Innolux’s decision to spread a challenge to a Semiconductor Energy Laboratory patent over two separate IPR cases paid off, as they successfully forced all 33 challenged claims into two trials in cases styled as Innolux Corp. v. Semiconductor Energy Lab. Co., Ltd. (IPR2013-00064 and IPR2013-00065), involving US Pat. No. 7,923,311. Trial was instituted for all 10 challenged claims in the IPR2013-00064 case and all 23 challenged claims in the IPR2013-00065 case.
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]35 U.S.C. § 325(d) — “…during the pendency of any post-grant review under this chapter, if another proceeding or matter involving the patent is before the Office, the Director may determine the manner in which the post-grant review or other proceeding or matter may proceed, including providing for the stay, transfer, consolidation, or termination of any such matter or proceeding. In determining whether to institute or order a proceeding under this chapter…the Director may take into account whether, and reject the petition or request because, the same or substantially the same prior art or arguments previously were presented to the Office.”[/pullquote]The ‘311 patent describes a thin film transistor (TFT) and a method for forming the transistor. The patent described numerous problems associated with prior art methods of crystalizing amorphous silicon layers used in devices. The patent went on to claim that layer crystallization by laser irradiation of semiconductor materials in the channel region and the activation of the ohmic contact region of the source and drain provides improvements in electrical conductivity and avoids the prior art problems.
Patent Owner’s primary argument was based on the fact that, during prosecution of the application leading to the ‘311 patent, the Examiner previously considered all of the same prior art references. Following a now established trend, the Board rejected Patent Owner’s arguments because they failed to show that the Examiner considered substantially the same arguments – namely that Petitioner included evidence not considered by the Examiner, such as the Petitioner’s expert declaration. Order at 7. The Board has set a very high hurdle for any Patent Owners who wish to dismiss an inter partes review by arguing that the prior art references have been previously considered. To date, no argument based on 35 U.S.C. § 325(d) has been adopted by the Board.
Echoing an argument tried in other IPRs involving the same parties, the Board also rejected Patent Owner’s argument that Petitioner failed to identify all real parties-in-interest, arguing that other defendants in co-pending litigation joined in a motion to stay pending the outcome of the present inter partes review and agreed to be bound by its outcome. The Board found that the other defendants did not need to be listed as real parties-in-interest because they did not have any control over the proceeding. Order at 8.
As a last procedural issue, the Board considered Petitioner’s “administrative estoppel” argument, based on the fact that a sister patent was reexamined and that proceeding resulted in many invalidated and canceled claims. At this stage of the proceeding, however, the Board declined this argument, finding that Petitioner had not shown the claims to be patentably indistinct. Order at 9.
After dispensing with the above-procedural issues, the Board provided only a brief claim construction analysis, simply adopting a prior district court construction of “overetching.” Then, in its obviousness analysis, the Board rejected Patent Owner arguments that: 1) there was no motivation to combine the underlying references (Order at 14-15); 2) as such, the reference taught away from combination (Order at 15), 3) that a combination would render a reference disabled or unfit for its intended purpose (Order at 15), 4) that there would be no need to combine because a problem was already solved (Order at 16), and 5) that the combination would be impossible to manufacture (Order at 16-17).
In the end, although the same patent was spread out over two IPR cases, the Board granted trial on all challenged claims – ignoring a prior determination at the Patent Office based on the rationale that an expert declaration provided with the Petition was new evidence that precluded the applicability of 35 U.S.C. § 325(d).