Earlier this week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) finalized a new rule, extending the attorney-client privilege to communications between clients and their non-attorney patent agents and foreign practitioners in proceedings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The rule, which largely codifies the Federal Circuit’s 2016 decision in In re Queen’s University at Kingston, will go into effect on December 7, 2017.
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).
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.
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