Once The Federal Circuit Affirms A PTAB Finding Of Invalidity, Collateral Estoppel Prevents Patent Owner From Asserting The Claims In Any Further Proceeding

By Reza Mollaaghababa
On May 23, 2018, in XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C., CAFC held that its affirmance of PTAB’s invalidity decision regarding certain claims of a patent owned by XY in a separate appeal involving a different defendant must be given “immediate issue preclusive effect” with respect to the same claims in the present case even though XY and Trans Ova had not raised the collateral estoppel issue.

XY owns patents that relate to methods of sorting mammalian sperms into X- and Y-chromosome-bearing populations based on their DNA content. In 2004, Trans Ova, which provides services related to embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization for cattle, entered into a five-year licensing agreement with XY for the use of the technology embodied in the XY’s patents. The licensing agreement was subject to automatic renewal in 2009. In 2007, XY sent a letter to Trans Ova to terminate the licensing agreement alleging certain breaches by Trans Ova.  Although the parties negotiated over the next several years, they failed to resolve their dispute.  In 2012, XY sued Trans Ova for patent infringement of a number of its patents, one of which (U.S. Patent No. 7,820,425) relates to a method of freezing separated sperm cells.

The jury found that none of the asserted patent claims was invalid and that Trans Ova willfully infringed those claims. CAFC held that as a threshold matter, it did not need to address Trans Ova’s invalidity arguments as to the ‘425 patent in view of its affirmance in a separate appeal invalidating those same claims, “which collaterally estops XY from asserting the patent in any further proceedings.”  CAFC indicated that “in this separate case appealed to us and argued on the same day as the instant appeal, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (Board) held that these claims are unpatentable in a final written decision from an inter partes review proceeding … [and] [i]n a separate order issued today, we affirm the Board’s decision.”

In support of its decision, the CAFC reasoned that a patentee, having been afforded the opportunity to exhaust his remedy of appeal from a holding of invalidity has had his “day in court,” and a defendant should not have to continue defending a suit for infringement of an adjudged invalid patent.

Judge Newman dissented and indicated that this holding of “estoppel is based on a PTAB ruling in a separate case involving non-mutual parties, and contravenes not only the America Invents Act’s estoppel provision, but also the general law of collateral estoppel.” Judge Newman emphasized that “collateral estoppel was not pleaded and was not argued, yet is imposed on appeal without opportunity for response – contrary to precedent requiring that the precluded party ‘had a full and fair opportunity to present its arguments’ concerning estoppel.”

The majority responded that “[a]s to the Dissent’s concern of applying estoppel without briefing, both precedent and the parties’ positions allow application of collateral estoppel sua sponte here.  A remand for briefing is not a requirement to applying estoppel when there is no indication from the Patent Owner that ‘it did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the validity’ of its patent in the parallel case.”

USPTO Proposes Change In Claim Construction Standard For Post-Grant Proceedings

By Reza Mollaaghababa
On May 9, 2018, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rule for changing the standard for construing claims in unexpired patents in inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and transitional covered business method (CBM) proceedings from current broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) to the same claim construction standard that is utilized in the federal courts, i.e., the so-called Phillips standard.

Under the Phillips standard, the words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning. In contrast, in post-grant review proceedings, the more expansive BRI standard is employed, which expands the scope of prior art that can be applied to invalidate the challenged claims.  The BRI standard  has been in fact outcome determinative in many of the proceedings.

The notice of proposed rule indicates that the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed the PTO’s ability to choose an approach to claim construction for AIA proceedings. It also indicates that the proposed change in the claim construction standard could lead to greater uniformity and predictability between the claim constructions adopted by the PTAB and the federal courts.  This change will also harmonize the standard used for patentability and infringement, which could otherwise lead to unfair results.  For example, under BRI, it is possible for a patent claim to be invalidated based on a prior art reference although the construction of the same claim in an issued patent under the Phillips standard would not lead to a conclusion of infringement.  Moreover, there have been cases of a patent being found valid and infringed in a district court action but subsequently being found invalid by the PTO under the BRI standard.

The proposed change applies not only to the claims of an unexpired patent but also to claims presented in a motion to amend. “Under the proposed approach, the PTAB would construe patent claims based on the record of the IPR, PGR, or CBM proceeding taking into account the claim language itself, specification, and prosecution history pertaining to the patent.”  Further, consistent with the Phillips standard, extrinsic evidence, such as expert testimony and dictionaries, may be useful in determining what a person of ordinary skill would understand the claim terms to mean; however, extrinsic evidence is viewed as less reliable than intrinsic evidence.

Further, consistent with the Phillips standard, “the doctrine of construing claims to preserve their validity would apply to AIA trials.”  The notice, however, cautions that the doctrine of construing claims to preserve their validity has been limited to cases in which “the court concludes, after applying all the available tools of claim construction, that the claim in ambiguous.”  Further, the Federal Circuit “repeatedly and consistently has recognized that the courts may not redraft claims, whether to make them operable or to sustain their validity.”

The PTO intends that any proposed rule changes adopted in a final rule would be applied to all pending IPR, PGR, and CBM proceedings before the PTAB. The Office is presently soliciting comments on the proposed change, where written comments must be received by July 9, 2018 to ensure consideration.