Federal Circuit Provides Ammunition to Patentees In Magnum Decision

cafc1Patent Owners gained a bit of a reprieve in the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in In Re Magnum Oil Tool Int’l, Ltd.decided on July 25, 2016. In several key respects, Patent Owners regained some footing in the otherwise daunting IPR process.

As an initial matter, in one of its first post-Cuozzo (Supreme Court edition) decisions, the Federal Circuit determined that, for issues that are central to the Board’s Final Written Decision, the Court is not prohibited by § 314(d) from reviewing those decisions just because they were also addressed in the Decision to Institute. The merits of a final written decision is reviewable, even though the issue was initially decided by the Board at the decision to institute stage. Id. at 12. In the context of the Magnum decision, this meant that the Court had jurisdiction to review all of Patent Owner’s arguments regarding the basis for the Board’s ultimate judgment of unpatentability, including rationale to combine references, even though the Board addressed those arguments in the decision to institute.

The key substantive issue in the case was whether the Board’s decision adequately established a prima facie basis of obviousness. Specifically, Patent Owner argued that no adequate motivation to combine the subject references was articulated. The issue stemmed from the fact that, in the petition, Petitioner put forth a detailed obviousness argument on one set of references (“Ground 1”), but took a more abbreviated approach with a second set of references (“Ground 2”), that “incorporated by reference” the motivation to combine from Ground 1.

In response, the PTO argued that when the Board institutes a ground, it necessarily finds that Petitioner has demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success and that this finding operates to shift the burden of producing evidence of nonobviousness to Patent Owner. But, the Court rejected the PTO’s contention and clarified that the burden of persuasion is always on the Petitioner to prove unpatentability by preponderance and that burden never shifts to the patentee. The court reasoned that, due to the significant difference between the standards of proof at institution (likelihood of success) and at trial (preponderance), it is inappropriate to shift the burden to the patentee after institution to prove that the claims are patentable.

As to the ultimate conclusion of obviousness, the court concluded that, in light of Petitioner’s failure to explain why a skilled artisan would combine the Ground 2 references, the Board had no basis for its conclusion that Petitioner had met its burden of proving obviousness by preponderance under KSR.  The court emphasized that to satisfy its burden of proving obviousness, Petitioner cannot employ mere conclusory statements because such statements cannot satisfy Petitioner’s burden. Nonetheless, the PTO argued that the Board did not err in making an obviousness argument on behalf of Petitioner based on the Ground 2 references because this argument “could have been included in a properly drafted petition.” The court flatly rejected the PTO’s contention that the Board is free to adopt arguments on behalf of Petitioners that could have been but were not raised by the Petitioner during an IPR, noting again that Petitioner bears the burden of proof. The court acknowledged that the PTO has broad authority to establish procedures in IPR’s but clarified that the authority is not so broad to allow the PTO to raise, address, and decide patentability theories never presented by the Petitioner and not supported by record evidence. Instead, the court emphasized that the Board must base its decisions on arguments advanced by a party and to which the opposing party was given a chance to respond. Accordingly, the court held that the Board’s obviousness conclusion was not based on sufficient evidence since the Board relied on Petitioner’s conclusory statements and improperly argued on behalf of Petitioner why the Ground 2 references could be combined.

Lastly, the Court addressed the PTO’s argument that Patent Owner should have challenged the Board’s actions in the rehearing request. The court quickly disposed the PTO’s argument, stating that the plain language of 35 USC § 141(c) does not require a party dissatisfied with the Board’s final written decision to first raise the issue in a rehearing request before appealing the issue to the court.

In sum, Magnum is a ray of hope for Patent Owners that have become accustomed to most aspects of IPR practice being construed against them. The Court’s docket contains many upcoming cases that will allow us to learn whether this is an aberration, or a trend.

Sec. 103(c) Saves Patent Claims in IPR Final Written Decision

14483088_sIn a recently-issued Final Written Decision, the Board thoroughly explained the sometimes tricky issue of the shift, if any, of the burden of proof/production in an IPR proceeding. Global Tel*Link Corp. v. Securus Techs., Inc., IPR2014-00825, Paper 36. The burden issue arose in the interesting context of a patent owner disqualifying certain prior art using 35 USC § 103(c)(1).

The IPR trial in Global Tel*Link was instituted based upon a prior art reference that was co-assigned to the assignee of the patent-at-issue in the IPR (“the ‘357 patent”). Patent Owner argued, therefore, that the prior art was disqualified under § 103(c)(1) because the art and claimed invention was “subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person.”

The Board first addressed the issue of burden of persuasion versus burden of production. In an IPR proceeding, the burden of persuasion is on Petitioner “and that burden never shifts to the Patent Owner.” Op. at 11. 35 USC § 316(e). Regarding the issue of the prior art at issue in the proceeding, Petitioner initially also had the burden of production. In this case, that burden was satisfied by the argument in the Petition that the prior art (under 102(e)) rendered the challenged claims unpatentable.

At this point, the burden of production then shifted to Patent Owner to argue that the art did not qualify as prior art. The Board determined that Patent Owner met this burden by showing that both the prior art and ‘357 patent were owned by the same company at the time the invention was made. The evidence supporting this proposition included assignment records of the ‘357 patent. Patent owner met its burden of production that, at the time of the filing of the application that led to the ‘357 patent, the inventions were co-owned by making a representation that the invention at issue was not constructively reduced to practice until the filing of that application. On this point, the Board concluded that, “absent credible factual support to the contrary, the claimed invention was made on the effective filing date.” Op. at 13-14.

The shifting of the burden of production did not hamper Patent Owner in this case, as a § 103(c)(1) argument to disqualify certain prior art led to the survival of several challenged claims.

Federal Circuit Weighs in on IPR Again, and Judge Newman Regains Her Footing as Pro-Patent Crusader

cafc1The Federal Circuit issued another substantive, IPR-related opinion today in Prolitec, Inc. v. ScentAir Techs., Inc., 2015-1020 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 4, 2015) (appealing from IPR2013-00179). The Board had determined that each of the two claims at issue was unpatentable and the Federal Circuit affirmed. On appeal, Patent Owner made five challenges to the PTAB’s decision in the underlying IPR – three claim construction arguments, a related argument against anticipation, and an argument directed to its Motion to Amend in the IPR. It is worth discussing here one of the claim construction arguments, the Federal Circuit’s treatment of the Motion to Amend, and a broad-based and strong dissenting opinion filed by Judge Newman.

Regarding claim construction, Patent Owner argued that the term “mounted” was not properly construed to require a permanent joining of two parts. In support, Patent Owner pointed out that the purpose of the invention was to provide a disposable cartridge for one-time use and that each embodiment in the patent required a permanent means of bonding. The Federal Circuit disagreed. As to the purpose of the invention argument, the Court cited to broad language from the specification, that taught that “it may be desirable that the cartridge is configured to be used only one time prior to being discarded.” Op. at 5. The Court specifically noted that “[t]he problem for [Patent Owner] is that the use of ‘may’ signifies that the inventors did not intend to limit the patent as [Patent Owner’s] expert opined.” Id. at 5-6. As to the fact that each embodiment required permanent bonding, the Court pointed to more permissive language which taught that the two parts “may be jointed to each other by heat or ultrasonic welding spin welding, or by use of an adhesive.” Id. at 6 (emphasis in original).

In short, this is another example of a situation where the blind pursuit of breadth in the drafting of the patent specification hurt a Patent Owner by requiring that its patent claim(s) be construed broader than what was likely necessary to cover the commercial embodiment of the invention. The prior art seemed to show non-permanent joining of the key parts and, as such, if Patent Owner intended the patent-at-issue to cover permanent joining, it should have made that point of novelty clear in the specification and/or the patent claims.

Regarding the Motion to Amend, Patent Owner had attempted to substitute “permanently joined” into the subject claims, substituting its above-referenced claim construction for the claim element. Petitioner opposed, pointing to a reference in the prior art (cited in the original examination of the patent) that taught permanent joining. Patent Owner did not dispute that the subject prior art reference disclosed that limitation, but argued that other claim limitations were not found in the reference. The Board denied the Motion to Amend, finding that Patent Owner failed to demonstrate that the proposed claim was patentable. On appeal, Patent Owner made two arguments that came up short. The first argument was that it was not required to prove patentability over prior art references cited in the original file history because they were not of record in the IPR. This was an issue that was left open by the Federal Circuit in Microsoft v. Proxyconn789 F.3d 1292 (Fed. Cir. 2015). In that case, the Court had indicated that it was not deciding on the reasonableness of the Board’s jurisprudence regarding the scope of the requirement that Patent Owner show patentability over all “prior art of record” (which, at the time, arguably required a showing of patentability over the entire universe of uncited prior art). Op. at 14. Subsequent to the Federal Circuit’s decision in Proxyconn, the PTAB narrowed its guidance on what constituted “prior art of record” to include material contained in the prosecution history of the patent-at-issue. The Federal Circuit agreed with the Board’s approach in this regard, finding that the Patent Owner’s burden to show patentability over the art from the original prosecution history “is not in conflict with any statute or regulation. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to require patentee to meet this burden.” Id. As such, the Board’s denial of the Motion to Amend was affirmed.

Lastly, Judge Newman seemed to return to her pro-Patent Owner role, after signing onto the decidedly pro-Petitioner decision in Belden v. Berk-Tek, by filing a broad and strong dissentSpecifically, Judge Newman disagreed with the majority’s decision in five ways. First, she argued that the PTAB improperly refused entry of the amendment-at-issue, given that Patent Owner had complied with all the statutory and regulatory requirements. Judge Newman’s view is that the proposed amendment resolved the key dispute in the proceeding about claim breadth and, as such, “refusal to enter the amendment is contrary to both the purpose and the text of the America Invents Act.” Dissenting Op. at 3. Second, Judge Newman disagreed with the majority regarding the burden of proof for amended claims. It was not proper, per the dissenting opinion, for the Board and majority to shift the burden for amended claims to Patent Owner. Instead, the AIA places the burden of proof, throughout the proceeding – for amended and unamended claims – on Petitioner. Third, Judge Newman argued that it is the Federal Circuit’s duty to assure that the preponderance of the evidence standard is met in PTAB proceedings. As such, it is erroneous to apply the highly-deferential substantial evidence standard to AIA post-grant appeals. Fourth, Judge Newman criticized the majority opinion for not remanding the case to the Board given that the PTAB changed its view of the scope of “prior art of record” during the pendency of the case.

Lastly, Judge Newman took issue with the majority’s affirmance of the anticipation finding in view of the fact that the anticipatory reference was Patent Owner’s prior incarnation of the subject device. Per Judge Newman: “A finding of anticipation requires that the same invention was previously known and described, not that a claim can be construed so broadly and incorrectly as to embrace a prior art device.” Id. at 11.

Judge Newman is back to her old self, but another Patent Owner has found its patent rights in rubble.