As a special feature of our blog, we include special guest postings by experts, clients, and other professionals—please enjoy this blog entry which includes guest author Rolf J. Haag.[1]

It has been impossible to miss the surreal volatility in Bitcoin’s per unit price—having gone from $1,000 in January 2017 to almost $20,000 (~$750B mkt. cap) toward the end of last year and retracting to under $8,000 (~$500B mkt. cap) in February 2018. Whether these G-LOC-inducing price undulations are reflective of a radical paradigm shift in the mode of financial transactions, history’s greatest pyramid scheme, or some mix thereof, remains to be seen. Continue Reading Will Blockchain Revolutionize Bio/Pharma R&D, Tech Transfer, and IP?

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).

The Federal Circuit’s Review of Bayer’s Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Suggests Tolerance for a Wide Girth When Aiming for a Narrow Point

In Bayer Pharma AG v. Watson Laboratories, Inc. (Fed. Cir. November 1, 2017), the Federal Circuit overturned the District of Delaware’s finding that Watson failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the subject matter encompassed by the claims of Bayer’s U.S. Patent 8,613,950 (the ‘950 patent) was obvious under 35 USC 103. The CAFC invalidated claims 9 and 11 of the ’950 patent as unpatentably obvious. The Federal Circuit made this determination de novo based on the underlying findings of fact from the district court. Continue Reading When Are Swashbuckling Experts Seemingly ‘Flooding’ a Court with Large Number of References?

shutterstock_99945896The value of an early stage biotech company is driven primarily by the quality and scope of its intellectual property. As such, these companies’ primary goal is to stake out and consolidate a defensible claim in their technology space.

In sizing up an early stage company’s IP portfolio during due diligence, many investors and acquirers tend to focus on prior art issues related to patentability and freedom-to-operate concerns posed by the potential risk of someday being sued for infringing a third party patent. However, a hyper-focus on patentability and freedom to operate may be misplaced during early stages of technical development.

Often overlooked is the fact that substantive patent prosecution often winds through years of negotiation with the Patent Office. Moreover, claim sets in a filed patent application continuously evolve not only in response to Examiner rejections but also to track and cover important developments in lead candidate selection and pre-clinical product design, for example.

Additionally, biotech companies usually take advantage of the safe harbor set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 271(e)(1) to avoid charges of infringement for research activities associated with pre-/clinical development. This affords them a certain luxury of freedom with respect to third party patents as they develop their technologies.  Therefore, while early stage companies are expected to understand their competitive IP ecosystem, be aware of potentially threatening third party IP and even have an informal game plan in place to deal with such risks; sophisticated investors and BigPharma acquirers infrequently require that such companies will have actually made cash-draining licensing investments or aggressively attacked third party patents through litigation or Inter Partes Review.

In practice, therefore, sophisticated due diligence with respect to an early stage intellectual property portfolio is often better served scrutinizing an entirely different and more pressing aspect of the technology: Chain of Title.

Between 2007 and 2012, U.S. industrial biopharmaceutical annual R&D spending dropped by about 15%.  It is reasonable to assume that BigPharma’s internal early stage research programs disproportionately fell victim to such cuts.  It is no surprise, therefore, that we have seen an increasing amount of initially publically funded academically derived technologies flowing through start-ups into larger companies.

Inventors generating these new technologies usually collaborate with other researchers at various universities, corporations and service providers. While University professors and post-docs generally owe a duty to assign their inventions to their respective institutions, industrial sponsored research arrangements and third-party grant making entities such as government agencies and philanthropies may nevertheless have their own rights in the IP arising out of the research they support.

Thus a complex juxtapositions of funding sources, inventors, technicians, institutions and former employers — particularly in an area of investigation where the number of experts is small — represents a minefield with respect to issues of technology control and ownership. If not properly managed from the outset Chain of Title issues can explode once a technology is deemed to have commercial value and an aggrieved party believes they are being excluded when the proverbial ‘cookie tray’ is being passed around in the form of liquidity event, for example.

We have often helped parties dealing with tangled chain of title issues.  In the best cases, critical transactions are merely held up and cap tables potentially adjusted while ownership issues are cleaned up.  In the worst cases, an exit is scuttled or a party is sued for breach of contract, breach of a duty of loyalty and misappropriation of trade secrets for example or even accused of inequitable conduct before the USTPO for willfully misnaming or excluding inventors.

Irrespective of who ultimately prevails on the merits in such disputes, the cost in terms of unproductive time, lost opportunity, money, anxiety and reputational damage will no doubt, have been immense. These are particularly painful to bear at the start up stage when cash and key person attention are at a high premium.

Therefore, when conducting due diligence on early stage biotechnologies, it is of critical importance to generate a comprehensive list of all scientists and technicians who were involved in the earliest stages of a technology asset.  Each such individual’s contribution should be carefully analyzed with respect to whether they likely qualify as a legal inventor for example.  Inventorship under U.S. law is tied to conception and linked in concrete terms a claim in a patent or patent application.  The standard for inventorship with respect to know how can be much less clear.

In addition to analyzing inventive contribution, each such person’s obligations to assign their rights in their inventions must be assessed. For example, is a person entitled to keep all rights for themselves or are they obligated to assign to their respective employer/university?  Have the critical requirements of the Bayh-Dole Act, e.g., iEdison reporting, been complied with by federally-funded institutions?  Furthermore, does the inventor in question have a relationship with a funding agency, e.g., through a sponsored research agreement with a biopharma industry partner that has a rights, e.g., of first refusal, to the inventions it funded.  It is imperative that these investigations are conducted early, be properly memorialized and that relevant employee policies, employment and funding agreements are collected and cataloged in preparation for potential future third party due diligence.

Only after matters related to IP inventorship, ownership and control are clarified, is a company in a strong position to efficiently go about raising money or seeking partners to exploit its intellectual property assets.