Time-bar and Privity under § 315(b) : CAFC Alert

The CAFC reviewed the PTAB’s application of the time-bar under § 315(b) and the obviousness determination

| June 20, 2018

WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corporation, ION International S.A.R.L. (collectively, “ION”); In re WesternGeco, LLC.

May 7, 2018

Before Wallach, Chen and Hughes. Opinion by Chen.

This is the latest Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) decision in a series of patent litigations since 2009.  In this case, the CAFC reviewed two main issues appealed from six inter partes review (“IPR”) decisions.

Firstly, the CAFC reviewed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“PTAB”) decision regarding the time-bar determination.  Under § 315(b), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “may not institute an IPR where the petition ‘is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, the real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.’”  However, the PTAB found that ION was not sufficiently close to the third party, Petroleum Geo-Services, Inc. (“PGS”), “such that both should be bound by the trial outcome and related estoppels.”  Thus, there was no privity between ION and PGS, and the time-bar was not applicable here.  The CAFC affirmed the PTAB’s decision and this case was reviewed on the merits.

Secondly, the CAFC reviewed the PTAB’s determination of obviousness in the IPRs.  Regarding U.S. Patent No. 7,080,607 (the “’607 Patent”), the CAFC affirmed the PTAB’s claim construction because WesternGeco’s argument relied on a part of the specification which only described preferred embodiment and could not rebut the PTAB’s rationale.  With respect to U.S. Patent No. 7,293,520 (the “’520 Patent”), the CAFC said the PTAB’s obviousness determination was correct because WesternGeco failed to show evidence of impermissible hindsight to prove obviousness.  As for U.S. Patent No. 7,162,967 (the “’967 Patent”), the CAFC affirmed the PTAB’s decision because the PTAB showed substantial evidence of obviousness which WesternGeco could not rebut.  Also, WesternGeco did not show a nexus between the ’967 and ’520 Patents’ claims and any objective evidence of nonobviousness.  The CAFC fully affirmed the PTAB’s conclusion.

Japanese Summary


第一の争点は米国特許庁審判部(PTAB)による特許法第315条(b)項のTime-barの判断の正否であった。特許法第315条(b)項は、米国特許商標庁は、申立人、利害関係のある実際の当事者(real party in interest)、又は申立人と当事者関係(privity)のある者が当該特許の侵害を主張する告訴を受けた日から1年を超えて申立がなされた場合、IPRを開始することはできないと規定している。本件では、PTABは、ION社はPGS社のIPRの結果に拘束されるほど十分にPGS社と密接な関係をもっていないので、ION社とPGS社の間に当事者関係がないとした。CAFCはPTABの判断を支持し、本件の実体的事項を検討する(on the merits)とした。

第二の争点は、先のIPRにおけるPTABの自明性判断であった。607特許に関しては、WesternGeco社が自社の主張に引用した明細書の箇所は、実施例を述べているだけであり、PTABの解釈を反駁できなかったので、CAFCはPTABのクレーム解釈を認めた。520特許については、WesternGeco社は、PTABが「不当な後知恵(impermissible hindsight)」を用いたという証拠を示さなかったので、CAFCはPTABの自明性の判断を支持した。967特許については、PTABは自明である明白な証拠を示しており、WesternGeco社はそれに反論できなかった。さらに、WesternGeco社は967特許と520特許のクレームと、非自明性の証拠の因果関係(nexus)を示さなかったのでCAFCはPTABの解釈を支持した。

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