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On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee. In 2011, the America Invents Act created an expedited procedure, known as inter partes review, to provide a cost-effective alternative to litigation for resolving certain challenges to patent validity. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board, contained within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), hears these disputes rather than a federal district court. When construing patent claims, the Board applies a “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard rather than the “plain and ordinary meaning” standard typically applied by federal courts.
Here, Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC. (Cuozzo) owns a speed limit indicator patent. Garmin International, Inc. (Garmin) petitioned the Board for inter partes review (IPR) of claims regarding the patent. The Board found that certain claims were unpatentable and denied Cuozzo’s request to replace those claims with several others. Cuozzo appealed the Board’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which (1) held that it lacked authority to review the PTO’s decision to institute IPR, and (2) affirmed the Board’s final determination, finding no error in its application of the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard.
There were two questions before the Supreme Court: (1) Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that the Board may, in IPR proceedings, construe claims according to their broadest reasonable interpretation rather than their plain and ordinary meaning; and (2) whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that, even if the Board exceeds its statutory authority in instituting an IPR proceeding, the decision to institute the IPR proceeding is judicially unreviewable.
By a vote of 8-0 and 6-2, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Federal Circuit. Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that the underlying statute precluded judicial review of the kind of claim at issue here, involving the PTO’s decision to institute IPR. The Court further concluded that the PTO was authorized to issue the regulation, setting forth the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard.
A unanimous Court joined Justice Breyer’s opinion with respect to Parts I and III. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagan joined the opinion with respect to Part II. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justice Sotomayor joined.
To discuss the case, we have Gregory Dolin, who is Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director, Center for Medicine and Law at University of Baltimore School of Law.