By Alex Shank – Edited by Michael Hoven
The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (“AIA”) introduced substantial changes to the U.S. patent system, among them the transition to the first-inventor-to-file priority system. Parties whose patent applications have been rejected by a PTO examiner and the newly formed Patent Trial and Appeals Board (“PTAB”) also have a new venue in which to appeal their rejections—the District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia (“EDVA”). Patent litigators, enticed by the “Rocket Docket” EDVA and its recently relaxed evidentiary standards, may spur a spike in granted patents, compounding the defects of already over-patented system. However, other AIA reforms, including expanded post-grant review and the opening of PTO satellite offices, as well as PTO appeals of EDVA decisions, will likely temper the spike. Ultimately, opening the EDVA may figure most prominently in heightening the scrutiny of potentially cursory PTO examiner decisions.
As described by Damon W. D. Wright and Matthew R. Farley at IPFrontline, the availability of the EDVA may inspire prospective patentees to refrain from bringing appeals directly to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) and instead to seek review in the EDVA. Prior to the enactment of the AIA, parties seeking review of patents rejected by the PTO could bring a civil suit to obtain a patent—commonly called a “Section 145 action”—but only in the District Court of the District of Columbia. Most applicants avoided the relatively sluggish DC District Court and appealed directly to the CAFC. The “Rocket Docket” EDVA’s reputation for efficiently processing suits may reverse this practice. As Wright and Farley note, the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Kappos v. Hyatt, 132 S.Ct. 1690 (2012), further enhances the appeal of a Section 145 action. In Kappos, the Supreme Court held that district courts hearing patent appeals can admit new evidence, bound only by the standards published in the Federal Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure, and, if new evidence is admitted, the court must apply a de novo standard of review to both new and previously admitted evidence. In contrast, the CAFC examines only the evidence contained in the PTO record and does so with a deferential standard of review. (more…)