THIS forum selection clause in THIS NDA agreement did not bar the IPRs

In Kannuu Pty Ltd. v. Samsung Electronics Co., [2021-1638] (October 7, 2021) the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court denial of Samsung’s motion for a preliminary injunction compelling Samsung to seek dismissal of Samsung’s petitions for inter partes review at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board).

In 2012, Samsung contacted Kannuu, an Australian start-up company that develops various media-related products (including Smart TVs and Blu-ray players), inquiring about Kannuu’s
remote control search-and-navigation technology. Kannuu and Samsung entered into a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), to protect confidential business information while engaging in business discussions and the like. Among other things, the agreement provided:

Any legal action, suit, or proceeding arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated hereby must be instituted exclusively in a court of competent jurisdiction, federal or state, located within the Borough of Manhattan, City of New
York, State of New York and in no other jurisdiction.

Following over a year of discussions, the parties ceased communications. No deal (i.e., intellectual property license, purchase, or similar agreement) over Kannuu’s technology was made. Six years later, Kannuu sued Samsung for patent infringement and breach of the NDA.
Samsung then filed petitions for inter partes review of the patents. Kannuu argued that the that review should not be instituted because Samsung violated the NDA’s forum selection
clause in filing for such review. When the Board institued proceedings as to some of the petitions, Kannuu sought rehearing, which was denied. Kannuu then sought a preliminary injunction to compel Samsung to seek dismissal of the instituted inter partes reviews. The
motion was denied, and Kannuu appealed.

The issue before the district court, and before the Federal Circuit on appeal, was whether the forum selection in the non-disclosure agreement prohibited Samsung from petitioning for inter partes review of Kannuu’s patents at the Board. The District Court found it did not, and the Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion.

Though the district court held the forum selection clause was valid and enforceable, it concluded that the plain meaning of the forum selection clause in the NDA did not encompass the inter partes review proceedings. Specifically, the district court found that the inter partes review proceedings did not “relate” to the Agreement or transactions contemplated under it. The Federal Circuit said that the district court correctly concluded that the inter partes review proceedings “do not relate to the Agreement itself.” The connection between the two—the inter partes review proceedings and the NDA—is too tenuous for the inter partes review proceedings to be precluded by the forum selection clause in the NDA, which is a contract
directed to maintaining the confidentiality of certain disclosed information, and not related to patent rights.

Neither the district court nor the Federal Circuit said that a forum selection clause in an NDA could not bar an IPR, rather they both held that this forum selection clause in this NDA agreement did not bar the IPRs. Under appropriate circumstances, a properly drafted forum selection cause in an NDA could bar an IPR between the parties, just as such clauses in a license agreement can bar challenges to the licensed patents before the PTAB.

Broad, Functional Claims Made it Hard to Presume Nexus for Commerical Succes

In Teva Pharmaceuticals International GmbH v. Eli Lilly and Company, [2020-1747, 2020-1748, 2020-1750] (August 16, 2021), the Federal Circuit affirmed that Board’s determination that the claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 9,340,614, 9,266,951, and 9,890,210 are unpatentable because they would have been obvious over the cited prior art. The patents are directed to humanized antagonist antibodies that target calcitonin gene-related peptide (“CGRP”), that has been shown to be a potent vasodilator in the periphery.

Teva raised three challenges to the Board’s decision. First, Teva contended that the Board erred as a matter of law in its motivation to combine analysis by deviating from the motivation asserted by Lilly in its petitions for inter partes review. Second, Teva contended that even under the motivation to combine that the Board did analyze, substantial evidence does not support the Board’s factual findings. And third, Teva contended that the Board erred in its analysis of secondary considerations of nonobviousness.

Lilly asserted that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to combine the teachings of the references to make a humanized anti-CGRP monoclonal antibody for therapeutic use in humans, but the Board instead considered whether a skilled artisan would have been motivated to make the antibody merely to study or use it. Teva insists that by not requiring Lilly to support its therapeutic motivation, the Board incorrectly discounted important safety and efficacy concerns that would have been demotivating factors—i.e., reasons why a skilled artisan would have been motivated not to make a humanized anti-CGRP monoclonal antibody. The Federal Circuit held that the Board did apply the motiviation that Lilly asserted. The Federal Circuit said that “common sense and scientific reality dictate that scientists do not “study or use” humanized anti-bodies with an end goal of treating diseases in test tubes or in rats. At bottom, the prior art supports a motivation to humanize antibodies with the goal of treating human disease.”

Teva also argued that the substantial evidence did not support the Board’s factual findings. The Federal Circuit agreed with Lilly that substantial evidence supports a motivation to make a humanized anti-CGRP antibody to study its therapeutic potential for use in treatment of human disease, noting that Lilly identified evidence that supports the Board’s reasonable readings of each reference. Under the deferential standard of review, the Federal Circuit could not replace the Board’s reasonable interpretation of references with Teva’s interpretation.

Finally, with respect to secondary considerations, the Board found that the commercial products and the license lacked sufficient nexus to the challenged claims. Teva argued that the Board made two legal errors: first, in finding no presumption of nexus between the claims and the secondary considerations based on the commercial products; and second, with regard to the asserted licenses, Teva argued that the Board erred by focusing on the licensee’s products rather than the scope of the license.

The Federal Circuit found that the Board erred in its articulation of the standard for presuming nexus, but nonetheless conducting the necessary factual analysis of the unclaimed features of the commercial products, and reached the correct conclusion that no presumption of nexus applied. The Federal Circuit noted that the claims at issue used functional language, and that a claim to “anything that works” hardly has a nexus to any particular product. Because the claims in this case have a broad scope due to their lack of structural limitations, the unclaimed features in the commercial products cited here are of particular importance to the coextensiveness analysis. The Federal Circuit thus found that the Board’s factual findings regarding unclaimed features are thus supported by substantial evidence, and Teva has not shown otherwise.

Teva also argued that the Board erred by requiring a direct nexus between the challenged claims and the licensee’s products. The Federal Circuit found that the Board’s conclusion that the license lacked nexus to the challenged claims was supported by substantial evidence. The significance of licensing a patent as a secondary consideration in enhancing the nonobviousness of an invention is that an independent party with an interest in being free of the patent has chosen to respect it and pay a royalty under it rather than litigate and invalidate it. Such action tends to support its validity. The Federal Circuit said that given that 188 patents were licensed, the nexus between the license and the validity of any particular claim is rather tenuous to say the least. The Federal Circuit noted that Teva failed to show anything more than the existence of the license. Teva did not present direct evidence that the licensee’s motivation for entering into the license was related to the validity or enforceability of the patents at issue.

PTAB Departure from Agreed Claim Construction Required Notice and Opportunity to be Heard

In Qualcomm Inc. v. Intel Corp., [2020-1589, 2020-1590, 2020-1591, 2020-1592, 2020-1593,
2020-1594] (July 27, 2021), the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded six inter partes review final written decisions determining that claims 1–15, 17–25, and 27–33 of U.S. Patent
No. 9,608,675 would have been obvious.

The ’675 patent relates to techniques for generating a power tracking supply voltage for a circuit that processes multiple radio frequency signals simultaneously, using one power amplifier and one power tracking supply generator. During the IPR’s the parties never disputed that the signals were required to increase user bandwidth, and in the International Trade Commission, the Commission’s construction of the term also included the increased
bandwidth requirement.

The Board issued six final written decisions concluding that all challenged claims were unpatentable. In reaching its conclusion, the Board construed the term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” in each asserted claim to mean “signals for transmission on multiple carriers,” omitting any requirement that the signals increase or extend bandwidth.

Qualcomm argued that it was not afforded notice of, or an adequate opportunity to respond to, the Board’s construction of “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals,” and the Federal Circuit agreed. The Federal Circuit began by noting that “[a] patent owner in [an IPR] is undoubtedly entitled to notice of and a fair opportunity to meet the grounds of rejection,”
based on due process and Administrative Procedure Act (APA) guarantees.

The Board may adopt a claim construction of a disputed term that neither party proposes
without running afoul of the APA. Parties are well aware that the Board may stray from disputed, proposed constructions, however, but in the instant case the issue of whether increased bandwidth was a required part of the claim construction was not in dispute. The Federal Circuit noted that the patent owner owner agreed with the increased bandwidth requirement proposed by the petitioner. While the Board did not change theories midstream or depart from a construction it previously adopted, it is still difficult to imagine either party anticipating that this agreed-upon matter of claim construction was a moving target. The Federal Circuit said that unlike with disputed terms, it is unreasonable to expect parties to brief or argue agreed-upon matters of claim construction. Thus the Federal Circuit found that in the
the circumstances of this case, the Board needed to provide notice of, and an adequate opportunity to respond to, its construction. The Federal Circuit further found that Qualcomm did not receive notice or an opportunity to be heard regarding the Board’s construction that departed from the agreed-upon increased bandwidth requirement, and thus, the Board violated Qualcomm’s procedural rights under the APA.

Federal Circuit Ignores Forum Selction Clause Allowing IPR to Proceed

In New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc., v. SG Gaming, Inc., [2020-1399, 2020-1400](May 13, 2021) the Federal Circuit vacated PTAB decisions that U.S. Patent Nos. 7,451,987 and 7,325,806, as well as proposed substitute claims, are patent ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with Arthrex.  The Federal Circuit said that because Arthrex issued after the Board’s final-written decisions and after New Vision sought Board rehearing, New Vision had not waived its Arthrex challenge by raising it for the first time in its opening brief before the Court.


Judge Newman agreed that Arthrex applied but dissented because the Court did not address the forum selection clause in the license between the parties.  The parties agreed that “any dispute between any of the parties that cannot be resolved amicably” should be resolved in the state and federal courts in the State of Nevada, and thus Judge Newman argued that the forum question requires resolution, for if the parties are committed to a Nevada forum instead of the PTAB, there is no basis for new PTAB proceedings on remand.

Thus, while I Judge Newman agreed that the Board’s decision must be vacated under Arthrex, she respectfully dissented from remand without resolving the issue of forum selection.

IPR Estoppel: It’s Not A Second Bite at the Apple, if You Didn’t Get a First Bite

In Network-1 Technologies, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., [2018-2338, 2018-2339, 2018-2395, 2018-2396] (September 24, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part the district court’s claim construction and remanded, vacated the district court’s JMOL on validity and remanded, and affirmed the district court’s decision with respect to improper claim broadening.

U.S. Patent No. 6,218,930, titled “Apparatus and Method for Remotely Powering Access Equipment over a 10/100 Switched Ethernet Network,” discloses an apparatus and methods for allowing electronic devices to automatically determine if remote equipment is capable of accepting remote power over Ethernet.

On appeal Network-1 argued that the district court incorrectly construed the claim terms “low level current” and “main power source,” and that this error entitled it to a new trial on infringement. The Federal Circuit agreed that the district court erred in its construction of “main power source,” and as a result of that error, Network-1 was entitled to a new trial on infringement.

On appeal HP argued that the district court erroneously granted JMOL with respect to the ’930 patent’s validity based on its determination that HP was estopped under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e) from presenting obviousness challenges as a consequence of its joinder to the Avaya IPR. The district court reasoned that HP reasonably could have raised” its invalidity arguments during the IPR that HP joined. The district court stated that allowing HP to raise arguments “that it elected not to raise during the IPR would give it a second bite at the apple and allow it to reap the benefits of the IPR with-out the downside of meaningful estoppel.

The Federal Circuit began by point out that under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e) party is only estopped from challenging claims in the final written decision based on grounds that it “raised or reasonably could have raised” during the IPR. However, the Federal Circuit noted, because a joining party cannot bring with it grounds other than those already instituted, that party is not statutorily estopped from raising other invalidity grounds.

In fact, HP initially tried to join the IPR and raise additional grounds, which the PTAB correctly denied, it was HP’s second attempt to join the IPR based only on the grounds already instituted, that was granted.

Thus, since party like HP that joins an IPR cannot raise any additional grounds, it is not estopped as to any ground not actually raised in the IPR. The Federal Circuit observed that its not a second bite at the apple, when the first bite was denied. The Federal Circuit remanded the case rather than simply reversing because there was an outstanding request for a new trial.

On appeal HP argued that by adding two dependent claims during reissue, the Network-1 improperly broadened the original claim from which they depend. The Federal Circuit rejected the idea that adding dependent claims broadens the underlying independent claim, and thus affirmed the district court’s determination that claim 6 was not improperly broadened.

§315(c) Does Not Allow Board to Join IPRs or to Add Issues to an IPR via Joinder

In Facebook, Inc. v. Windy City Innovations, LLC, [2018-1400, 2018-1401, 2018-1402, 2018-1403, 2018-1537, 2018-1540, 2018-1541] (September 4, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, vacated-in-part, and remanded the Board’s final written decisions on the ’245 and ’657 patents in IPR2016-01156 and IPR2016-01159, affirmed the Board’s final written decision on the ’552 patent in IPR2016-01158, and affirmed-in-part the Board’s final written decision on the ’356 patent in IPR2016-01157; and dismissed as moot Facebook’s appeal of the Board’s final written decision on the ’356 patent with respect to claims 14 and 33.

Windy City Innovations filed a complaint accusing Facebook of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 8,458,245, 8,694,657, 8,473,552, and 8,407,356 (“the ’356 patent”). The ’245, ’657, ’552, and ’356 patents share a common specification, claim priority to the same parent application, and generally relate to methods for communicating over a computer-based network.

Exactly one year after being served with Windy City’s complaint Facebook timely petitioned for inter partes review (“IPR”) of several claims of each patent (IPR2016-01156, IPR2016-01157, IPR2016-01158, IPR2016-01159). At that time, Windy City had not yet identified the specific claims it was asserting. The PTAB instituted IPR of each patent. After Windy City identified the claims it was asserting in the district court, Facebook filed two additional petitions for IPR (IPR2017-00659, IPR2017-00709) of additional claims of the ’245 and ’657 patents, along with motions for joinder to the already-instituted IPRs on those patents. By the time of these filings, the one-year time bar of §315(b) had passed, but the PTAB nonetheless instituted Facebook’s two new IPRs, granted Facebook’s motions for joinder, and terminated the new IPRs.

The Board delivered a mixed result, holding that Facebook had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that some of the challenged claims are unpatentable as obvious but had failed to show that others were unpatentable as obvious. Many of the claims the Board found unpatentable were claims only challenged in the late-filed petitions. Facebook appealed, and Windy City cross-appealed on the Board’s obviousness findings and challenging the Board’s joinder decisions allowing Facebook to join its new IPRs to its existing IPRs and to include new claims in the joined proceedings.

The Federal Circuit held that the Board erred in its joinder decisions in allowing Facebook to join itself to a proceeding in which it was already a party, and also erred in allowing Facebook to add new claims to the IPRs through that joinder. Because joinder of the new claims was improper, it vacated the Board’s final written decisions as to those claims. However the Federal Circuit lacked authority to review the Board’s institution of the two late-filed petitions, so it remanded them to the Board to consider whether the termination of those proceedings finally resolved them.

The Federal Circuit began by rejecting Facebook’s argument that the Board’s joinder decision was not reviewable. The Federal Circuit said that the plain language of § 315(c) requires two different decisions. First, the statute requires that the Director determine whether the joinder applicant’s petition for IPR “warrants” institution under § 314. The Federal Circuit said that it may not review this decision, whether for timeliness or to consider whether the petitioner is likely to succeed on the merits. Second, to effect joinder, § 315(c) requires the Director to exercise his discretion to decide whether to “join as a party” the joinder applicant. The statute makes clear that the joinder decision is made after a determination that a petition warrants institution, thereby affecting the manner in which an IPR will proceed. The joinder decision is a separate and subsequent decision to the intuition decision. Nothing in § 314(d), nor any other statute, overcomes the strong presumption that the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction to review that joinder decision.

Windy City argued that § 315(c) does not authorize same-party joinder and that it does not authorize joinder of new issues material to patentability, such as new claims or new grounds. Facebook disputed both points, arguing that § 315(c) authorizes same-party joinder and that it does not prohibit joinder of new issues. The Federal Circuit agreed with Windy City on both points. The clear and unambiguous text of § 315(c) does not authorize same-party joinder, and does not authorize the joinder of new issues. Beginning with the statutory language, § 315(b) articulates the time-bar for when an IPR “may not be instituted.” 35 U.S.C. § 315(b). But § 315(b) includes a specific exception to the time bar. By its own terms, “[t]he time limitation . . . shall not apply to a request for joinder under subsection (c).” Subsection (c) provides that after an inter partes review has been instituted, the Director, in his or her discretion, “may join” “as a party to that inter partes review” “any person” who has filed “a petition under section 311 that the Director . . . determines warrants the institution of an inter partes review under section 314.

The Federal Circuit held that the clear and unambiguous meaning of § 315(c) does not authorize joinder of two proceedings, and does not authorize the Director to join a per-son to a proceeding in which that person is already a party. The Federal Circuit found the Board’s interpretation of § 315(c) is contrary to the unambiguous meaning of the statute for a second reason. The Federal Circuit said that the language in §315(c) does no more than authorize the Director to join 1) a person 2) as a party, 3) to an already instituted IPR. This language does not authorize the joined party to bring new issues from its new proceeding into the existing proceeding. §315(c) authorizes joinder of a person as a party, not “joinder” of two proceedings.

PTAB is not Limited to § 102 and § 103 when Reviewing Amended Claims in IPR

In Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Hulu, LLC, [2019-1686] (July 22, 2020) the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s denial of Uniloc 2017’s motion to amend on the grounds that the substitute claims were unpatentable under 35 USC 101.

During an IPR the patent owner may file one motion to amend the patent, canceling any challenged patent claim and for each challenged claim, proposing a reasonable number of substitute claims. § 316(d)(1). At the conclusion of the IPR, the Director shall issue and publish a certificate incorporating in the patent by operation of the certificate any new or amended claim determined to be patentable. § 318(b).

In its Final Written Decision, the PTAB, in addition to explaining why the challenged original claims are unpatentable, denied Uniloc’s Motion to Amend the claims, concluding that Hulu had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the Substitute Claims are directed to non-statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Ineligibility was the sole ground on which the PTAB denied the motion to amend.

Rejecting the argument that the case was moot, the Federal Circuit considered PTAB authority to consider § 101 eligibility for proposed
substitute claims, concluding that the PTAB was authorized by statute to assess Uniloc’s proposed Substitute Claims for eligibility under § 101 and,
finding the claims ineligible, to deny the motion to amend.

Uniloc argued that the PTAB was limited in its review of proposed
substitute claims to anticipation or obviousness, as provided by § 311(b). However the Federal Circuit found that the PTAB correctly concluded that it is not limited by § 311(b) in its review of proposed substitute claims in an
IPR, and that it may consider § 101 eligibility. The Federal Circuit said that this determination was supported by the text, structure, and history of
the IPR Statutes, which indicate Congress’s unambiguous intent to permit the PTAB to review proposed substitute claims more broadly than those bases provided in § 311(b).

The Federal Circuit said that the IPR Statutes plainly and repeatedly require the PTAB to determine the “patentability” of proposed substitute claims. The Federal Circuit said that Congress did not intend §311 to constrain the PTAB’s review of proposed substitute claims to anticipation and obviousness, pursuant to § 102 and § 103, because §311 is confined to the review of existing patent claims, not proposed ones. The Federal Circuit said that the structure and legislative history of the IPR Statutes support this conclusion, as section 311 applies to the petition phase of the proceedings, and not to a separate adjudication-stage provision, such as § 316. Finally, the Federal Circuit found support in the IPR statute’s legislative history.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the PTAB can consider §101 when considering amended or substitute claims in an IPR (and no doubt §112 as well).

More Mischief from Exempting Agency Action from Review: Real Party in Interest in IPR not Reviewable

In ESIP Series 2, LLC v. Puzhen Life USA, LLC, [2019-1659] (May 19, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed the institution of the IPR as non-reviewable, and affirmed the Board’s obviousness determination of claims of U.S. Patent No. 9,415,130, which relates to “a novel system and method for combining germicidal protection and aromatic diffusion in enclosed habitable spaces.”

Based on the prior art and expert testimony, the Board determined that the challenged claims would have been obvious.  The Federal Circuit found no error in the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of one expert over another, and would not reweigh evidence on appeal. The Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that the prior art made the invention obvious. 

Because the Board’s obviousness conclusion was not legally erroneous and the fact findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Federal Circuit affirmed obviousness determination.

 On the issue of whether the Petition properly named the real party in interest, based upon Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee, and Thryv, Inc v. Click-To-Call Techs., LP, the Federal Circuit found we find no principled reason why preclusion of judicial review under §314(d) would not extend to a Board decision concerning the “real parties in interest” requirement of § 312(a)(2).  Accordingly, the Federal Circuit held that  ESIP’s challenge to the Board’s “real parties in interest” determination “raises ‘an ordinary dispute about the application of’ an institution-related statute,” and that § 314(d) precludes its review of that determination.

Federal Circuit to PTAB: Try Harder to Construe Claims in IPR

In Cochlear Bone Anchored Solutions AB, v. Oticon Medical AB, [2019-1105, 2019-1106] (May 15, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s determination that claims 4-6 and 11-12 of U.S. Patent No. 7,043,040, that claims 7-9 were not unpatenable, and vacated and remanded the determination that claim 10 was not unpatentable.

With respect to claims 4-6 and 11-12, Cochlear argued that the preamble “for rehabilitation of unilateral hearing loss” should have been treated as a claim limitation.  The Federal Circuit noted that in general, a preamble limits the invention if it recites essential structure or steps, or if it is necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality to the claim. But preamble language merely extolling benefits or features of the claimed invention does not limit the claim scope without clear reliance on those benefits or features as patentably significant.  A preamble is not limiting where a patentee defines a structurally complete invention in the claim body and uses the preamble only to state a purpose or intended use for the invention.  The Federal Circuit concluded that the preamble was merely a statement of intended use of the claimed hearing aid; it identified no structure for the apparatus claimed. Moreover, this use itself is not an inventive or patentably distinct aspect of the claimed invention, as “rehabilitation of unilateral hearing loss” was a conventional use of prior art bone-anchored hearing aids.  Further, the bodies of the claims contain the only descriptions of the structure for the hearing aid, with no additional structure furnished by the preamble.

With respect to claims 4-5, Cochlear argued that it was error for the Board to conclude that “specifically adapted to” had its ordinary meaning.  The Federal Circuit rejected this argument, noting that to the extent that Cochlear was suggesting that the language requires a particular intent or objective of a hearing-aid designer or manufacturer, this was incorrect.  The Federal Circuit has held that the claim term “adapted to” generally means “made to,” “designed to,” or “configured to” perform the stated function, without introducing a subjective element into the construction of the phrase.  To the extent that Cochlear is suggesting an objective characteristic of the configuration, it has not shown overbreadth of the Board’s ordinary-meaning construction. With respect to claims 7-10, the Board determined that it could not conduct a prior-art analysis of these claims because they contained means-plus-function elements.  The Federal Circuit held that the  Board did not err as to claims 7–9, but did err as to claim 10.  The Federal Circuit claim 10 is different in a crucial respect. It does not contain a required claim element in means-plus-function form. Claim 10 recites a “directivity means comprising at least one directivity dependent microphone and/or signal processing means in the electronic circuitry.  Thus claim 10, unlike the other means-plus-function claims, also describes a stand-alone alternative to the signal processing means: a directivity dependent microphone, which is a clear structure for performing the claimed directivity means.  The Board relied entirely on the presence of the signal-processing-means alternatives in the claim to deem a prior-art analysis impossible, and this was error.  Even if claim 10 is indefinite, such a conclusion would not imply that it is incapable of being compared to prior art to determine if one of its alternatives is anticipated or would have been obvious on the grounds asserted.

The Board Can Identify New Issues of the Patentability of Amended Claims; But Must give the Parties Notice

In Nike, Inc.v. Adidas AG, [2019-1262] (April 9, 2020) The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s the Board’s finding that Nike failed to establish a long-felt need for substitute claims 47–50, but vacated the Board’s decision of obviousness as to substitute claim 49 because no notice was provided to Nike for the Board’s theory of unpatentability.

The case involved U.S. Patent No. 7,347,011, which discloses articles of footwear having a textile “upper,” which is made from a knitted textile using any number of warp knitting or weft knitting processes. The case in an appeal after remand from a previously appeal where the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part and vacated-in-part the Board’s decision denying Nike’s motion to amend. Nike is again appealing the denial of its motion motion to enter substitute claims 47–50.

Substitute claim 49 recites a knit textile upper containing “apertures” that can be used to receive laces and that are “formed by omitting stitches” in the knit textile. Adidas opposed substitute claim 49, arguing that it was obvious form the combination of three prior art references: U.S. Patent No. 5,345,638 (Nishida); U.S. Patent No. 2,178,941 (Schuessler I); and U.S. Patent No. 2,150,730 (Schuessler II), and in particular that Nishida disclosed substitute claim 49’s limitation that the apertures are “formed by omitting stitches.” The Board found that Nishida does not disclose apertures formed by omitting stitches, as recited in claim 49, but that another prior art document of record in the proceeding demonstrates that skipping stitches to form apertures was a well-known technique.

Nike, having no chance to address this finding, appealed. The Federal Circuit held that the Board may sua sponte identify a patentability issue for a proposed substitute claim based on the prior art of record. However, if the Board sua sponte identifies a patentability issue for a proposed substitute claim, however, it must provide notice of the issue and an opportunity for the parties to respond before issuing a final decision under 35 U.S.C. § 318(a).

Because the case involves a motion to amend, The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board should not be constrained to arguments and theories raised by the petitioner in its petition or opposition to the motion to amend. However the Federal Circuit reserved for another day the question of the Board may look outside of the IPR record in determining the patentability of proposed substitute claims.

Although the Board was permitted to raise a patentability theory based on Spencer, the notice provisions of the APA and Federal Circuit case law require that the Board provide notice of its intent to rely on Spencer and an opportunity for the parties to respond before issuing a final decision relying on Spencer. Under the APA, “[p]ersons entitled to notice of an agency hearing shall be timely informed of of fact and law asserted,” 5 U.S.C. § 554(b)(3), and the agency “shall give all interested parties opportunity for . . . the submission and consideration of facts [and] arguments,” id. § 554(c)(1).