Arthrex Argument May Be Available in Round Two
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that a party did not waive the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s (Board) constitutionality argument by raising it for the first time in its opening brief because the Court’s decision in Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. was issued after the party sought rehearing. New Vision Gaming v. SG Gaming, Inc., Case Nos. 20-1399, -1400 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2021) (Moore, J.) (Newman, J. concurring in part, dissenting in part)
New Vision appealed two covered-business method (CBM) review final written decisions in which the Board found that all claims of the patents, as well as its proposed substitute claims, were directed to patent ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In its opening brief before the Federal Circuit, New Vision requested the Court vacate and remand the Board’s decisions in light of Arthrex. SG Gaming argued New Vision had waived its right to a challenge under Arthrex since it raised it for the first time on an appeal. The Court disagreed, finding that New Vision had not waived its ability to challenge the Board’s decision under Arthrex since Arthrex was issued after the Board’s final written decisions and after New Vision sought Board rehearing. The Court vacated the Board’s final written decisions in the CBMs and remanded for further proceedings consistent with Arthrex without reaching the merits or any other issues.
In her partial dissent, Judge Pauline Newman agreed that Arthrex applied and vacating the Board’s final written decisions was appropriate. She also argued that another threshold issue (venue) should have been resolved, rendering the remand under Arthrex unnecessary and unwarranted. Additionally, Judge Newman agreed with New Vision that since the parties agreed to a different forum for dispute resolution in their license agreement, compliance with the parties’ patent license agreement would be appropriate. Under that agreement, if “any dispute” arose, jurisdiction would be “exclusive” in the appropriate federal or state court in the state of Nevada. New Vision filed suit in the federal district court in Nevada before SG filed CBM petitions before the Board. The Board stated it “[does] not discern, nor has Patent Owner pointed to, any portions of chapter 32 or § 18 of the AIA, or authority otherwise, that explicitly provide for a contractual estoppel defense,” in its decision and proceeded to a final decision despite the forum selection agreement.
Both parties briefed the forum selection question, with New Vision citing the Federal Circuit 2019 decision in Dodocase VR v. MerchSource in which a case was removed from the Board based on an agreed choice of forum. SG countered that the Board’s rejection of choice of forum is an unreviewable “institution” decision under Thryv vs. Click-to-Call. Andrei Iancu, the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), intervened in the appeal, arguing that the Board’s decision is “final and nonappealable” under 35 U.S.C. § 324(e). As to the Board’s “conduct” in declining to adhere to the parties’ contracted forum, New Vision also cited to the APA, SAS Institute and Cuozzo Speed Tech. while SG argued that CBM review was still permissible because the proceeding did not “relat[e] to the [patent license]Agreement.” Judge Newman made no substantive comments on the parties’ arguments but stressed that this choice of forum question should be addressed by the Court before any vacatur.
Practice Note: Arthrex arguments regarding the constitutionality of Board decisions may, based on the timing of proceedings relative to the Arthrex decision, be preserved. However, it is unclear whether forum selection clauses between parties may preclude non-district or state court proceedings (such as before the Board).