The threshold standard for initiating an inter partes reexamination was changed on September 16, 2011 - the enactment date of the America Invents Act. The revised law eliminates the old “substantial new question of patentability” standard and now requires “a reasonable likelihood that the requester would prevail with respect to at least 1 of the claims challenged in the request.” This reasonable likelihood of prevailing (RLP) standard must now be met before the USPTO can initiate an inter partes reexamination.
In my initial review of the change, I wrote that the new standard is “stricter” than the old. Certainly, a reasonable likelihood of success is more difficult to prove than simply raising a substantial question. However, I must add an important caveat — the old standard required that the substantial question be “new” while the revised standard does not have such a limitation.
In a recent petition decision, the USPTO confirmed this analysis — indicating that the a reexamination request under the RLP standard can be based entirely upon issues previously addressed by the Office. In other words, “the determination of whether the question presented in the request are new is no longer a prerequisite of the determination of whether to order inter partes reexamination.” (Quoting from the petition decision) The USPTO wrote:
Whether the issue being brought forth for consideration has been addressed in a previous Office proceeding does not preclude reexamination under the current standard for ordering inter partes reexamination. Under 35 U.S.C. 312, the Office has the discretion to reconsider issues that have been addressed in the past, provided the estoppel provisions of 35 U.S.C. 317 do not apply.
In a footnote, the decision noted that the question of whether the raised objections to patentability are “new” is simply “not relevant to deciding this petition.”
Robert Frame had argued on behalf of petitioner that the new RLP standard should be interpreted as SNQ+. Frame pointed to the House Report on the AIA that stated:
The threshold for initiating an inter partes review is elevated from 'significant new question of patentability' -a standard that currently allows 95% of all requests to be granted -- to a standard requiring petitioners to present information showing that their challenge has a reasonable likelihood of success.
As discussed above, that approach was rejected by the USPTO (CRU).
The patent being reexamined is No. 8,028,491 and covers a particular type of tactile warning surface units used to warn visually impaired individuals of a hazard (such as a curb). The design allows the surface units to be wet-set (in concrete) and also replaceable. This type of device is required in many situations in order to comply with requirements of the ADA.
In 2011, the patent holder (ADA Solutions) filed suit against several alleged infringers. On that same day, several of the accused infringers filed this reexamination request. (The parties are litigating other patents as well).