By Dennis Crouch
Although the parties are ostensibly focused on whether WARF's "replicating in vitro cell culture of human embryonic stem cells" constitutes patentable subject matter, the Federal Circuit is instead directing its attention to the issue of whether the patent challenger – Consumer Watchdog – has standing to file its patent appeal.
Consumer Watchdog v. Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) (Fed. Cir. 2013)
- Independent Justification for Appellate Standing over Inter Partes Reviews – Part I
- Independent Justification for Appellate Standing over Administrative Patent Challenges – Part II
- Constitutional Challenge to Administrative Patent Challenges – Part III
The Patent Act allows any party to file a post-grant administrative challenge and, if "dissatisfied" the results of the change, to appeal an adverse PTO ruling. Despite the statutory promise of appeal-rights, in Part I, I raised a concern as to whether a third-party challenger who loses at the PTO would necessarily have Article III standing. Within days, of that posting, the Federal Circuit ordered that Consumer Watchdog and WARF brief the issue of whether Consumer Watchdog has standing under Article III.
In Monday's oral arguments, the court focused entirely on the issue of standing and would hear no arguments regarding the substantive appeal. Dan Ravicher (for Consumer Watchdog) and Kara Stoll (for WARF) both handled themselves very well, but Ravicher noted that the PTO should be at the table since Consumer Watchdog's complaint is with the PTO for wrongfully issuing the patent and then wrongfully confirming patentability in the reexamination. Chief Judge Rader, Judge Prost and newly enrobed Judge Hughes participated fully in the questioning, although each of indicated some difficulty buying into Ravicher's argument that Congress created a potential injury-in-fact with its "dissatisfied" language and that the injury was realized when the PTO rejected Watchdog's case.
However, following Ravicher's suggestion, the Court has now requested that "the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the United States" provide briefs in the case and particularly brief "whether Consumer Watchdog has standing to pursue its appeal to this court." Recognizing the recent tension in briefing between the USPTO and the DOJ, the court wrote that "The PTO and the United States may submit a joint brief, if they so choose."
Although the court does not explicitly welcome other amicus briefs, I am confident that several will be forthcoming. Briefs are due January 6, 2014.