Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., No. 18-2140 (Fed. Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Arthrex’s patent is directed to a knotless suture securing assembly. On inter partes review, heard by a three-judge panel consisting of three Patent Trial and Appeal Board Administrative Patent Judges (APJs), several claims were found to be unpatentable as anticipated. Arthrex appealed and argued that the appointment of the APJs by the Secretary of Commerce, as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 6(a), violates the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., art. II, section 2, cl. 2. The Federal Circuit agreed and vacated the decision. The statute as currently constructed makes the APJs principal officers, requiring appointment by the President as opposed to the Secretary of Commerce. The court considered review within the agency over APJ panel decisions, the Director’s supervisory powers, and that APJs can only be removed from service for “misconduct [that] is likely to have an adverse impact on the agency’s performance of its functions,” 5 U.S.C. 7513. Under existing law, APJs issue decisions that are final on behalf of the Executive Branch and are not removable without cause. To remedy the violation, the court concluded that severing the portion of the Patent Act restricting removal of the APJs is sufficient to render the APJs inferior officers and remedy the constitutional appointment problem.