June 21, 2016
On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee. In this case, the Supreme Court examined two provisions of the inter partes review, a proceeding created to provide a cost-effective alternative to litigation for resolving certain challenges to patent validity.
Cuozzo Speed Technologies (Cuozzo) owns a speed limit indicator patent. Garmin International (Garmin) petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for inter partes review of Cuozzo’s patent. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the PTO agreed to reexamine claim 17, as requested by Garmin, as well as claims 10 and 14. After the inter partes review proceeding, the Board concluded that all three claims (10, 14, and 17) were invalid. Cuozzo appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that 1) the Board improperly instituted inter partes review of claims 10 and 14, because Garmin had not challenged these claims and 2) that the Board improperly used a claim construction standard set forth by PTO regulation calling for claim terms to be given their “broadest reasonable construction,” a standard that differs from that used in district court litigation (“ordinary meaning”). A divided Federal Circuit rejected both arguments, noting that 1) decisions to institute inter partes reviews are nonappealable by statute and 2) that the application of the broadest reasonable construction standard was a reasonable exercise of the PTO’s rulemaking authority. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review both issues.
With respect to the appealability of decisions to institute inter partes review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Circuit. 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) states “The determination by the Director [of the PTO] whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and non-appealable.” The statute means what it says. With respect to the claim construction standard, the Supreme Court also agreed with the Federal Circuit, holding that the PTO has the authority to issue and abide by its broadest reasonable construction regulation.
Our expert discussed the opinion of the Court, delivered by Justice Breyer, including the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind the holdings in Cuozzo Speed Technologies, as well as a concurrence authored by Justice Thomas and an opinion concurring-in-part and dissenting-in-part written by Justice Alito and joined by Justice Sotomayor.
- Prof. Kristen Osenga, Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law