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Start Making Sense: Will Post-Grant Review Be More Reasonable to Litigants under the Phillips Standard?

by Holly Y. LiLeslie Overman and translation assisted by Tian Liang.

令人思考的问题:以菲利普斯为标准,授权后审查对诉讼当事人来说会更合理吗?

Many small and medium-sized entities (SMEs) heavily rely on their patents to stake out their business territory. Post-grant challenges to issued patents (including inter partes review (IPR), covered business method (CBM) review and post-grant review (PGR) proceedings) arrived as part of the America Invents Act of 2011. These actions allow anyone to challenge the validity of an issued patent, with certain restrictions, at the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). This also allowed potential infringers a more cost-effective way to defend themselves from an infringement action. This program has been effective in invalidating issued patents, to the chagrin of many patent holders.

许多中小型实体企业(SME)大程度依赖其专利而保持和扩展他们的市场优势。授权后 审查是为了挑战已授权的专利(包括当事人之间复审(IPR)、涵盖商业方法审查(CBM )和授权后复审(PGR)程序),作为 2011 年美国发明法案的重要一部分面世。虽然有 一定的限制, 但这些程序允许任何人到美国专利审判和上诉委员会(PTAB)来挑战已授 权的专利的有效性。这也让潜在的侵权人以更经济有效的方式来保护自己免受侵权诉讼, 及进行有效的辩护。该项目可以使很多授权的专利无效,也同时令许多专利持有人感到懊 恼。

Under the US patent practice, claims define the invention and claim interpretation is the process by which the terms are defined. Broadening the scope of a term will make it more likely that the claim is infringed, but can also make it more likely that the claim describes something that already exists in the prior art. In the latter case, the claim might then be invalid.

按照美国的专利法,权利要求定义发明,而权利要求解释是定义术语的过程。扩大术语涵 盖的范围,会使权力范围更大从而更容易被侵犯,也会有可能使得权力要求中涵盖已存在 的现有技术。在后一种情况下,权利要求很可能会被无效。

For about 85% of the post-grant challenges, the same patent is simultaneously litigated in federal court. One of the distinct differences between the courts and the PTAB has been the rules on how the claims in the patent are interpreted. During the patent application process, claims are evaluated on a Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI) standard. The Manual of Patent Examination and Procedure (MPEP) defines BRI as giving claims their broadest reasonable construction "in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art." In contrast, federal courts apply the "Phillips" standard - the terms are interpreted by their ordinary and customary meaning. Without going into detail, BRI is broader and the USPTO justifies this standard during the patent application process because "the applicant has the opportunity to amend the claims during prosecution and giving a claim its broadest reasonable interpretation will reduce the possibility that the claim, once issued, will be interpreted more broadly than is justified."

对于大约 85%的授权后挑战,同一专利会同时在联邦法院被用来提起侵权诉讼。一个明 显的法院和上诉审判委员会 (PTAB)之间的差异体现在权利要求是如何解释的。在专利申 请过程中,权利要求往往按照最广泛的合理解释(BRI)标准来进行审查的。专利审查和 程序手册"(MPEP)定义 "最广泛的合理解释(BRI)"为:在根据专利申请说名书的 前提下,权利要求是按照本领域普通技术人员的理解和解释。相比之下,联邦法院适用 "菲利普斯"标准,权利要求是由其普通和习惯的含义来解释。总而言之,"最广泛的合 理解释"(BRI)的范围更加宽泛。而美国专利商标局在专利申请过程中使用了这个标 准,因为"申请人在申请过程中有机会修改他们的权利要求,以给他们的权利要求最广的 合理解释。这会使得一旦专利被授权,将会解释的比被证明的更加宽泛。"

However, applying different standards to the same issued patent in different venues (PTAB v. federal court) can result in inconsistent results – the PTAB can find a patent invalid while the court does not. Many have complained about the unfairness of applying different standards for the application phase versus post-issuance. In response, the USPTO has amended its procedures starting November 13, 2018, to apply the Phillips standard for post-grant challenges. Consequently, the desired effect is for more consistent outcomes for issued patents regarding validity whether they are challenged in the USPTO or in the federal courts. It will also likely improve the chances of an issued patent surviving a post-grant challenge. Therefore, SMEs that rely on their patents get a little sigh of relief with this rule change at the USPTO.

但是,对同一个专利在不同渠道上使用不同的标准(美国专利审判上诉委员会 (PTAB) vs 联邦法院)来解释,会导致不统一的结果。即:当美国专利审判和上诉委员会认为一个专 利无效时,法院可能会持相反观点。许多人抱怨在申请阶段和发布后应用不同标准的不公 平性。对此, 美国专利商标局 (USPTO) 从 2018 年 11 月 13 日开始修改其程序,对于授权 后的挑战均采用菲利普斯标准。于是,无论是通过专利审判上诉委员会还是法院,在衡量 和挑战专利有效性的过程中可以看到一个更理想和统一的结果。这个结果同时还能提高授 权专利在授权后挑战中存活的机会。因此,依靠他们的专利的作为优势的中小企业对美国 专利商标局 (USPTO) 的这一规则变更感到更欣慰和放松。

By achieving uniformity of claim construction between the PTAB and federal courts, the issue of collateral estoppel that bars a litigant from re-litigating an issue that was decided negatively against it will reduce uncertainties of the validity of a patent. This uniformity may indeed result in saving cost for asserting a patent or defending against an alleged patent infringement from a large entity. Further, judicial estoppel may also lead to streamlining the claim construction process so that a large entity petitioner cannot seek to narrow the claim construction in a federal court if he/she has argued a broader construction during the IPR proceeding. This will lead to saving cost and certainty for SMEs who are relying on the patent's validity to continue their market distributions.

通过实现专利审判上诉委员会 (PTAB)与联邦法院结果的统一,司法禁止反言原则可以 (collateral estoppel) 禁止诉讼人重新提起已经被不利判决的问题,减少专利有效性的不确 定性。这种统一性确实可以为中小型企业节省用专利进攻或防御大型公司专利侵权诉讼的 成本。此外,司法禁止反言也会简化权利要求的解释过程。使得大型公司请愿人在当事人 复审期间(PTAB)提出更广泛的权利要求解释后,不能寻求缩小联邦法院的权利要求解释范围。这会尤其使得中小型尤其依赖其专利有效性而发展市场的企业节省许多开支以及 更有把握进行市场建设。