February 17, 2022by Richard Treanor

Even a casual, unscientific survey of recent PTAB decisions shows a clear and unmistakable trend: shorter decisions, with little or no discussion of issues not specifically raised by Appellant. While those seeking review of an Examiner’s decision could, at one time, expect both an independent review of the underlying rejection as well as consideration of their arguments, the PTAB is now more likely to focus solely on, and respond only to, those issues raised in Appellant’s brief. Indeed, 20% of recent decisions in Tech Centers 1600 and 1700 included the following language:

We review the appealed rejections for error based upon the issues Appellant identifies, and in light of the arguments and evidence produced thereon. Ex parte Frye, 94 USPQ2d 1072, 1075 (BPAI 2010) (precedential), cited with approval in In re Jung, 637 F.3d 1356, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“[I]t has long been the Board’s practice to require an applicant to identify the alleged error in the examiner’s rejections.”).

Whether this trend is due to an increased workload at the PTAB, represents an attempt to reduce pendency, or is caused by something else altogether doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Appellants recognize this new reality and respond to it.

Unfortunately, this means that Appeal Briefs may need to include secondary arguments that, at one time, might have been left out as being distracting. More importantly, however, it is imperative to include, wherever possible, those arguments that appear to be “in favor” at the PTAB (i.e., those arguments that appear regularly in cases where the Examiner is reversed), and to present them prominently.

Right now, the “in favor” argument for Appellants unquestionably is whether the prior art provides a reasonable expectation of success. We have written extensively about this in our blog (link, link, link, link, link), saw it at the end of last year at the Federal Circuit in Teva Pharm. U.S. v. Corcept Therapeutics, Inc., 2021-1360 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 7, 2021) (invalidating the claim requires proof of “a reasonable expectation of success in achieving the specific invention claimed”), and may soon see it addressed at the Supreme Court in Apotex Inc. v. Cephalon, Inc., where infringer Apotex, in their Writ of Certiorari, neatly summed up the doctrine’s current pro-applicant, pro-patentee, pro-validity understanding that an obvious-to-try approach is only sufficient to invalidate where there is a reasonable expectation of success:

[T]he Federal Circuit seems to believe that if there is any uncertainty about whether an obvious-to-try approach will succeed, that potentially compromises the motivation to try an obvious solution to a pressing problem, and therefore produces patent monopolies for what is obvious to try. Indeed, so ingrained has the motive-to-try-what-is-likely-to-succeed test now become in the Federal Circuit’s obviousness psyche, that the Federal Circuit now sometimes includes motivation as a fifth Graham factor.

Because a “no reasonable expectation of success” argument cuts against the establishment of a prima facie case, success on this issue does away with any need for a showing of unexpected results, which can sometimes be difficult to provide. Thus, until there is something to the contrary diminishing this doctrine’s current status, understanding, and application, best practice issue advocacy dictates that whenever a “no reasonable expectation of success” argument can be made, it should be made. Supporting such a position during prosecution with a Declaration makes ignoring it, and refuting it, very difficult for both the Examiner and the PTAB.


November 16, 2020by Jacob Doughty

Ex parte Sami Chems. & Extracts, Ltd., is a 2009 decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) that is listed among the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) informative decisions. Ex parte Sami Chems. & Extracts, Ltd., is indicated by the PTAB to be informative as to “[n]ew grounds of rejection… claim construction.”

According to the PTAB’s Standard Operating Procedure, “[i]nformative decisions set forth Board norms that should be followed in most cases, absent justification, although an informative decision is not binding authority on the Board.”

In Ex parte Sami Chems. & Extracts, Ltd., the BPAI considered a request for rehearing on the issue of whether patentee was entitled to remand to the examiner – and thus a further opportunity to engage in prosecution in a reexamination proceeding – because the BPAI relied on a different claim construction than the examiner in upholding the examiner’s anticipation and obviousness rejections.

Independent claim 1 is an exemplary claim at issue:

A method of promoting lean body mass in a human individual in need thereof, comprising administering to the individual a lean body mass promoting effective amount of forskohlin.

In its decision affirming the examiner, the BPAI construed “promoting” as meaning “to help bring into being,” and concluded that the language “[a] method of promoting lean body mass,” was unambiguous.  Patentee argued that during prosecution, patentee and examiner had a common understanding that the term “promoting” meant “increasing,” under which construction, the rejected claims were patentable. Patentee argued that, in view of this difference in construction, it was entitled to “remand of the case to the Examiner, so that Appellants may amend the claims and otherwise respond to the outstanding rejections in a manner consistent with the new claim construction adopted by the Board.”

As explained by the BPAI, the criterion of whether a rejection is considered “new” in a decision on appeal is whether the appellant has had a fair opportunity to react to the thrust of the rejection. The BPAI acknowledged that it did not use the “same words” as the examiner in construing the claims, but noted that the BPAI and the examiner had considered the same prior art and evidence provided by patentee, and the “basic thrust of the rejection by the Examiner and the Board was the same.”

The BPAI further noted that, although the examiner did not explicitly construe the term “promoting” in the same manner as the BPAI, it could be inferred from the examiner’s reasoning – particularly with respect to anticipation – that the examiner viewed the claim in the same manner as the BPAI. The BPAI thus concluded that patentee had a fair opportunity to react to the rejections affirmed on appeal.

Patentee appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC). The BPAI’s decisions were affirmed in a Rule 36 affirmance, and a reexamination certificate cancelling all claims was issued.

Takeaway: This case demonstrates: (i) the importance of presenting all amendments and evidence and reaching agreement with the examiner at the earliest opportunity in a reexamination proceeding, and (ii) the difficulty in relying on “procedural” arguments to carry the day before the PTAB. Reexamination proceedings are procedurally limited compared to ex parte prosecution. After an adverse decision from the PTAB in regular prosecution, applicant will have further opportunities to amend or present evidence (e.g., by filing a Request for Continued Examination or continuation application). Not so in a reexamination proceeding – only appeal to the CAFC will prevent issuance of an adverse reexamination certificate. While patentee’s attempt to reopen prosecution by asserting a new ground of rejection was understandable, something more than differences in the degree or manner of explanation between the examiner and the BPAI would have been necessary to prevail.

Judges: Spiegel, Delmendo, Grimes