The Federal Circuit’s original opinion issued January 22, 2013, and was authored by Judge Neman with Judges Prost and Reyna in agreement. In that January 2013 opinion the Court identified claim 34 as representative of the “shopping cart” claims, and held claim 34 invalid on the ground of obviousness. The parties stated, on petition for rehearing, that the Federal Circuit ruling should have been for claim 35, which would conform to the judgment entered on the jury verdict. But that is where the agreement between the parties ended. Soverain requested further proceedings on the merits, while Newegg proposed that the Federal Circuit correct what they referred to as a “typographical error.” The Federal Circuit ordered additional briefing.
Supreme Court Bound?
Before jumping into the substance of this case, the first thing I noticed was that Seth Waxman of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr was listed as the lead attorney for Soverain Software in both the petition for rehearing and the ensuing briefs. Robert Wilson of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, who specializes in life sciences litigation and appellate matters, was previously the lead attorney for Soverain. Wilson remains on the brief, which is common when the next step toward the Supreme Court is contemplated. But it is hard to imagine that Soverain has brought in Seth Waxman at this late stage if they are not contemplating an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Patent Office should be estopped from raising a § 112 (a) rejection after raising a § 102 or § 103 rejection in an earlier office action. 35 U.S.C. § 112 (a) states:
The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor or joint inventor of carrying out the invention
Logically, if the application does not describe an invention in terms that allows one skilled in the art to make and use it, then the Patent Office should not have sufficient information to suggest that the application is not novel or obvious. In order to determine something is not novel or obvious you first have to know what it is. I have no objection to the Patent Office putting a 35 U.S.C. § 112 (a) and novelty/obviousness rejection in the same Office Action, where the PTO explains that to the best of their understanding of the invention it would not be novel or obvious for the following reasons.
Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court landmark decision in KSR v. Teleflex (April 30, 2007), when the United States Supreme Court addressed the obviousness of patents under 35 U.S.C. § 103 for the first time since Graham v. John Deere in 1966.
A few trends in the law of obviousness as pertaining to chemical innovations were readily apparent in 2012. Pharmaceutical patent holders in litigation fared well at the Federal Circuit, while patent holders appealing decisions from the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences fared poorly, and a third more subtle trend suggests chemical patents in district court litigation may be less susceptible to invalidation for obviousness post-KSR.
In Part I of this article we explored the trends in pharmaceutical litigation during 2012. In this second and final segment we focus on PTO Board decisions and appeals from non-pharmaceutical litigation relating to chemical patents.
Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court landmark decision in KSR v. Teleflex (April 30, 2007), when our nation’s highest court addressed the obviousness of patents under 35 U.S.C. § 103 for the first time since Graham v. John Deere in 1966. But the patent-at-issue in KSR was mechanical. Patent holders in the chemical arts were wondering whether (more akin to hoping?) KSR’s loosening of the obviousness analysis might have less impact on chemical / pharmaceutical inventions, as opposed to mechanical inventions, because of inherent unpredictability in the art of the former. As we enter 2013, we think this is a good time to review Federal Circuit decisions from the last twelve months to discern trends and patterns in the post-KSR obviousness analysis of chemical patents.
A few trends were readily apparent in 2012. First, pharmaceutical patent holders in litigation fared well – in a series of cases, the Federal Circuit rejected obviousness attacks in pharmaceutical patent challenges on appeal from the district courts. Second, patent holders appealing decisions from the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (whether it be an original application, a reexamination, or a reissue) fared poorly – the Federal Circuit affirmed several Board decisions finding chemical patent claims obvious. While these trends are not surprising, a third more subtle trend suggests chemical patents in district court litigation may be less susceptible to invalidation for obviousness post-KSR. In 2012, when the Federal Circuit reversed the obviousness decision below on a chemical patent, those reversals favored non-obviousness three to one.
Our review lends itself to dividing the 2012 Federal Circuit obviousness decisions in chemical cases in three different categories: appeals from i) pharmaceutical litigation, ii) PTO Board decisions, and iii) non-pharmaceutical litigation over chemical patents. What follows is our review of appeals from pharmaceutical litigation. Part II of the article will focus on PTO Board decisions and appeals from non-pharmaceutical litigation relating to chemical patents.
The Board recognized multiple characteristics that differentiate the claimed invention in the “674 patent from the prior art combination of Song and Handong. Among these, the Board specifically determined that the claimed invention possessed a “supporting arm” and that the safety wheels of a resultant combination of Song and Handong would be raised off the ground, unlike what is depicted in the ‘674 patent and recited in the claims. Still, the panel determined that the claims were invalid. How is it possible to find an invention obvious when not all of the elements are within the prior art? This is unfortunately a disturbing trend that has been brought about by a misreading of KSR.
Yesterday I wrote about the petition for en banc rehearing that I recently filed in Plasmart v. Kappos. See Petition for Rehearing en banc filed in Plasmart v. Kappos. The case arose from what was originally an inter partes reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 6,722,674. The patent examiner ultimately concluded that claims 20-33 were patentable. The Board agreed that claims 20-33 were patentable as not being obvious, but also determined that claim 1 was patentable as well. Then at the Federal Circuit, in a nonprecedential decision, the panel determined that none of the claims were patentable.
I question whether it is appropriate to have a nonpredential opinion after the USPTO has gone through the time and expense of an inter partes reexamination. Based on the decision I specifically raised as an issue whether the original panel provided proper deference to the Board’s finding of facts, or instead merely substituted their own view. A view that I don’t believe was properly explained with the required specificity under KSR.
I have been doing a lot of research and writing on obviousness and KSR v. Teleflex lately, but not for publication on the blog so far. Last Friday, July 6, 2012, I filed a petition for rehearing en banc in Plasmart v. Kappos. I represent the Appellee-Patentee. The case arose out of what was originally an inter partes reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 6,722,674. The patent examiner found some of the claims allowable, the Board found all of the claims allowable, and then in a nonprecedential opinion the Federal Circuit overturned the Board.
This case intrigued me from the start because it seemed rather odd that there should be a nonprecedential opinion in an appeal to the Federal Circuit necessitated by a completely adjudicated inter partes reexamination at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Moreover, the original panel concluded that the combination of known elements resulted in a predictable result. The problem with that reasoning, however, is that not all of the elements were found within the prior art. In fact, the Board found that there are no fewer than three (3) meaningful structural differences between the invention as claimed and the prior art.
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