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Store This Element: Lexicography Controls Claim Term Definition Over Plain and Ordinary Meaning

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board obviousness finding, determining that the Board properly applied the patentee’s lexicography in construing a disputed claim term and properly treated arguments raised by the parties in the reply and sur-reply briefings. ParkerVision, Inc. v. Vidal, Case No. 22-1548 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 15, 2023) (Prost, Wallach, Chen, JJ.)

Intel filed a petition for inter partes review of a patent owned by ParkerVision. The challenged patent is directed to wireless local area networks (WLANs) that use frequency translation technology and incorporate another patent that describes down-conversion utilizing down-converter modules. The challenged claim is directed to apparatuses for down-converting electromagnetic (EM) signals. Among other things, the claim recites “wherein said first and said second frequency down-conversion modules each comprise a switch and a storage element.” The Board found the challenged claim unpatentable and in doing so, construed the term “storage element” to mean “an element of a system that stores non-negligible energy from an input signal.” The Board based its construction on the description of “storage modules” in a patent incorporated by reference into the challenged patent. ParkerVision appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s construction, finding that ParkerVision had acted as its own lexicographer when it defined the term “storage element” in the incorporated-by-reference patent. The Court relied on a “critical” paragraph from the incorporated-by-reference patent that states: “[s]torage modules and storage capacitances, on the other hand, refer to systems that store a non-negligible amount of energy from an input EM signal.” The Court reasoned that the term “refer to,” together with the “as used herein” language from a preceding sentence, conveyed an intent for the sentence to be definitional and applicable to the whole patent rather than to a specific embodiment. To that end, the Court reiterated that a patentee may act as its own lexicographer by crafting a definition for a claim term rather than relying on the plain and ordinary meaning of that term, and that when a patentee does so, the definition may act as a disavowal of the full scope of the plain and ordinary meaning of the term.

ParkerVision also argued that the Board impermissibly relied on arguments allegedly raised for the first time in Intel’s reply brief, and that it erred in excluding certain arguments made by ParkerVision on sur-reply. The Federal Circuit rejected both arguments. The Court reasoned that because ParkerVision proposed a new claim construction in its patent owner response, Intel was permitted to argue and present evidence of obviousness under that new construction as long as such evidence relied on the same embodiments for each invalidity ground as were relied on in the petition.

The Federal Circuit also noted that ParkerVision’s arguments on sur-reply exceeded the scope of its patent owner response. While ParkerVision’s patent owner response proposed that the “storage element” be an element of the energy transfer system and store non-negligible amounts of energy from an input EM signal, ParkerVision only argued that the [...]

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Petitioner Reply May Include New Evidence if Responsive to Patent Owner and Based on Original Legal Contentions

Addressing the issue of new invalidity theories offered during inter partes review (IPR) proceedings, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that a petitioner does not improperly offer new theories when it merely expands on previously raised arguments and responds to a patent owner’s assertions without advancing a “meaningfully distinct [invalidity] contention.” Rembrandt Diagnostics, LP v. Alere, Inc., Case No. 21-1796 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2023) (Moore, C.J.; Reyna, Dyk, JJ.) The Court further concluded that the patent owner waived its new theories argument by raising a general objection that did not identify which theories were allegedly new.

Alere filed an IPR petition challenging a Rembrandt patent directed to test assay devices and methods for testing biological fluids. Alere argued that the claims were obvious over two combinations of prior art references (among other grounds not at issue on appeal): MacKay in view of Charm or May, and Tydings in view of MacKay or Lee-Own. On remand from a previous appeal, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board ordered briefings on all non-instituted grounds set forth in Alere’s petition. Rembrandt filed a patent owner response without an expert declaration. Alere filed a reply attaching a declaration from its expert and responding to arguments raised by Rembrandt in its response and by the Board in its institution decision.

In a sur-reply, Rembrandt generally argued that Alere “resort[ed] to new theories in reply” but did not specifically contest the two combinations at issue while specifically objecting to other allegedly new theories. Relying on Alere’s expert testimony, the Board issued a final written decision finding the claims at issue unpatentable over the MacKay and Tydings combinations. Rembrandt unsuccessfully petitioned for Director rehearing and then appealed the decision, arguing that the Board abused its discretion by relying on Alere’s new theories and evidence and that there was a dearth of substantial evidence to support the Board’s determinations.

The Federal Circuit first considered whether Rembrandt had forfeited its new theories argument by raising a general objection without expressly objecting to the obviousness grounds at issue. Underscoring the fact that Rembrandt had specifically identified and objected to other allegedly new theories, the Court concluded that Rembrandt’s general objection was insufficient and that Rembrandt’s “objection” argument had been forfeited. The Court noted that holding otherwise would be unfair to the parties and the Board because such a general objection could not provide adequate notice.

Even though Rembrandt’s new theories argument had been waived, the Federal Circuit concluded that Alere’s reply arguments did not constitute new theories and evidence. As the Court noted, in its reply a petitioner must identify “with particularity . . . the evidence that supports the grounds for each challenge to each claim” and may “only respond to arguments raised in the corresponding opposition, . . . patent owner response, or decision on institution.” The Court further explained that a petitioner who asserts previously unidentified prior art disclosures or embodiments in its reply to make a “meaningfully distinct contention” impermissibly raises a [...]

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First Rule of the PTAB? Play by the Rules

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed two Patent Trial & Appeal Board decisions holding the challenged claims unpatentable as obvious, even though the Board declined to consider evidence of antedating and found that the claims lacked written description support. Parus Holdings, Inc. v. Google LLC, Case Nos. 22-1269; -1270 (Fed. Cir. June 12, 2023) (Lourie, Bryson, Reyna, JJ.)

Parus Holdings owns two patents related to an interactive voice system to request information from a voice web browser. Google (among others) petitioned for inter partes review (IPR) of the patents.

During the IPR proceedings, the Board found that a publication (Kovatch) was prior art to the challenged patents. In reaching that decision, the Board declined to consider Parus’s arguments and evidence of an earlier conception and reduction to practice because they were only presented via incorporation by reference in violation of 37 C.F.R. § 42.6(a)(3). The Board ruled that Parus failed to meet its burden of production on antedating.

The Board also found that the publication of the application to which Parus’s challenged patents claimed priority (Kurganov-262) was prior art because the common specification failed to provide written description support for the challenged claims. Parus appealed the Board’s decision, raising two main arguments.

First, Parus contended that the Board erred when it declined to consider Parus’s arguments and evidence on antedating. Parus argued that § 42.6(a)(3)’s prohibition on incorporation by reference did not warrant the Board’s decision because Parus, as patent owner, need not have submitted a response at all. Parus also argued that the Federal Circuit’s 2017 decision in Aqua Products mandates that the Board consider all record evidence, regardless of the manner of presentation. The Federal Circuit rejected Parus’s arguments in turn.

Regarding Parus’s violation of the incorporation by reference rule, the Federal Circuit explained that Parus had assumed an affirmative burden of production when it chose to submit a response to antedate Kovatch. Along with that burden came other responsibilities, such as complying with the US Patent & Trademark Office’s (PTO) rules and regulations, including § 42.6(a)(3). The Court further explained that this burden of production could not be met without some combination of citing evidence with specificity and explaining the significance of the cited material. Parus did neither.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Parus’s argument that the Board is required by law to review all evidence in the record. The Court clarified that, while its Aqua Products holding requires the Board to decide all issues properly before it, nothing in Aqua Products requires the Board to review evidence or issues not introduced or introduced in violation of the Board’s rules. As the Court noted, “[t]he burden of production cannot be met simply by throwing mountains of evidence at the Board without explanation or identification of the relevant portions of that evidence. One cannot reasonably expect the Board to sift through hundreds of documents, thousands of pages, to find the relevant facts.”

Parus also argued that the Board exceeded its statutory authority under 35 U.S.C. [...]

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