First PGR Final Written Decisions – Look a Lot Like IPR/CBM Decisions

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Despite the overwhelming popularity of IPR proceedings since their inception, about three and a half years ago, Post Grant Review has, to date, been little used. There are probably valid reasons for this low popularity, including the limited (current) subset of patents subject to PGR, the broader estoppel associated with PGR (as compared to IPR), and the fact that 35 USC § 101 challenges are now relatively quick and inexpensive at the district court level, in view of the Alice decision. Regardless, many have been anticipating the first Final Written Decisions from PGR proceedings to see this next chapter in the game-changing world of post-grant proceedings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the first PGR Final Written Decisions are largely reminiscent of IPR/CBM decisions. See, e.g., Am. Simmental Assoc. v. Leachman Cattle of CO., LLC, PGR2015-00003 (June 13, 2016). For example, like the majority of decisions from IPR, the Patent Owner lost its claims. Further, Patent Owner’s Motion to Amend was denied for failing to meet the burdens of the Board jurisprudence, including Idle Free. The details of the decisions were also similar to PGR’s well-known predecessors. To that end, the claim construction analysis played a central role, with the Board undertaking a detailed and thorough analysis.

Indeed, the only major difference between the first PGR decisions and those we have come to know via IPR proceedings is the subject matter of the dispute, which is unique to PGR. For example, Petitioner challenged the claims-at-issue under an obviousness analysis using a prior art reference that was neither a patent nor a printed publication. Such an unpatentability ground is, of course, inappropriate for IPR petitions. Ultimately, this ground was denied because insufficient corroborating evidence of testimony regarding the prior art was put forth by the Petitioner.

Patent Owner did not have the same success, however, with the second main challenge ground – a challenge that the claims failed to recite statutory subject matter. In this analysis, and pursuant to the first step of the Alice test, the Board found that the claims were directed to an abstract idea; specifically, “a fundamental economic practice…long prevalent in our system of commerce.” Opinion at 29. Pursuant to the second step of the Alice analysis, the Board determined that the claims failed to recite “significantly more.” Instead, they merely claimed generic computer hardware used in a conventional manner. As such, all of the challenge claims were deemed unpatentable.

So, PGR is off and running, and the news is just as positive for Petitioners as the results of the majority of IPR proceedings.

 

PTAB Rejects Two Attempts by Patent Owners to Antedate Prior Art

6686163_sThe fact-based nature of conception/reduction to practice issues makes it worthwhile to consider a number of these types of cases as they arise. Here, we discuss such issues from two Board decisions, K-40 Electronics, LLC v. Escort, Inc., IPR2013-00240 and Handi Quilter, Inc. and Tacony Corporation v. Bernina International AG, IPR2013-00364. In both cases, the Board rejected Patent Owner’s attempt to antedate the prior art-at-issue.

The K-40 Electronics case involves US Pat. No. 6,670,905, relating to a radar detector and a location positioning device.  Decision at 3. Patent Owner relied upon declaration testimony from the inventor of the ‘905 patent, which stated that the claims at issue were conceived and reduced to practice prior to the effective art dates of two references relied upon by Petitioner. Of course, to establish reduction to practice, a party must show: (1) construction of an embodiment that meets all claim limitations; (2) determine that the invention would work for the intended purpose; and (3) sufficient evidence to corroborate inventor testimony as to the events.  ‘240 Decision at 11.

The inventor testimony stated that a 1992 prototype of the ‘905 invention was constructed prior to the priority date of the references-at-issue. and used a tape recorder to record geographical location of a radar signal. The inventor alleged that this feature met the claimed limitation of a “position determining circuit.” The Board rejected this contention, citing back to its claim construction determination, finding that a tape recorder did not determine geographic position; rather, a tape recorder was only an electronic notepad to record observations of the invention. Id. at 12-13.  Accordingly, the prototype did not reduce all claim limitations to practice.

Inventor also testified that a different 1996 prototype also had a “position determining circuit” in which software code was drafted to demonstrate global positioning capability.  The inventor was forced to concede, however, that the software did not disclose a position determining circuit. The inventor testified that some of the lines of software were missing and Patent Owner could not find any version of the software that contained the missing code.

This hole in the evidence presented by Patent Owner exposed a critical flaw in its objective evidence corroborating reduction to practice; namely, Patent Owner was using the software to corroborate expert testimony, but simultaneously had to use expert testimony to corroborate missing features of the software. Id. at 14-15. The Board also found several statements by the Inventor regarding claimed features of the invention allegedly being reduced to practice to generally lack adequate evidentiary corroboration. Id. at 15.  Accordingly, with a general lack of evidence, Patent Owner in IPR2013-00240 failed to prove conception and reduction to practice prior to the art date of two references relied upon by Petitioner.  Id. at 17.

The Handi-Quilter case involves US Pat. No. 6,883,446, which relates to a method and apparatus for stitching together fabric layers. ‘364 Decision at 12. Patent Owner generally failed to prove conception of several features of the ‘446 invention.  Specifically, Patent Owner did not provide evidence that the inventor had conceived of the limitation, that required controlling the stitch head or needle arm so that it actuates in response to detected movement, prior to the priority date of the art at issue.  Id. at 12.  In fact, the inventor admitted on the record that he had not decided on a control circuit for the prototype until after the art date of the reference at issue.

Further, the Board questioned the reliability of the evidence presented to establish conception and reduction to practice.  The evidence presented was a hand-written sketch of the invention with a date well before that of the reference at issue. Though the hand-written document had a date printed on it, the record showed no corroboration beyond the inventor’s sworn statement that this date was in fact the date the document was created or last-modified.  Id. at 13.  In fact, the document was not seen by anyone besides the inventor until seven years after the date written on the paper.  Further, other testimony attempting to corroborate the inventor’s sworn statement of conception was found to be either unreliable or consisting of bare legal conclusions, not underlying facts. Id. at 14-15. Lastly, demonstrations of the invention by the inventor as detailed by the inventor’s wife weren’t persuasive because the inventor’s wife either did not actually witness the demonstration or the demonstration was only of part of the invention, not all claimed features.  Unsworn statements by the inventor’s sons also weren’t given weight because they weren’t sufficiently independent from the inventor. Id. at 16. Accordingly, the Board found that Patent Owner had failed to prove conception and reduction to practice in attempting to antedate a prior art reference.

Petitioners Strike First: PTAB Issues First Final Decision – Claims Unpatentable and Motion to Amend Denied

Business Finish LineWe finally made it!  Almost 16 months after Garmin kicked off this fun IPR roller coaster we have been riding, the PTAB has issued its first Final Written Decision, finding that all three claims-at-issue in the IPR trial styled as Garmin Int’l, et al., v. Cuozzo Speed Tech. LLC, IPR2012-00001 (Paper 59), involving U.S. Patent No. 6,778,074, are unpatentable and that Patent Owner’s motion to amend is denied.

By way of brief procedural history, Petitioner initially sought an IPR trial on 20 claims of the ‘074 patent.  In its decision to institute the trial, however, the Board found that there was a reasonable likelihood of unpatentability with respect to 3 of the 20 challenged claims.  Of course, as the trial progressed, this case gave us the now ubiquitous Garmin factors for proving the required “good cause” to obtain additional discovery.

Turning to the actual decision, we note that the details of the technology involved, and other aspects of the ‘074 patent, were set forth in the Decision to Initiate.  As such, we focus here on what struck us as the most interesting aspects of the Board’s Final Written Decision:

  • In general, the Board’s extensive 50-page decision is detailed, well-sourced, and unambiguous.  The Board refers often to relevant Federal Circuit case law and to the record (such as deposition testimony, briefing, and oral hearing argument) as part of a methodical treatment of all the defenses raised by Patent Owner.
  • The meaning of the term “integrally attached” was a key component of both the Decision to Initiate and the Final Written Decision.  The Board did not change its definition from its initial decision to the final decision, despite Patent Owner’s strong opposition thereto (including at oral argument).
  • While ostensibly working under the “broadest reasonable interpretation” claim construction standard, the Board’s analysis mimics that engaged by a federal court – relying on the intrinsic evidence of the ‘074 patent.  There is nothing discernible from the decision that would indicate how a district court would have come to a different claim construction analysis than that adopted by the Board, despite the ostensibly different standards.
  • In coming to its claim construction decision, the Board discounted the expert testimony provided by Patent Owner because that testimony, regarding what one of skill would have known, was vague.  The Board could not discern “just how much is deemed to be described by the disclosure itself, and how much is filled-in or completed by one with ordinary skill in the art, who possesses ordinary creativity and is not an automaton.”  Order at 14. Further, “[w]hat would have been obvious to one with ordinary skill in the art does not establish what actually is described in the specification.”  Id.  This is an ongoing theme with the Board in their consideration of expert testimony – mere allegations that mimic attorney argument are not enough, even if coming through the mouth of an expert. The Board is requiring a detailed and factual basis for the opinions of these experts.
  • Patent Owner sought to constrain the Board’s construction of “integrally attached” by referring to a district court case that construed “integrally connected.”  The Board explained why the terms were different, in the context of this IPR, but also more broadly suggested that comparison of two terms from different proceedings will not be given much weight in the future.  To that end, the Board pointed out that the patents had different disclosures; the field of invention is not the same; the level of ordinary skill in the art was different; the context in which the terms were used in the claims was not discussed by Patent Owner; and, of course, the terms “connected” and “attached” are different.  Order at 16-17.
  • The Board engaged in an extensive discussion relating to the priority date of the invention, including evidence of earlier conception and reduction to practice.  Among that evidence included a denial of Patent Owner’s use of a speeding ticket as corroborating evidence: “Exhibit 3001 corroborates only that the inventor received a speeding ticket on November 28, 1999, not anything that [inventor] conceived on that day.”  Order at 21.  As to other purported corroborating evidence, Patent Owner did not offer the testimony of a witness who purportedly signed the document and did not properly establish the document as a business record.  Order at 23.
  • The Board went on to discuss the inventor’s reasonable diligence in reducing his invention to practice, finding inadequate justification for two periods of “little activity” – one period spanning 2 months, and the other spanning 5 months.  Order at 25.  As a cautionary note, the Board found that Patent Owner’s excuse for the delay – a difficulty in obtaining money to file for patent protection – may have been satisfactory.  In this case, however, the delay was deemed too long because Patent Owner did not adequately explain such difficulties in obtaining the required money.  Order at 27.  Again, the lack of a factual basis for a position.
  • The Board’s ultimate comparison of the properly construed claims to the prior art was similar to the analysis from its Decision to Institute.  Ultimately, having decided the “integrally attached” claim construction issue, the art disclosed each element of the challenged claims and the Board did not accept Patent Owner’s teaching away arguments.
  • Lastly, the Motion to Amend Claims was denied by the Board because the amended claims did not have adequate support in the specification.  Failing the written description requirement of 35 USC § 112, ¶1, the motion was denied.

In the end, the Board’s first Final Written Decision contains few surprises.  As has been the case in their decisions to institute, and other ancillary decisions, the Board undertook a thorough job of examining the merits, took unambiguous positions on those merits, and rendered a decision that is comprehensive and detailed.  Next stop on this IPR ride: the Federal Circuit.