Austin TX Business Law Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Takes on the Issue of Patent Reviews

Will the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the current patent review proceedings?

U.S. Supreme Court justices are currently divided over the issue of whether the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s patent review proceedings, known as inter partes review or IPR, are legal.  The review is urged by some to violate the legal rights of patent owners, leading to high rates of cancellations of patents.  If overturned, the nature of patent disputes could change rapidly in the coming years.  Our Austin, Texas patent lawyer explores the history of this momentous patent case and why so many are anxiously awaiting a decision from the high court.

Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC

The patent case currently before the Supreme Court stems from a dispute over a patent on wellhead equipment used in the fracking of oil wells.  A subsidiary of Oil States sued Greene’s Energy in 2012, claiming that the company infringed its patent.  Greene’s countered by filing an inter partes review.  During the review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board cancelled crucial parts of the patent.  Now, Oil States is challenging the inter partes review process.

What is Inter Partes Review?

An inter partes review is a process used to challenge the validity of a patent.  Reviews are conducted by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.  The current inter partes review system was enacted in 2012 to replace a review process known as inter partes reeximination.  Under the old system, anyone could challenge the validity of a patent on the grounds that it is unoriginal or obvious based on prior art.  Now, the challenger must show that there is a reasonable likelihood that he or she would prevail in a dispute.

Oil States has urged that patents are private property that can be revoked only by a federal court, which has a higher standard for canceling a patent than the review board.  Inter partes reviews have become an inexpensive way for large companies to invalidate patents owned by competitors.  Supporters of the process point out that the patent office needs an efficient system by which to correct any mistakes it has made.

Soon, the high court will issue a ruling on the matter and inventors everywhere should pay close attention.  Changes or the complete dismantling of the inter partes review process could impact inventors both large and small.  Contact a patent law attorney for more information on how you can protect your legal rights.

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