USPTO Recognizes Federal Circuit’s Aqua Products Decision, Issues Memo on Motions to Amend in IPRs

On November 21, 2017, the USPTO’s Chief Administrative Patent Judge David P. Ruschke issued a memorandum to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) providing guidance on motions to amend claims during trial proceedings before the PTAB. This was done in light of the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Aqua Products, Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017) on October 4, 2017.

To review, Aqua Products held that 35 U.S.C. § 316(e) as enacted as part of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act “unambiguously requires the petitioner to prove all propositions of unpatentability, including for amended claims.”

In light of this, Judge Ruschke has reversed the PTAB’s practice of placing the burden of persuasion on the patent owner rather than the inter partes review (IPR) petitioner:

In light of the Aqua Products decision, the Board will not place the burden of persuasion on a patent owner with respect to the patentability of substitute claims presented in a motion to amend. Rather, if a patent owner files a motion to amend (or has one pending) and that motion meets the requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 316(d) (i.e., proposes a reasonable number of substitute claims, and the substitute claims do not enlarge scope of the original claims of the patent or introduce new matter), the Board will proceed to determine whether the substitute claims are unpatentable by a preponderance of the evidence based on the entirety of the record, including any opposition made by the petitioner. Thus, for example, if the entirety of the evidence of record before the Board is in equipoise as to the unpatentability of one or more substitute claims, the Board will grant the motion to amend with respect to such claims, and the Office will issue a certificate incorporating those claims into the patent at issue.

The memo then continues by indicating that beyond that change, practice and procedure before the PTAB will not be altered. The patent owner must still meet the requirements for a motion to amend, such as indicating written support for the amendments being proposed.

Judge Ruschke’s memo then goes on to explain that the PTAB will also continue its current briefing practice as to the types, timing, and page limits of briefs, and that the PTAB’s standard Scheduling Order will remain the same. The memo also states that a patent owner is still to confer with the PTAB before filing a motion to amend.

The memo then sets forth that any party involved in a pending motion to amend is invited to schedule a conference call with the PTAB for their particular case in light of Aqua Products, if the party believes there is a need to do so. The memo also indicates that the PTAB has already, or will, contact parties with motions to amend that were pending at the time Aqua Products was issued to let them know that a request for a conference call is appropriate. In doing so, the memo makes clear that during any such conference call, any party may request briefing changes or additional briefing and that “[t]he Board generally will permit supplemental briefing regarding the patentability of substitute claims proposed in a motion to amend, if requested.”

The memo goes on to explain that if a patent owner still has an opportunity to file a motion to amend in an already-instituted proceeding, any party may contact the PTAB regarding briefing questions before Due Date 1 (which is for things such as filing a response to the petition for IPR and filing the motion to amend itself).  The memo then concludes by stating that if a patent owner wants to file a new or substitute motion to amend in a proceeding that is already past Due Date 1, the owner must contact the PTAB to arrange a conference call on that matter.

It’s nice to see that patent owners finally have a little bit of breathing room in IPR proceedings in light of Aqua Products and Judge Ruschke’s memo. Just a little.


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Join the Discussion

5 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Joachim Martillo]
    Joachim Martillo
    December 8, 2017 12:44 pm

    I am not so sure that absolute and equitable intervening rights are quite as evil as you describe. They seem to apply mostly to the case of a broadening reissue.

  • [Avatar for BEN D LOONEY]
    December 4, 2017 09:15 am

    To the PUBLIC in general; NEVER put your concepts/ inventions on your computer because when you’re hooked into the INTERNET the powers that be; the very people who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, they tweak your invention then RUSH it through.
    Giving YOUR invention to their friends & Associate. ALWAYS write down your inventions /concepts in

  • [Avatar for BEN D LOONEY]
    December 4, 2017 07:30 am

    I’m a inventor who create an invention called: PLAFF; As I try to move forward toward mass production, i begin to realize that or TWO TRUSTED ALLIES, steal Americans inventions and sale to the highest bidder, as the real INVENTOR (S) simply twist on the vine.

  • [Avatar for Invention Rights]
    Invention Rights
    December 3, 2017 10:55 am

    This is infuriating. In examination, an applicant has no expectation of a patent right and any investment is understood to be at risk of never obtaining the exclusive right. But here the right to amend is liberal – he can file responses, confer with the examiner, amend after non-final, amend after final, RCE, appeal, etc.

    Then, once the secret is published to the world and the inventor holds in his hands a signed and sealed patent, and commences investment based on that right – then the PTO switches sides, threatens to break their promise, and suggests that he surrender his right via amendment, making him guess whether or not they will endorse the original.

    It is coerced plea bargaining against a citizen that has followed the law and divulged his secret – a betrayal by the agency whose charter is to secure his rights.

  • [Avatar for Invention Rights]
    Invention Rights
    December 3, 2017 10:34 am

    This is not very helpful, for two reasons.

    First, any amendment that alters the scope of the claim will trigger intervening rights. Thus years – even decades – of investment based on reliance of the patent right will be wiped out. This concern was expressed by Justice Breyer during the Oil States argument last week.

    Second, the rules require the amendment to be made prior to any finding of unpatenrability! The PTAB requires a patent owner to play Russian Roulette with their investment, and guess whether or not the panel will ultimately determine the claims to be unpatentable. This is no where close to a fair examination, and downright abusive when the PTO has previously guaranteed in writing a promise of exclusivity.