Year in Review: Changes in PTAB Practice in 2018

By Tom Engellenner
A number of significant changes occurred in 2018 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). To begin with, in February 2018, a new USPTO Director took office.  Director Andrew Iancu, a former patent litigator with law firm experience, appears to have brought a different perspective than that of his corporate predecessors – Michel Lee (Google) and David Kappos (IBM) – to the job at the helm of the USPTO.  In his Senate confirmation hearings, Iancu made it clear that he felt that better balance was needed in the administrative review of issued patents by the USPTO under the America Invents Act (AIA).   He pledged to assess “improvements in the AIA trial standards and processes.”  Iancu identified “institution decisions, claim construction, the amendment process, and the conduct of hearings” as areas that warranted study.  In fact, Director Iancu did a lot more than study these aspects of practice before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in 2018. Continue reading “Year in Review: Changes in PTAB Practice in 2018”

PTAB Abandons its Practice of Broadly Interpreting Claims of Challenged Patents in favor of Phillips Standard of “Ordinary and Customary Meaning”

By Tom Engellenner
In a final rule published in the Federal Register on October 11, 2018, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) took a remarkable step of acknowledging unfairness in the way its Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has been conducting trials for the past six years. The rule change will apply to all of the new administrative patent challenge proceedings (inter partes reviews, covered business method patent reviews, and post-grant reviews) established by the 2011 America Invents Act (AIA).  The new claim construction rule will be applied to all AIA petitions filed on or after November 13, 2018.

The comments accompanying the USPTO’s Federal Register notice of rule change state:

[R]ecent studies . . . support the concerns expressed by stakeholders regarding the unfairness of using a different claim construction standard in AIA proceedings than that used by the district courts.

At issue is how claims are interpreted when new prior art references are cited by petitioners seeking to invalidate issued U.S. Patents. If a claim term is broadly interpreted, it is more likely that the prior art will be considered anticipatory or render the claim obvious.  (Novelty and non-obviousness are fundamental requirements for patent validity.)

From the very beginning, when inter partes review (IPR) proceedings under the AIA began in 2012, the USPTO adopted a claim construction rule known as broadest reasonable interpretation, i.e., claim terms are given their broadest reasonable interpretation in view of the specification to one having ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention without importing limitations into the claims from the specification. This so-called BRI standard had long been the standard applied by the USPTO during pre-issuance examination of patent applications.

While BRI standard may be appropriate when patent applications are undergoing examination – where the applicant can amend the claims if the examiner adopt too broad an interpretation – getting the PTAB judges to consider claim amendments in AIA proceedings has proven to be extraordinarily difficult.

The new standard to be applied going forward (for petitions filed on or after November 13, 2018) is the “Phillips standard,” named for the the Federal Circuit’s 2005 ruling in Phillips v. AWH Corp. 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). Under the Phillips standard, claims are to be given their “ordinary and customary meaning” – not their broadest meaning.  This is the standard applied by all federal district courts and the International Trade Commission when hearing patent cases.  The rule-making comments note  that “the scope of an issued patent should not depend on the happenstance of which court or governmental agency interprets it, at least as far as the objective rules go ” and further notes:

Employing the same standard for AIA proceedings and district courts improves uniformity and predictability as it allows the different fora to use the same standards in interpreting claims.

The new rule further states that any prior claim construction decision in a civil action “will be considered if that determination is timely filed in the record” at the PTAB.

While the PTAB judges are not explicitly required to accept prior claim constructions from federal district courts, the new rule certainly does appear to encourage conformity in interpreting patent claims.

Attorney General’s Office May Weigh In on Constitutionality of IPRs involving Pre-AIA Patents

By Tom Engellenner
The 2011 America Invents Act (AIA) provided a variety of new ways to administratively challenge patents, including the now widely used inter partes review (“IPR”) procedure.  In two recent appeals of IPR decisions, Genentech has challenged the constitutionality of IPR proceedings when applied to patents that were already issued as of the date that the AIA was enacted.

Genentech has filed two appeals to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) involving decisions by the U. S. Patent Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) invalidating certain patent rights issued to Genentech on immunotherapy biologics. (Federal Circuit Docket Nos. 18-1933 and 18-1959.)  These patents have been asserted against a number of competitors seeking to market biosimilar products to Genentech’s Avastin® and Herceptin® antibody therapeutics.

The appeals stem from two IPR Petitions filed by Hospira, IPR2016-01771 and IPR2016-01837, that challenged claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,622,115 and 7,807,799, respectively. The ’115 Patent issued in November 2009 and the ’799 Patent issued in October, 2010 – both issuance dates being well before the 2011 enactment of the AIA.  The PTAB initiated trials on both patents and ultimately found all of the challenged claims to be invalid over the prior art presented by Hospira.

Genentech’s briefs assert “the retroactive application of inter partes review to a patent issued before that procedure existed is unconstitutional, a taking without just compensation and a denial of due process,” in violation of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

The Federal Circuit has now certified Genentech’s constitutional challenges to the U.S. Attorney General, who has been directed to inform the Court whether the United States intends to intervene in the appeals within 30 days.

Genentech’s position may seem like a “Hail Mary pass” effort to save its patents, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, No. 16-712, 138 S. Ct. 1365 (2018) (“Oil States”), where the Court rejected the patent owner’s argument that revoking patent claims as a result of an IPR proceeding is unconstitutional under Article III and the Seventh Amendment.

In the Oil States case, the Court held that the decision to grant a patent is a matter involving public rights and, hence, a challenge to a patent’s validity need not be heard exclusively in an Article III federal court and does not require a jury trial.  (For our detailed analysis of the Oil States decision, click here.)

However, Genentech’s arguments are based on the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on taking private property for public use without just compensation by a process that did not exist when the property rights were granted. The author of the Oil States decision, Justice Clarence Thomas, emphasized the narrowness of the holding in the Oil States case and made it clear that the case addresses “only the precise constitutional challenges . . . raised here.” Oil States at 1369. Continue reading “Attorney General’s Office May Weigh In on Constitutionality of IPRs involving Pre-AIA Patents”