Patent prosecution—everything that takes places after a patent application is filed until it issues—can be a complex and lengthy process. A majority of time and attention is usually spent on getting a patent application drafted and filed, and rightfully so, but clients often ask: “How long until we hear from the patent office?,” “How soon could this application be granted?,” and “What do we need to do next?” This article is Part 1 of an educational series intended to help answer those questions and provide a birds-eye view of the process for obtaining patent protection in the United States and worldwide.
Part 1 in our series details the process of turning a patent application into a granted patent in the United States, and Part 2 will outline the process of obtaining patent protection in other countries.
On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC to decide whether the AIA (America Invents Act) patent review program for challenging the validity of issued patents is constitutional. Specifically, the Court will decide the question of “whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”
Changes may be coming to Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced recently that it is launching an initiative to reform PTAB proceeding rules. The announcement stated that the USPTO will use nearly five years of historical data and user experiences to improve PTAB trials. In addition to input already received, the USPTO is seeking feedback from the public (ideas for reforming PTAB proceedings can be submitted via email to PTABProceduralReformInitiative@uspto.gov).
The America Invents Act (AIA) established a number of procedures for challenging a granted patent at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). While virtually anyone can challenge a patent using these procedures, not everyone has standing to appeal if the challenge does not go their way.
This issue was highlighted recently in a precedential decision from the Federal Circuit. In Phigenix Inc. v. ImmunoGen, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Jan. 9, 2017), the Federal Circuit held that a petitioner-appellant from an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding lacked standing to appeal the PTAB’s final written decision in federal court.
Almost a decade has elapsed since the Supreme Court’s decision in KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. altered the law of patent obviousness. In reversing the judgment of the Federal Circuit, the Court in KSR limited the “teaching, suggestion, motivation” test and loosened the standards that both courts and the USPTO use to assess validity under 35 U.S.C. § 103. In particular, the Court expressly rejected the application of any inflexible obviousness rule that excluded consideration of, among other things, common sense.
The Federal Circuit, however, recently confirmed that common sense alone cannot suffice to establish obviousness. In Arendi S.A.R.L. v. Apple, Inc., the court held that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the PTAB) erred when it used common sense to supply a missing limitation in the prior art to arrive at the claimed invention. Not only is this case surprising in that factual findings of the PTAB are rarely overturned on appeal, but it also marks some constraints on the broad obviousness standard articulated in KSR.
To date, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari (commonly referred to as cert) to five patent-related cases this term, which will result in three oral arguments likely to be decided before the end of the term. Two of the cases were consolidated into a single argument, while another case was subject to a Grant-Vacate-and-Remand (GVR) order, meaning the previous decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has been vacated by the Supreme Court and the case must be reconsidered by the CAFC. There are also over 20 pending Petitions for Writ of Certiorari, which may result in additional patent matters being heard by the Court this term.
Recently the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) invalidated three patents held by Audatex North America, Inc. finding that the claims are not subject matter eligible under 35 U.S.C. §101 in view of the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014). The three patents were generally directed towards “a method and system for entering data relating to an insurance claim for a damaged vehicle.” In each case, the PTAB sided with the Petitioner, finding that the claims were directed towards the abstract idea of valuing a damaged vehicle based on information about that vehicle and therefore not patent eligible.
The Federal Circuit recently revisited a question first answered earlier this year in Versata Dev. Grp., Inc. v. SAP Am., Inc., 793 F.3d 1306 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (Versata II): When is a patent eligible for Covered-Business Method Review (CBM review) under AIA §18?
Recently, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”), issued an informative decision in Apotex Inc., v. Wyeth, LLC, IPR2015-00873 (“the ‘873 IPR”), providing insight into how the Board will apply estoppel under 35 U.S.C. §315(e)(1) and exercise its discretion under 35 U.S.C. §325(d). Previously, Apotex filed an IPR petition, IPR2014-00115 (“the ‘115 IPR”), against the same patent at issue in the ‘873 IPR, which resulted in the issuance of a Final Written Decision. In view of the Final Written Decision in the ‘115 IPR, the patent owner asserted that Apotex was estopped from “requesting inter partes review because the asserted grounds are based on prior art that the petitioner ‘was aware of, cited and relied upon [in the previous] ‘115 IPR.’” Finding that the preconditions for §315(e)(1) estoppel applied, the Board found that the petitioner was estopped from raising one of the two asserted grounds. No estoppel applied to the other ground, however, because the ground was merely raised, but not instituted on, in the earlier proceeding.
On August 19, 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a set of proposed rule changes that affect the post-issuance patent review proceedings governed by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). As noted in a blog post announcing the release, this is the second iteration of rule changes concerning the America Invents Act (AIA)-created inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and transitional program for covered business method patents (CBM)—the first included a few “quick fixes” enacted earlier this year. While the proposed changes have no effect until a final rulemaking in the future, the USPTO encourages practitioners to review the developments and, if inspired, participate in the comment period that is open until October 19, 2015.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.