Our previous blog posts, Artificial Intelligence as the Inventor of Life Sciences Patents? and Update on Artificial Intelligence: Court Rules that AI Cannot Qualify As “Inventor,” discuss recent inventorship issues surrounding AI and its implications for life sciences innovations. Continuing our series, we now look at the appeal recently filed by Stephen Thaler (“Thaler”) in his quest to obtain a patent for an invention created by AI in the absence of a traditional human inventor. 

In Univ. of Strathclyde v. Clear-Vu Lighting LLC, the Federal Circuit grappled with the issue of whether claims directed to methods and systems for inactivating bacteria using blue light were obvious in view of a prior art combination that taught the claimed elements but lacked an indication of success. Ultimately, the Federal Circuit found that the patent’s success where the prior art failed – inactivation of the bacteria without a photosensitizer did not support a finding of obviousness.

The Federal Circuit recently reversed a jury verdict and billion-dollar judgment in favor of Juno Therapeutics on the grounds that the asserted claims did not satisfy the written description requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 112. See Juno Therapeutics, Inv. v. Kite Pharma, Inc.. This case further builds on the application of the written description requirement to claims that recite functional limitations, and is instructive to patent prosecutors.

The Federal Circuit’s recent ruling in MaxPower Semiconductor Inc. et al v. Rohm Semiconductor USA, LLC highlights the interplay between the liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (“PTAB”) authority as an agency tribunal having a broad role to protect the public interest in ensuring the quality of patents.

Challenging the validity of a patent through the inter partes review (IPR) process at the PTAB is a conventional alternative to litigating invalidity in federal court. MaxPower addressed the question of whether the PTAB will defer to an agreement to arbitrate that did not expressly preclude the parties from proceeding before the PTAB.

Doctrine of equivalents (DOE) can be applied as a mechanism to hold a party liable for patent infringement even if the product or process does not literally infringe a patent claim, if the difference is “insubstantial”. Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co. (1997) Findings of infringement under DOE, particularly in biotechnology related cases, have often been considered an exception rather than the rule. One such exception is the recent Federal Circuit nonprecedential decision in Jennewein Biotechnologie GmbH v. International Trade Commission, September 17, 2020, Chen, R. (Glycosyn LLC, the patent owner, joined as an Intervenor). The Federal Circuit affirmed an exclusion order from the International Trade Commission (ITC) relying on an application of DOE to find infringement supported by substantial evidence.

Confronting a life sciences patentee with its statements to regulatory bodies (such as the FDA) is a textbook defense strategy in patent litigation.  After all, communications with regulatory bodies are often performed by non-attorneys who may not appreciate the consequences of their statements in future litigation. And while in ideal circumstances the patentee’s attorneys will ensure accurate and consistent communications and try to put potentially inconsistent statements in context, it is not always possible to do so once the genie is out of the bottle. Belcher Pharmaceuticals, LLC v. Hospira, Inc., exemplifies the dire consequences that can result from inconsistent communications with regulators—particularly if a defendant can point to a single source for those communications.   

Striking a blow to patent applicants seeking to assert inventorship by artificial intelligence (“AI”) systems, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled on September 3, 2021 that an AI machine cannot qualify as an “inventor” under the Patent Act.  The fight is now expected to move to the Federal Circuit on appeal.

On August 23rd, the Federal Circuit upheld in part and reversed in part a decision from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB or Board) concerning Ethicon’s patent on a robotic surgical tool, holding that the Board’s finding of no motivation to combine is not supported by substantial evidence. In doing so, the court determined the PTAB “went too far” in its holding of non-obviousness by requiring Intuitive to specifically identify a preexisting surgical device performing as many functions as required by the Ethicon patent; it was enough that the prior art established such a device was “at least possible.”