Eleventh Inter Partes Review Trial Instituted

The Patent Owner winning streak, for repelling inter partes review challenges, was halted at just one in view of the Board’s institution of an IPR trial in the proceeding styled as Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corp., (IPR2012-00042), involving US Patent No. 6,240,376. The Board instituted an inter partes review trial with regard to 12 of the 29 proposed claims, using one (anticipation) of the 11 proposed grounds. This record 41 page order is loaded with aspects of IPR practice that are worth noting.

The subject matter of the ‘376 patent claims is the simulation and prototyping of integrated circuits. The Board started its analysis at a logical starting point – claim construction. At threshold, the Board made a point of emphasizing that no claim construction is necessary for terms if one of skill in the art would recognize the ordinary and customary meaning of those terms.  Citing Biotec Biologische v. Biocorp, Inc., 249 F.3d 1341, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (finding no error in non-construction of “melting”); Mentor H/S, Inc. v. Med. Device Alliance, Inc., 244 F.3d 1365, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The Board found that many terms in the challenged claims did not require construction for this reason.

Other terms, however, required construction, including “instrumentation signal,” “gate-level netlist,” “gate-level design,” and “sensitivity list.” To come to its opinion regarding claim scope, the Board relied upon two claim construction principles that are worth noting. First, regarding the first three of the above-listed terms, the Board noted that the terms were not explicitly defined in the specification, but found that the specification (including the examples) did contain useful context that would help define the terms. Thus, using the specification as a claim construction guide, the Board synthesized the various relevant specification excerpts to develop claim constructions of the relevant terms. Second, in defining “sensitivity list,” the Board determined that its construction was informed by certain dictionary definitions relevant to that limitation, citing to both an online definition and an IEEE reference.

Using these defined terms, the Board instituted an inter partes review trial on 12 of the 29 proposed claims, using one of the 11 proposed grounds.

Turning to its decision to institute an IPR trial, the Board first considered Patent Owner’s argument that the petition was statutorily-barred in view of 35 USC §315(b). Per that section of the Patent Act, an inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition was filed more than one year after the service of a federal court complaint alleging infringement of the subject patent. Here, the Patent Owner served a complaint on a third party company over five years earlier. That third party had since become a subsidiary of Patent Challenger and, thus, per Patent Owner, the challenger and third party were in privy with one another, preventing the filing of the petition.  The Board disagreed with this argument, finding that Patent Challenger was not a privy of the third party at the time the third party was served with the federal court complaint. Further, no evidence was even submitted that showed privity between the parties at the time the petition was filed. While Patent Owner argued that the relevant time for the analysis is the date on which the IPR is instituted, the Board again disagreed.  Privity is measured as of the date of the filing of the petition.

Having cleared the statutory bar argument presented by Patent Owner, the Board proceeded to consider each of the 11 grounds of unpatentability set forth in the petition by Patent Challenger. In general, however, the Board based its denial of most proposed anticipation grounds on the all elements rule and denied all obviousness grounds in view of Patent Challenger’s failure to identify with particularity the basis for its obviousness argument. See, e.g., Order at 21 (“Petitioner asserts, in a single sentence, that [the prior art reference], by itself, renders claims 1-5, 8-10, 20-24, 28, 32, and 33 obvious under 35 U.S.C. §103….Petitioner does not explain the reasoning behind this assertion.”).

But, among the arguments submitted by Patent Challenger, was an unpatentability ground that was based on a prior art brochure. The interesting issue was whether the brochure was actually a printed publication because it did not include any indication of when it was created or whether it was publicly disseminated. Patent Challenger had asserted that it was published at least as early as July 9, 1996 because it was filed in an Invention Disclosure Statement on that date. But, Patent Owner responded that inclusion on an IDS was insufficient to provide proof of publication and the file history for the patent did not become public until the patent issued, on November 17, 1998. Based on these facts, the Board agreed with Patent Owner that the brochure was not a printed publication.  Patent Challenger had simply failed to adequately prove that the brochure was publicly-available during the relevant time frame.  Order at 36.

Lastly, it is worth noting that in another portion of the Board’s decision, it denied certain obviousness grounds because “[Patent Challenger] does not address why a person of skill in the art would have combined the two references.” Order at 34. This is yet another indication that it is essential to include expert testimony with any petition to ensure an adequate basis for any proposed unpatentability grounds.

In the end, the Board granted yet another IPR trial, but did so only after an exhaustive review of various challenges by both parties.  Most beneficial for future inter partes review participants is the fact that this analysis yields many insights into IPR practice that will inform later proceedings.