The Commission has determined to review an initial determination finding that Respondent Ford is estopped under 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) from asserting certain invalidity defenses previously adjudicated by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding. Certain Hybrid Electric Vehicles And Components Thereof, Inv. No. 337-TA-1042, Notice (Dec. 8, 2017). The underlying initial determination raises nuanced issues regarding the application of IPR estoppel in Section 337 investigations.
This week the ITC stood firm in its position that final PTAB rulings of unpatentability in IPR proceedings are not grounds to modify, suspend, or rescind remedial orders. In Certain Foam Footwear, Inv. No. 337-TA-567, the ITC issued a short order denying a petition for such relief. In the Order, the ITC cited its precedent in Certain Network Devices, Related Software and Components (II), Inv. No. 337-TA-945, Order (Sept. 11, 2017) which we discussed here.
The ITC has dealt a significant blow to the use of Inter Partes Review as a defense to a Section 337 investigation. In an order issued this week, the Commission denied a request to stay remedial orders that are currently on appeal after the asserted claims were found unpatentable by the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board in IPR proceedings.
Last week, Judge Essex issued a notice updating his ground rules in active investigations pending before him.
Before 2011, the ITC routinely found violations of Section 337 based on the infringement of method claims through a respondent’s own use of an article post-importation. This changed when the ITC issued its Opinion in Certain Electronic Devices with Image Processing Systems, Components Thereof and Associated, Inv. No. 337-TA-724 (“Electronic Devices”). In that case the ITC held that post-importation direct infringement of a method claim, without a showing of indirect infringement, could not substantiate a violation of Section 337. But the ITC has recently indicated that it is rethinking its Electronics Devices precedent.
Increasing use of Inter Partes Reviews (IPRs) by patent stakeholders and an increase in the number of ITC complaints heighten the importance of an interplay between IPRs and ITC proceedings. We have previously noted that the ITC does not stay their proceedings in view of IPR institution. Recent decisions by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) bring to light another distinguishing feature of taking a patent dispute to the ITC – it will not start a one-year clock to file an IPR request.