By Matthew L. Cutler, Principal
The joinder provisions of inter partes review proceedings were instituted as a direct response to the ability of parties to settle proceedings before a final written decision is instituted. Via the joinder rules, a second Petitioner can join a previous proceeding to continue a challenge to a patent in the event that the first Petitioner settles with the Patent Owner, and even if the second Petitioner would otherwise be barred pursuant to 35 USC 315(b). This scenario played out in IPR2015-00568, Nintendo of America, Inc. and Nintendo Co., Ltd. v. Babbage Holdings, LLC involving U.S. Pat. No. 5,561,811. A key factor in all joinder cases has been the strong similarity between the petitions in the proceedings that are sought to be joined, to ensure the Board has the ability to maintain a reasonable schedule in the original proceeding.
Petitioner Nintendo filed a Motion to join with another petition challenging the ‘811 patent, field by 505 Games Interactive, Inc. v. Babbage Holdings, LLC (IPR2014-00954). Nintendo’s petition asserted the same ground on which the Board instituted IPR in the ‘954 petition. Decision at 2. Nintendo’s joinder motion also represented that it would take an “understudy role” “unless and until all ‘954 petitioners settle with the patent owner.”
Although the Patent Owner later settled with 505 Games, the Board allowed Nintendo to join, and instituted review. First, Nintendo’s motion was timely filed to satisfy the requirement that the request for joinder be filed no later than one month after the institution date of the ‘954 proceeding (See 37 C.F.R. § 42.122(b)). The Board also noted that this petition was essentially the same as the ‘954 petition in grounds, prior art, expert testimony, and arguments presented, with the lone exception being Nintendo’s petition adopting the Board’s claim constructions in the ‘954 proceeding. Id. at 3.
Patent Owner opposed the motion, arguing that Patent Challenger’s decision to delay 8 months in attempting to join the petitioners in the ‘954 proceeding is prejudicial because Patent Owner settled the ‘954 proceeding under the impression that the IPR would be totally disposed of. Id. at 4. Patent Owner further asserted that Patent Challenger’s intent to at reserve the right to bring forth different positions than those asserted in the ‘954 proceeding would derail the trial schedule due to additional briefing and discovery.
The Board was unpersuaded. The Board stated that Patent Owner’s argument regarding settlements was not persuasive because at the time of the Motion for Joinder in this proceeding, there had been no Motion to Terminate in the ‘954 proceeding. Also, in light of expected termination of the the earlier proceeding, there would be no disruption in the instant trial schedule, given no briefing/discovery coordination will be needed post-termination. Id. at 4-5. Accordingly, the Board joined the two proceedings.