, and the burden then shifts to the applicant to come forward with rebuttal evidence to overcome the prima facie case. This differs from an IPR proceeding, where the petitioner must come forward with sufficient arguments to show, at the institution stage, a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on the unpatentability of the challenged claims.

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No Disclaimer, No Problem – Terms Limited by Consistent Statements

In an appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found claim construction error and reversed the PTAB’s finding that all instituted claims were unpatentable. Personalized Media Commc’ns, LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 18-1936 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 13, 2020) (Stoll, J.).

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Administrative Patent Judges – You’re Fired (At Will and Without Cause)

The en banc US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit declined to review its October 2019 panel decision holding the appointment of administrative patent judges (APJs) at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) unconstitutional because APJs are appointed as if they are “inferior officers” but vested with authority that is reserved for Senate-confirmed “principal officers” under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., Case No. 18-2140 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 23, 2020) (per curiam) (Moore, J., joined by O’Malley, Reyna and Chen, JJ., concurring) (Dyk, J., joined by Newman, Wallach and Hughes, JJ., dissenting).

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PTAB Issues Updated Trial Practice Guide: Yearly Updates Expected

On November 20, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued updated guidance for trial procedures in inter partes review (IPR) and post grant review (PGR) proceedings at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the new edition of the Trial Practice Guide.

For easier reading and greater consistency, the new edition incorporates the prior updates released in August 2018 (IP Update, Vol. 21, No. 9) and July 2019 (IP Update, Vol. 22, No.8) into the original August 2012 Practice Guide.

The new edition provides updated guidance on the impact of SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu on the institution of trial. The new guide also replaces the prior “observations” practice with procedures for a more fulsome sur-reply. In addition, the PTAB has provided more opportunities to contact the PTAB to request an initial conference call, and it has updated the way word counts apply to specific filings. The PTAB has also updated the expected scheduling order for derivation proceedings and the default protective order.




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