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Contingent Statement Doesn’t Unequivocally Abandon Defense of Challenged Claims

The Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) initiated a sua sponte review of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) adverse judgments in multiple related inter partes review (IPR) proceedings. The PTO Director ultimately ordered that the judgments be vacated and remanded for further consideration. Apple Inc. v. Zipit Wireless, Inc., IPR2021-01124; -01125; -01126; -01129 (Dec. 21, 2022) (Vidal, Dir.)

Apple filed six petitions for IPR, all of which were instituted and assigned to the same panel of Administrative Patent Judges. After institution, Zipit filed responses to two of the IPRs, but not the other four companion IPRs. The Board held a hearing in the two IPRs for which Zipit filed responses. At the end of the hearing, Zipit’s counsel was asked with reference to the four companion IPRs whether Zipit was “not contesting if a final written decision or adverse judgment was entered with respect to those IPRs.” The counsel responded, “correct . . . if the board determines that [Apple has] met their burden of proof with respect to those claims Zipit hasn’t filed any opposition.” Based on this exchange, the Board determined that Zipit abandoned the contests and entered adverse judgments.

The PTO Director initiated review under the interim process for Director review §§ 13, 22, which allows sua sponte Director review, explaining that notice would be given to parties of the proceedings if such a review was initiated. Upon review, the PTO Director did not consider the counsel’s statements to be an “unequivocal abandonment of the contest of these proceedings.” In an IPR, a petitioner has the “burden of proving a proposition of unpatentability by a preponderance of the evidence” and the “burden from the onset to show with particularity why the patent it challenges is unpatentable.” The PTO Director’s interpretation of Zipit’s statements was that “non-opposition was contingent on the Board determining that [Apple] met its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the challenged claims are unpatentable.”

The PTO Director thus vacated the Board’s adverse judgments and remanded the proceedings to the panel to issue either an order clarifying whether Zipit indeed abandoned the contest or a final written decision addressing the patentability of the challenged claims.




Court Uncorks New Way to Serve Trademark Complaints

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that Section 1051(e) of the Lanham Act permits a plaintiff in a district court case to serve a complaint against a foreign defendant via the Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). San Antonio Winery, Inc. v. Jiaxing Micarose Trade Co., Ltd., Case No. 21-56036 (9th Cir. Nov. 14, 2022) (Siler, Callahan, Thomas, JJ.)

San Antonio Winery is a Los Angeles-based winery best known for its Stella Rosa brand of wines. The winery is owned and operated by the Riboli family. San Antonio has registered the trademarks RIBOLI and RIBOLI FAMILY, which it has used since at least 1998 to market its wines and other products.

Jiaxing is a Chinese company that has sold products using the Riboli name. In 2018, Jiaxing registered the mark RIBOLI for use in connection with articles of clothing and shoes. In 2020, Jiaxing applied to register the mark RIBOLI for use with additional types of products, including wine pourers, bottle stands, containers, cocktail shakers, dishware and various other kitchen and household items.

After learning that Jiaxing was using the Riboli name to sell products in the United States, San Antonio filed a complaint asserting Lanham Act claims for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false designation of origin, as well as related state-law claims. San Antonio also sought an injunction prohibiting Jiaxing from using the RIBOLI mark in connection with its products, an order canceling Jiaxing’s 2018 registration of the RIBOLI mark, and an order either directing Jiaxing to abandon its 2020 application to register RIBOLI for additional uses or prohibiting the PTO from granting the application.

Because Jiaxing is a Chinese company, San Antonio’s service of process was governed by rules for serving parties abroad, such as by the Hague Convention. Concerned with the amount of time it might take to effect service under the Hague Convention, San Antonio instead sought to serve Jiaxing under Section 1051(e) of the Lanham Act, which applies to foreign domiciliaries who apply to register a trademark. Section 1051(e) states that if a trademark applicant is not domiciled in the United States, the applicant may designate the name and address of a person in the United States who may be served with notices or processes in proceedings affecting the mark. If the designated person cannot be found at the address, the notices or processes may be served on the PTO Director.

Seeking to avail itself of Section 1051(e), San Antonio inquired whether the US-based lawyer who had represented Jiaxing in connection with its trademark applications would accept service on Jiaxing’s behalf. When the lawyer did not respond, San Antonio served the district court complaint on the PTO Director, who then sent a letter to Jiaxing confirming service of process was effectuated pursuant to Section 1051(e).

After Jiaxing did not appear to defend itself in the action, San Antonio filed a motion for default judgment. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Jiaxing had not [...]

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Cloudy Skies: PTO Director Finds Abuse and Sanctionable Conduct

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director issued a precedential opinion finding that filing an inter partes review (IPR) solely to extract payment in a settlement—without the intent to prosecute the IPR to completion—is a sanctionable abuse of process. OpenSky Indus., LLC v. VLSI Tech. LLC, IPR2021-01064 (Oct. 4, 2022) (Vidal, Dir.)

In 2019, VLSI asserted two patents against Intel. In response, Intel filed two IPRs against the allegedly infringed patents, but both IPRs were discretionally denied by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) based on the advanced stage of the underlying litigation and overlapping issues. The suit proceeded, and a jury awarded VLSI more than $600 million in damages in 2021.

OpenSky Industries was founded two months after the judgment. OpenSky filed a “copycat” IPR petition based on Intel’s previous petitions (including refiling the declarations of Intel’s expert without his knowledge) targeting VLSI’s two allegedly infringed patents. The Board instituted over VLSI’s argument, noting that patentability issues were raised that had not been resolved in the district court case. Initially, OpenSky attempted to settle the IPRs with VLSI, but VLSI refused. OpenSky then reached out to Intel, offering to let Intel collaborate if it agreed to pay a success fee. Intel refused and later filed its own IPR petition and joinder motion. After Intel’s refusal, OpenSky pivoted back to VLSI, offering to “refuse[] to pay [the] expert for time at deposition so [the] expert does not appear at deposition” in return for payment. VLSI reported the scheme to the Board.

Intel was joined as a party to the OpenSky IPR proceeding in June 2022 based on its later-filed petition. Once Intel joined, OpenSky threatened to forego both deposing VLSI’s expert and filing its reply brief unless Intel paid it for its “prior work in the IPR” plus “additional remuneration.” Intel refused. While OpenSky did notice VLSI’s expert, it declined to file a Petitioner Reply brief, forcing Intel to draft the reply. Later, at VLSI’s request (OpenSky missed the request date), oral argument in the proceeding took place before the Board. OpenSky did not meaningfully participate.

While all this was unfolding, the Director sua sponte initiated an investigation to determine “[w]hat actions the Director . . . should take when faced with evidence of an abuse of process or conduct that otherwise thwarts . . . the goals of the Office and/or the AIA.” To begin the investigation, the Director sent discovery requests to each of the three parties. VLSI and Intel complied. OpenSky, by comparison, either incompletely complied with or directly refused each request. Based on those evasions, the Director sanctioned OpenSky for discovery misconduct, applying adverse inferences against OpenSky on each request.

Discovery sanctions in place, the Director moved to the central question: Did OpenSky abuse the IPR process? The Director answered yes.

First, the Director found that OpenSky’s conduct violated its duty of candor and good faith to the Board. In its negotiations with VLSI, OpenSky offered to deliberately sabotage its own petition to hinder Intel. In its negotiations with Intel, OpenSky did [...]

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PTO Director Lays Out Limits on “Roadmapping” as Factor for Discretionary IPR Denials

Exercising its discretion under 35 U.S.C. § 314(a), the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) denied institution of two inter partes reviews (IPRs) based on its understanding of its own precedential 2017 decision in Gen. Plastic Indus. Co. v. Canon Kabushiki Kaisha. US Patent & Trademark Office Director Kathi Vidal subsequently reversed the Board’s ruling in a precedential sua sponte decision clarifying how to apply the seven factors set forth in General Plastic. Code200, UAB v. Bright Data, Ltd., IPR2022-00861; -00862, Paper 18 (PTAB Aug. 23, 2022) (Vidal, Dir. of PTO).

In General Plastic, the Board addressed the practice of filing seriatim petitions attacking the same patent, where each petition raises a new ground for invalidity. The Board considers the General Plastic factors when determining whether to deny IPR institution to ensure efficient post-grant review procedures and prevent inequity. The seven factors are as follows:

  1. Whether the same petitioner previously filed a petition directed to the same claims of the same patent
  2. Whether at the time of filing of the first petition the petitioner knew of the prior art asserted in the second petition or should have known of it
  3. Whether at the time of filing of the second petition the petitioner had already received the patent owner’s preliminary response to the first petition or had received the Board’s decision on whether to institute review in the first petition
  4. The length of time that elapsed between the time the petitioner learned of the prior art asserted in the second petition and the filing of the second petition
  5. Whether the petitioner provided adequate explanation for the time elapsed between the filings of multiple petitions directed to the same claims of the same patent
  6. The finite resources of the Board
  7. The requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 316(a)(11) to issue a final determination no later than one year after the date on which the PTO Director notices institution of review.

In denying institution in this case, the Board explained that the petitioner’s failure to stipulate that it would not pursue the same grounds in district court “weigh[ed] strongly in favor of exercising discretion to deny institution and outweigh[ed] the fact that the Board did not substantively address the merits of the prior petition.” Director Vidal disagreed, reasoning that when a first petition is not decided on its merits, a follow-on petition affords a petitioner the opportunity to receive substantive consideration. Director Vidal further explained that factor 1 “must be read in conjunction with factors 2 and 3.” Application of factor 1 in a vacuum strips context from a petitioner’s challenges and creates an inappropriate bright-line rule for denying institution.

Proper application of the General Plastic factors requires consideration of the potential for abuse by a petitioner. Director Vidal noted the problem of “roadmapping” raised in General Plastic (i.e., using one or more Board decisions to create a roadmap for follow-on filings until the petitioner finds a ground that results in institution). A denial decision based solely on the [...]

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Clarification or Raising the Bar? PTO Director Issues New Guidance for Discretionary PTAB Denials

On June 21, 2022, US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director Katherine K. Vidal issued a memorandum addressing interim procedures for discretionary denials in America Invents Act (AIA)-post grant proceedings at the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board). In 2020, in order to minimize the potential conflict between the Board and parallel district court proceedings, the PTO designated the Board’s opinion in Apple v. Fintiv as precedential. Since Fintiv, the Board has issued several discretionary denials of institution based on parallel proceedings in district (and in some cases other administrative) courts. Director Vidal’s memo seeks to provide additional guidance on the PTO’s interpretation of Fintiv and its progeny and addresses multiple factors that were previously left to individual administrative law judge (ALJ) interpretation.

The memo includes rendering an initial evaluation of the merits of the petition. In particular, the Board will not deny institution of an inter partes review (IPR) or post-grant review (PGR) under Fintiv when a petition presents compelling evidence of unpatentability. This standard is higher than the institution standard, which requires only that “there is a reasonable likelihood that petitioner would prevail with respect to at least 1 of the claims challenged in the petition.” While the memo does not elaborate on the evidence required to meet this compelling standard, numerous decisions were cited as illustrative. (See: e.g., Illumina Inc. v. Trs. of Columbia Univ., IPR2020-00988, Paper 20 (PTAB Dec. 8, 2020); Synthego Corp. v. Agilent Techs., Inc., IPR2022-00402, Paper 11 (May 31, 2022); Samsung Elecs. Co. v. Scramoge Tech., Ltd., IPR2022-00241, Paper 10 (June 13, 2022).)

Additionally, Director Vidal confirmed that Fintiv does not apply to parallel proceedings before the International Trade Commission nor where there has been a stipulation not to pursue the same grounds in a district court proceeding. The stipulation applies to grounds that are actually raised in the petition and any grounds that could have reasonably been raised in the petition, suggesting that there may be some dispute later in the district court proceeding about what grounds “could have reasonably been raised in the petition.”

Finally, the memo clarified the second factor of the Fintiv analysis: the speed with which the district court case may go to trial and be resolved. The Board will consider not only the scheduled trial date, but also the median time-to-trial for the particular district court, number of cases before the specific district court judge and the speed and availability of other dispositions.

Practice Note: While the standard for institution has not changed, the new compelling standard effectively ups the bar for any IPR, PGR or covered business method (CBM) proceedings where there is a parallel district court case. Prior to filing a new petition, patent challengers should objectively weigh the merits of their challenge or consider stipulating not to pursue the same invalidity grounds in the parallel district court proceeding.




Arthrex, Still Without Director Review, Gets Constitutional Review from Patent Commissioner

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit considered whether the Patent Commissioner, on assuming the role of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Director, can constitutionally evaluate the rehearing of Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) inter partes review (IPR) decisions. The panel concluded that neither Appointments Clause jurisprudence nor the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) impeded the Commissioner from exercising the PTO Director’s authority. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. et al., Case No. 18-2140 (Fed. Cir., May 27, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Reyna, Chen, JJ.)

Approximately one year ago, Arthrex succeeded in the Supreme Court of the United States on its argument that the Appointments Clause of the Constitution was violated unless a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed officer (such as the PTO Director) could review the Board’s final IPR decisions. (United States v. Arthrex, Inc.) The case returned to the PTO on remand. At the time, the position of PTO Director was vacant, and there was no acting director. Pursuant to the FVRA, the Commissioner of Patents (a position filled by the Secretary of Commerce) exercised the PTO Director’s authority to review Board decisions and ultimately rejected Arthrex’s challenge to the Board’s unpatentability determination. Arthrex appealed.

Arthrex contended that the Commissioner could not constitutionally exercise the PTO Director’s IPR review authority without running afoul of the Appointments Clause, that the FVRA barred the Commissioner’s exercise of authority and that the Commissioner violated separation of powers. Arthrex also challenged the ruling on the merits. None of these challenges were successful.

First, the Federal Circuit concluded that Arthrex reinforced long-settled Supreme Court precedent that an inferior officer could exercise a principal officer’s authority constitutionally on a temporary basis without violating the Appointments Clause. Here, the Court concluded that the Commissioner’s exercise of the PTO Director’s IPR review authority until a new director was installed presented no problem.

Second, the FVRA provides a statutory framework for the exercise of a principal officer’s duties under certain circumstances, which, if the law applied, would not have allowed the Commissioner to review IPR decisions. However, the Federal Circuit explained that the FVRA narrowly governs only those duties of an officer that are statutorily non-delegable (i.e., which US Congress has required to be exercised personally by the officer). According to the Court, such provisions did not apply here because nothing demonstrated that the PTO Director’s newly created authority to review IPR decisions was non-delegable.

Third, the Federal Circuit rejected Arthrex’s argument that the Commissioner’s service as the PTO Director violated the line of precedent that limits Congress’ ability to circumscribe the president’s removal authority for superior officers. Arthrex contended that the Commissioner, a non-superior officer, could be removed only for “misconduct or nonsatisfactory performance” and therefore could not fill the role of the PTO Director. The panel disagreed, explaining that the president could name an acting director “with the stroke of a pen,” and so the limits on removing the Commissioner from his role as Commissioner [...]

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