Time Bar Dismissal Saves Patent Found Unpatentable
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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dismissed an appeal, finding it lacked appellate jurisdiction to review a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision to vacate an institution decision of inter partes review (IPR) based in part on the Board's time bar evaluation. Atlanta Gas Light Co. v. Bennet Regulator Guards, Inc., Case No. 21-1759, (Fed. Cir., May 13, 2022) (Lourie, Stoll, JJ.) (Newman, J. dissenting)
This is the third time this case has been before the Federal Circuit. On July 18, 2012, Bennett served Atlanta Gas with a complaint alleging infringement of its patent. The district court dismissed the complaint without prejudice. More than two and a half years after service of the complaint, Atlanta Gas filed an IPR petition. Bennett argued that Atlanta Gas's IPR petition was time barred, but the Board disagreed, instituted review of all claims and found every claim unpatentable in a final written decision. After receiving the final decision, Bennett sought sanctions for Atlanta Gas's failure to notify the Board of Atlanta Gas's changed parentage. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the Board's final written decision, finding the IPR time barred under 35 U.S.C. §315(b). (Bennett Regulator Guards, Inc. v. Atlanta Gas Light Co.). The Supreme Court thereafter issued its decision in Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Tech, where it held that time bar determinations are not reviewable. On remand from the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's unpatentability decision, did not address the time bar decision and remanded the case back to the Board to finalize its order on sanctions (Bennett II). On remand, the Board vacated its institution decision in light of the US Patent & Trademark Office's (PTO) changed policy on time bar evaluations and declined to award the requested sanctions. Atlanta Gas appealed.
The Federal Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Atlanta Gas argued that the Board's decision was a final sanctions decision that is reviewable under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(4)(A) and that any portion of the Board's determination beyond the sanctions award violated the Court's mandate in Bennett II. Bennett countered that the Court lacked jurisdiction under 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) and the Supreme Court's Thryv decision and that the Board's decision was not inconsistent with the Bennett II mandate. The Court agreed, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction because the Board's decision was based in part on its time bar evaluation and, therefore, was not purely a sanctions decision. Additionally, the Court found that the time bar determination was within the scope of the mandate, albeit mooting its determination of unpatentability.
Judge Newman dissented. In her view, the sanctions order was the only issue on appeal. She also pointed out the inconsistency with the Bennett II mandate, noting the contradiction in the Federal Circuit currently mooting the unpatentability decision with the Bennett II decision finding the patent unpatentable. She explained that denial of appellate review could be seen as authorizing the Board to vacate its final decisions at any time, and in this case, restoring the patent to validity despite the Court's affirmance of invalidity.
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