Judge Moore Reflects on In re Comiskey

January 13th, 2018

The infamous In re Comiskey decision came up recently in the oral argument of TAKEDA PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY LIMITED v. ARRAY BIOPHARMA INC., No. 2017-1079 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 26, 2017).

Judge Moore had some frank comments about the In re Comiskey opinion.  She referred to In re Comiskey as an “administrative law nightmare” and “horrifically wrongly decided.”

You can listen to Judge Moore’s comments here:

You can read the Takeda v. Array opinion here: [Link].

You can read the In re Comiskey en banc order here, which includes Judge Moore’s dissent: [Link].

You can read the In re Comiskey reissued opinion here: [Link].

You can listen to then Assistant Solicitor Chen respond to questioning from Judge Dyk in the oral argument of In re Comiskey here:


Administrative Agencies and Constitutional Issues

January 12th, 2018

After posting the previous post about the SEC Supreme Court matter, I got sidetracked into looking at some SEC cases that dealt with the constitutional issue of whether ALJ’s are appointed under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  In some previous SEC matters, plaintiffs sought  TRO’s or preliminary injunctions in district court in order to have a district court decide the constitutional issue, rather than the SEC.  See, e.g., Duka v. SEC, 2015 WL 4940057 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2015); Hill v. SEC, 2015 WL 4307088 (N.D. Ga. June 8, 2015)

That made me wonder about the current sovereign immunity cases at the PTAB and whether any of the affected parties in those proceedings would opt for pursuing a TRO or preliminary injunction in order to have a district court, rather than the PTO, decide the constitutional* issue of sovereign immunity protection.  Apparently, there is some Supreme Court authority for the proposition that administrative agencies are not well-suited to decide constitutional issues:

3. Plaintiff’s Constitutional Claims Are Outside the Agency’s Expertise.

The SEC claims that Plaintiff’s challenges “fall within the Commission’s expertise,” and the “SEC is in the best position to interpret its own policies and regulations in the first instance.” Dkt. No. [12] at 13. The Court finds that Plaintiff’s Article I, Seventh Amendment, and Article II claims are outside the agency’s expertise.[6]

1310*1310 Plaintiff’s constitutional claims are governed by Supreme Court jurisprudence, and “the statutory questions involved do not require technical considerations of agency policy.” Free Enterprise, 561 U.S. at 491, 130 S.Ct. 3138(alteration and internal quotations omitted) (quoting Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361, 373, 94 S.Ct. 1160, 39 L.Ed.2d 389 (1974)); see also Thunder Basin, 510 U.S. at 215, 114 S.Ct. 771 (“[A]djudication of the constitutionality of congressional enactments has generally been thought beyond the jurisdiction of administrative agencies.”) (quoting Johnson, 415 U.S. at 368, 94 S.Ct. 1160). These claims are not part and parcel of an ordinary securities fraud case, and there is no evidence that (1) Plaintiff’s constitutional claims are the type the SEC “routinely considers,” or (2) the agency’s expertise can be “brought to bear” on Plaintiff’s claims as they were in Elgin. Elgin, 132 S.Ct. at 2140.

The Court finds that as to this factor, Plaintiff’s constitutional claims are outside the SEC’s expertise, and that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

Hill v. SEC, 114 F. Supp. 3d 1297, 1309-10 (N.D. Ga. 2015).

Also, in Public Utilities Comm’n v. United States, 355 U. S. 534, 539 (1958) the Supreme Court said:

But where the only question is whether it is constitutional to fasten the administrative procedure onto the litigant, the administrative agency may be defied and judicial relief sought as the only effective way of protecting the asserted constitutional right.

* Categorizing sovereign immunity as a constitutional issue appears to be strongest in the state-owned patent IPR’s, see, e.g., Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1, 7  (1989), as opposed to the tribe-owned patent IPR’s where tribal sovereign immunity might be considered a common law doctrine rather than a constitutional issue.

ALJ’s — Officers of the United States or Employees?

January 11th, 2018

The Supreme Court in its conference tomorrow will review the petition for writ of certiorari in Lucia v. SEC.  The question presented is whether administrative law judges of the SEC are considered to be  employees or officers of the United States under the Appointments Clause.

I believe the USPTO encountered a similar issue a few years ago.

You can read the petition here: [Link].

Update 1/12/2018:

The Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in this case today.

Article Suggestion: Equitable Power of the Federal Circuit to Supplement the Record

January 10th, 2018

I sometimes wonder when listening to oral arguments whether judges are straying outside the record.  If you are looking for a topic to write about, a helpful article might address the authority or lack of authority for the Federal Circuit to rely on extra-record evidence.  The Sixth Circuit case of Inland Bulk Transfer Co. v. Cummins Engine Co., 332 F. 3d 1007 (6th Cir. 2003) suggests that there is a split among the circuits on whether circuit courts of appeal possess equitable power to permit supplementation of the record.  In my quick search, I did not find any support either way for whether the Federal Circuit has weighed in on this issue.   A sub-topic of the article might be whether such extra-record evidence is permitted at all for review of agency determinations—e.g., TTAB proceedings—as opposed to district court cases.

Brott v. US

December 30th, 2017

There is an interesting new petition for writ of certiorari pending before the Supreme Court of the United States.  The question presented is:

Can the federal government take private property and deny the owner the ability to vindicate his constitutional right to be justly compensated in an Article III Court with trial by jury?

Sound familiar?

The case is Brott v. United States.  You can read the petition for writ of certiorari [here].  You can review the amicus briefs [here].  A related case has been stayed at the Federal Circuit.



Quote of the day

December 30th, 2017

“A patent is property carried to the highest degree of abstraction — a right in rem to exclude, without a physical object or content.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his letter to Frederick Pollock dated June 26, 1894.

A blast from the past

December 28th, 2017

I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic for the articulate and insightful questioning during oral arguments of retired Chief Judges Michel and Rader.  If you are like me, and appreciated their knowledge of patent law, I thought you might enjoy listening to an oral argument recording from the past that features them both, along with Judge Linn — a formidable trio.

Here is the oral argument from 2007 in Ortho-McNeil v. Mylan Labs:



Trademarks for Aroma Marketing

December 20th, 2017

I happened to see a report on TV the other day about aroma marketing.  For example, Westin Hotels uses aroma marketing by circulating a White Tea aroma at the entrances to their hotels. [Link].  It would be interesting to see an article that updates how many trademark/service mark applications have been allowed for aromas/scents.  Here’s a link for more on aroma marketing: [Link].

Who let the dogs out?

December 17th, 2017

While takings of patent rights is an unusual cause of action faced by the Federal Circuit, the court recently encountered an even more unusual takings case — one related to sleep deprivation caused by barking dogs. Barth v. U.S.  Of course, this case “begs” the question:  “Who let the dogs out?”

Article suggestion

December 8th, 2017

If somebody is looking for an article to write, let me suggest one.  I think it would be helpful to have a scholarly article published somewhere that discusses the role, responsibilities, and decision making processes of the Solicitor’s Office (SO) of the USPTO.  Particularly, it would be interesting to know the decision process the SO goes through in deciding which IPR decisions of the PTAB to defend and which not to weigh in on at the Federal Circuit.  Also, it would be interesting to know the decision making process the SO goes through in deciding whether to defend a PTAB decision or admit that the PTAB was simply wrong.  And, it would be helpful to understand if/when the SO can simply send a decision back to the PTAB for reconsideration.  Moreover, it would be interesting to know how such authority is vested in the SO.

One of these instances popped up today at the Federal Circuit and made me wonder about this topic.  The SO of the USPTO effectively vetoed a portion of a PTAB decision by conceding to the Federal Circuit that the PTAB erred.  Because the PTAB erred — i.e., the Federal Circuit ruled that way today — the decision by the SO in retrospect seems like it was the right thing to do.  It was an expeditious way of proceeding; it prevented the SO from wasting the court’s time; and, it prevented officers of the court from making frivolous arguments to the court.  However, what about closer calls.  The authority of the SO to concede that the PTAB erred effectively gives the Director power to reverse a decision of the PTAB that the Director does not like.

The case that I am referring to was decided today, In re Mouttet [Link].  The pertinent portion of the Federal Circuit opinion is quoted below:

On appeal, the PTO’s Director concedes that the Board erred in rejecting claims 35–40 as indefinite and is not defending that rejection. Appellee’s Br. 1. The Direc- tor agrees with Mr. Mouttet “that claims 35–40 do not improperly merge statutory classes,” but are method claims, “drawn only to practicing the claimed method in a processor possessing the requisite structure.” Id. at 1, 5. We agree. Claim 35 recites “[a] method of performing a division process using the processor of claim 1 comprising” steps of “programming,” “setting a bit number,” “calculat- ing,” “comparing,” another “comparing,” and “ending the division process.” J.A. 15. Claims 36–40 further specify process steps. J.A. 15–16. We therefore reverse the Board’s rejection of claims 35–40.


There is an interesting footnote in the Supreme Court case of Brenner v. Manson.  It reads:

[6] We find no warrant for this curious limitation either in the statutory language or in the legislative history of § 1256. Nor do we find persuasive the circumstance that the Commissioner may not appeal adverse decisions of the Board of Appeals. 35 U. S. C. §§ 141, 142, and 145 (1964 ed.). As a member of the Board and the official responsible for selecting the membership of its panels, 35 U. S. C. § 7 (1964 ed.), the Commissioner may be appropriately considered as bound by Board determinations. No such consideration operates to prevent his seeking review of adverse decisions rendered by the CCPA.

Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 523 (1966)(emphasis added).

Perhaps there has been some intervening legislation since Brenner v. Manson that no longer causes the Commissioner (now Director) to be bound by Board determinations.  But, if that is not the case, then it would be interesting to know whether “being bound by Board determinations” requires the Director to defend all of the Board’s determinations.

At any rate, if you write such an article, I would be pleased to read it.

Update 1/25/18:

A reader was kind enough to point me in the direction of some material that touches on the issues raised above:

1. Professor Dmitry Karshtedt’s recent article: “Acceptance Instead of Denial: Pro-Applicant Positions at the PTO” [Link]; and

2.  The DOJ/USPTO’s brief in Knowles v. Matal (decision pending) [Link].  Interestingly, the DOJ/USPTO assert that the USPTO solicitor’s office can assert any position it chooses — and even argue against the PTAB position–when the appeal is taken to the Federal Circuit.  That might be unsettling to the 300+ PTAB judges at the USPTO.

Query#1:  If PTAB judges are required to meet certain legal and technical qualifications in order to provide the particular expertise of the Patent Office, are similar qualifications required of the SO’s office, i.e., the people asserting the right to take any position they choose on appeal?

Query#2:  The USPTO’s brief relies on the Supreme Court’s Ingalls v. Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs case — is the PTO really structured the same as the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs?

Query#3:  If the SO’s office were ever to refuse to defend a PTAB decision, could the PTAB represent itself?  See Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Ingalls at 273 (“The second argument offered in support of the view that the Director is a proper respondent when review is sought of an order of the Board is that (1) Rule 15(a) requires the naming of someone representing the agency, and (2) the Director is certainly a more sensible candidate than the Board. Ante, at 267, 268. The second part of this analysis, the faute de mieux point, is questionable: The Board could readily develop a staff to defend its judgments, and it is hard to imagine a worse defender than an entity that is free to disagree (and often does disagree) with the order under review.”).

Update 1/29/18:

Query #4: If PTAB judges are required to submit financial data to ensure impartiality, does the same requirement apply to other members of the Office who take a position opposite to the PTAB position on appeal?

Query #5:  When the USPTO handles an initial PTAB decision “administratively,” how is that memorialized on PAIR?