The Supreme Court issued its basically unanimous opinion in Cuozzo today. I won't give a lot of background here; anyone taking the time to read this likely understands the issues. The gist of the ruling is this: USPTO institution decisions in inter partes review (IPR) are unappealable, and the PTO can set the claim construction rules for IPR's, and thus the current broadest reasonable construction rule will surely remain unchanged.
I have just a few thoughts on the ruling, which I'll discuss here briefly.
First, the unappealability ruling seems right to me. That is, what part of "final and non-appealable" do we not understand? Of course, this leads to a partial dissent, that it means no interlocutory appeals, but you can appeal upon a final disposition. But that's just a statutory interpretation difference in my book. I'm not a general admin law expert, but the core of the reading, that Congress can give the right to institute a proceeding and make it unreviewable, so long as the outcome of the proceeding is reviewable, seems well within the range of rationality here.
But, even so, the ruling is unpalatable based on what I know about some of the decisions that have been made by the PTO. (Side note, my student won the NYIPLA writing competition based on a paper discussing this issue.) The court dismisses patentee's complaint that the PTO might institute on claims that weren't even petitioned for review as simply quibbling with the particularity of the petition and not raising any constitutional issue. This is troublesome, and it sure doesn't ring true in light of Twiqbal.
Second, the broadest reasonable construction ruling seems entirely, well, broadly reasonable. The PTO uses that method already in assessing claims, and it has wide discretion in the procedures it uses to determine patentability. Of course the PTO can do this.
But, still, it's so wrong. The Court understates, I believe, the difficulty of obtaining amendments during IPR. The Court also points to the opportunity to amend during the initial prosecution; of course, the art in the IPR is now newly being applied - so it is not as if the BRC rule had been used in prosecution to narrow the claim. Which is the entire point of the rule - to read claims broadly to invalidate them, so that they may be narrowed during prosecution. But this goal often fails, as I wrote in my job talk article: The Failure of Public Notice in Patent Prosecution, in which I suggested dumping the BRC rule about 10 years ago.
Whatever the merits of the BRC rule in prosecution, they are lost in IPR, where the goal is to test a patent for validity, not to engage in an iterative process of narrowing the claims with an examiner. I think more liberal allowance of amendments (which is happening a bit) would solve some of the problems of the rule in IPRs.
Thus, my takeaway is a simple one: sometimes the law doesn't line up with preferred policy. It's something you see on the Supreme Court a lot. See, e.g. Justice Sotomayor's dissent today in Utah v. Strieff