Wave Goodbye to Lost Arguments: Waiver Versus Forfeiture Law
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that a patent owner forfeited claim construction arguments on appeal by not presenting them first to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board for consideration. In re: Google Tech. Holdings LLC, Case No. 19-1828 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 13, 2020) (Chen, J.)
Google submitted an application to the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) seeking patent claims covering certain means and methods for transferring content to video-on-demand systems. During examination, the examiner rejected Google’s proposed claims based on obviousness in light of certain references. After receiving a final rejection, Google appealed to the Board, relying heavily on block quotes from the references and proposed claims to argue that the examiner improperly found obviousness.
The Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection. Applying the broadest reasonable interpretation standard, the Board construed two claim terms: “costs” and “network impact.” In defining those terms, the Board noted that Google had not, in the course of appealing the examiner’s decision, “cited to a definition of ‘costs’ or ‘network impact’ in the [s]pecification that would preclude the [e]xaminer’s broader reading.” Google appealed.
Google argued that the Board erred in its constructions. The Federal Circuit never reached the merits, however, instead concluding that Google had not properly presented its arguments first to the PTO. The Court described the oft-forgotten difference between waiver (the voluntary and knowing relinquishment of a right) and forfeiture (the failure to make a timely assertion of a particular right). This case, the Court reasoned, was an example of forfeiture, because Google had failed to urge the claim constructions to the PTO in the first instance.
Google contended that the Federal Circuit should nonetheless review the Board’s determination, because the Board actually ruled on the claim constructions and those issues were ripe for decision before the Court. The Court rejected these arguments, largely because Google identified no excuse for failing to raise the issue earlier, and because the Board’s final decision was not unexpected in the course of the proceedings.
Practice Note: Ultimately, the Court’s opinion presents one approach (perhaps not one consistently followed) regarding what an appellant must do in order to maintain its right to review. Appellees seeking to foreclose appellate review should consider whether, regardless of the Board’s ultimate decision, the appellant appropriately pressed the arguments on the error for which it later seeks appellate review.