United States: Oil States/IPR Constitutionality Supreme Court Oral Argument Highlights

On November 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group, No. 16-712. At issue is whether inter partes reviews (“IPRs”) are unconstitutional because the procedure permits the extinguishment of patent rights: (i) by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”), a non-Article III tribunal, (ii) without the right to a trial by jury.

Oil States argued that IPRs are unconstitutional. Because patents are private property, Oil States explained, patent owners are entitled to an Article III forum to adjudicate questions of the patent’s validity. Justice Ginsburg questioned this proposition extensively, pressing Oil States on why the PTO should be impeded from correcting the errors that it makes if it wrongly issues a patent. Oil States conceded that ex parte reexaminations are constitutional, as were inter partes reexaminations (which were the predecessors to IPRs). This concession led to multiple questions from Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, who were trying to ascertain the constitutional distinction between these procedures.

Additionally, Justice Sotomayor questioned whether earlier Supreme Court precedent suggesting that only a court can cancel a patent (McCormick Harvesting) was based upon constitutional concerns, or whether it was instead based on the patent statute as it existed at the time (i.e., prior to the enactment of a statute that permitted post-grant proceedings in the PTO). Although Justice Gorsuch seemed to suggest that this earlier precedent had a constitutional basis, Justice Sotomayor did not appear to agree.

There was also a discussion between Oil States and Justice Kagan about whether a private party’s participation enhances the overall accuracy of the procedure as compared to a strictly “examinational” proceeding that does not allow third parties to lodge a challenge to patentability.

Finally, Oil States fielded questions from Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Ginsburg about the history of post-grant revocation of patents in the United States and England dating back several hundred years, and whether it is true that patents historically could not be revoked absent a judicial proceeding.

Defending the constitutionality of IPRs were Greene’s Energy and Malcolm Stewart from the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office on behalf of the PTO. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch seemed doubtful of the constitutional validity of IPRs, expressing concerns that the availability of judicial review with respect to final IPR decisions was not sufficient to permit a non-Article III tribunal to adjudicate the validity of an issued patent.

Additionally, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch expressed concerns that the statutory design of IPRs permits the PTO to “stack” its panels with judges who the Director believes will vote a certain way.

While his questioning in general did not suggest that he would find IPRs to be unconstitutional, Justice Breyer repeatedly expressed his concern with the idea that a patent can be invalidated by the PTO for being granted by mistake years afterwards, and specifically after a company has invested substantial money in reliance on the investment being protected by the patent.

Justice Kagan also probed whether the availability of judicial review by the Federal Circuit sufficed to make IPRs constitutional. Justice Sotomayor was more direct, saying that the availability of judicial review is “what saves” IPRs from being unconstitutional.

Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayor also queried whether upholding IPRs would lead to the conclusion that the PTO could constitutionally decide whether a patent has been infringed. They did not receive a definitive answer, but Mr. Stewart said that would be “much more constitutionally problematic” and “would get the PTO much more out of its usual bailiwick and much more into the business that is usually performed by the courts.”

From the argument, it appears that the Court is divided over the constitutionality of IPRs. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor seemed inclined to uphold the constitutionality of IPRs, whereas Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch seemed inclined to hold IPRs unconstitutional. Justices Kagan and Breyer appeared likely to uphold the facial constitutionality of IPRs, although they may well leave the door open to as-applied due-process challenges based upon some of the problems (e.g., panel-stacking) discussed during oral argument. From the argument, it was hard to predict how Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas will vote, although the lack of vigorous questioning from Justices Alito and Kennedy suggests somewhat that they are disinclined to strike down IPRs. In the end, although not certain, it appears likely that the Court will uphold the constitutionality of IPRs. However, there will likely be a strong dissent, at least from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch.

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
Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C.
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C.
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