Patent Reform is on the Immediate Horizon - New Options for Challenging Patents Before the USPTO
On June 23, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249), which follows in the wake of the Senate version, S. 23, approved on March 8, 2011. Although differences between the two bills will have to be reconciled before the proposed legislation can be signed into law by the President, Congress is poised to enact major reforms to the patent laws. After many years of debate and compromise, patent reform seems to be just steps from the finish line.
We focus here on two provisions relating to challenging patents before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as currently set forth in the House bill. First, inter partes reexaminations will be replaced with inter partes review proceedings. Second, the legislation will create post-grant review proceedings for the first time. Together, these proceedings will expand the options available to competitors who wish to challenge patents before the USPTO.
Both inter partes review and post-grant review will be adjudicated by a three-judge panel of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The PTAB will be formed from and supplant the current Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. As with current interference proceedings, inter partes review and post-grant review will involve filing motions (e.g., to amend claims) and provide for limited discovery. Thus, there are likely to be many procedural parallels between interferences, inter partes review and post-grant review. Additionally, inter partes reviews and post-grant reviews must be concluded within one year, extendable to 18 months in unusual cases.