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September 29, 2022

The Board Is Back in Town: Arthrex Can't Save Untimely Motions to Terminate

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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) unpatentability finding and denial of a motion to terminate, finding that the Board had already issued final written decisions that were not vacated at the time the Board denied the parties' motion to terminate. Polaris Innovations Ltd. v. Derrick Brent, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of The United States Patent and Trademark Office, Case No. 19-1483 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 15, 2022) (Prost, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Polaris owns two unrelated patents directed to computer memory. The first patent relates to improved control component configuration, and the second patent relates to a shared-resource system in which logical controls are used to manage resource requests. In 2016, Polaris filed a complaint accusing NVIDIA of infringing both patents. NVIDIA responded by filing petitions for inter partes review (IPR) against each patent. In 2017, the Board issued its final written decisions, finding the challenged claims of both patents unpatentable. Polaris appealed.

The Federal Circuit vacated the Board's decision in view of Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. (Arthrex I). On remand, the Board administratively suspended the IPR proceedings pending potential Supreme Court review of Arthrex I. During the administrative suspension, Polaris and NVIDIA filed a joint motion to terminate the proceedings. While those motions were pending, the Supreme Court vacated Arthrex I, substituting an alternative remedy for violation of the Appointments Clause in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. (Arthrex II). In view of Arthrex II, the Supreme Court vacated the Federal Circuit's vacatur of the Board's final written decision, thus reinstating those decisions.

On remand to the Board, Polaris argued that the Board should grant Polaris's then-pending motion to terminate. The Chief Administrative Law Judge responded that termination was not appropriate because the Supreme Court's decision meant that the "final written decision in each of these cases is not vacated, and it is not necessary for the Board to issue a new final written decision in either of these cases." Polaris filed a request for Director rehearing. The Director denied rehearing. Polaris appealed.

Polaris argued that the Board erred by failing to grant the joint motions to terminate filed in both proceedings before the Board on remand. Relying on 35 U.S.C. § 317, the Federal Circuit explained that motions to terminate should be granted "unless the Office has decided the merits of the proceeding before the request for termination is filed." The Court found that the Board had already decided the merits of the cases in final written decisions that were not vacated at the time the Board made its decision denying Polaris's motions to terminate. The Court therefore affirmed the Board's decision that termination was inappropriate.

Polaris also raised two claim construction arguments. Polaris argued that the Board misconstrued the term "memory chip" in the IPR involving one of the challenged patents and misconstrued the term "resource tag buffer" in the IPR involving the other patent. As to the "memory chip" term, Polaris argued that the packaging of the memory should only include multiple packaging. The Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that the claim language offered no support that there was any packing requirement, and similarly the specification offered no support for such a narrow construction. The Court rejected Polaris's proposed construction and affirmed the Board's findings.

Turning to the term "resource tag buffer," Polaris argued that the term should include multiple "buffers," not just a single buffer. The Federal Circuit disagreed, explaining that the Board never took that position. Instead, the Court noted that in the underlying proceeding, the Board had used the definition offered by Polaris's own expert. The Court further noted the Board's construction aligned with the specification, and that there was no specific structure contemplated for the buffers. In response, Polaris relied on box figures in the specification to support a single unit buffer. The Court was unpersuaded, relying on Polaris's own expert and concession that the resource tag buffer "need not be a contiguous unit." The Court also found that substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that prior art disclosed "resource tag buffers."

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