Justia Patents Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Apple Inc. v. Vidal
Plaintiffs, Apple and four other companies, have repeatedly been sued for patent infringement and thereafter petitioned the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to institute inter partes reviews (IPRs), under 35 U.S.C. 311–319, with unpatentability challenges to patent claims that were asserted against them in court. They sued the PTO under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 701– 706, challenging instructions issued to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board concerning how to exercise, under delegation by the Director, the Director’s discretion whether to institute a requested IPR. Plaintiffs assert that the instructions are likely to produce too many denials.The district court dismissed the APA action, finding that the Director’s instructions were made unreviewable by 35 U.S.C. 314(d): “The determination by the Director whether to institute an inter partes review under [section 314] shall be final and nonappealable.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the unreviewability dismissal of plaintiffs’ challenges to the instructions as being contrary to the statute and arbitrary and capricious. No constitutional challenges are presented. The court reversed the unreviewability dismissal of the challenge to the instructions as having been improperly issued because they had to be, but were not, promulgated through notice-and-comment rulemaking under 5 U.S.C. 553. Apple had standing to present that challenge. View "Apple Inc. v. Vidal" on Justia Law
In Re Palo Alto Networks, Inc.
Centripetal filed an infringement complaint against PAN, which then filed an inter partes review (IPR) petition for one patent and a post-grant review (PGR) petition for another. While the petitions were pending, the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) updated its interim guidance, noting that the agency “does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board denied institution. PAN filed Requests for Director Rehearing. The agency responded that USPTO "does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution ... parties may only request Director review of final written decisions" issued in IPR and PGR and that PAN’s “rehearing requests will not revert to the Board panel and there will be no further review of the Board’s decision.”PAN sought mandamus relief. A newly-appointed Director updated the interim guidance to state that “the Office does not accept requests for Director review of institution decisions” but that “the Director has always retained and continues to retain the authority to review such decisions sua sponte.” The Director has since exercised that authority. PAN argues that the Director’s current policy was contrary to the Appointments Clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in “Arthrex,” (2021). The Federal Circuit denied the petition. That the Appointments Clause requires that a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed officer have review authority does not mean that a principal officer, once bestowed with such authority, cannot delegate it to other agency officers. View "In Re Palo Alto Networks, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith & Nephew, Inc. v. Arthrex, Inc.
Arthrex sued S&N, alleging infringement. S&N sought inter partes review (IPR). The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that prior art anticipated several claims. Arthrex challenged the decision on the merits and argued that the Board lacked constitutional authority to issue the final decision because its Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) were not nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, as the Appointments Clause requires for principal officers.The Federal Circuit severed the statutory limitations on the removal of APJs and remanded for rehearing by a new panel. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, finding that the appropriate remedy was to exempt the Director from 35 U.S.C. 6(c), which precludes anyone but the Board from granting rehearing of a Board decision, and remand to the Acting Director for a decision on whether to rehear the case. The offices of the Director and Deputy Director were vacant. Agency Organization Order 45-1 states, “If both the [Director] and the Deputy [Director] positions are vacant, the Commissioner for Patents . . . will perform the non-exclusive functions and duties of the [Director].” The Commissioner denied rehearing and ordered that the Board’s decision “is the final decision of the agency.”The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Commissioner violated the Appointments Clause, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. 3345, or the Constitution’s separation of powers in denying Arthrex’s rehearing request. The court agreed that prior art anticipated the challenged claims. View "Smith & Nephew, Inc. v. Arthrex, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Arthrex, Inc.
Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) conduct adversarial proceedings for challenging the validity of an existing patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), 35 U.S.C. 6(a), (c). The Secretary of Commerce appoints PTAB members, including APJs, except the Director, who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. APJs concluded that Arthrex’s patent was invalid. The Federal Circuit concluded that the APJs were principal officers who must be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate; their appointment was unconstitutional. To remedy this violation, the court invalidated the APJs’ tenure protections, making them removable at will by the Secretary.The Supreme Court vacated. The unreviewable authority wielded by APJs during patent review is incompatible with their appointment by the Secretary to an inferior office. Inferior officers must be “directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate.” While the Director has administrative oversight, neither he nor any other superior executive officer can directly review APJ decisions. A decision by the APJs under his charge compels the Director to “issue and publish a certificate” canceling or confirming patent claims he previously allowed. Given the insulation of PTAB decisions from executive review, APJs exercise power that conflicts with the Appointments Clause’s purpose “to preserve political accountability.”Four justices concluded that section 6(c) cannot constitutionally be enforced to prevent the Director from reviewing final APJ decisions. The Director may review final PTAB decisions and may issue decisions on behalf of the Board. Section 6(c) otherwise remains operative. Because the source of the constitutional violation is the restraint on the Director’s review authority not the appointment of APJs, Arthrex is not entitled to a hearing before a new panel. View "United States v. Arthrex, Inc." on Justia Law
Hyatt v. Office of Management and Budget
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of OMB in an action brought by plaintiff and AAET, contending that patent applicants should not have to comply with certain U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) rules because the USPTO is violating the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). Plaintiff and AAET argue that patent applicants need not follow the rules because the USPTO is violating the PRA by failing to obtain OMB approval and a control number each time the USPTO makes a request to an applicant during the back-and-forth communications process concerning a particular patent. The OMB rejected this argument and concluded that the rules are not subject to the PRA.The panel held that the challenged rules do not impose "collections of information" subject to the PRA's procedural requirements. Rather, the PRA and the regulations expressly exclude from coverage individualized communications just like those between a patent examiner and a patent applicant. Furthermore, even if they impose "collections," most of the rules are exempted from the PRA under Exemption 6. View "Hyatt v. Office of Management and Budget" on Justia Law
New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc. v. SG Gaming, Inc.
New Vision sued SG in the federal district court in Nevada. SG then filed Patent Trial and Appeal Board petitions. The Board declined to respect the forum selection agreement in the parties’ license agreement, which referred to “exclusive” jurisdiction in the appropriate federal or state court in the state of Nevada, and proceeded to a final decision, finding the claims at issue as well as proposed substitute claims, patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the Board’s decisions for consideration of the forum selection clause in light of its 2019 “Arthrex” decision. Because Arthrex issued after the Board’s final-written decisions and after New Vision sought Board rehearing, New Vision has not waived its Arthrex challenge by raising it for the first time in its opening brief. The Board’s rejection of the parties’ choice of forum is subject to judicial review; section 324(e) does not bar review of Board decisions “separate . . . to the in[stitu]tion decision.” View "New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc. v. SG Gaming, Inc." on Justia Law
Mojave Desert Holdings, LLC v. Crocs, Inc.
Crocs's Design Patent 789, titled “Footwear,” has a single claim for the “ornamental design for footwear.” Crocs sued Dawgs for infringement, Dawgs sought inter partes reexamination (IPE) under 35 U.S.C. 311. The district court stayed its proceedings. The examiner rejected the claim as anticipated, 35 U.S.C. 102(b). While an appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board was pending, Dawgs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court approved the sale of all of its assets to a new entity, Holdings, “not free and clear of any Claims Crocs . . . may hold for patent infringement occurring post-Closing Date by any person ... or any defenses Crocs may have in respect of any litigation claims that are sold.” The bankruptcy court authorized the distribution of the net sale proceeds and dismissed Dawgs’s bankruptcy case. Holdings assigned all rights, including explicitly the claims asserted by Dawgs in the infringement action and the IPE, to Mojave. Dawgs dissolved but continued to exist for limited purposes, including “prosecuting and defending suits" and "claims of any kind.”The Board declined to change the real-party-in-interest from the IPE requestor to Mojave, then reversed the examiner’s rejection of the patent’s claim. The Federal Circuit granted the motion to substitute. The assignments indicate that Mojave is Dawgs's successor-in-interest; as such, Mojave has standing. If the Board precludes substitution on the basis of a transfer in interest because of a late filing, it would defeat the important interest in having the proper party before the Board. View "Mojave Desert Holdings, LLC v. Crocs, Inc." on Justia Law
FastShip, LLC v. United States
The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law
Gensetix, Inc. v. Baylor College of Medicine
Decker developed the patented inventions while employed at the University of Texas and assigned the patents to UT. Gensetix obtained an exclusive license in the patents. The license agreement provides that, Gensetix must enforce the patents. The parties agreed to cooperate in any infringement suit and that nothing in the agreement would waive UT's sovereign immunity. Gensetix sued Baylor, alleging infringement and requested that UT join as a co-plaintiff. UT declined. Gensetix named UT as an involuntary plaintiff under FRCP 19(a). The district court dismissed, finding that UT is a sovereign state entity, so that the Eleventh Amendment barred joinder of UT, and that the suit could not proceed without UT.The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. UT did not voluntarily invoke federal jurisdiction; the Eleventh Amendment prevents “the indignity of subjecting a State to the coercive process of judicial tribunals” against its will. It is irrelevant that the license agreement requires the initiation of an infringement suit by Gensetix or cooperation by UT. The court erred in dismissing the suit without adequate analysis of Rule 19(b)'s factors: the extent to which a judgment might prejudice the missing required party or the existing parties; the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened; whether a judgment rendered in the required party’s absence would be adequate; and whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed. View "Gensetix, Inc. v. Baylor College of Medicine" on Justia Law
Virnetx Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc.
In 2019, the Federal Circuit (Arthrex) held that the appointment of the APJs by the Secretary of Commerce, 35 U.S.C. 6(a), violated the Appointments Clause. The Patent and Trademark Office and Cisco argued that the Federal Circuit erred in extending Arthrex beyond the context of inter partes reviews to an appeal from a decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in an inter partes reexamination. They claimed that administrative patent judges (APJs) should be deemed constitutionally appointed officers at least when it comes to their duties reviewing appeals of inter partes reexaminations.The Federal Circuit rejected the argument. The fact that an inferior officer on occasion performs duties that may be performed by an employee not subject to the Appointments Clause does not transform his status under the Constitution. Courts should look not only to the authority exercised in the case but to all of the appointee’s duties when assessing an Appointments Clause challenge. An APJs’ duties include both conducting inter partes reviews and reviewing appeals of inter partes reexaminations. Although no discovery is held and no trial conducted in inter partes reexaminations, the proceedings are otherwise similar. The Director’s authority over the Board’s decisions is not meaningfully greater in the context of inter partes reexaminations than in inter partes reviews. View "Virnetx Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc." on Justia Law