By Reza Mollaaghababa
Under 35 U.S.C. 315(e)(1), a petitioner in an inter partes review of a claim in a patent that has resulted in a final written decision by the Board may not request or maintain a proceeding before the Patent Office with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review. Nor can such a petitioner raise that ground against that claim in a civil action or in a proceeding before the International Trade Commission. 35 U.S.C. 315(e)(2). In Shaw Industries Group, Inc. v. Automated Creel Systems, Inc., the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently held that the estoppel provisions of 315(e) do not apply to any ground in an IPR petition that the Board deems as redundant to other ground(s) and thus for which no trial is instituted.
In February 2012, ACS sued Shaw for the infringement of its U.S. Patent No. 7,806,360. Within one year of the service of the complaint, Shaw filed an IPR petition challenging claims 1-20 of the ‘360 patent in which it raised multiple grounds of invalidity. The Board instituted a trial on all challenged claims except for claim 4. With respect to the claims on which a trial was instituted, the Board found certain grounds as redundant relative to others and hence refused to consider those grounds. Subsequently, Shaw filed another IPR petition to challenge claim 4 of the patent based on six new obviousness grounds. The Board instituted a trial based on two of the six grounds and denied the other grounds as redundant. The Board consolidated the two IPRs and issued one final written decision.
In appealing the Board’s decision, Shaw requested that CAFC review the Board’s decision to deny certain grounds as redundant and argued that CAFC had jurisdiction to do so. In particular, Shaw argued that Section 314(d), which indicates that the Board lacks jurisdiction to review the Board’s institution or denial decisions, is not applicable because Shaw was not seeking review of the Board’s institution decision. Rather, it was asking the court “to review the Board’s authority, and correctness in exercising the same, in deeming a subset of asserted grounds redundant of instituted grounds.”
The CAFC disagreed and emphasized that the PTO had the right to exercise its authority in instituting IPR on only some of the grounds. The court explained that there is benefit in the “PTO having the ability to institute IPR on only some of the claims and only some of the proposed grounds, particularly given the Board’s statutory obligation to complete proceedings in a timely and efficient manner.”
The CAFC next addressed Shaw’s request that it issue a writ of mandamus instructing the PTO to reevaluate its redundancy decision and to institute IPR on the redundant grounds. In support of its request for the writ of mandamus, Shaw argued that it may be estopped from raising the redundant grounds in future proceedings.
The CAFC was not persuaded and held that Shaw was not estopped from raising the redundant grounds either in the USPTO or in the courts. The CAFC explained that an “IPR does not begin until it is instituted.” As such, the arguments regarding the redundant claims were not raised during the IPR proceeding and hence are not subject to the estoppel provisions of Section 315 (e).