Turning Off an Inter Partes Patent Reexamination

Can an Ongoing Patent Reexamination be Stopped?

With most patent reexaminations now being conducted concurrent to a district court or ITC proceeding, a common question of such plaintiffs is "what becomes of the patent reexamination once the litigation settles?"

In the case of ex parte patent reexamination, the answer is simple, the reexamination continues unaffected. On the other hand, if the pending reexamination is an inter partes patent reexamination, the answer will depend on the nature of the settlement.

In other words, inter partes patent reexamination is subject to statutory estoppel provisions not applicable to ex parte patent reexamination. Depending upon the manner in which the case settles, and whether or not the case is before the ITC, a carefully worded consent judgment can be used to trigger 35 USC § 317 (b), effectively forcing the USPTO to vacate the proceeding by operation of estoppel.

35 USC § 317 (b) provides:

(b) FINAL DECISION.- Once a final decision has been entered against a party in a civil action arising in whole or in part under section 1338 of title 28, that the party has not sustained its burden of proving the invalidity of any patent claim in suit or if a final decision in an inter partes reexamination proceeding instituted by a third-party requester is favorable to the patentability of any original or proposed amended or new claim of the patent, then neither that party nor its privies may thereafter request an inter partes reexamination of any such patent claim on the basis of issues which that party or its privies raised or could have raised in such civil action or inter partes reexamination proceeding, and an inter partes reexamination requested by that party or its privies on the basis of such issues may not thereafter be maintained by the Office, notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter. This subsection does not prevent the assertion of invalidity based on newly discovered prior art unavailable to the third-party requester and the Patent and Trademark Office at the time of the inter partes reexamination proceedings. (emphasis added)

It is important to note that the estoppel provisions of inter partes patent reexamination do not apply to ITC proceedings, see our earlier discussion of this issue.

With respect to district court proceedings, where parties agree to settle, and the defendant is also willing to accede to a consent judgment stating that they have failed to prove invalidity, such may serve as a final judgment. (once the 30 day time to appeal the consent order has passed). In considering the language of the consent order, the USPTO will look to whether or not the claims of the ongoing inter partes reexamination are the same as that at issue in the litigation. For claims of the ongoing reexamination that are not subject to the consent judgment, the reexamination would continue as estoppel would not attach for these claims. (likewise for any newly added claims) Attached is a 2009 petition decision detailing a vacatur of an inter partes patent reexamination. (here)

In practice, defendants rarely agree to such a consent order since such a public humliation is not all desirable. (e.g., especially if the defendant is frequently the target of patent trolls). Likewise, as noted in the petition decision linked above, although the reexamination is vacated by the estoppel as to the particular setttling defendant, the unfinished business of the reexamination may be easily "re-started" by another competitor. Still, in settling patent disputes concurrent with inter partes patent reexamination, plaintiffs may be amenable to such a consent judgement ....for the right price.

View more from Patents Post-Grant.