Whether inter partes review, an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents, violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
Facts of the case
During hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) procedures, fluid is pumped into oil and gas wells to stimulate production. However, the wellheads that sit on top of oil and gas wells are not designed to withstand continuous exposure to fracking fluids and can sustain significant damage as a result. In an attempt to address this issue, Stinger Wellhead Protection Inc., a subsidiary of Oil States Energy Services, first tried using a design described in Canadian Patent Application No. 2,195,118 (the ’118 Application) that relies on using hydraulic pressure first to push a “mandrel” into the wellhead through which the fracking fluid could be pumped without contacting the wellhead equipment. That method failed to sufficiently address the issue, so the Oil States subsidiary attempted a different method using a mechanical lockdown mechanism (described in Patent No. 6,179,053, or the ’053 Patent), rather than hydraulic pressure. In 2012, Oil States filed a patent infringement suit against Greene’s Energy Group, during the course of which litigation the district court found the ’053 Patent to be distinct from the ’118 Application using the “ordinary meaning” standard. Greene’s filed for inter partes review, which is a process used by the Patent and Trademark Office where one party asks the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board to reconsider the PTO’s issuance of an existing patent and invalidate it on the ground that it was anticipated by prior art or obvious. Oil States challenges the practice of inter partes review as violating the constitutional right of patent owners to a jury and an Article III forum before having their patent invalidated.