Cuozzo v. Lee, 579 US ____ (2016)

I was present in the Courtroom for the announcement of the Cuozzo decision by SCOTUS. This decision makes it clear that inter partes review by the USPTO is not appealable, and that the USPTO can institute such review sua sponte (by its own initiative). It’s an interesting decision.

35 USC §314(d) says that the “determination by the [Patent Office] whether to institute an inter partes review under this section shall be final and nonappealable.” (Emphasis added.)

35 USC §312 says that petitions must be pleaded “with particularity.” Those words, in its view, mean that the petition should have specifically said that claims 10 and 14 are also obvious in light of this same prior art. Garmin’s petition, the Government replies, need not have mentioned claims 10 and 14 separately, for claims 10, 14, and 17 are all logically linked; the claims “rise and fall together,” and a petition need not simply repeat the same argument expressly when it is so obviously implied.

The “No Appeal” provision’s language must, at the least, forbid an appeal that attacks a “determination . . . whether to institute” review by raising this kind of legal question and little more. §314(d).

Moreover, a contrary holding would undercut the Patent Office’s significant power to revisit and revise earlier patent grants. Congress would not likely have granted the Patent Office this reexam authority if it had thought that the agency’s final decision could be unwound under some minor statutory technicality related to its preliminary decision to institute inter partes review. Congress has told the Patent Office to determine whether inter partes review should proceed, and it has made the agency’s decision “final” and “nonappealable.” §314(d). SCOTUS’s conclusion that courts may not revisit this initial determination gives effect to this statutory command.

However, the Court limits its green-lighting of the USPTO’s unappealable reviews: “… we need not, and do not, decide the precise effect of §314(d) on appeals that implicate constitutional questions, that depend on other less closely related statutes, or that present other questions of interpretation that reach, in terms of scope and impact, well beyond “this section.”” The Court does not “…categorically preclude review of a final decision where a petition fails to give “sufficient notice” such that there is a due process problem with the entire proceeding, [or] enable the agency to act outside its statutory limits by, for example, canceling a patent claim for “indefiniteness under §112” in inter partes review.”