January 5, 2018

The Board Says that IPRs are Adjudicatory Proceedings — What will the Supreme Court Say?

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Ericsson Inc. v. Regents of the University of Minnesota, [IPR2017-01186, IPR2017-01197, IPR2017-01200, IPR2017-01213, IPR2017-01214, IPR2017-01219] (December 19, 2017), Chief Administrative Patent Judge Ruschke, writing for an expanded panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, held that 11th Amendment immunity is available to states as a defense in an Inter Partes Review.  The 11th Amendment states;

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

So in holding that the 11th Amendment applies, the Board is conceding that it is exercising the “Judicial power” of the United States.  This was the issue in Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC where Petitioner struggled to establish that Inter Partes Reviews are adjudicatory in nature.  In Ericsson, the Board conceded the point, stating “IPR is an adjudicatory proceeding of a federal agency from which state entities are immune.”

The Board ultimately found that Minnesota waived its immunity by enforcing the patents in court.

To the extent that the Supreme Court in Oil States needs to decide whether IPR’s are adjudicatory proceedings involving judicial power, it has the USPTO’s admission in Ericsson.