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Posts Tagged: "Administrative Procedure Act"

Federal Circuit: PTAB Failed to Provide Adequate Notice of Sua Sponte Claim Construction

In a precedential opinion authored by chief Judge Moore, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today vacated and remanded six Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) final written decisions in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings filed by Intel that found Qualcomm’s patent claims 1–15, 17–25, and 27–33 of U.S. Patent No. 9,608,675 would have been obvious. While the CAFC agreed with the PTAB’s construction of one of the claims, which Qualcomm had challenged, it ultimately held that the Board violated Qualcomm’s procedural rights under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for failing to provide the company “adequate notice of and opportunity to respond to its sua sponte claim construction.”

USPTO Implementation of Arthrex: Questions from Administrative Law, Part I—Dismissal and Subregulatory Rulemaking

In United States v. Arthrex, No. 19-1434, 141 S.Ct. 1970 (Jun. 21, 2021), Chief Justice Roberts cured an Appointments Clause defect in the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB’s) organic statute by holding that 35 U.S.C. § 6(c) “cannot constitutionally be enforced to the extent that it[] prevent[s] the Director from reviewing final decisions rendered by APJs.” Arthrex, slip op. at 21. Henceforth, rehearings are no longer the exclusive domain of PTAB panels, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) must provide at least one path of review that flows through the agency head…. This article discusses a number of issues of administrative law that must be addressed before the USPTO can proceed. The PTAB now resembles a poorly-maintained building—after decades of benign neglect, and more than a little old-fashioned cheating to evade work that’s required by the statute, a stress has induced a collapse.

Federal Circuit Holds a ‘Similar Enough’ Claim Construction Doesn’t Violate the APA

In Hamilton Beach Brands v. F’Real Foods, the Federal Circuit found that under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s adopted claim construction in an IPR need not be identical to a construction proposed by a party so long as the construction is “similar enough” to provide notice for the parties to argue for or against the construction.

Brett Kavanaugh: A history of Skepticism toward the growth of the Administrative State

As was the case with Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh has a history of being skeptical toward the growth of the Administrative State, which means the growth of agency power is not something he has shown a predisposition to being in favor of in his decisions. Given the outsized importance of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) within the patent industry, and the fact that the Supreme Court has already twice mentioned “shenanigans” in PTAB procedures, another conservative Justice inclined to be skeptical about the growth of administrative power may ultimately set the stage for review of some of the more egregious PTAB violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, such as but not limited to a severe and substantial lack of judicial independence among the Administrative Patent Judges that make up the PTAB (i.e., the Office admittedly engaging in panel stacking to guarantee favored outcomes in inter partes challenges, the fact that dissents are not allowed unless approved by supervisors, and supervisors deliberating with subordinates on cases they were not assigned to handle).

The Federal Circuit’s Hidden Agenda

One might naturally expect that, if a rejection under § 101 appealed from the PTAB failed to address all the claim limitations and had zero supporting evidence to determine whether something was abstract or well-understood, routine and conventional, the case would be a slam-dunk at the Federal Circuit.  After all, according to Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent, the Federal Circuit would be “powerless to affirm the administrative action by substituting what it considers to be a more adequate or proper basis.” Unfortunately though, nothing could be farther from the truth as is demonstrated by the Federal Circuit’s recent decision of In re Villena, Appeal No. 2017-2069 (August 29, 2018) where, as is proved by the joint appendix, the examiner failed to address each and every claim limitation separately, to address the claim limitations as a whole, ordered combination, and to provide any evidence whatsoever to support his factual assertions.

Berkheimer, the Administrative Procedure Act, and PTO Motions to Vacate PTAB § 101 Decisions

After several years in which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) did not seem to have an official position on the issue, and many Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) panels took a position that was clearly at variance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the PTO recently seems to be acquiescing to principles that the patent bar has been urging for years: (a) the PTO is subject to the same Administrative Procedure Act obligations as any other agency, and therefore cannot make factual findings without substantial evidence, and (b) there’s no carve-out for factual findings underlying § 101 subject matter eligibility rejections.

PTAB Not Required to Consider New Evidence or Arguments at Oral Argument

The Board is not compelled by Federal Circuit precedent or PTO guidelines to consider arguments and evidence presented for the first time during oral argument. However, if the Board does consider new arguments or evidence, the responding party must be given an opportunity to submit rebuttal arguments and evidence.

PTAB Phantom Expanded Panels Erode Public Confidence and Essential Fairness

If this practice of phantom expanded panels, with APJs not identified on the record or to the parties, is legal then IPR panel assignments are nothing more than a farce. Any APJ, including Chief Administrative Patent Judge Ruschke, can actively participate in the deliberative process of any IPR without ever disclosing that fact to the public or to the parties. So, in effect, all IPR panels may be secretly stacked!

The only solution for the transgressions of the PTAB is to disband this runaway tribunal

Hiring senior associates to be Administrative Patent Judges was a mistake, hiring so many senior associates from the same firm was an even bigger mistake. Making it clear that their job was to kill patents at all costs was inexcusable. Interpreting the rules at every turn to be disadvantageous to patent owners is un-American, violates fundamental notions of fairness of procedure, and tilts the balance so heavily toward challengers that it has become more feared by patent owners than any government agency or body. In short, the PTAB has destroyed the U.S. patent system and the value of U.S. patents. In my opinion, the only solution for the very serious transgressions of the PTAB is to disband this runaway tribunal.

USPTO admits to stacking PTAB panels to achieve desired outcomes

The USPTO admits that the Director does not have statutory authority to adjudicate an issue after a panel has been chosen, but argues that the Director can assert administrative authority to intentionally select Judges that will rule diametrically opposite to those Judges originally assigned to the case, thereby stacking any panel the Director chooses to achieve the result the Director wants in any case… This admission by the USPTO is both stunning and scandalous for at least two reasons. First, the Administrative Procedure Act, which applies to the PTAB, demands decisional independence, which obviously is not happening when the Director of the USPTO can stack a panel to achieve a particular desired outcome.

PTAB Reversed for Failing to Explain the Basis for its Obviousness Decision

The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the PTAB’s decision in an inter partes review proceeding, finding the Board did not set forth its reasoning for finding the asserted claims obvious in enough detail for the Court to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence… The Board also did not set forth its reasoning in sufficient detail for the Court to determine whether its obviousness decision was procedurally proper. The Board must comply with certain procedural requirements in conducting an inter partes review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), including informing the patent owner of “the matters of fact and law asserted,” give the patent owner an opportunity to submit facts and arguments, and permit the patent owner to submit rebuttal evidence.

Board Cannot Adopt New Claim Construction Without Giving Notice to the Parties

The Federal Circuit held that the Board’s changed claim construction of “data flow,” violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), even if it was correct. In particular, it deprived the petitioner of the procedural protections of the APA, which prohibits an agency from changing legal theories during a proceeding without giving respondents notice of the change and the opportunity respond to the new theory. Because the Board changed its construction of the term “data flow” absent any suggestion from the parties, and without any notice, there was no meaningful opportunity to respond to the unanticipated change. Therefore, the Court vacated the decision of the Board to afford the parties an opportunity to present arguments on the Board’s newly-adopted construction of “data flow.”

Opportunity to Reform Existing PTO Regulations and to Ease Patent Application Paperwork Burden

The Patent Office recently requested comment on the paperwork that applicants submit during post-filing, pre-allowance patent prosecution (Patent Processing (Updating), comment request., 77 Fed. Reg. 16813-17 (Mar. 22, 2012)). This is a highly significant opportunity to seek reform of problematic PTO regulations, one that only comes once every three years. This comment period gives the public access to an oversight officer outside the PTO whose job is to help reduce costs associated with PTO regulations or MPEP guidance that create unnecessary paperwork burden. The PTO has invited the public to challenge long-standing rules, and to seek reform.

Having it Both Ways: the USPTO’s Inconsistent Positions in In re Lovin and Kappos v. Hyatt

Since 1993, the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has pursued an “aggressive campaign” to free itself from oversight by and accountability to the courts. [1] At the same time, the USPTO has been just as aggressive in ignoring the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and related administrative laws that place responsibilities on the USPTO vis-à-vis the public. Fortunately, most administrative laws provide the public a remedy exercisable against agency overreaching: when an agency skirts its obligations, the agency loses its powers of enforcement vis-à-vis the public. Unfortunately, in July 2011 the Federal Circuit in In re Lovin [2] (opinion authored by Judge Dyk) allowed the USPTO to avoid obligations that the USPTO owes the public under the APA, while giving the USPTO judicial deference on issues where the APA grants none. A petition for rehearing of the Lovin case would give the en banc Federal Circuit the opportunity to ”right this wrong,” and to give the public the remedy that Congress intended, and to reinforce that the Administrative Procedure Act gives agencies both rights and obligations.

CAFC Grants En Banc Review of BPAI to District Court Appeal

On February 17, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an order in Hyatt v. Kappos vacating the previous decision issued by a 3 judge panel on August 11, 2009, when the case was then styled Hyatt v. Doll. Hyatt’s petition for rehearing was denied. After polling the judges of the Federal Circuit, however, rehearing en banc was granted on whether 35 USC 145 requires de novo review and the submission of new evidence.