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).