Prosecution history can be a minefield in patent cases, and IPR is no different. In the context of construing patent claims, much of the focus is often on whether the patent owner disclaimed particular subject matter from the scope of the claims. But two recent Federal Circuit decisions reviewing decisions in IPR illustrate that even absent disclaimer, patent owners may be able to save the challenged claims by pointing to their past statements during prosecution.
Patent claims that could be indefinite have long raised tricky issues for parties in IPR. Should petitioners challenge in IPR claims they think are indefinite? What should the PTAB do if it concludes that the claims are indefinite? The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Samsung Electronics Co. v. Prisua Engineering Corp. provides some answers.
The key questions addressed in the case were, first, whether the PTAB may cancel claims for indefiniteness once IPR has been instituted on another grounds, such as anticipation under section 102 and obviousness under section 103. And second, whether the PTAB is strictly precluded from making anticipation and obviousness determinations on indefinite claims.
That is the gist of a recent decision by the court, which permitted an IPR Petitioner to use “general knowledge” to fill in missing claim limitations in certain circumstances, but also constrained the PTAB as to what grounds may serve as the basis for instituting trial.
Petitioners seeking IPR of a patent must make their case for unpatentability based on two types of prior art – patents and printed publications. However, in Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Google LLC (No. 2019-1177), the Federal Circuit held that those references can be used as evidence of the general knowledge, and need not be made part of a specific combination. Specifically, the court found that the Petitioner had properly alleged that although the primary reference relied upon did not disclose each and every element of the claimed invention, the differences between the claimed invention and that reference would have been obvious to a skilled person based on their general knowledge.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Thryv v. Click-to-Call Technologies last month. As we previously discussed, the case concerns whether the PTAB’s finding that a petition for IPR was timely filed is reviewable on appeal. If the Justices’ questions at oral arguments are any indication, a split decision is likely.
At issue in the case is Section 314(d) of the Patent Act, which bars appeal of the PTAB’s decision “to institute an inter partes review under this section.” The Justices must decide whether that statute applies to, and thus bars appeal of, the PTAB’s finding that the petitioner timely filed the petition before the end of Section 315(b)’s one-year window.
Too often some challenger in IPR declines to use non-patent literature (or “NPL”), such as academic and trade journal articles, because of the effort and risk associated with establishing that the NPL is prior art. The Federal Circuit’s recent decision in Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson V. TCL Corp. (No. 17-2381) illustrates why that strategy can be a mistake and provides guidance on how to use NPL effectively.
As we have discussed, the PTAB often imposes specific requirements for establishing that an NPL reference is a prior art printed publication. Unlike with patent prior art, where challengers can ordinarily rely on the dates on the document itself, challengers typically have to introduce evidence that NPL was publicly accessible early enough to make it prior art. Getting that evidence can be challenging, which is why some challengers shy away from using NPL at all.
In the past, moving to amend the challenged claims during IPR was largely futile. The PTAB denied nearly all motions to amend, and many patent owners that might have benefited from amendment chose not to pursue it. But the rules concerning amendment in IPR are changing, and the number and success rate of motions to amend are ticking up. Patent owners have new reasons to think that amendment might save their patents from IPR.
Challengers in post-grant proceedings like IPR may not reassert invalidity arguments in court that they “raised or reasonably could have raised” before the PTAB. Several recent cases illustrate that whether a particular invalidity argument “reasonably could have [been] raised” is a fact-intensive question that the parties must be prepared to address. These cases also show that both patent owners and challengers should develop a factual record relating to whether estoppel applies to a given invalidity theory.
For months, panels at the PTAB have debated the relevance of parallel district court litigation on the PTAB’s discretion under 35 U.S.C. § 314(a) to institute or deny a petition for IPR. On May 7, 2019, the PTAB designated as precedential the NHK Spring Co. v. Intri-Plex Techs. decision that denied institution under § 325(d) and § 314(a), confirming that district court litigation “nearing its final stages” is indeed one relevant factor in deciding whether to institute an IPR.
A critical and early determinant in any procedural review is an examination of the permissibility of individual pieces of evidence. In matters of intellectual property, and particularly in IPRs, the permissibility of evidence often rests on two factors: whether a printed publication was publicly available and the relevant dates of that availability. As more and more companies disseminate disclosures and company information on the internet as a matter-of-course, the determination of both factors is becoming increasingly challenging to parse.
While a line of argument in an IPR may seem promising to a patent owner addressing one particular ground of rejection, it is critical for the patent owner to analyze how the argument may impact other grounds of rejections. A seemingly necessary position against one ground may result in substantially limited options for the patent owner with respect to other rejections. While IPR proceedings are limited by statute to prior art challenges (novelty and obviousness), contingent amendments (substitute claims) are also subject to further analysis (such as scope and written description support). In a recent decision, the PTAB rejected a patent owner’s §§ 102 and 103 arguments relating to substitute claims, and then proceeded to perform an alternative analysis under § 112 (written description), finding that the outcome would not change, in part, because of the patent owner’s own § 102 argument.