In an unprecedented move by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Patent Trials and Appeals Board (PTAB) has permitted the filing of amicus briefs on whether the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (“Tribe”) should be permitted to terminate the inter partes review of Allergan’s patents contested in IPR2016-00127, IPR2016-01128, IPR2016-01129, IPR2016-01130, IPR2016-01131, and IPR2016-01132. Allergan assigned the patents challenged in these IPRs to the Tribe, while retaining an exclusive license in exchange for ongoing payments. As a sovereign entity, the Tribe seeks to terminate the IPR challenges of these patents, a move which the PTAB had ruled in 2016 shielded the University of Florida Research Foundation as a sovereign entity from IPRs. See Covidien LP v University of Florida Research Foundation Inc., IPR2016-01274, Paper 21 (PTAB Jan. 25, 2016). Amicus briefs of no more than 15 pages are due to be filed by December 1, 2017, and the Petitioners and Tribe are each authorized to file a single response to any amicus brief by December 15, 2017.
This maneuvering has caught the attention of many, including members of Congress and the district court specifically addressing the validity of these patents. In response to a bipartisan committee investigating the Allergan-Tribe deal, Senator McCaskill has already drafted a bill to block tribal claims of sovereign immunity, which could otherwise preclude USPTO review of patents assigned to tribes. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Judge William Bryson, sitting by “designation” in the Eastern District Court of Texas, expressed concerned that Allergan sought to “rent” sovereign immunity from the Tribe. On the other hand, heralded as an innovative defense, patent attorneys now seek such a defense to patent challenges before the USPTO. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has reportedly already taken ownership of patents from SRC Labs and is in discussion with another technology company.
Interestingly, the district court under Judge Bryson recently found four of the six patents invalid, a decision which will likely be appealed to the CAFC. However, the PTAB nevertheless will need to answer, inter alia, the question of whether the Tribe’s right as a sovereign immunity will shield the Allergan patents from IPRs. Due to additional parties joining as Petitioner and the complicated issues surrounding this challenge, the PTAB has extended a deadline to render its final decision in the IPR from December 8, 2016, to April 6, 2018.