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Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 20, 2018

WI-FI ONE, LLC, Appellant

          Appeal from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Trial and Appeal Board in No. IPR2013-00601.

          Donald Puckett, Nelson Bumgardner PC, Fort Worth, TX, for appellant. Also represented by Douglas Aaron Cawley, McKool Smith, PC, Dallas, TX; Peter J. Ayers, Law Office of Peter J. Ayers, Austin, TX.

          Dominic E. Massa, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Boston, MA, for appellee. Also represented by Kevin Goldman, Katie Saxton.

          Nathan K. Kelley, Office of the Solicitor, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Alexandria, VA, for intervenor. Also represented by Kakoli Caprihan, Benjamin T. Hickman, Thomas W. Krause, Frances Lynch; Joyce R. Branda, Mark R. Freeman, Melissa N. Patterson, Nicholas Riley, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

          Before Dyk, Bryson, and Reyna, Circuit Judges.


          Bryson, Circuit Judge.

         These three consolidated cases return to the panel on remand from the en banc court. That court reviewed, and overturned, the panel's decision that time-bar determinations by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("PTAB" or "Board") in inter partes review proceedings are not appealable. Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., 878 F.3d 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2018) (en banc).

         The three cases are related appeals from decisions of the PTAB. In each case, the Board held various claims of three patents owned by Wi-Fi One, LLC ("Wi-Fi"), to be invalid for anticipation.

         This panel initially wrote a precedential opinion in appeal No. 2015-1944, and decided Appeal Nos. 2015-1945 and 2015-1946 by summary affirmance. See Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., 837 F.3d 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2016); Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., No. 2015-1945, 668 Fed.Appx. 893 (Fed. Cir. 2016); Wi-Fi One, LLC v. Broadcom Corp., No. 2015-1946, 668 Fed.Appx. 893 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         Although the en banc court vacated the panel's judgments in all three cases, the en banc opinion addressed only the appealability of the PTAB's time-bar determination under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b). The court did not address the remaining portions of the panel's decision in Appeal No. 2015-1944 or the aspects of the summary affirmances in Appeal Nos. 2015-1945 and 2015-1946 that related to the merits of Wi-Fi's appeals.

         The panel now reaffirms the portions of its three prior decisions that were left unaffected by the en banc court's decision. Accordingly, in Appeal No. 2015-1944, parts III and IV of the original panel opinion are reinstated and are reproduced in substance as parts III and IV of this opinion. In part II of this opinion, the panel addresses the merits of Wi-Fi's time-bar claim that the en banc court held to be appealable. On that issue, we affirm the decision of the PTAB. In separate orders, we reinstate the summary affirmances of the PTAB's decisions in Appeal Nos. 2015-1945 and 2015-1946. Because the time-bar issue raised in those cases is identical to the time-bar issue raised in Appeal No. 2015-1944, we affirm the PTAB's decision as to the time-bar issue in those cases as well.



         The patent at issue in this case, U.S. Patent No. 6, 772, 215 ("the '215 patent"), is directed to a method for improving the efficiency by which messages are sent from a receiver to a sender in a telecommunications system to advise the sender that errors have occurred in a particular message.

         In the technology described in the patent, data is transmitted in discrete packets known as Protocol Data Units ("PDUs"). The useful data or "payload" in those packets is carried in what are called user data PDUs ("D-PDUs"). Each D-PDU contains a sequence number that uniquely identifies that packet. The sequence number allows the receiving computer to determine when it either has received packets out of order or has failed to receive particular packets at all, so that the receiver can correctly combine the packets in the proper order or direct the sender to retransmit particular packets as necessary.

         The receiver uses a different type of packet, a status PDU ("S-PDU"), to notify the sender of the D-PDUs it failed to receive. The '215 patent is concerned with organizing the information contained in S-PDUs efficiently so as to minimize the size of the S-PDUs, thus conserving bandwidth.

         The patent discloses a number of methods for encoding the sequence numbers of missing packets in S-PDUs. Some of those methods use lists that indicate which packets are missing by displaying the ranges of the sequence numbers of the missing packets. Other methods are based on bitmaps that use binary numbers to report on the status of a fixed number of packets relative to a starting point.

         Depending on how many packets fail to be properly delivered and the particular sequence numbers of the errant packets, different methods can be more or less efficient for encoding particular numbers and ranges of errors. In order to leverage the benefits of the different encoding methods, the patent discloses an S-PDU that can combine multiple message types in an arbitrary order, with "no rule on the number of messages or the type of message that can be included in the S-PDU." '215 patent, col. 7, ll. 55-57. Using that technology, S-PDUs can be constructed with a combination of the encoding types best suited for the particular errors being encoded, so that the S-PDU can be more compact than an S-PDU that uses a single encoding type.


         In 2010, Wi-Fi's predecessors, Ericsson, Inc., and Te-lefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (collectively, "Ericsson") filed a patent infringement action against D-Link Systems, Inc., and several other defendants in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Ericsson alleged infringement of the '215 patent and eight other patents. Following a jury trial, that case resulted in a judgment of infringement as to the '215 patent and two other patents, U.S. Patent Nos. 6, 424, 625 ("the '625 patent") and 6, 566, 568 ("the '568 patent"). See generally Ericsson, Inc. v. D-Link Sys., Inc., 773 F.3d 1201 (Fed. Cir. 2014).[1]

         In 2013, shortly after judgment was entered in the district court action, Broadcom petitioned for inter partes review of the '215 patent, the '625 patent, and the '568 patent. Broadcom was the manufacturer of two chips that formed the basis for some of the infringement allegations in the district court case, but Broadcom was not a defendant in that litigation. The inter partes review proceeding at issue in this case (PTAB No. IPR2013-00601) concerned the '215 patent. The '568 patent was at issue in PTAB No. IPR2013-00602, which is the subject of Appeal No. 2015-1945 in this court, and the '625 patent was at issue in PTAB No. IPR2013-00636, which is the subject of Appeal No. 2015-1946 in this court.

         At the outset of the PTAB proceedings, Wi-Fi sought to bar Broadcom from obtaining inter partes review of the '215 patent. Wi-Fi contended that some or all of the defendants in the D-Link case were in privity with Broadcom or were real parties in interest in the inter partes review proceeding brought by Broadcom. Because the D-Link defendants would be time-barred from seeking inter partes review under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b), Wi-Fi argued that Broadcom's petition should be time-barred as well. The Board rejected that argument, holding that the evidence did not show either that Broadcom was in privity with any of the D-Link defendants or that any D-Link defendant was a real party in interest in the inter partes review proceeding.

         The Board then instituted inter partes review of the '215 patent, finding that there was a reasonable likelihood that the challenged claims were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6, 581, 176 to Seo. The Board declined to institute review based on another reference that the Board considered redundant in light of Seo.

         Seo teaches improvements to what are known as negative acknowledgement ("NAK") frames. NAK frames are sent by the receiving unit to inform the transmitting unit that frames sent by the transmitting unit were misdeliv-ered. The Seo method uses a single packet to provide information about multiple misdelivered frames, so that "only one NAK control frame for all missed user data frames is transmitted to a transmitting station to require a retransmission of the missed user data when a timer for an NAK is actually expired." Seo, col. 5, ll. 32-35.

         Seo describes the structure of the disclosed NAK frames. The frames include a field called "NAK_TYPE" that indicates how the NAK frame represents missing frames. If the NAK_TYPE is set to "00, " then the missing frames are encoded as a list, and the frame requests retransmission of all user data frames between the first missing frame and the last, represented by the "FIRST" and "LAST" values. If the NAK_TYPE is set to "01, " then the NAK frame transmits information about the missing transmitted frames using a bitmap. In that case, the NAK frame contains the field "NAK_MAP_SEQ" to identify the starting point of the bitmap and the field "NAK_MAP" to transmit the bitmap.

         Before the Board, Wi-Fi argued that the NAK_TYPE field disclosed in Seo is not a "type identifier field" and that Seo therefore does not satisfy the type identifier field limitation of the '215 patent. Wi-Fi further argued that, even if Seo discloses that feature, the NAK_TYPE field is not found within a "message field, " as required by the claims at issue. The Board rejected those arguments, found that Seo disclosed all the limitations of the challenged claims of the '215 patent, and therefore held those claims to be unpatentable. The Board also rejected Wi-Fi's argument that claim 15 of the '215 patent required some sort of "length field, " which Seo did not disclose. Finally, the Board held that Wi-Fi had not shown that Broadcom was in privity with the D-Link defendants, and therefore Broadcom was not barred from filing a petition for inter partes review.


         On appeal, Wi-Fi reprises the argument that Broadcom's petition for inter partes review is time-barred. Wi-Fi points out that the D-Link defendants would have been barred from seeking inter partes review of any of the claims at issue in the district court litigation because they did not petition for inter partes review within one year of the date on which they were served with the complaint in the district court action. See 35 U.S.C. § 315(b). Under that statute, Wi-Fi argues that Broadcom's petition for inter partes review should have been dismissed because one or more of the D-Link defendants was in privity with Broadcom or was a real party in interest in the inter partes review proceeding.

         Section 315(b) provides, in pertinent part: "An inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent." The use of the familiar common law terms "privy" and "real party in interest" indicate that Congress intended to adopt common law principles to govern the scope of the section 315(b) one-year bar. See Beck v. Prupis, 529 U.S. 494, 500-01 (2000) ("[W]hen Congress uses language with a settled meaning at common law, Congress 'presumably knows and adopts the cluster of ideas that were attached to each borrowed word in the body of learning from which it was taken . . . ." (quoting Morrissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 263 (1952))); see also 154 Cong. Rec. S9987 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 2008) (statement of Sen. Kyl) ("The concept of privity, of course, is borrowed from the common law of judgments.").

         To determine whether a petitioner is in privity with a time-barred district court litigant, the Board conducts a "flexible" analysis that "seeks to determine whether the relationship between the purported 'privy' and the relevant other party is sufficiently close such that both should be bound by the trial outcome and related estoppels." Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"), Office Patent Trial Practice Guide, 77 Fed. Reg. 48, 756, 48, 759 (Aug. 14, 2012); see also id. ("Privity is essentially a shorthand statement that collateral estoppel is to be applied in a given case . . . ." (quoting 154 Cong. Rec. S9987 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 2008) (statement of Sen. Kyl))). To decide whether a party other than the petitioner is the real party in interest, the Board seeks to determine whether some party other than the petitioner is the "party or parties at whose behest the petition has been filed." Id. at 48, 759. "[A] party that funds and directs and controls an IPR or [post-grant review] proceeding constitutes a 'real party-in-interest, ' even if that party is not a 'privy' of the petitioner." Id. at 48, 760.

         The interpretation of the concepts of privity and real party in interest set forth in the PTO's Office Trial Practice Guide and applied by the Board is consistent with general legal principles. See Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 893-95 & n.8 (2008) (Privity is "a way to express the conclusion that nonparty preclusion is appropriate on any ground"; "a nonparty is bound by a judgment if she 'as-sume[d] control' over the litigation in which that judgment was rendered."); see also 18A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4451, at 356 (3d ed. 2017) ("[I]t should be enough that the nonparty has the actual measure of control or opportunity to control that might reasonably be expected between two formal coparties.").[2]


         On the merits of the section 315(b) issue, Wi-Fi first argues that the Board applied the wrong legal standard when it determined that no district court defendant was either a privy of Broadcom or a real party in interest in the inter partes review proceeding. Specifically, Wi-Fi argues that the Board improperly required Wi-Fi to satisfy "a hard and absolute requirement that Broadcom must have had the right to control the District Court Litigation in order to find that a District Court Defendant was a real party in interest or privy, " and that the Board "made it abundantly clear that it viewed the District Court Defendants' right to control this IPR to be of no importance whatsoever." Under the Board's legal test, according to Wi-Fi, "it is irrelevant if a District Court Defendant has an absolute right to control Broadcom's conduct of the IPR (and even if it has been exercising actual control all along, such that Broadcom is a mere shill)."

         Wi-Fi mischaracterizes the Board's decisions regarding section 315(b). Contrary to Wi-Fi's contention, the Board recognized that there are a number of circumstances in which privity might be found, including when the nonparty controlled the district court litigation. The Board's decision to focus on that ground was in response to the specific arguments that Wi-Fi raised on the privity issue.

         In its motion for additional discovery, Wi-Fi began by noting that the Supreme Court in Taylor set forth six factors to consider in determining whether a nonparty to an action is bound by the judgment in the action. Wi-Fi argued that this case was governed by the factors providing for nonparty preclusion based on a pre-existing "substantive legal relationship" with a party to the action and the opportunity to control the litigation. In particular, Wi-Fi argued that the evidence would show that, by virtue of its indemnity relationship with at least two of the D-Link defendants, Broadcom "had the opportunity to control and maintains a substantive legal relationship with the D-Link Defendants sufficient to bind Broadcom to the District Court's judgment."

         In its decision on Wi-Fi's motion, the Board first observed that privity depends on "whether the relationship between a party and its alleged privy is 'sufficiently close such that both should be bound by the trial outcome and related estoppels.'" The Board further noted that "[d]epending on the circumstances, a number of factors may be relevant to the analysis, including whether the non-party 'exercised or could have exercised control over a party's participation in a proceeding, ' and whether the non-party is responsible for funding and directing the proceeding."

         Turning to Wi-Fi's argument, the Board stated that "[w]hen a patent holder sues a dealer, seller, or distributer of an accused product, as is the case at hand, indemnity payments and minor participation in a trial are not sufficient to establish privity between the non-party manufacturer of the accused device and the defendant parties." The Board added that the fact that Broadcom filed an amicus curiae brief in the appeal from the district court judgment "shows interest in the outcome, " but "does not bind Broadcom to the trial below outcome or show that Broadcom exercised control over that outcome." Nor did Broadcom's litigation activity in another forum or its filing a petition for inter partes review "show control of the Texas Litigation or otherwise show that Broadcom would be bound by that outcome."

         In its request for rehearing of the Board's discovery order, Wi-Fi argued that it was error for the Board to require a showing that Broadcom controlled the Texas litigation; according to Wi-Fi, a "community of interest" was sufficient to establish privity. Responding to that argument, the Board noted that the PTO's Office Patent Trial Practice Guide "emphasizes control, which implies that control is an important factor to establish privity."

         Finally, in its request for rehearing of the Board's Final Written Decision, Wi-Fi again argued that the Board had erred in "applying a legal standard imposing an inflexible standard requiring that Petitioner must have exercised control over the District Court Defendants in the District Court Litigation." In addition, Wi-Fi argued that the Board had neglected to address the "real-party-in-interest" issue. Wi-Fi contended that under the Board's standard, Broadcom's petition would not be barred "even if there were irrefutable evidence that the District Court Defendants had expressly hired Broadcom to file this IPR petition, and that the District Court Defendants were paying for and controlling every aspect of Broadcom's IPR activity."

         In its decision on Wi-Fi's request for rehearing, the Board explained that it had previously focused primarily on Broadcom's "exercise of control, or opportunity to exercise control over the prior District Court lawsuit" because that was the focus of Wi-Fi's argument. The Board went on to say that its earlier decisions "did not characterize the legal standard, for all cases, as being limited strictly to a petitioner's control, or opportunity to control, a non-party in previous litigation." The Board explained that, in its previous decisions in the case, it had addressed Wi-Fi's theory "that the indemnity agreements imply that the District Court Defendants are real parties in interest in these inter partes reviews."

         The Board thus made clear that it understood that privity and real-party-in-interest status could be established not only by Broadcom's exercise of control over the district court proceedings, but also by the D-Link defendants' exercise of control over the inter partes review proceeding. In sum, a review of the Board's decisions in this case, in the context of the arguments Wi-Fi made at each stage, show that the Board did not apply a legally erroneous standard in deciding the "real party in interest, or privy" issue.[3]


         Wi-Fi next contends that the Board improperly denied its requests for discovery of evidence such as the indemnity agreements between Broadcom and two of the D-Link defendants. That evidence, according to Wi-Fi, would have established that Broadcom and those defendants were in privity or that those defendants were real parties in interest in the IPR proceeding.

         Discovery in inter partes review proceedings is more limited than in proceedings before district courts or even other proceedings before the PTO. By statute, the Director of the PTO is authorized to prescribe regulations "setting forth standards and procedures for discovery of relevant evidence, including that such discovery shall be limited to-(A) the deposition of witnesses submitting affidavits or declarations; and (B) what is otherwise necessary in the interest of justice." 35 U.S.C. § 316(a)(5). The legislative history of the America Invents Act confirms that "[g]iven the time deadlines imposed on these proceedings, " it was ...

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