U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit: Public Universities do not have Sovereign Immunity from Patent IPRs


In a new U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit opinion, Regents of the University of Minnesota v. LGI Corporation, et al., the court held that states, including public universities, are not entitled to sovereign immunity from Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to challenge an issued patent.  Judge Dyk, writing for the court, provides a nice overview of the history of administrative challenges to issued patents as well as the process for filing and prosecuting an IPR.  Notably, Judge Dyk points to the resource constraints of the USPTO in evaluating patentability and that the federal government is essentially drafting third parties through IPRs to test patentability.  Judge Dyk discusses and relies upon the reasoning of Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., 896 F.3d 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2018).  In that case, the Federal Circuit refused to apply tribal sovereign immunity to IPRs.  The court notes that it was unnecessary to reach the issue whether the University of Minnesota waived sovereign immunity for an IPR by filing a patent infringement suit concerning the IPR challenged patent.  This decision puts U.S. public university generated and owned patents in the IPR crosshairs.  Interestingly, it puts U.S. public university patents on the same footing as foreign university owned and generated U.S. patents for purposes of challenge through IPRs, thus, removing a potential advantage for U.S. public universities versus foreign universities in the United States.