By Robert Greene Sterne. Rob Sterne is a founding director of the IP firm Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox. I asked him to write about current 'hot topics' in patent reexamination.
The marked increase in the use of reexamination has naturally caused more frequent and closer evaluation and scrutiny of its unique procedures by involved parties and the courts. In FY2008, according to official USPTO (PTO) statistics, 168 inter partes reexams and 680 ex parte reexams were instituted. Compare this to FY2005, where 59 inter partes reexams and 524 ex parte reexams were instituted just three years ago. In short, it is becoming one of the faster developing areas of intellectual property law and, in the words of top PTO officials, it is a true "work in progress."
Developed in conjunction with the Sedona Patent Litigation Conference and a team of my colleagues (and incorporating feedback of dozens of sources including judges, senior officials from the PTO, patent litigators, patent prosecutors, academics, bloggers, and interested members of the public), a comprehensive and neutral white paper overview of this subject matter provides an in-depth review of hot issues currently confronting parties that find themselves in the "parallel universe" of patent reexamination and concurrent litigation in the district courts and USITC. The hot topics addressed include (A) impact of PTO decisions on stock price, (B) reexamination pendency, (C) substantial new questions of patentability, (D) real party in interest, (E) duty of disclosure, (F) protective orders, (G) stay of litigation in view of reexamination, (H) appeals from the Central Reexamination Unit to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, (I) the impact of reexamination on settlement, and (J) page and time limits in reexamination proceedings.
Here is a closer look at three of these topics:
- Litigation Stays: Reality or Myth – The percentage of reexams that are in the 'parallel universe' of district court or USITC patent litigation continues to climb. For example, in FY2008, 62% of current inter partes reexams and 30% of ex parte reexams were in parallel litigation. Judges have wide latitude in granting or denying stays and litigants must carefully evaluate prior stay decisions from their judge and the court they are in to effectively prognosticate how the judge will rule. Especially with respect to inter partes reexams, the grant of a stay can effectively be "game over" for the patent owner.
- Stock Fluctuation: Impact of PTO and Court Decisions on Stock Price – The practical impact of reexam on patent owners can be enormous. There are recent celebrated examples of stocks dropping 40% in hours after the release of a non-final office action rejecting claims in a suit, even though this development is not controlling on a court case because the reexam is not final. Third party requestors engage in litigation in the press by issuing inflammatory press releases that spin the truth. Patent owners need to be prepared for this media battle to protect their stock price. Moreover, the PTO mails decisions to parties in the reexam, putting the patent owner at a real disadvantage in dealing with the potential reexam media war.
- Reexamination Pendency: So How Long Does it Take? – The stated goal of the PTO CRU is 24 months from the time the reexam is instituted to a Final CRU office action or action closing prosecution. By statute, the CRU must handle reexams with “special dispatch.” However, there are no definitive statistics on how long it takes for a reexam to be handled to completion by the CRU and then through appeal at the BPAI. Our current best estimate is that it takes approximately two to four years for the CRU to complete a reexam, typically a little faster for ex parte reexams, and two to four years for the BPAI to complete a reexam appeal. Thus, the reexam process could take four to eight years before it arrives at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on appeal. This is a significant amount of time and requires additional strategy and tactical decisions by the parties.
For additional insight into patent reexamination, download recent podcasts – "2008 Patent Reexamination Trends" (Episode #1) here and "The Parallel Universe of Patent Reexamination and Litigation" (Episode #2) here.Download the latest version of the Sedona Conference related paper referenced above here, where you can read in-depth about the full list of hot topics identified above.