One Year Post-Bilski : How the Decision is Being Interpreted by the BPAI, District Courts, and Federal Circuit -§101 Case Summaries v. 2.0: June 28, 2010 – June 27, 2011

One year ago, on June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Bilski v. Kappos. The decision held that the machine-or-transformation test is not the exclusive test for patent eligibility, and that the three traditional exclusions of natural phenomena, abstract ideas, and laws of nature still apply. Since that time, 182 decisions involving statutory subject matter eligibility have been issued by the USPTO’s Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (“the Board”). District Courts issued 6 decisions in the past year that substantively addressed statutory subject matter under § 101, while the Federal Circuit issued 3 decisions on the subject. The day after Bilski issued, the Supreme Court denied cert in In re Ferguson, and just recently picked up Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs for review.

Following is a summary of each decision that substantively discusses statutory subject matter under § 101 – from the Board and the Courts. Although the Board decisions are not precedential, they offer insight into what patent practitioners can expect in their own appeals. Similarly, both reported and unreported cases from the District Courts and Federal Circuit are provided to round out the statutory subject matter landscape. Section (I) outlines Board cases where the claims were found to be statutory. Section (II) outlines Board cases where the claims were found to be non-statutory. Section (III) provides a look at activity in the Courts.

Some trends from the Courts worth noting:

(1)  The District Courts appear to be very strict when reviewing statutory subject matter – out of the 6 District Court decisions that addressed § 101, only 2 found that the claims at issue were patent-eligible under § 101.

(2) The Federal Circuit has offered some relief for patent owners. Out of the 3 Federal Circuit decisions that addressed § 101, 2 found that the claims at issue were patenteligible.

(3) The Supreme Court is staying close to the patent-eligibility issue, having granted cert in the Prometheus case on appeal from the Federal Circuit.

Some trends from the Board worth noting:

(1) The number of decisions where the claims were held by the Board to be nonstatutory under §101 significantly outweighs the number of decisions where the Board found that the claims satisfied §101. There are about 2.5 non-statutory decisions for every 1 statutory decision.

(2) It is not unusual for the Board to raise a §101 rejection on its own, even if patent eligibility was not a subject on appeal, and was not briefed.

(3) The Board still relies heavily on the machine-or-transformation test, although it does look at other factors as well. For most claims that satisfied the machine-or-transformation test, the Board has found them to be patent-eligible without further analysis.

(4) Although it is not an official test, the “mental steps” doctrine rings true – if the claims can be performed purely in the human mind, then they will be non-statutory.

(5) Even if the specification is silent as to whether a computer readable medium can be read on a signal, the Board will likely read a signal into a claim reciting a computer readable medium, rendering it non-statutory.

(6) The panel of judges assigned to a particular appeal matters. As can be seen from the following, several of the Board judges rarely find a claim patent-eligible, and often raise previously non-existent §101 rejections.

(7) There are no guarantees. Similar claims have been treated differently by different panels, and some BPAI judges appear inconsistent in applying the law to seemingly similar claims.

For a full review of §101 Case Summaries v. 2.0: June 28, 2010 – June 27, 2011 and the full text of this artilce please click here:

Patent Reform is on the Immediate Horizon – New Options for Challenging Patents Before the USPTO

On June 23, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249), which follows in the wake of the Senate version, S. 23, approved on March 8, 2011. Although differences between the two bills will have to be reconciled before the proposed legislation can be signed into law by the President, Congress is poised to enact major reforms to the patent laws. After many years of debate and compromise, patent reform seems to be just steps from the finish line.

We focus here on two provisions relating to challenging patents before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as currently set forth in the House bill.  First, inter partes reexaminations will be replaced with inter partes review proceedings. Second, the legislation will create post-grant review proceedings for the first time. Together, these proceedings will expand the options available to competitors who wish to challenge patents before the USPTO.

Both inter partes review and post-grant review will be adjudicated by a three-judge panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The PTAB will be formed from and supplant the current Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. As with current interference proceedings, inter partes review and post-grant review will involve filing motions (e.g., to amend claims) and provide for limited discovery. Thus, there are likely to be many procedural parallels between interferences, inter partes review and post-grant review. Additionally, inter partes reviews and post-grant reviews must be concluded within one year, extendable to 18 months in unusual cases.

Inter Partes Review

Inter partes review includes some significant differences from the current inter partes reexaminations. Like inter partes reexamination, inter partes review will permit a third party to challenge one or more patent claims as anticipated or obvious on the basis of prior art patents or printed publications. Unlike reexamination, which can be ordered at any time during the period of enforceability of a patent, a petition for inter partes review can only be filed after the later of: (1) nine months after the grant of a patent or a reissue of a patent; or (2) the termination of post-grant review, if a post-grant review has been instituted for that patent. The standard for commencing an inter partes review will be higher than that for ordering reexamination. Reexamination is ordered if there is “a substantial new question of patentability affecting a claim of the patent.” In contrast, inter partes review will be commenced upon a determination that “there is a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail with respect to at least 1 of the claims challenged.” Thus, competitors will find it more difficult to mount challenges to patents under this provision of the law.

The legislation addresses the interplay between inter partes review and district court litigation, and it places constraints on the extent to which the proceedings will overlap. Inter partes review may not be instituted if the petitioner has already filed a civil action challenging the patent’s validity. However, a counterclaim by a defendant in a civil action may challenge the patent’s validity without barring inter partes review. Following a final decision in an inter partes review, a petitioner will be estopped from subsequently disputing a claim’s validity in litigation or before the USPTO on grounds that the petitioner “raised or reasonably could have raised” during the inter partes review. Settlement of the inter partes review proceeding will eliminate any estoppel, thus giving parties greater incentive to settle than under the current scheme. Thus, in a settlement context, the estoppel provisions underinter partes review are somewhat less onerous than under inter partes reexamination.

Finally, the legislation also provides for reexaminations that are instituted as the result of supplemental examination of the patent. A patent owner may request supplemental examination of a patent to have the Office consider, reconsider, or correct information believed to be relevant to the patent. In contrast to current law regarding reexaminations, this information is not limited to prior art patents and publications, and it may include, for example, information relating to an on-sale bar or experimental data relevant to the enablement requirement. If information presented in the request raises a substantial new question of patentability, the Director will order reexamination. Supplemental examination immunizes a patent against a later holding of unenforceability based on the same information provided during supplemental examination.

Post-Grant Review

As a supplement to inter partes review proceedings, the new legislation also creates post-grant review as a mechanism for challenging patents. Although there are many similarities between the two procedures, significant differences are present, and they warrant a closer look. Unlike inter partes review, a third party may challenge an issued patent on any invalidity ground by filing a petition within nine months after issuance or re-issuance of the patent. The broad grounds available for seeking post-grant review parallel those available for finding invalidity in a civil action in district court. For example, post-grant review will permit challenges based on lack of written description or lack of enablement, thus expanding the bases for attacking patents in proceedings before the USPTO. The USPTO will authorize a post-grant review upon a showing that “it is more likely than not” that at least one challenged claim is unpatentable. This standard is more stringent than the “substantial new question of patentability” standard for initiating inter partes reexamination under the current law. Alternatively, post-grant review may be authorized if a petitioner raises a novel or unsettled legal question that is important to other patents or applications. As with inter partes review, post-grant review cannot be initiated if the petitioner has filed a civil action challenging the validity of the patent. Additionally, a final decision in a post-grant review proceeding will create an estoppel on any ground that the petitioner “raised or reasonably could have raised” during thatpost-grant review.

Conclusion

The new legislation will give competitors greater options for challenging patents. Although it remains to be seen how effectively the USPTO will be able to handle the proceedings, given the one-year time constraint for concluding such proceedings, the existence of each option should be borne in mind both by patent owners who may seek to enforce their patents and by competitors who wish to eliminate the patents of others. As compared to civil litigation, post-grant review and interpartes review may prove to be attractive tools for challenging patents, particularly in view of the faster resolution and lower costs than typical district court litigation, the “preponderance-of-theevidence” standard of proof, and the broadest reasonable claim construction that are applied at the USPTO. Potential patent challengers will wish to stay informed regarding the patent landscape, so that they can timely file for post-grant review if desired.

Patent Law Unchanged by Microsoft Supreme Court Decision

Despite all of the anticipation surrounding the outcome of the Microsoft v. i4i case, on June 9, 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the current state of patent law rather than change long-held precedent. Specifically, the Court held unanimously that when an accused infringer alleges that a patent is invalid, such an allegation needs to be proven by clear and convincing evidence.

This “clear and convincing evidence” standard has been defined as requiring “evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain.” This standard provides a relatively high hurdle for accused infringers to overcome in order to invalidate a patent and, thus, provides a rather stable environment for patents.

The Court based this decision on section 282 of the Patent Act of 1952, which grants to patents a presumption of validity. The Court noted that “Congress specified the applicable standard of proof in 1952 when it codified the common-law presumption of patent validity.” Relying on previous Supreme Court precedent, the Court cited Justice Cardozo, who stated, “There is a presumption of validity, a presumption not to be overthrown except by clear and cogent evidence.”

In this case, Microsoft asserted an invalidity defense to an allegation of infringement which relied on evidence that had not been considered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) during examination. Microsoft alleged that i4i sold a version of the software covered by U.S. Patent No. 5,787,449 (“the ’449 patent”) more than a year before the patent was filed. Microsoft presented evidence that suggested the software at issue was previously marketed and sold to another company. The evidence included various documents describing the software such as manuals, a funding application, and letters to potential investors, etc. However, i4i maintained that the software that was sold did not include the contents of the patent at issue in this case. Unfortunately, the code at issue was destroyed and was not available for a comparison to the patent. The lower courts determined that the evidence presently did not clearly and convincingly show that the software sold was the same as the software described in the ’449 patent. While one might be able to infer that fact from the evidence in question, it did not meet the clear-and-convincing standard of proof. Therefore under the Court’s interpretation the patent remains valid.

Further, the Court determined that the standard of evidence should be consistent regardless of whether the evidence was previously considered by the USPTO. However, the Court also stated that juries may be instructed to give more weight to evidence not previously considered by the USPTO when considering the issue of patent validity. Thus, in cases, such as Microsoft, where some material was not before the USPTO during prosecution, the jury may be instructed to give these materials more weight during consideration. Unfortunately for Microsoft, no such request was made of the district court.

With respect to the policy arguments put forth, the Court found itself “in no position to judge these policy arguments.” The Court relied instead on the almost thirty-year history of interpretation and congressional action regarding section 282 of the Patent Act of 1952. During this time frame, the Court noted that the evidentiary standard has been left “untouched.”

The Court affirmed the current standard of proof for invalidity. Many patent holders are now breathing a sigh of relief.

Now the question is, will Congress take up the challenge set forth by the Court when it stated, “Any recalibration of the standard of proof remains in its hands.”

Supreme Court Unanimously Maintains High Hurdle for Invalidity Defense

June 9th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled1 that an accused infringer must prove its invalidity defense by clear and convincing evidence. Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. P’ship, — S. Ct. — 564 U.S. —, 2011 WL 2224428, slip op. at 1, 16 (June 9, 2011).2 In a case of first impression, the Court determined that this standard applies even when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“Patent Office”) did not consider the evidence of invalidity currently before the jury in the patent examination process. Id. The hurdle for proving invalidity historically has been high and now remains high.

According to Justice Sotomayor (who wrote for the majority), “Congress specified the applicable standard of proof in 1952 when it codified the common-law presumption of patent validity.” Id. at 20. “Nothing . . . suggests that Congress meant to depart from that understanding to enact a standard of proof that would rise and fall with the facts of each case.” This decision thus keeps in place decades of existing jurisprudence and will continue to allow patent owners to value their portfolios based on past practices. Although accused infringers can take certain steps to minimize negative effects of the clear-and-convincing standard, “[a]ny recalibration of the standard of proof” is now solely in the hands of Congress. Id.

Historical Basis of Proving Invalidity

To receive patent protection, a claimed invention must meet the statutory requirements of patentability. The claimed invention, for example, must fall within certain patentable subject matter (§ 101), be novel (§ 102), be nonobvious (§ 103), and be disclosed in the patent application in sufficient detail to meet the enablement, best mode, and written description requirements (§ 112). Thus, the Patent Office issues a patent for a claimed invention only if its examiners determine that the claimed invention meets all of the statutory requirements. Once issued, a patent holder has the exclusive right to exclude others from using the claimed invention for the term of the patent.

An accused infringer, however, can escape liability for infringement by proving that the patent is invalid (i.e., that the Patent Office should not have issued it in the first place). Under § 282, however, “[a] patent shall be presumed valid” and “[t]he burden of establishing invalidity of a patent . . . rest[s] on the party asserting such invalidity.” 35 U.S.C. § 282. For over thirty years, the Federal Circuit has interpreted that section to require “a defendant seeking to overcome this presumption [to] persuade the factfinder of its invalidity defense by clear and convincing evidence.” Microsoft Corp., 2011 WL 2224428, slip op. at 3. According to Judge Rich, a principal drafter of the 1952 Patent Act, “Section 282 creates a presumption that a patent is valid and imposes the burden of proving invalidity on the attacker” by clear and convincing evidence. Am. Hoist & Derrick Co. v. Sowa & Sons, Inc., 725 F.3d 1350, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 1984). “That burden is consistent and never changes.” Id.

Microsoft Unsuccessfully Challenged Federal Circuit’s Long-Standing Precedent

In 2007, i4i sued Microsoft claiming that Microsoft Word infringed its patent for an improved method for editing computer documents. Microsoft Corp., 2011 WL 2224428, slip op. at 4. In addition to denying infringement, Microsoft argued that § 102(b)’s on-sale bar rendered i4i’s patent invalid due to i4i’s sale of a software program, S4, prior to the filing of the i4i patent application. Id. The parties agreed that i4i had sold the S4 program prior to the filing of the patent at issue but looked to the jury to determine whether S4 embodied the claimed invention. Id. Relying on the undisputed fact that S4 was never presented to the Patent Office, Microsoft objected to i4i’s proposed instruction requiring the jury find proof of invalidity by clear and convincing evidence. Id. In its place, Microsoft requested a jury instruction limiting its burden of proof, “with regard to its defense of invalidity based on prior art that the examiner did not review during the prosecution of the patent-in-suit” to a “preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 6 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The District Court rejected Microsoft’s proposed instruction and instructed the jury that “Microsoft has the burden of proving invalidity by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Based on this instruction, the jury found that Microsoft had willfully infringed i4i’s patent and that Microsoft had failed to prove its invalidity defense. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed, concluding that “the jury instructions were correct in light of [the] court’s precedent, which requires the challenger to prove invalidity by clear and convincing evidence.” i4i Ltd. P’ship v. Microsoft Corp., 598 F.3d 831, 848 (Fed. Cir. 2010).

Supreme Court Rejected Microsoft’s Arguments—Invalidity Must Be Proved by Clear and Convincing Evidence

Microsoft sought certiorari from the Supreme Court as to (1) whether “a defendant in an infringement action need only persuade the jury of an invalidity defense by a preponderance of the evidence” and (2) whether “a preponderance standard must apply at least when an invalidity defense rests on evidence that was never considered by the [Patent Office] in the examination process.” Id. at 5-6. The answer to both of Microsoft’s questions is a clear and unqualified no.

In reaching this decision, the Court started with a common axiom of statutory interpretation: “Where Congress has prescribed the governing standard of proof, its choice controls absent ‘countervailing constitutional constraints.'” Id. at 6 (citing Steadman v. SEC, 450 U.S. 91, 95 (1981)). It then asked the next logical question—”whether Congress made such a choice” when it enacted § 282. To answer this question, the Court first analyzed the plain language of statute. The Court noted that the statute “establishes a presumption of patent validity, and it provides that a challenger must overcome that presumption to prevail on an invalidity defense”; however, the Court recognized that “it includes no express articulation of the standard of proof.” Id. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that Congress used the term “presumed valid” according to its settled meaning in the common law—a term encompassing “not only an allocation of the burden of proof but also an imposition of a heightened standard of proof.” Id. at 7-8.3

“The common-law presumption, in other words, reflected the universal understanding that a preponderance standard of proof was too ‘dubious’ a basis to deem a patent invalid.” Microsoft Corp., 2011 WL 2224428, slip op. at 8. Accordingly, when Congress declared that a patent is “presumed valid,” “the presumption encompassed not only an allocation of the burden of proof but also an imposition of a heightened standard of proof.” Id. Based on this wide-spread understanding of the common law term, the Court refused to conclude “that Congress intended to drop the heightened standard of proof from the presumption simply because § 282 fails to reiterate it expressly.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Rather, the Court concluded that it “‘must presume that Congress intended to incorporate’ the heightened standard of proof, ‘unless the statute otherwise directs.'” Id. (quoting Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 23 (1999)). Simply put, “[t]he language Congress selected reveals its intent not only to specify that the defendant bears the burden of providing invalidity but also that the evidence in support of the defense must be clear and convincing.” Id. at 12 n.7.

Notably, the Court rejected Microsoft’s attempts to distinguish nearly century’s worth of otherwise clear case law: “Squint as we may, we fail to see the qualifications that Microsoft purports to identify in our cases.” Id. at 10. Likewise, the Court rejected Microsoft’s argument that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of § 282 must fail, because applying that interpretation of the phrase “presumed valid” renders superfluous the statute’s additional phrase, “[t]he burden of establishing invalidity of a patent . . . shall rest on the party asserting such invalidity.” Id. at 12. Although Justice Sotomayor (writing for the majority) seems to agree with Microsoft that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation renders some of the statute superfluous, the Court reminded Microsoft that “the canon against superfluity assists only where a competing interpretation gives effect ‘to every clause and word of a statute.'” Id. (citing Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 174 (2001)). The Court thus found the rule inapplicable here, where “no interpretation of § 282—including the two alternatives advanced by Microsoft—avoids excess language.” Id. at 13.

In addressing Microsoft’s second, more limited argument, the Court rejected Microsoft’s request for a variable standard of proof:

Our pre-1952 cases never adopted or endorsed the kind of fluctuating standard of proof that Microsoft envisions. And they do not indicate, even in dicta, that anything less than a clear-and-convincing standard would ever apply to an invalidity defense raised in an infringement action. . . . Nothing in § 282’s text suggests that Congress meant to depart from that understanding to enact a standard of proof that would rise and fall with the facts of each case.

Id. at 15-16.

Accused Infringers Have Options

The accused infringer, however, is not without options. Although the Court steadfastly affirmed the heightened standard of proof, it recognized that “new evidence supporting an invalidity defense may carry more weight in an infringement action than evidence previously considered by the [Patent Office].” Id. at 17. Indeed, the Patent Office’s judgment may lose significant force if it did not have all the material facts before it. Id. In turn, this may make it easier for the accused infringer to satisfy its burden (e.g., to use the new evidence to persuade the jury of a patent’s invalidity by clear and convincing evidence). Id. Accordingly, if faced with new evidence of invalidity, an accused infringer should consider taking the following actions:

  1. Request a jury instruction on the effect of new evidence not considered by the Patent Office. When requested, such an instruction “most often should be given.” Id. “When warranted, the jury may be instructed to consider that it has heard evidence that the [Patent Office] had no opportunity to evaluate before granting the patented.” Id.
  2. If the parties dispute whether the evidence presented to the jury differs from the evidence previously before the Patent Office, seek an instruction mandating that the jury consider that question. Id. at 18. “The jury may be instructed to evaluate whether the evidence before it is materially new, and if so, to consider that fact when determining whether an invalidity defense has been proved by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. (citing Mendenhall v. Cedarapids, Inc., 5 F.3d 1557, 1563-64 (Fed. Cir. 1993)).
  3. Remember that the clear and convincing standard of proof is an evidentiary standard that applies only to questions of fact to the trial court. Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. P’ship, — S. Ct. — 564 U.S. —, 2011 WL 2224428, at *12 (June 9, 2011) (Breyer, J., concurring). Accordingly, separate “factual and legal aspects of an invalidity claim . . . by using instructions based on case-specific circumstances that help the jury make the distinction.” Id. at *13. In addition, use interrogatories and special verdicts “to make clear which specific factual findings underlie the jury’s conclusions.” Id. “By preventing the ‘clear and convincing’ standard from roaming outside its fact-related reservation, courts can increase the likelihood that discoveries or inventions will not receive legal protection where none is due.” Id.

Conclusion

Despite Microsoft’s valiant challenge, yesterday’s unanimous opinion keeps the hurdle high for parties trying to show that a patent is invalid. Although accused infringers are not without their options, any modification of the clear and convincing standard itself now requires an Act of Congress.

___________________
1All eight participating Justices concurred in the judgment.  Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan joined.  Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion, in which Justices Scalia and Alito joined.  Although Justice Breyer joined the Justice Sotomayor opinion in full, he wrote separately to emphasize that the clear and convincing standard of proof applies only to questions of fact, not to questions of law.  Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring only in the judgment.  According to Justice Thomas, the heightened standard of proof applies because § 292 is silent and therefore does not alter the common-law rule.  Chief Justice Roberts took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
2This case marks the third patent-law case released by the Supreme Court during the past two weeks.  Earlier this week, the Court ruled that the Bayh-Dole Act does not eclipse inventors’ rights. See Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior Univ. v. Roche Molecular Sys., 563 U.S. —, 2011 WL 2175210 (June 5, 2011).  On May 31, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that induced infringement of a patent required knowledge that the induced acts constituted patent infringement.  See Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., — S. Ct. —, 2011 WL 2119109 (May 31, 2011).  Each of these cases affirmed the Federal Circuit.
3Indeed, the Court concluded that by the time Congress enacted the 1952 Patent Act, “a common core of thought” unified the decisions of courts across the country:

“[O]ne otherwise an infringer who assails the validity of a patent fair upon its face bears a heavy burden of persuasion, and fails unless his evidence has more than a dubious preponderance.  If that is true where the assailant connects himself in some way with the title of the true inventor, it is so a fortiori where he is a stranger to the [claimed] invention, without claim of title of his own.  If it is true where the assailant launches his attack with evidence different, at least in form, from any theretofore produced in opposition to the patent, it is so a bit more clearly where the evidence is even verbally the same.”

Id. (citing Radio Corp. of Am. v. Radio Eng’r Labs, Inc., 293 U.S. 1, 8 (1934).  As Justice Cardozo put it, “there is a presumption of validity, a presumption not to be overthrown except by clear and cogent evidence.”  Radio Corp. of Am., 293 U.S. at 2.

Supreme Court: Evidence Of Invalidity Must Be “Clear And Convincing”

On June 9, 2011, the Supreme Court rejected Microsoft’s contention that a preponderance of the evidence should be sufficient to establish patent invalidity in an 8-0 (Roberts abstained) opinion, which affirmed the Fed. Cir.’s opinion (for a change). (The decision can be found at the end of this post.) The Court interpreted Congress’ intent in 35 USC 282 to preserve the presumption of validity of a patent claim unless an attacker can meet the burden of presenting “clear and convincing” evidence of invalidity.

The Court also rejected the notion that some sort of “fluctuating standard of proof” should apply in situations in which the evidence relied upon was not considered by the PTO during prosecution. Even if the primary rationale behind the clear and convincing standard, that the PTO applied its expertise correctly, “seems much diminished’ (citing KSR 550 US 398), the Court held that Congress “codified the common-law presumption of patent validity and, implicitly the heightened standard of proof attached to it” and that standard of proof must still be met. The Court suggested that, in such cases, the jury could be instructed that it could give weight to the fact that the evidence before it is “materially new” when determining if clear and convincing evidence of invalidity had been presented.

Nonanalogous Art Lives! In Re Klein

Yesterday, the CAFC decided IN RE ARNOLD G. KLEIN 2010-1411, finding error in the USPTO’s rejection of patent claims based on obviousness, using non-analogous art.  You may find the following useful in your prosecution efforts. (A link to the decision can be found at the end of this post.)

The law is …

“A reference qualifies as prior art for an obviousness determination under § 103 only when it is analogous to the claimed invention. Innovention Toys, LLC, v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., No. 2010-1290, slip op. at 12 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 21, 2011); In re Bigio, 381 F.3d 1320, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2004); In re Clay, 966 F.2d 656, 658 (Fed. Cir. 1992). “Two separate tests define the scope of analogous prior art: (1) whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of the problem addressed and, (2) if the reference is not within the field of the inventor’s endeavor, whether the reference still is reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor is involved.” Bigio, at 1325. Here, the Board focused exclusively on the “reasonably pertinent to the particular problem” test. “A reference is reasonably pertinent if, even though it may be in a different field from that of the inventor’s endeavor, it is one which, because of the matter with which it deals, logically would have commended itself to an inventor’s attention in considering his problem.” Clay, 966 F.2d at 659. “If a reference disclosure has the same purpose as the claimed invention, the reference relates to the same  problem, and that fact supports use of that reference in an obviousness rejection.” Id.

Mr. Klein did not challenge the Board’s factual finding of the problem he was addressing, namely “making a nectar feeder with a movable divider to prepare different ratios of sugar and water for different animals.”

The panel of judges concluded …

“We agree with Mr. Klein that the Board’s conclusory finding that Roberts, O’Connor, and Kirkman are analogous is not supported by substantial evidence. The purpose of each of Roberts, O’Connor, or Kirkman is to separate solid objects. An inventor considering the problem of “making a nectar feeder with a movable divider to prepare different ratios of sugar and water for different animals,” would not have been motivated to consider any of these references when making his invention, particularly since none of these three references shows a partitioned container that is adapted to receive water or contain it long enough to be able to prepare different ratios in the different compartments. See Clay, 966 F.2d at 659 (“If [a reference] is directed to a different purpose, the inventor would accordingly have had less motivation or occasion to consider it.”).”

and …

“Greenspan and De Santo are not analogous, Mr. Klein argues, because they do not address multiple ratios or have a ‘movable divider.’ We agree. While Greenspan and De Santo are each directed to containers that facilitate the mixing of two separated substances together, an inventor considering the problem of “making a nectar feeder with a movable divider to prepare different ratios of sugar and water for different animals,” would not have been motivated to consider either of these references since neither of the references shows a movable divider …”

In Re Arnold G Klein

Supreme Court Leaves Standard for Patent Invalidity Unchanged

Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated opinion in Microsoft Corp. v. i4i L.P. The Court had granted certiorari to consider the question of whether section 282 of the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 282, requires a defense of patent invalidity to be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Contrary to what many commentators were expecting, the Court left the burden of proof for invalidity defenses unchanged-defendants still must prove any invalidity defense by clear and convincing evidence.

The Court focused on early cases cited by the plaintiff/appellee, including a 1934 opinion written by Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo that stated “there is a presumption of validity, a presumption not to be overthrown except by clear and cogent evidence.” Based on such decisions, the Court determined it was well understood prior to the passage of the current Patent Act in 1952 that the presumption of validity could be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, when Congress enacted section 282, which set forth a presumption of validity, the Court found that Congress intended to adopt the existing burden of proof for overcoming the presumption. The Court held that “[u]nder the general rule that a common-law term comes with its common-law meaning, we cannot conclude that Congress intended to ‘drop’ the heightened standard proof [sic] from the presumption simply because [section] 282 fails to reiterate it expressly.”

The Court did not accept Microsoft’s alternative argument that the burden of proof should be different for invalidity defenses based on prior art references not considered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in granting an asserted patent. The Court did, however, recognize the “commonsense principle” that “new evidence supporting an invalidity defense may ‘carry more weight’ in an infringement action than evidence previously considered by the PTO. . . . Simply put, if the PTO did not have all material facts before it, its considered judgment may lose significant force.” Thus, the Court noted that “a jury instruction on the effect of new evidence can, and when requested, most often should be given. When warranted, the jury may be instructed to consider that it has heard evidence that the PTO had no opportunity to evaluate before granting a patent.”

Justice Breyer (joined by Justices Scalia and Alito) also filed an interesting concurrence stressing that the clear-and-convincing standard applies only to factual issues relating to invalidity defenses, and not to legal questions. “Where the ultimate question of patent validity turns on the correct answer to legal questions-what these subsidiary legal standards mean or how they apply to the facts as given-today’s strict standard of proof has no application.” The concurring Justices thus urged district courts to keep these issues separate “by using instructions based on case-specific circumstances that help the jury make the distinction or by using interrogatories and special verdicts to make clear which specific factual findings underlie the jury’s conclusions.” For years, some members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit have been urging district courts and litigants to use verdict forms and jury interrogatories that ask for more detail about the factual findings underlying decisions on issues such as obviousness, but those efforts have met with mixed results. It will be interesting to see whether these comments from three Supreme Court Justices will have any significant effect on how patent cases are actually tried.

Perils of Reissue – Recapture Doctrine Has Teeth!

Patent owners beware! Over the past year, the Federal Circuit has issued two major rulings1 which stand as a warning to patent owners that when requesting reissue of an arguably defective patent, if you attempt to broaden aspects of the claims relating to subject matter surrendered during prosecution of the defective patent,2 courts (and now likely the U.S. Patent Office as well) will extensively examine the “entire” prosecution history of the defective patent and its family to determine if you are attempting to recapture the surrendered subject matter.3 This means that the review will not only include the prosecution history of the “defective” patent undergoing reissue, but also the prosecution history of any and all “ancestor patent applications.”4 The warning is out. Improper recapture of surrendered subject matter will not be tolerated.

The unfortunate result of the Federal Circuit’s zealous desire to prevent improper recapture, however, is that: pursuit of claims of a broader or mixed scope through the reissue process can be tantamount to walking through a mine field that grows with the number of patent applications added to the patent’s family. If patent owners and portfolio managers desire to enlarge the scope of the claims of an issued patent,5 the reissue application must be applied for within two years from the grant date of the issued patent. Due to these broaden reissue difficulties, it may be prudent to make a determination of whether broader claims are desired much earlier in an application process and prior to patent grant/issuance to avoid the broaden reissue route.

One of the better available routes or strategies, for example, appears to be to pursue such broadened or mixed-scope claims through use of one or more continuation or divisional applications at some point prior to issuance/grant of the patent, e.g., after issuance of a notice of allowance. This continuation or divisional strategy can help patent owners avoid the reissue process, which under certain circumstances, arguably now seems to be best reserved for neutral or narrowing claim amendments6 such as: to account for newly discovered prior art, changes in the legal landscape7 or other impetus which may cause there to be a question as to the validity of the patented claims, to correct an error in the patent disclosure,8 to correct a foreign or domestic priority claim, or to add an additional non-surrendered species, thereby leaving broaden reissue reserved only as a procedure of last resort.

Rule Against Recapture

Section 251 of Title 35 of the U.S. Code allows patent owners to “enlarge the scope of the claims of the original patent” if “through error without any deceptive intention…the patentee claim[ed]…less than he had a right to claim in the [original] patent.” Deliberate withdrawal or amendment of claims or specific arguments limiting the scope of terms used in a claim to obtain a patent, however, are not considered to involve the type of “error” contemplated by Section 251.9 As such, in accordance with the statute, the patentee may not utilize the reissue process to broaden the claims of a patent to recapture subject matter surrendered10 through deliberate amendments or through specific arguments made during prosecution to overcome prior art.

Two recent court rulings out of the Federal Circuit, In re Mostafazadeh11 and MBO Laboratories Inc.12 further highlight and explain this requirement.

In re Mostafazadeh (“Mostafazadeh”)

In April 1998, inventors Mostafazadeh and Smith filed a patent application directed to semiconductor packaging, which issued as a patent in March 2000. During prosecution, the inventors amended the independent claims to add a claim element describing a “circular attachment pad” and argued that “circular” attachment pads were novel—no assertions were made that non-circular attachment pads were novel.13 The application was allowed as a result of the amendment and the patent issued as U.S. Patent No. 6,034,423 (“the ‘423 patent”). The inventors did not file a continuation application in order to pursue claims of a broader or different scope prior to the patent issuing.

In December 2001, the inventors filed a reissue application, deleting the “circular” shape requirement and declaring that the original claims of the ‘423 patent were partially inoperative because the “circular” shape feature of the attachment pad limitation was unduly limiting. The examiner rejected the reissue claims as violating the recapture doctrine, noting that the circular attachment pad limitation was argued during prosecution of the ‘423 patent “to be both critical to the invention and distinguishing over the prior art.” The inventors appealed to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (“Board”), which affirmed the examiner’s rejection. Having been rebuffed by the Board, the inventors appealed to the Federal Circuit, asserting, in essence, that the reissue claims were materially narrower than the pre-amended version of the patent claims because they retained the “attachment pad” limitation.14

The Federal Circuit, however, disagreed, finding that the inventors failed to demonstrate material narrowing because use of a non-circular attachment pad was “well known in the prior art.”15 The court also found that additional narrowing features unrelated to the surrendered subject matter were insufficient to avoid recapture.16 In other words, to avoid the effects of the recapture doctrine, the reissue claims must retain at least material portions of the surrendered subject matter, and the remaining portions must serve the purpose of the addition of the original surrendered subject matter – i.e., to differentiate the reissue claims from the prior art. Even substantial material narrowing to other elements of the reissue claims will not allow patent owners to avoid this requirement.

MBO Laboratories Inc. (“MBO”)

Beginning in November 1990, MBO’s inventors submitted a series of patent applications covering a hypodermic safety syringe designed to minimize needle-stick injuries through the use of a needle positioned within a guard sleeve. These patent applications included a continuation-in-part application (“the ‘013 application”) which issued as U.S. Patent No. 5,395,347 (“the ‘347 patent”), and a continuation application (“the ‘772 application”) claiming priority to the ‘013 application filed one day prior to issuance of the ‘347 patent. After receiving a notice of allowance for the ‘772 application, MBO subsequently abandoned it and filed a new continuation application (“the ‘803 application”) with additional claims, which issued as U.S. Patent No. 5,755,699 (“the ‘699 patent”) without objection. MBO did not file a continuation application in order to pursue claims of a broader or different scope prior to the patent issuing, and no other applications in the application chain or family were pending.17

Slightly more than one year after issuance of the ‘699 patent, MBO requested a broadening reissue of the ‘699 patent, apparently fearing that the claims could be interpreted to cover only a retractable needle that retracts into a fixed guard, and not the arguably equivalent feature of a fixed needle and slidable guard. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that during prosecution of the ‘772 application, MBO distinguished its invention from cited prior art, in essence, by arguing that MBO’s invention included the retractable needle limitation, the USPTO allowed the reissue without objection, which resulted in U.S. Patent No. RE 36,885 (“the RE ‘885 patent”).18

In 2003, MBO filed suit against Becton, Dickinson & Co. (“Becton”) asserting infringement of various claims of the RE ‘885 patent, which included three original claims copied without amendment from the ‘699 patent and four claims added during the reissue process. During the course of the litigation, Becton challenged the four reissue claims as being invalid under the recapture rule—arguing that the reissue claims recaptured subject matter surrendered during patent prosecution. The District Court agreed, holding that the four added claims were invalid. The District Court, however, also held that all claims including the original claims were invalid.19  MBO in an appeal to the Federal Circuit requested clarification.20

In discussing whether the patentee surrendered any subject matter, which necessarily requires a review of prosecution history, the Federal Circuit clarified that the determination of the existence of surrender of a claim’s scope, includes surrendered subject matter made not only while prosecuting the original application directly resulting in the original patent (i.e., the ‘699 patent), but also subject matter surrendered in any precedent divisional, continuation, or continuation-in-part application (here both the ‘722 and ‘013 applications).21 The original claims, however, remain unaffected by the recapture rule.22

Moral of This Story

As shown by these recent Federal Circuit cases, violation of the recapture rule results in invalidity of the offending reissue claims, but does not result in invalidity of claims that are not subject to the rule (i.e., original and non-violating amended claims). Depending upon the outcome of a review of the file history of the patent application that would result in the original patent (if still pending), any pending child, ancestor, or sister applications, and issued patents, as well as a determination of whether or not either of the pending ancestor or sister patent applications have a written description that would adequately support claims having the desired scope,23 there often is a likelihood that a broaden reissue would not provide the ability to achieve the same claim scope as could be achieved through the filing of one or more continuation or divisional applications or by amending the claims of the respective pending application. As such, one can surmise that had there been a child, ancestor, or sister patent application pending at the time the respective patent owners in these cases determined that their respective issued patents had insufficient claim scope, the claims of any such pending patent application could have been amended; or additional claims could have been added, or an additional continuation or divisional application claiming priority to the respective patent application strategically could have been filed, to provide broader scope of coverage. Accordingly, these recent Federal Circuit cases highlight the perils of the reissue process, show that the Recapture Doctrine still has teeth, emphasize the importance and benefits of strategic use of continuation or divisional applications and other actions by applicants prior to patent grant/issuance, and of course, warn of the potential hazards lurking in patent prosecution file histories.

New Standards for Litigants in Patent Cases: Inequitable Conduct is No Longer a Boiler Plate Defense

In recent years, an all too common defensive strategy to patent infringement claims has been to cry foul on the patent-holder and allege misconduct during the patenting process. Inequitable conduct, a judicially created equitable doctrine, is a defense to patent infringement allegations, which if successfully proven, can bar enforcement of the patent. However, inequitable conduct allegations may not have the same legal luster they once held based on the recent Federal Circuit holding in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co.

Years of fluctuating opinions on the issue of inequitable conduct and its remedies, coupled with the over-use of the defense, has “plagued not only on the courts but also the entire patent system.” Fearing the guillotine-like effects of inequitable conduct charges, those applying for patents have deluged the PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) with often hundreds of unnecessary documents in an attempt to comply with the disclosure requirements during the patenting process. Such document submissions have created a backlog at the PTO. Moreover, fearing their clients may lose a patent infringement claim, an estimated “80 percent of patent infringement cases included allegations of inequitable conduct” as a defense. However, those days may now be over as Therasense will likely be a dramatic game-changer in the strategic side of patent litigation.

The Federal Circuit’s en banc decision under Chief Judge Rader sets forth new standards for establishing a defense of inequitable conduct. First, the opinion clarified what is meant by the term intentionally deceive: “to prevail on a claim of inequitable conduct, the accused infringer must prove that the patentee acted with the specific intent to deceive the PTO.” Rather than the amorphous criteria for intent that previously included negligence, gross negligence, and that the applicant “should have known,” now claims must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Further, if nondisclosure of information regarding prior art is the foundation of an inequitable conduct claim, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the “applicant made a deliberate decision to withhold a known material reference.” Thus, a defendant can no longer just point to a general nondisclosure, but rather, must have sufficient evidence to show the applicant “knew of the reference, knew that it was material, and made a deliberate decision” to withhold it from the PTO.

Unlike cases that treat intent and materiality interchangeably, Judge Rader clarified that the two are “separate requirements” under an inequitable conduct defense. This distinction abolishes the use of a “sliding scale” by courts whereby a weak showing of intent could simply be supplemented with a strong showing of materiality and vice versa. Because these two elements are separate, neither can be inferred based on the existence of the other, forcing courts to now “weigh the evidence of intent to deceive independent of its analysis of materiality.”

The court also discussed the form of proof for intent, recognizing that “direct evidence of deceptive intent is rare,” therefore allowing judges to make inferences from “indirect and circumstantial evidence.” Because varying judicial inferences previously encouraged the proliferation of inequitable conduct claims, the court established that a clear and convincing evidence standard again must be met. However, the specific intent to deceive must be the “single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence.” Therefore, if “multiple reasonable inferences” as to the applicant’s intent can be drawn, then the defense will fail to meet this heightened standard.

Second, the ruling held that “but-for materiality” is required to prove inequitable conduct on the part of an applicant. The stringent standard of but-for materiality comes down to a simple question- had the PTO known of the prior art that an applicant failed to disclose, would the PTO have allowed their claim? If the PTO “would not have allowed a claim had it been aware of the undisclosed prior art,” the prior art is but-for material. However, like with most rules, the court carved out an exception– but-for proof is not necessary in cases of “affirmative egregious conduct”. Thus, if a company filed an “unmistakably false affidavit” then the misconduct is per se material. According to Judge Rader, this exception will help to restore a needed balance in patent law between encouraging “honesty before the PTO” and reducing “unfounded accusations of inequitable conduct.”

Finally, the remedy for inequitable conduct was dramatically changed. Previously, the remedy for inequitable conduct had earned itself the title of being the “‘atomic bomb’ of patent law” because of its far-reaching and potentially devastating financial, reputational and intellectual effects. A successful inequitable conduct defense could “render[] the entire patent unenforceable,” was unable to be “cured by reissue or reexamination” and could “spread from a single patent to render unenforceable other related patents and applications in the same technology.” Thus, once the trigger was pulled on an inequitable conduct defense, a company’s entire patent portfolio could face the firing squad. However, this majority holding recognized the concept of basic fairness undergirding the doctrine of inequitable conduct and held that courts should limit their application of the complete unenforceability remedy to “instances where the patentee’s misconduct resulted in the unfair benefit of receiving an unwarranted claim.”

The Therasense ruling will require patent attorneys to curb their inclination to over-use the defense of inequitable conduct and may alleviate the prior art research pressures of filing for a patent. Attorneys will also need to revise their trial strategies since those who do not update their playbook with the Federal Circuit’s new rules will likely fail on their inequitable conduct allegations. With stricter standards for proving intent and materiality and new limits on the application of inequitable conduct as a remedy, courts can predict more hesitation from alleged patent-infringers and the PTO can expect less prior art paperwork flooding their office.

Federal Circuit Attempts to Eradicate the Plague of Inequitable Conduct, Sets New Standards

The Federal Circuit issued its much anticipated en banc decision in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co. on May 25, 2011 regarding inequitable conduct by patent applicants and attorneys during prosecution of patents. The Federal Circuit established a new standard for materiality and clarified its contradictory precedent on intent to deceive—the two factual predicates that must be established to prove inequitable conduct.  The Court thus recognized the problems created by the overuse of inequitable conduct claims by litigants and the differing standards applied by federal courts in evaluating issues of materiality and intent to deceive.

Inequitable conduct is an affirmative defense to a claim of patent infringement. At its most fundamental level, the battle cry of inequitable conduct is an assertion that the patent applicant or lawyer acted fraudulently before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Therefore, notwithstanding any finding of infringement, the patent should be rendered unenforceable.

Because of the frequency with which it is plead, the potential devastating effects it has on the rights of the patent owner, the potential harm it may cause to the reputation of patent lawyers associated with the prosecution of the patent and the harm it has caused the examination process before the Patent and Trademark Office, the Federal Circuit has described inequitable conduct as both an “atomic bomb” and a “plague” on the patent system.

Court Creates “But-For” Test for Materiality

The Court laid out a new test for materiality that significantly raises the bar. With one exception, the Federal Circuit explained that information is material only when a claim would not have been allowed by the Patent and Trademark Office had the office been aware of the information. The one exception to this “but-for” test is in cases of affirmative egregious misconduct. For example, where the patent applicant “deliberately planned and carefully executed scheme[s]” to defraud the Patent and Trademark Office or courts, such information and misconduct is always material.

Court Adopts “Single Most Reasonable Inference” Test for Intent

Addressing the “intent” prong, the Federal Circuit clarified that a party must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the patentee made a deliberate decision to withhold a known material reference. The Court was careful to note that the intent prong is independent of the materiality prong and that the sliding scale approach where a party could demonstrate a lower level of intent if the information was highly material is no longer acceptable. Instead, to meet the test, the evidence must be sufficient to require a finding of deceitful intent in light of all the circumstances. The specific intent to deceive must be the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence. Finally, the Court noted that a patentee need not offer any good faith explanation to counter a finding of intent until the accused infringer first proves a threshold level of intent to deceive by such clear and convincing evidence.

Overall, the Federal Circuit adopted a more stringent standard for proving inequitable conduct that is likely to reduce the high number of meritless inequitable conduct claims in litigation. Notwithstanding the high hurdles introduced by way of this landmark opinion, patent applicants still need to take care in managing the disclosure of information during prosecution and be ever mindful of material information including disclosures and arguments made in related foreign applications.

Making Therasense of the Inequitable Conduct Doctrine

In a split in its decision (6-1-4), the Federal Circuit’s May 25, 2011 en banc opinion in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co. attempts to unify the patch work of opinions on inequitable conduct, which is a judicially-created doctrine rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases on the doctrine of “unclean hands” where egregious conduct had occurred.1 (Full decision(opens in a new window)). The Federal Circuit emphasized that the previous assertions of the inequitable conduct doctrine based on its precedent have “plagued not only the courts but also the entire patent system.”2

The majority opinion of the Federal Circuit in Therasense tries to balance the importance of patent applicants being honest in dealings with the United States Patent Office (“Patent Office”) with the appropriate standard of review in determining whether inequitable conduct has actually occurred. As the Federal Circuit explained, the “low standards for intent and materiality” created by its previous opinions “have inadvertently led to many unintended consequences” including “increased adjudication cost and complexity, reduced likelihood of settlement, burdened courts, strained PTO resources, increased PTO backlog, and impaired patent quality[.]” Therefore, the Federal Circuit finally intervened to tighten the standard and redirect the application of the inequitable conduct doctrine to benefit the public and the patent system by protecting against “egregious misconduct, including perjury, the manufacture of false evidence, and the suppression of evidence.”3

The Decision

In Therasense, the Federal Circuit redefined the requirements for both the materiality and intent prongs, both of which are required to be proved by clear and convincing evidence, in making a determination of an inequitable conduct. The following charts illustrates the fractured nature of previous Federal Circuit opinions and how the en banc opinion unified the previous patch work of opinions:

Materiality

Before

At least 5 different standards, including:

  • refutes or is inconsistent with a position the applicant takes in … asserting an argument of patentability;
  • a “reasonable examiner” would have considered the information or prior art “important” in deciding whether to allow the application;
  • the misrepresentation was so material that the patent should not have issued;
  • the misrepresentation actually caused the examiner to approve the patent application when he would not otherwise have done so; and
  • the misrepresentation may have influenced the patent examiner in the course of prosecution.
After

But-For Test

  • the deception is only material if the USPTO would not have allowed the claim if it had been aware of the undisclosed information.

 

Intent

Before

General intent to deceive based on totality of circumstances.

After

Specific intent to deceive with evidence of knowing and deliberate decision to deceive.

Although actual evidence is not required, the Federal Circuit found that “to meet the clear and convincing evidence standard, the specific intent to deceive must be ‘the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence.'”4 The Federal Circuit further explained “[i]n making this patentability determination, the court should apply the preponderance of the evidence standard and give claims their broadest reasonable construction.”5

Finally, the Federal Circuit clarified that “a [district] court must weigh the evidence of intent to deceive independent of its analysis of materiality.”6 Consequently, the Federal Circuit has abolished the sliding scale of intent and materiality.

Sliding Scale

Before

A strong showing of intent may be allow a weak showing of materiality, and vice versa.

After

No sliding scale.

Response by Patent Office

In its ruling, the Federal Circuit expressly rejected the definition of materiality in 37 C.F.R §1.56 (“Rule 56”). The Court stated that it was not bound by Rule 56, and that Rule 56 “sets such a low bar for materiality, adopting this standard would inevitably result in patent prosecutors continuing the existing practice of disclosing too much prior art of marginal relevance and patent litigators continuing to charge inequitable conduct in nearly every case as a litigation strategy.”7

In reply to the Federal Circuit ruling, the Patent Office quickly issued a press release indicating that it is carefully studying the opinion and “expect to soon issue guidance to applicants regarding the materials they must submit to the Patent Office under their duty of disclosure.”8 It is unclear what actions the Patent Office may take, but if it amends Rule 56 to correspond with the en banc decision in Therasense, it could further strengthen the certainty of the standards required for equitable practice before the Patent Office.

What Does the Future Hold?

Going forward, the Therasense opinion may allow patent practitioners to reassess what documents they list in information disclosure statements and other filings with the Patent Office.  Moreover, future Patent Office guidance should clarify the issue of what needs to be disclosed to the examiner. Additionally, it is anticipated that the Therasense opinion will reduce the number inequitable conduct allegations, but it may also require more flexibility from various patent rules of district courts, which routinely require allegations of inequitable conduct to be made before the close of discovery.

Notably, it did not take long for a U.S. district court to rely on this new ruling in deciding to deny a motion for a finding of unenforceability due to inequitable conduct. In Ameranth, Inc. v Menusoft Systems Corp., et al.,9 the district court applied the new Therasense standard the day after it was issued, finding that although the “but-for” standard was met, the defendants failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that there was specific intent to deceive the Patent Office.10

The Federal Circuit decision, however, did leave some potential new battlegrounds regarding the application of inequitable conduct. First, the Federal Circuit recognized the ability of district courts to infer intent from indirect evidence. Although the Court attempted to limit this loophole by stating “when there are multiple reasonable inferences that may be drawn, intent to deceive cannot be found,”11 it remains to be seen how district courts will apply this standard. Additionally, the Federal Circuit provided that when a “patentee has engaged in affirmative acts of egregious conduct” the misconduct is deemed to be material. This level of intent may overcome the requirement of “but-for” materiality having to be proved. The Federal Circuit suggests that this analysis should incorporate elements of the unclean hands doctrine, but it does not provide clear guidance on how this should be interpreted and suggests that this egregious conduct exception will allow for “flexibility to capture extraordinary circumstances.”12

Although this is a way to curtail the allegations of inequitable conduct, it is not the end of the story, and it remains to be seen if the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the application of inequitable conduct or attempt to harmonize the Federal Circuit’s “but-for” test with the standards applied by other administrative agencies like the Securities Exchange Commission. We will continue to monitor the case and provide updates as it proceeds.

Therasense Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Company—The Federal Circuit tightens the standards necessary to establish the inequitable conduct defense by requiring a “but-for” showing of materiality

In Therasense Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co., Appeal No. 2008-1511(May 25, 2011), an en banc Federal Circuit issued a significant ruling on the elements necessary to establish an inequitable conduct defense. The stakes for a patent owner facing a charge of inequitable conduct are high: inequitable conduct renders the affected patent unenforceable and could support a finding that the case was exceptional, entitling the alleged infringer to attorneys fees. A party alleging inequitable conduct had to show that the patentee misrepresented or failed to disclose material information with an intent to deceive the Patent Office. The courts were then to engage in an equitable “balancing” of materiality and intent to determine whether the conduct justified finding the patents unenforceable.

While recent scholarship suggests that the defense was not particularly successful in cases that made their way to the Federal Circuit and that the Federal Circuit applied stricter standards as to the elements of the defense, the incentives to assert the defense were so great that patent litigators were alleging inequitable conduct as a matter of course. In fact, the defense of inequitable conduct was said to have been asserted in as many as 60 to 80 percent of patent infringement cases. Also, many believed that the standards for finding inequitable conduct elements had not been sufficiently articulated by the Federal Circuit.

In Therasense, a six-judge majority addressed those concerns by significantly tightening the standards to be used in assessing the materiality and intent elements. Most importantly, the majority held that in most circumstances the party asserting an inequitable conduct defense must establish that “but-for” the misrepresentation or omission, the patent would not have issued. Further, materiality and intent were held to be separate requirements and were no longer part of a sliding scale where a showing of greater materiality permitted a showing of lesser intent. The Federal Circuit did, however, recognize that in instances of egregious misconduct, a “but-for” showing would not be required.

The decision brings to a close an almost 30-year effort by the Federal Circuit to tighten up the standards for proving inequitable conduct which the Court had earlier described as “a plague” on the patent system. As a result, it was contributing to the massive citation of prior art to the PTO, which in turn contributed significantly to the backlog of patent applications. The use of the inequitable conduct defense was also said to haveFederal Circuit tightens the standards necessary to establish the inequitable conduct defense by requiring a “but-for” showing of materiality  several other negative effects, such as the potential to destroy parts of patent portfolios/families, inhibit the possibility of settlement and cast a cloud over the reputations of inventors and patent prosecutors. Indeed, the Federal Circuit prefaced its holding by stating that it “now tightens the standards for finding both intent and materiality in order to redirect [the inequitable conduct] doctrine that has been overused to the detriment of the public.” Slip Op. at 24.

The Federal Circuit created an exception to the “but-for” materiality holding in the case of “affirmative egregious misconduct.” Id. at 29. One example of such egregious misconduct would be the filing of an unmistakably false affidavit. The Federal Circuit pointed out that the egregious misconduct exception provided a measure of flexibility to capture extraordinary circumstances.

In the Therasense case, the alleged misconduct had been the failure to disclose briefs that the patent applicant had submitted to the European Patent Office regarding the European counterpart of a related patent owned by the patent applicant. The District Court had found the patent unenforceable due to this failure to disclose. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded and instructed the District Court to determine whether the PTO would not have granted the patent but for the failure to disclose the European Patent Office briefs. The Court also vacated the District Court finding of intent to deceive because it had decided this issue under the wrong standard. The District Court was instructed to determine whether there was clear and convincing evidence demonstrating that the patent applicant knew of the European Patent Office briefs, knew of their materiality and made the conscious decision not to disclose them in order to deceive the PTO.

The four judge dissent stressed that the “but-for” test of materiality departed from Federal Circuit precedent and was inconsistent with the PTO’s standard set forth in PTO Rule 56. The majority opinion’s response to the dissent was that the PTO’s Rule 56 standard was one of the major causes of the rampant use of the inequitable conduct defense.

The Patent and Trademark Office was quick to react to the decision. On May 26, 2011 it announced that it was “carefully studying the important en banc decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the case of Therasense v. Becton, Dickinson to assess how it may impact agency practices and procedures.The agency also announced that it expects to soon issue guidance to applicants related to the prior art and information they must disclose to the Office in view of Therasense.” As the press release noted, the Therasense “decision resolves uncertainties in many aspects of how district courts must apply the inequitable conduct doctrine.”

Federal Circuit Ruling Tightens Standard For Inequitable Conduct

In patent litigation, a finding of inequitable conduct renders a patent unenforceable, exposes the patentee to an assessment of attorney’s fees, and has other significant consequences. The Federal Circuit has characterized the remedies from inequitable conduct as the “atomic bomb” of patent litigation. Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., ___ F.3d ___, slip op. at 21 (Fed. Cir. May 25, 2011) (en banc). Yesterday, the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, sought to limit the use of that weapon by tightening the standards for finding inequitable conduct. Under the new standard, to prevail on a claim for inequitable conduct, the alleged infringer must show “but-for” materiality and, by clear and convincing evidence, specific intent to deceive the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”).

The majority opinion was written by Chief Judge Rader and joined in full by Judges Newman, Lourie, Bryson, Linn, Moore, and Reyna; an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part was rendered by Judge O’Malley; and a dissenting opinion was written by Judge Bryson and joined by Judges Gajarsa, Dyk, and Prost.

To establish intent to deceive for a failure to disclose a reference, “the accused infringer must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the applicant knew of the reference, knew that it was material, and made a deliberate decision to withhold it.” Slip op. at 24. Mere negligence, showing that the patentee “should have known” of the reference, is insufficient. Id. In most circumstances, where direct evidence if intent to deceive is lacking, “a district court may infer intent from indirect and circumstantial evidence.” The Federal Circuit clarified that materiality and intent are separate requirements and abandoned the “sliding scale” approach. Id. at 24–25. A court may not infer intent solely from materiality. Id. at 25. While the Court did not hold that materiality was irrelevant to intent, specific intent to deceive must be “the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence.” Id.

The Court adopted a new standard for materiality required to establish inequitable conduct, “but-for materiality.” Slip op. at 27 (emphasis added). When prior art is withheld from the PTO, the prior art is but-for material if the PTO would not have allowed a claim had it been aware of the undisclosed prior art. In other words, prior art that invalidates a claim and was withheld from the PTO is material. This is substantially narrower that the past practice of deciding whether the reference had to be disclosed under PTO Rule 56, which had previously been the standard.

The new materiality test does not mean the claims will necessarily be invalidated based upon the undisclosed prior art. A district court must determine whether the PTO would have allowed the claim if it had been aware of the undisclosed prior art. Slip Op. at 28. Unlike the clear and convincing standard required to invalidate a claim in litigation, to determine whether the PTO would have allowed the claim had it been aware of the undisclosed prior art, the district court “should apply the preponderance of the evidence standard and give claims their broadest reasonable construction.” Id. Accordingly, there may be situations where the undisclosed prior art is insufficient to invalidate a claim during litigation, but it is otherwise “material” for purposes of inequitable conduct.

In addition to announcing a new standard for materiality, the Federal Circuit carved out an exception to the but-for materiality test. “When the patentee has engaged in affirmative acts of egregious misconduct, such as the filing of an unmistakably false affidavit, the misconduct is material.” Slip op. at 29.

The Federal Circuit expressly declined to adopt the definition of materiality set forth by the PTO in Rule 56. Slip op. at 32; but see Dissenting Op. at 3 (adopting Rule 56 definition of materiality). The Federal Circuit criticizes Rule 56 as too broad because inequitable conduct may be based on information that becomes irrelevant in view on subsequent arguments by the applicant to the PTO. Id. Nonetheless, as a practical matter, practitioners will continue to comply with the requirements of Rule 56 during prosecution.

The ruling will make it more difficult for an accused infringer to plead inequitable conduct with specificity as required by the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). An accused infringer should now need to plead with specificity factual averments to show that the PTO would not have allowed a claim but-for non-disclosure of the prior art reference and that the applicant knew of the reference, knew that it was material, and made a deliberate decision to withhold it.

The facts and history of the case are summarized in an earlier alert which you can review at this link: Federal Circuit Agrees To Review Standard For Inequitable Conduct.

The House Enters the Patent Reform Fray

The U.S. House of Representatives March 30 began discussion on a patent reform bill, H.R. 1249, introduced earlier that day. The House bill (known as the America Invents Act) aligned with a Senate bill (S. 23) in a number of ways but also had some differences, as expected.

Throughout the month, a number of changes to the House bill were proposed.  Most of those changes were designed to bring the House bill closer to the closer to the Senate’s bill.  For example, on April 12, 2011 Lamar Smith (R-TX) floated a draft of a manager’s amendment, scheduled to be discussed in an April 14 markup session.  The draft expands an inventor’s options during the one-year grace period before patent application filing, curtails options to use the prior user rights defense and adopts the heightened threshold for inter partes review of the Senate bill.

Another run was made to remove the transition to a first-to-file system.   That effort failed.   However, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) vowed to try again to remove the first-to-file provision.

One interesting addition to the House bill is the commissioning of a federal study of patent suits by non-practicing entities.

After the intense mark-up session on April 14, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-3 to report out an amended H.R. 1249, sending the revised legislation to the House floor for further debate and a vote on the long-awaited bill’s final passage.

As passed to the floor, the House bill transitions the United States to a first-to-file system, establishes a new post-grant review process, subjects business method patents to a special ex partereexamination procedure, allows third parties to submit prior art for review, allows the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to set its fee amounts and hang onto the fees it collects and retains a best mode requirement for patent application filings.

Although the House bill largely tracks the Senate version (see IP Update, Vol. 13, No. 2) and both move the United States from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system (thus harmonizing the U.S. system with the systems in place in most industrialized countries), there are a few differences in terms the post grant opposition systems provided by each.

Post-Grant Oppositions

The post-grant opposition period in H.R. 1249 is longer than that provided in S.23 (12 months as opposed to nine months) and includes, in additional to a showing of a likelihood that at last one claim will be found unpatentable as the threshold basis for acceptance, the existence of important unsettled legal question.

The House bill also provides for an automatic stay of declaratory judgment actions if the declaratory judgment plaintiff is the party in interest petitioning for post-grant review and a discretionary stay in the event of litigation involving a patent involved in post-grant review.

Hyatt v. Kappos: A New Standard for the Admissibility of Evidence in a Section 145 Action

Abstract

When the Board of Patent Appeals & Interferences (the “Board”) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) rejects a patent application, the applicant has two avenues available. He can appeal the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In that case, the record on appeal is the record from the PTO. New issues cannot be raised, and new evidence cannot be introduced. Alternatively, the applicant can file a civil action under Section 145 of the Patent Code in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. As with an appeal, new issues cannot be raised. However, unlike an appeal, evidence not presented to the PTO can be introduced. In Hyatt v. Kappos, 625 F.3d 1320 (Fed. Cir. 2010), the en banc Federal Circuit recently held that there is no limitation in a Section 145 proceeding on the introduction of new evidence at the District Court level apart from limitations imposed by the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Having twice had the time period extended, the PTO has until April 7, 2011, to seek certiorari.

Background

The Board confirmed the examiner’s rejection of 79 of the 117 claims in Hyatt’s patent application on the grounds that they failed to satisfy Section 112’s written description requirement. In the District Court, the PTO moved for summary judgment upholding the Board’s decision. In opposing the motion for summary judgment, Hyatt filed his declaration to provide additional support to refute the written description rejections. In granting the PTO’s motion, the Court refused to admit the declaration, holding that Hyatt had been negligent in not providing it to the PTO. Without new evidence, the Court employed the deferential “substantial evidence” standard and upheld the Board’s decision.

This decision was appealed to the Federal Circuit. On August 11, 2009, a divided panel issued its decision affirming the District Court’s exclusion of the declaration and the grant of summary judgment. This opinion was subsequently vacated. The en banc Court reversed the District Court’s decision. In the en banc decision, Judge Moore wrote the majority opinion, which was joined in by six other judges on the admissibility issue.

The En Banc Decision

After a lengthy review of the legislative history of the statute and prior statutes going back 200 years, the Court held that :

“35 U.S.C. § 145 imposes no limitation on applicant’s right to introduce new evidence before the District Court, apart from the evidentiary limitations applicable to all civil actions contained in the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. at 1323.

The Court’s extensive review of the legislative history led it to conclude that Congress intended Section 145 to be a new “civil action in which an applicant would be free to introduce new evidence.”  Id. at 1327. Having determined that Section 145 did not impose any limitation on the evidence that could be presented in a Section 145 proceeding, the Court held that when new evidence was provided, review by the District Court would be de novo. If new evidence were not provided on an issue, substantial evidence would be the standard. In neither circumstance, was the patent applicant entitled to raise new issues in the proceedings. The Court indicated that its decision was supported not only by the legislative history, but Supreme Court precedent.

The Impact of the En Banc Decision

Although only about 30 Section 145 proceedings are filed in a year, the lack of limitation on the admissibility of evidence, coupled with de novo review for issues that rely on new evidence, indicate that the number of these actions will increase.

A patent applicant should pay particularly close attention during patent prosecution to make sure that all necessary legal issues have been raised.  New issues cannot be raised in Court, but new evidence can be presented on all issues. This includes live fact and expert testimony. Further, the pendency of a Section 145 proceeding will not shorten the patent term. Thus, for commercially important patent applications, a patent applicant should consider bypassing continuation practice and instead file a Section 145 proceeding to present a strong factual record to a new fact finder who will conduct a de novo review and decide the case without a jury.

Patent Reform: Key Features of the Senate and House Bills Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP

The Senate passed their version of a Patent Reform Bill (Senate Bill No. S. 23), on March 8, 2011 by a wide 95-5 margin. The bill makes significant changes, most notably including a first-inventor-to-file system, and an enhanced post-grant review procedures that will be conducted within the USPTO. There are 26 sections to the Senate bill. Some key features of the Senate Bill include:

  1. A first-inventor-to-file system and limitation of the one year grace period (Sec. 2);
  2. A Post-grant review proceeding (Sec. 5);
  3. New inter partes review proceeding (Sec. 5a);
  4. Preissuance submission by third parties (Sec. 7);
  5. USPTO fee-setting authority and USPTO funding (Secs. 9 and 10);
  6. A supplemental examination proceeding (Sec. 11);
  7. Elimination of the best mode defense (Sec. 15.);
  8. A transitional post-grant review of covered business method patents(Sec. 18); and
  9. A change to the False marking Statute (Sec. 2).

The House of Representatives introduced their own version of the Patent Reform Bill (House of Representatives Bill No. H.R. 1249) on March 30, 2011. The House bill is very similar to the Senate bill, but includes some notable differences. The first-inventor-to-file system and limitation of the one year grace period is the same in the passed Senate bill and recently introduced House bill. Regarding the post-grant review and inter partesreview proceedings, however, the House bill changes some of the standards of review and time limits in the Senate bill.

Below is a summary of some of the key features of the Senate bill, followed by a short analysis describing some important differences in the House bill.

1) First-inventor-to-file-system

The Senate bill moves to a first-inventor-to-file system, which would become effective 18 months after its enactment. The Senate bill eliminates current 35 U.S.C. § 102(g) and interferences, and questions of conception, diligence, reduction to practice, abandonment, suppression, and concealment.

Moving to a first-to-file system fundamentally changes other aspects of 35 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103 (new 35 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103 language provided on page 7). The Senate bill significantly reduces the present one-year grace period, which applies to prior art or disclosures from any source, be it derived from the inventor or from another. Under the Senate bill, that one-year grace period is limited to scenarios where the disclosure was (1) derived from the inventor or (2) made public after the inventor publicized his invention. In practical terms to a patent practitioner, the Senate bill severely limits the ability to antedate or use § 1.131 declarations to swear behind prior-filed references (when the applicant was prior inventor). The Senate bill would remove any possibility to swear behind prior art references or disclosures in, for example, the following cases:

  1. References (not derived from the inventor) that are published by another less than one year before the effective filing of the patent application.
  2. Some Section 102(e) secret prior art references.

For example, there would be no possibility to swear behind patent applications filed more than one year before the effective date of the patent application at issue, but published less than one year before that effective date.

The Senate bill appears to limit public uses or sales of the invention before the effective filing date. Under the current law, sales and offers-to-sell do not constitute a loss of right of a patent if those sales or offers-to-sell occurred less than one year before the effective filing date of the application. Any such grace period appears to be removed. This, however, may depend on the definition of “disclosure” made by the inventor. The Senate bill allows for “disclosures” made by the inventor if “1 year or less before the effective filing date” of the patent application. If sales or offers-to-sell constitute “disclosure,” then the rules regarding sales and offers-to sell of the invention (at least in the United States) would remain the same.

The Senate bill also removes geographic limitations for public uses or sales of the invention. Under the current law, an invention is not patentable if it was in public use or on sale in the United States more than one year prior to the effective filing date of the application (§ 102(b); or it was known or used by others in the United States prior to the date of invention (§ 102(a)). The Senate bill removes these geographical limitations. 35 U.S.C. § 102 of the Senate bill states that an invention is not patentable if it was “patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.” No limit to the United States is stated. Thus, public use, sales, and knowledge by others, anywhere in the world could result in the loss of right to a patent.

House bill Provides the exact same language regarding 35 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103.

2) Post-grant review 

The Senate bill provides another way for a third party to challenge a patent. The post-grant review has some interplay with the new inter partes review, which is summarized next. The post-grant review procedure includes the following features:

  • Allows third parties to file a petition within nine months from when the patent issues.
  • Third party may challenge any claim of the patent based on any provision of the statute (i.e., §§ 101, 102, 103 and 112). In other words, it is not limited to just prior art references as in presentinter partes and ex parte Reexamination.
  • The standard for whether a post-grant review will be conducted by the “Director” is:

if “information presented in the petition, if not rebutted would demonstrate that it is more likely than not that at least 1 of the claims challenged in the petition is unpatentable.” The determination for conducting a post-grant review “may also be satisfied by showing that the petition raises a novel or unsettled legal question that is important to other patents or patent applications.” § 324.

  • The patent owner may file a statement to challenge the petition.
  • The determination to proceed with a post-grant review is not appealable.
  • Post-grant reviews will be handled by a Patent Judge (Patent Trial and Appeal Board).
  • Post-grant reviews may not instituted if the petitioner has filed a civil action challenging the validity of the patent. § 325.
  • If an infringement claim is filed within three months of the issuance of a patent, the court cannot stay the consideration of the patent owner’s motion for preliminary injunction against infringement due to the filing of petition of a Post-grant review or Post-grant review was granted. § 325.
  • The Director is given broad discretion on how to regulate the post-grant review process, including for example procedures for submitting supplemental information, procedures for discovery, and providing either party with the right to an oral hearing. § 326.
  • The proceeding can be terminated by settlement of the parties or by a final decision of the board. § 327.
  • Final decisions are appealable to the Federal Circuit.

3) New inter partes Reexamination(now called inter partes review) 

As stated above, the timing for inter partes review interplays with the post-grant review system. A request for inter partes review can be filed only on the later of nine months after the issuance of a patent or after a post-grant review is terminated. (§ 311(c)). Other features include:

  • The standard for granting a request for inter partes review has changed in the Senate bill to “a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner will prevail with regard to at least one claim,” thereby raising the standard from a “substantial new question of patentability” under current inter partes reexamination. § 314(a).
  • The scope of review is still patents and printed publications, i.e., only challenging the patentability of one or more claims under §§ 102 or 103. § 311(b).
  • Unlike the current inter partes reexamination, the Senate bill’s inter partes review proceeding will be held before a Patent Judge (Patent Trial and Appeal Board).
  • The inter partes review may be terminated by settlement or by a final decision of the board. § 317.
  • The Director is given broad authority to establish regulations and how the proceedings will be carried out. For example, giving each party the right to an oral hearing, establishing procedures for submitting supplemental information, setting standards for discovery. § 316.
  • The decision to proceed with inter partes review is not appealable § 314(d).
  • Allows a preliminary response to be filed by the patent owner to explain why no inter partes review should be instituted. § 313.
  • The Senate bill prohibits an inter partes review from being initiated or maintained if the petitioner has filed a civil action challenging the validity of a claim of the patent or if more than six months have passed since the petitioner was served with a complaint alleging infringement. § 315(a and b).
  • The Senate bill includes estoppel provisions as provided in inter partes reexamination and does not allow for broadening of the claims. § 315(e).
  • The final decision by the board may be appealed to the Federal Circuit. § 319.

4) Preissuance submission by third parties

This provision of the Senate bill allows for third parties to file publications or patents for consideration to the USPTO if the submission is made in writing before the notice of allowance or the a later of: 1) 6 months after the application for patent is first published; or 2) the date of the first rejection of any claim by the USPTO. The brief language is provided below.

GENERAL.  Any third party may submit for consideration and inclusion in the record of a patent application, any patent, published patent application, or other printed publication of potential relevance to the examination of the application, if such submission is made in writing before the earlier of

A.    the date a notice of allowance under section 151 is given or mailed in the application for patent; or

B.     the later of

i.      6 months after the date on which the application for patent is first published under section 122 by the Office, or

ii.      the date of the first rejection under section 132 of any claim by the examiner during the examination of the application for patent.

5) USPTO fee-setting authority and USPTO funding 

Currently, Congress diverts some fees collected by the PTO for government operations. It has been estimated that about $800 million in collected patent fees have been diverted over the past two decades. The Senate bill eliminates fee diversion by amending 35 U.S.C. § 42(c).

6) Supplemental Examination Proceeding 

The Senate bill provides an additional, streamlined supplemental examination similar to an ex parte reexamination. The proceeding permits a patent owner to request “supplemental examination” for the USPTO to “consider, reconsider or correct information believed [by the patent owner] to be relevant to the patent.” The standard for granting such a request is that the information raises a “substantial new question of patentability,” which is the same as the current ex parte reexamination standard. In this proceeding, the patent owner does not have the right to file a patent owners statement. The proceeding appears to also be a means to correct any “inequitable” conduct during the prior examination. “A patent will not be held unenforceable on the basis of conduct relating to information that had not been considered, was inadequately considered, or was incorrect in a prior examination of the patent if the information was considered, reconsidered, or corrected during a supplemental examination of the patent.  The making of a request under subsection (a), or the absence thereof, shall not be relevant to enforceability of the patent under section 282.”

7) Elimination of the best mode defense 

The best mode under section 112 is still a condition for patentability. Best mode, however, can not be used as a defense for which a patent may be invalid or unenforceable. The Senate bill language is as follows:
(3) Invalidity of the patent or any claim in suit for failure to comply with:

A.    any requirement of section 112, except that the failure to disclose the best mode shall not be a basis on which any claim of a patent may be canceled or held invalid or otherwise unenforceable; or

B.     any requirement of section 251.

8) Transitional post-grant review of covered business method patents

The Senate bill provides a post-granted review proceeding to determine the validity of business method patents. The proceeding is limited to petitioners who have been sued or charged with patent infringement of the particular business method patent.

9) False-Marking Statute

The Senate bill limits false-marking suits to the United States or any person who suffered a competitive injury as a result of a false-marking violation.

Key Differences in the House Bill

Again, the first-inventor-to-file system and limitation of the one year grace period is the same in the House bill. The big differences in the House bill relate to the post-grant review and inter partes review proceedings. The House bill changes some of the standards for determining whether to proceed and the House bill includes some important language regarding stay of other proceedings, such as patent infringement litigation. In general, the House bill’s changes are not favorable to the patentee. The House bill makes it easier to proceed with an inter partes review by lowering the standard and the House bill appears to make it easier to stay patent infringement actions in civil courts until these proceedings are terminated.

1) Post-Grant Review

The House bill expands the window of the post-grant review to twelve months after the issuance of a patent (rather than nine month window in the Senate bill). The House bill also permits review on the standard of “a novel legal question that is important to other patents or patent applications.”

The House bill also includes a new section providing guidance regarding requests for stays in other proceedings. The House bill includes considerations the courts should make regarding whether to grant a stay in a “civil action” (including patent infringement litigation as well as actions before the International Trade Commission); the court “shall decide” whether to grant the stay based on “whether the stay, or denial thereof, will simplify the issues . . . and streamline the trial.” (§ 330).

2) Inter partes review 

The House bill differs from the Senate bill by keeping the old standard for proceeding with a reexamination — a substantial new question of patentability (rather than showing a “reasonable likelihood that the petition would prevail with respect to at least one of the claims challenged in the petition” in the Senate Bill).

The inter partes review timing period is changed due to the expansion of the post-grant review window. A petition can be filed for an Inter partesreview from the later of twelve months after the issuance of a patent or after a post-grant review is terminated.

The House bill also includes a new section not in the Senate version regarding requests for stays similar to the post-grant review. The House bill provides guidance when a party seeks a stay in a “civil action” (including patent infringement litigation as well as actions before the International Trade Commission); the court “shall decide” whether to grant the stay based on “whether the stay, or denial thereof, will simplify the issues . . . and streamline the trial” (§ 320).

Senate Bill S23

§ 102. Conditions for patentability; novelty

(a) NOVELTY; PRIOR ART. A person shall be entitled to a patent unless:

  1. the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention; or
  2. the claimed invention was described in a patent issued under section 151, or in an application for patent published or deemed published under section 122(b), in which the patent or application, as the case may be, names another inventor and was effectively filed before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.

(b) EXCEPTIONS.

1. DISCLOSURES MADE 1 YEAR OR LESS BEFORE THE EFFECTIVE FILING DATE OF THE CLAIMED INVENTION.

  • A disclosure made 1 year or less before the effective filing date of a claimed invention shall not be prior art to the claimed invention under subsection (a)(1) if:

A.       the disclosure was made by the inventor or joint inventor or by  another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or  indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor; or

B.        the subject matter disclosed had, before such disclosure, been publicly disclosed by the inventor or a joint inventor or another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor.

2. DISCLOSURES APPEARING IN APPLICATIONS AND PATENTS.

  •  A disclosure shall not be prior art to a claimed invention under subsection (a)(2) if:

A.       the subject matter disclosed was obtained directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor;

B.        the subject matter disclosed had, before such subject matter was effectively filed under subsection (a)(2), been publicly disclosed  by the inventor or a joint inventor or another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor; or

C.        the subject matter disclosed and the claimed invention, not later than the effective filing date of the claimed invention, were      owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of         assignment to the same person.

(c) COMMON OWNERSHIP UNDER JOINT RESEARCH AGREEMENTS Subject matter disclosed and a claimed invention shall be deemed to have been owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person in applying the provisions of subsection(b)(2)(C) if:

  1. the subject matter disclosed was developed and the claimed invention was made by, or on behalf of, 1 or more parties to a joint research agreement that was in effect on or before the effective filing date of the claimed invention;
  2. the claimed invention was made as a result of activities undertaken within the scope of the joint research agreement; and
  3. the application for patent for the claimed invention discloses or is amended to disclose the names of the parties to the joint research agreement.

(d) PATENTS AND PUBLISHED APPLICATIONS EFFECTIVE AS PRIOR ART. For purposes of determining whether a patent or application for patent is prior art to a claimed invention under subsection (a)(2), such patent or application shall be considered to have been effectively filed, with respect to any subject matter described in the patent or application

  1. if paragraph (2) does not apply, as of the actual filing date of the patent or the application for patent; or
  2. if the patent or application for patent is entitled to claim a right of priority under section 119, 365(a), or 365(b), or to claim the benefit of an earlier filing date under section 120, 121, or 365(c), based upon 1 or more prior filed applications for patent, as of the filing date of the earliest such application that describes the subject matter.

§103. Conditions for patentability; nonobvious subject matter

A patent for a claimed invention may not be obtained, notwithstanding that the claimed invention is not identically disclosed as set forth in section 102, if the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains. Patentability shall not be negated by the manner in which the invention was made.

Petitions Practice for SNQ Findings in Inter Partes Reexaminations

A prior post emphasized the importance of a well crafted petition in cases where the examiner determines that there is no SNQ in an inter partes reexamination request.  Recall that the BPAI determined it had no jurisdiction to review of a determination that there was no SNQ (for certain claims) in inter partes reexamination control no. 95/001,089 (Belkin International v Optimumpath 95 001089).

An example of a successful petition (3PR petition here) can be found in inter partes reexamination control no. 95/001,461.  On December 20, 2011, the Third Party Requester petitioned the order finding certain proposed SNQs cumulative to issues raised in the ex parte prosecution of the patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,213,762).  The Director of the Central Reexamination Unit granted the petition on January 21, 2011(granted petition).

But note that the Patent Owner filed a “Patent Owner’s Petition to Vacate Director’s Decision” on February 14, 2011.  And the Third Party Requester filed an “Opposition Under 37 CFR 1.182 and 1.183 to Patent Owner’s Petition to Vacate Director’s Decision” on March 11, 2011.  So the Central Reexamination Unit has more petitions on this issue to consider.  Stay tuned!

Use Petitions to Reverse Determination of No SNQ (Substantial New Questions of Patentability) in Inter Partes Reexamination

You see a competitor’s patent and believe it is invalid.  You perform a prior art search and find prior art that you think would render at least some of the patent claims unpatentable.  So after thinking about it some more, you decide to file a reexamination request in the Patent Office.  In that request you illustrate that the prior art was not considered before (or can be considered in a new light) and you propose how the prior art can be used to reject the patent’s claims.  You file the request.

To your surprise, you learn that the Patent Office determined that some of your proposals were substantial new questions of patentability (SNQs) and some were not.  Therefore, a reexamination is ordered, but not against all of the claims you requested.  You petition the Director to order reexamination for the proposed substantial questions of patentability that were not adopted.  The Director denies that petition.  What can you do?

The Third Party Requester in inter partes reexamination Control No. 95/001,089** tried to appeal the denial of the petition to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI), but did not succeed.  The Third Party Requester appealed on the basis that 35 U.S.C. 315 provides it the right to appeal “. . . with respect to any final decision favorable to the patentability of any original or proposed amended or new claim of the patent. . . .”

But the BPAI disagreed, because 35 U.S.C. 312(c) states that the determination whether a SNQ is raised by the request “by the Director . . . shall be final and non-appealable.”  And since no reexamination will proceed, no final decision can be rendered pertaining to those claims.

To summarize, in an inter partes reexamination there is no appeal of the Director’s decision to not find that SNQ for those claims under 35 U.S.C. 312(c) and no reexamination of those claims means that no final decision will be rendered (favorable or otherwise) that is subject to appeal.  Therefore, in such cases 35 U.S.C. 315 does not afford a right of appeal and the BPAI has no jurisdiction to decide a non-appealable issue.

So, when no SNQ is determined for certain claims in an inter partes reexamination, that determination can be petitioned, but if the petition is denied then the BPAI has no jurisdiction to decide whether that determination should be reversed.