SCOTUS asks Director Lee to respond to SCOTUS cert petition

At the end of February, the United States Supreme Court requested a response from Michelle K. Lee, Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), related to the petition for writ of certiorari filed by Oil States Energy Services, LLC, Petitioner, against Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, et. al. The dispute is between the parties to an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding conducted by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).

There are three questions presented by Oil States in the petition for writ of certiorari:

  1. Whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
  2. Whether the amendment process implemented by the PTO in inter partes review conflicts with the Court’s decision in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S.Ct. 2131 (2016), and congressional direction.
  3. Whether the “broadest reasonable interpretation” of patent claims – upheld in Cuozzo for use in inter partes review – requires the application of traditional claim construction principles, including disclaimer by disparagement of prior art and reading claims in light of the patent’s specification.

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Congress moves to divert agency fees, but not Patent Office fees

In early February 2017, Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)(shown left) introduced the Agency Accountability Act of 2017 (AAA) in both the House of Representatives (HR 850) and the Senate (S. 299), respectively. The AAA is a bill that would direct most fines, fees, and other unappropriated proceeds to the Treasury, making them subject to the appropriations process.

Senator Lee and Congressman Palmer explained that the Agency Accountability Act is designed to reestablish Congressional authority over agencies. Palmer and Lee believe that at least some agencies have been spending money on programs that Congress has not approved.

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PTAB institutes 6 IPRs challenging RESTASIS patents

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently instituted six separate inter partes reviews (IPRs) against patents owned by Allergan plc (NYSE: AGN), which cover RESTASIS® (Cyclosporine Ophthalmic Emulsion) 0.05%. RESTASIS® is an eye drop that helps increase the eyes’ natural ability to make tears. Mylan Pharmaceutical Inc. says they expect PTAB decisions on the IPRs sometime during the fourth quarter of 2017.

All the challenged patents are set to expire on August 27, 2024 and are listed in FDA’s Orange Guide. The patents being challenged are U.S. Patent Nos. 8,629,111 (the “‘111 patent”), 8,633,162 (the “‘162 patent”), 8,642,556 (the “‘556 patent”), 8,648,048 (the “‘048 patent”), 8,685,930 (the “‘930 patent”), and 9,248,191 (the “‘191 patent”). Hatch-Waxman litigations involving these patents against Mylan and other generic defendants remain pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

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USPTO instructs examiners on patent eligibility cases

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently issued a new memorandum to patent examiners on recent software patent eligibility decisions from the Federal Circuit. The memo sent to patent examiners provides discussion of McRo, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America and BASCOM Global Internet Services v. AT&T Mobility.

The PTO acknowledges in the memo that the Federal Circuit even more recently issued another precedential decision in Amdocs (Israel) Ltd. v. Openet Telecom, which will be discussed in forthcoming subject matter eligibility guidance. For more on that case, please see Software eligible because it recites technical solution to technical problem.

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Hearing on Examiner Fraud Leaves No Resolution

In mid-September, the House Judiciary Committee held what seemed like it was going to be an oversight hearing to address the allegations of timekeeping fraud by patent examiners made in the Inspector General’s recent report. Prepared statements released in advance of the hearing talked tough, but that was pretty much it. Insofar as getting to the root of the problems identified in the IG report the hearing turned out to be a big, fat nothing.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) (pictured left at the hearing) defended the Office in his prepared remarks, explaining that there were flaws with the methodology of the IG study, which make the conclusions unreliable. For example, it is entirely possible that patent examiners were indeed working while they were not logged into the Patent Office computer systems. After all, examination is a job that requires a lot of reading and contemplation, much of which might occur without being logged into the server. Of course, that, at best, means there is no way to know whether patent examiners are working or not, which is why the IG report recommended the sensible step of requiring patent examiners to log into the Office computer systems whenever they are working.

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