The Federal Circuit on Wednesday reversed Court precedent and long held belief that inter partes review (“IPR”) institution decisions were categorically non-reviewable. The Court, sitting en banc, held that the issue of whether a petitioner is time-barred from filing an IPR petition  under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) is in fact reviewable.[i]

This case arose when the patent owner alleged that an IPR petition was time barred based on the petitioner being privy with parties sued over the patent more than a year before the petition was filed. The IPR was instituted and a final written decision was published.

Congress granted the Director of the USPTO, subject to certain requirements, the sole discretion in whether to institute an IPR.  It is the extent of that discretion that the Court clarified on Wednesday. The Court honed in on two sections of the AIA—§§ 314 and 315. Section 314(a) authorizes the Director to institute an IPR if there is a “reasonable likelihood” that the petitioner will prevail with respect to at least one claim challenged in the petition. Section 315(b) on the other hand is a statutory time bar provision that limits a petitioner’s ability to successfully pursue an IPR proceeding if the “petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner” was served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent more than one year before the IPR petition was filed. The question answered by the court was whether § 314(d), which deems the Director’s decision to institute an IPR “under this section” final an nonappelable, extends to the time bar set out in § 315(b). According to the court, § 314(d) does not extend to § 315(b), but it is unclear if other determinations may soon be reviewable.

In concluding that the time bar determination is appealable, the Court highlighted the “fundamentally different” analysis of § 314 and § 315. On one hand, § 314(a) relates to a substantive analysis of the merits—a “preliminary patentability determination.” On the other hand, § 315(b) is a “condition precedent to the Director’s authority to act.” In other words, § 315(b) is precondition that if met grants the Director the authority to make a determination under § 314(a). According to the Court, the lack of a clear indication that Congress intended to bar appeals related to § 315(b) gave way to “the strong presumption in favor of judicial review of agency actions.”

This decision, although limited to time bar appeals, opens the door for other challenges to the Director’s “sole discretion.” Based on the Court’s heavy reliance on the language of § 314 being directed to preliminary patentability determinations, it is possible that the Court may be amenable to further appeals that do not relate directly to the “patentability merits of the claims.” Other AIA threshold requirements that may be challenged include the requirement that petitioner name all interested parties in the case and the AIA estoppel provisions.


[i] The case is Wi-Fi One LLC v. Broadcom Corp., Nos. 15-1944, 15-1945, and 15-1946 (Fed. Cir. Decided January 8, 2018).

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.

The America Invents Act (“AIA”) provides for post grant challenges of U.S. patents in the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. One type of AIA proceeding, Inter Partes Review (“IPR”), came into effect in September 2012, and provides a process for relatively quick determination of invalidity of challenged patent claims based on published prior art. [1] IPR decisions rendered in the past five years have created a body of law addressing a variety of issues related to invalidity challenges before the PTAB. In a recent IPR proceeding, a novel strategy has arisen that posts an interesting question of first impression, whether the assignment of a patent involved in an IPR proceeding to a U.S. Indian tribe can avoid an IPR proceeding based on a sovereign immunity defense. The present blog post summarizes the new issue that the PTAB will be required to decide in the IPR. Continue Reading Indian Tribal Sovereign Immunity Asserted in an IPR