By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal
In Ericsson Inc. v. Intellectual Ventures I LLC, [2017-1521] (August 27, 2018), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board did not consider portions of Ericsson’s Reply, and vacated and remanded the Final Written decision that claims 1–3, 6–9, and 12–14 of U.S. Patent No. 5,602,831 were not unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. § 103.
Under USPTO regulations, the Board is entitled to strike arguments improperly raised for the first time in a reply. Such decisions related to compliance with the Board’s procedures are reviewed for an abuse of discretion.
An abuse of discretion is found if the decision:
- is clearly unreasonable, arbitrary, or fanciful
- is based on an erroneous conclusion of law
- rests on clearly erroneous fact finding, or
- involves a record that contains no evidence on which the Board could rationally base its decision
Ericsson argued on pages 13 and 14 of its Reply that, given the admitted state of the art regarding interleaving disclosed in the patent at issue, the prior art’s teachings render obvious the claimed invention. The Board characterized this portion of Ericsson’s Reply as raising a new theory of obviousness, one that was not addressed in the Petition or responding to arguments raised in the Patent Owner Response. The Federal Circuit disagreed, noting the portions of the Reply the Board declined to consider expressly follow from the contentions raised in the Petition.
The Federal Circuit found that the Board’s error was parsing Ericsson’s arguments on reply with too fine of a filter. The error was exacerbated by the fact that the significance arose after the Petition was filed, in that the Board adopted a different construction of the terms after the Petition instituting Inter Partes Review was granted, and the issue was the essential basis of the Board’s decision in concluding that the claim had not been shown unpatentable, Ericsson should have been given an opportunity to respond. Undoubtedly, this was a special case in which Petitioner, Patent Owner, and the Board all initially applied the broadest reasonable interpretation claim construction standard (despite the fact that the patent had expired when it filed the petition), and only after institution applied Phillips instead. In light of these changed circumstances, the Board revisited its approach to the claims in light of this error, and Ericsson likewise deserved an opportunity to do the same.
The Federal Circuit said that its decision should not be viewed as changing or challenging the Board’s practice of limiting the scope of replies pursuant to its regulations; precedent supports the Board’s discretion to reject arguments raised for the first time in a reply.