September 5, 2020

§315(c) Does Not Allow Board to Join IPRs or to Add Issues to an IPR via Joinder

In Facebook, Inc. v. Windy City Innovations, LLC, [2018-1400, 2018-1401, 2018-1402, 2018-1403, 2018-1537, 2018-1540, 2018-1541] (September 4, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, vacated-in-part, and remanded the Board’s final written decisions on the ’245 and ’657 patents in IPR2016-01156 and IPR2016-01159, affirmed the Board’s final written decision on the ’552 patent in IPR2016-01158, and affirmed-in-part the Board’s final written decision on the ’356 patent in IPR2016-01157; and dismissed as moot Facebook’s appeal of the Board’s final written decision on the ’356 patent with respect to claims 14 and 33.

Windy City Innovations filed a complaint accusing Facebook of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 8,458,245, 8,694,657, 8,473,552, and 8,407,356 (“the ’356 patent”). The ’245, ’657, ’552, and ’356 patents share a common specification, claim priority to the same parent application, and generally relate to methods for communicating over a computer-based network.

Exactly one year after being served with Windy City’s complaint Facebook timely petitioned for Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) of several claims of each patent. At that time, Windy City had not yet identified the specific claims it was asserting. The PTAB instituted IPR of each patent.

After Windy City identified the claims it was asserting in the district court, Facebook filed two additional petitions for IPR of additional claims of the ’245 and ’657 patents, along with motions for joinder to the already-instituted IPRs on those patents. By the time of these filings, the one-year time bar of §315(b) had passed, but the PTAB nonetheless instituted Facebook’s two new IPRs, granted Facebook’s motions for joinder, and terminated the new IPRs.

The Board delivered a mixed result, holding that Facebook had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that some of the challenged claims are unpatentable as obvious but had failed to show that others were unpatentable as obvious. Many of the claims the Board found unpatentable were claims only challenged in the late-filed petitions. Facebook appealed, and Windy City cross-appealed on the Board’s obviousness findings and challenging the Board’s joinder decisions allowing Facebook to join its new IPRs to its existing IPRs and to include new claims in the joined proceedings.

The Federal Circuit held that the Board erred in its joinder decisions in allowing Facebook to join itself to a proceeding in which it was already a party, and also erred in allowing Facebook to add new claims to the IPRs through that joinder. Because joinder of the new claims was improper, it vacated the Board’s final written decisions as to those claims. However the Federal Circuit lacked authority to review the Board’s institution of the two late-filed petitions, so it remanded them to the Board to consider whether the termination of those proceedings finally resolved them.

The Federal Circuit began by rejecting Facebook’s argument that the Board’s joinder decision was not reviewable. The Federal Circuit said that the plain language of § 315(c) requires two different decisions. First, the statute requires that the Director determine whether the joinder applicant’s petition for IPR “warrants” institution under § 314. The Federal Circuit said that it may not review this decision, whether for timeliness or to consider whether the petitioner is likely to succeed on the merits.

Second, to effect joinder, § 315(c) requires the Director to exercise his discretion to decide whether to “join as a party” the joinder applicant. The statute makes clear that the joinder decision is made after a determination that a petition warrants institution, thereby affecting the manner in which an IPR will proceed. The joinder decision is a separate and subsequent decision to the intuition decision. Nothing in § 314(d), nor any other statute, overcomes the strong presumption that the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction to review that joinder decision.

Windy City argued that § 315(c) does not authorize same-party joinder and that it does not authorize joinder of new issues material to patentability, such as new claims or new grounds. Facebook disputed both points, arguing that § 315(c) authorizes same-party joinder and that it does not prohibit joinder of new issues. The Federal Circuit agreed with Windy City on both points. The clear and unambiguous text of § 315(c) does not authorize same-party joinder, and does not authorize the joinder of new issues. Beginning with the statutory language, § 315(b) articulates the time-bar for when an IPR “may not be instituted.” 35 U.S.C. § 315(b). But § 315(b) includes a specific exception to the time bar. By its own terms, “[t]he time limitation . . . shall not apply to a request for joinder under subsection (c).” Subsection (c) provides that after an inter partes review has been instituted, the Director, in his or her discretion, “may join” “as a party to that inter partes review” “any person” who has filed “a petition under section 311 that the Director . . . determines warrants the institution of an inter partes review under section 314.

The Federal Circuit held that the clear and unambiguous meaning of § 315(c) does not authorize joinder of two proceedings, and does not authorize the Director to join a person to a proceeding in which that person is already a party. The Federal Circuit found the Board’s interpretation of § 315(c) is contrary to the unambiguous meaning of the statute for a second reason. The Federal Circuit said that the language in §315(c) does no more than authorize the Director to join 1) a person 2) as a party 3) to an already instituted IPR. This language does not authorize the joined party to bring new issues from its new proceeding into the existing proceeding. §315(c) authorizes joinder of a person as a party, not “joinder” of two proceedings.