The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that an inter partes review (IPR) petitioner that had not been accused of infringement had standing to appeal a final decision in an IPR because the petitioner alleged facts establishing that there was a substantial risk of infringement of the challenged claims. General Elec. Co. v. Raytheon Techs. Corp., Case No. 19-1319 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 23, 2020) (Hughes, J.)

Raytheon owns a patent directed to a configuration for mounting a turbofan gas turbine engine to an aircraft pylon. Turbofan engines rely on four main component sections—the fan, compressor, combustor and turbine—to generate thrust from the continuous ignition of a mixture of fuel and pressurized air. The compressor and turbine sections are further divided into high-pressure and low-pressure segments. Each of these segments consists of stages, which include a matched set of rotating blades and stationary airfoils. The patent claims recite a “first” spool, which the parties equate with a low-pressure spool, turbine and compressor, and a “second” spool, consisting of the high-pressure spool, turbine and compressor. The claimed “second” spool includes “at least two stages.”

General Electric (GE) competes with Raytheon in the commercial aviation engine market and petitioned for IPR, challenging several claims based on two prior art references, Wendus and Moxon. Wendus discloses all elements recited in the challenged claims, except that it teaches a single-stage high-pressure turbine instead of the claimed “at least two-stage” high-pressure turbine. Moxon states that to improve fuel efficiency, “a move to one instead of two HP turbine stages is thought unlikely.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that all elements recited in the challenged claims were found in the prior art but found that the claims were not proven to be non-obvious, in part because Wendus expressly considered at least some of the one-stage versus two-stage tradeoffs and specifically chose the one-stage option. This express consideration meant that Wendus taught away from combination with Moxon, the Board reasoned. GE appealed.

Before reaching the merits of the appeal, Raytheon moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing, arguing that it had never sued or threatened to sue GE for infringing the patent. Accordingly, the standing dispute centered on whether GE had sufficiently alleged an injury in fact. The Federal Circuit explained that “when an appellant relies on potential infringement liability . . . it must establish that it has concrete plans for future activity that creates a substantial risk of future infringement or would likely cause the patentee to assert a claim of infringement.” In the context of an appeal of an IPR proceeding, “it is generally sufficient for the appellant to show that it has engaged in, is engaging in, or will likely engage in activity that would give rise to a possible infringement suit.” GE presented evidence that it spent $10 to $12 million in 2019 developing a geared turbofan architecture and design and that it offered its geared turbofan design to Airbus in response to a request for [...]

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