United States: Supreme Court Affirms Existing Rules For Inter Partes Review Proceedings

On June 20, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, marking a rare instance in which the Court affirmed the Federal Circuit on all issues presented. The Supreme Court addressed two key questions: (i) whether decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("Board") to institute inter partes review ("IPR") proceedings are appealable; and (ii) whether the Board's use of the "broadest reasonable construction" is a proper standard for interpreting claims during such proceedings, rather than the "ordinary meaning" standard applied by district courts. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Cuozzo after the Federal Circuit declined a petition for en banc rehearing of a divided panel decision, which held that 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) requires that the Board's institutions decisions are not appealable, and that the Patent Office was within its rulemaking authority to adopt the broadest reasonable interpretation standard for use in IPR proceedings.

Institution Decisions Are Not Appealable, Except in Rare Circumstances

First, addressing whether the Board's institution decisions are subject to appeal, Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, held that such decisions cannot be appealed because the statutory language of Section 314(d)—"No Appeal. The determination by the [Patent Office] Director whether to institute an [IPR] under this section shall be final and non-appealable"—means precisely what it says. Justice Breyer explained that the "'No Appeal' provision's language must, at the least, forbid an appeal that attacks a 'determination ... whether to institute' review" of the Board's grounds for reviewing patentability of challenged claims. According to Justice Breyer, "a contrary holding would undercut one important congressional objective, namely, giving the Patent Office significant power to revisit and revise earlier patent grants." Justice Breyer reasoned that Congress would not have conferred such "significant power" to the Patent Office "if it had thought that the agency's final decision could be unwound under some minor statutory technicality related to its preliminary decision to institute" IPR proceedings.

Noting the dissent's position (written by Justice Alito and joined by Justice Sotomayor) that the "No Appeal" provision in Section 314(d) applied only to bar interlocutory appeals, Justice Breyer wrote that "[w]e cannot accept this interpretation" because "it reads into the provision a limitation (to interlocutory decisions) that the language nowhere mentions and that is unnecessary."           

The majority therefore held that a rule "that courts may not revisit th[e] [Board's] initial determination gives effect to th[e] statutory command" that institution decisions are "final" and "nonappealable." In doing so, however, the majority also stated that "we do not categorically preclude review of a final decision" when, for example, "there is a due process problem with the entire proceeding" or the Patent Office "act[ed] outside its statutory limits," such as canceling claims based on patentability grounds not contemplated by statute. The majority thus left open the possibility that the Board's institution decision could be subject to appellate review if it "implicate[d] constitutional questions" or presented "other questions of interpretation that reach ... well beyond" the statutory framework for IPR proceedings. Justice Alito's dissent acknowledged the majority's stated intent to prohibit the Patent Office from "act[ing] outside its statutory limits" but criticized this portion of the majority opinion because "how to get there from the Court's reasoning—and how to determine which 'statutory limits' we should enforce and which we should not—remains a mystery."

"Broadest Reasonable Construction" Standard is Approved 

Turning to the second question, Justice Breyer, now writing for a unanimous Court, held that the Patent Office's decision to apply the broadest reasonable construction standard in IPR proceedings comported with the agency's administrative authority. Starting from Chevron deference principles, the Court noted that "where a statute leaves a 'gap' or is 'ambiguous,' we typically interpret it as granting leeway to enact rules that are reasonable in light of the text, nature, and purpose of the statute." The Court found that the IPR statutory framework "contains such a gap" because "[n]o statutory provision unambiguously directs that agency to use one standard or the other." Accordingly, in view of the Patent Office's authority to issue "regulations ... establishing and governing inter partes review," 35 U.S.C. §316(a)(4), the Court held that a regulation directing the Board to use the broadest reasonable construction of a patent claim was a valid exercise of the agency's rulemaking authority.           

The Court explained that the broadest reasonable construction "helps to protect the public" because the Patent Office's "standard increases the possibility that the examiner will find the claim too broad (and deny it)." To that end, applying the broadest reasonable construction "encourages the applicant to draft narrowly" and avoids "unlawfully broad claim[s] [that] might discourage the use of the invention by a member of the public."  

The Court further recognized that the Patent Office has used the broadest reasonable construction standard "for more than 100 years" in a variety of proceedings, including interferences and reexaminations that, like IPRs, "resemble district court litigation." The Court did acknowledge the possibility "that the use of the broadest reasonable construction standard in [IPR proceedings], together with the use of an ordinary meaning standard in district court, may produce inconsistent results and cause added confusion." The Court concluded, however, that such possibilities are facts of life that "ha[ve] long been present in our patent system," and that "different evidentiary burdens" for IPR and district-court proceedings "mean that the possibility of inconsistent results is inherent to Congress's regulatory design." 

Take-Aways from Cuozzo           

Cuozzo represented a critical test of the Patent Office's and Federal Circuit's interpretation and application of the IPR statute, resulting in the Supreme Court's affirmance of the existing approaches to two issues common to nearly all IPR proceedings. Thus, going forward, the handling of IPRs will likely remain unchanged at the Patent Office, with appellate review of institution decisions by the Federal Circuit arising only if such decisions involve constitutional issues or go well beyond the IPR statute. 

And the Patent Trial and Appeal Board will continue to interpret nonexpired patent claims using the "broadest reasonable construction" standard perceived to be more favorable to IPR petitioners, rather than the "plain and ordinary meaning" standard used in district court litigation. At the same time, several observers have noted that the Federal Circuit's recent decisions applying the "broadest reasonable interpretation" standard have brought that approach to patent claim construction more in line with the "ordinary meaning" approach that holds sway in district-court cases. If that is so, then the difference between a "broadest reasonable interpretation" and the "ordinary meaning" of a patent claim may not be that great at all.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions