Patent Decision May Not Spell End of Blue Origin-SpaceX Dispute

WASHINGTON — A choice by Blue Origin to withdraw many of the claims in a contested patent represents a near-term victory for SpaceX, however won’t be the tip of a dispute between the 2 corporations relating to reusable launch automobile know-how.

In a “Last Judgment and Resolution” issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Workplace Aug. 27, the Patent Trial and Attraction Board permitted a request by Blue Origin to cancel 13 claims in a patent protecting the touchdown of rocket levels on oceangoing vessels. The board had agreed in March to a SpaceX petition for an “inter partes” evaluation of these claims by the board.

The request by Blue Origin to cancel the claims ended the evaluation of what’s often called the “’321 patent,” after the final three digits of the patent quantity. “Right here, Blue Origin has requested cancellation of all of the claims on which trial was instituted, therefore, no claims will stay for trial,” the board famous in its determination. “In view of the cancellation of claims 1-13 of the ’321 patent, the entry of ultimate judgment hostile to Blue Origin is suitable.”

The patent, titled “Sea touchdown of area launch automobiles and related methods and strategies” and issued to Blue Origin in 2014, initially had 15 claims. The board dominated in March that two of the claims weren’t topic to inter partes evaluation as a result of they have been too imprecise for the board to determine if SpaceX had a “affordable chance” of profitable a evaluation on these claims.

SpaceX petitioned the patent board in August 2014 to evaluation the ’321 patent, citing “prior artwork” — info that existed within the public realm earlier than the patent — just like claims within the Blue Origin patent. That included tutorial papers revealed within the Nineteen Nineties that confirmed an identical strategy to touchdown rocket levels on platforms at sea or different our bodies of water. SpaceX has tried to land the primary stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on its “autonomous spaceport drone ship” twice, most just lately in April.

The system Blue Origin acquired a patent for requires launching a multistage rocket and, after first-stage separation, steering the indifferent core right down to a floating platform for a tail-first powered touchdown. Credit score: USPTO

The board’s determination makes the ’321 patent successfully unenforceable, one patent legal professional famous. “That is the tip of their potential to implement that patent,” Andrew Rush, president of 3-D printing firm Made in House and an legal professional who has intently adopted the case, mentioned in a Sept. 2 interview.

Rush famous, although, that whereas the board’s determination is a victory for SpaceX, Blue Origin is just not giving up on the general patent. Earlier this 12 months, the corporate filed what’s often called a “reissue patent utility” that seeks to amend the unique patent. “It is a patent proprietor saying, ‘There’s an issue with my unique patent. I need to rewrite my patent and switch within the outdated one,’” Rush defined.

Such a method, he mentioned, is just not unusual amongst patent holders in related disputes. In these instances, the patent holders select to withdraw the claims of their unique patent whereas concurrently submitting a reissue patent utility with revised claims meant to keep away from the prior artwork that triggered the dispute. “It appears like they’ve retreated, however they haven’t given up by any means,” he mentioned.

Reissued patents, that are granted their very own quantity, are comparatively uncommon: whereas patent numbers just lately crossed the 9 million threshold, the variety of reissued patents is simply within the tens of hundreds. They will additionally take years to evaluation: a Might 2015 research by mental property regulation agency Wolf Greenfield discovered that the typical ready time for patents reissued in 2014 was three and a half years.

Rush expects one in all two outcomes if and when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Workplace points a revised patent. If the revised claims are so narrowly outlined as to exclude SpaceX’s strategy, he mentioned it’s unlikely the corporate would contest it. If, nonetheless, there may be some overlap, “we’ll see the battle begin up once more.”

That, nonetheless, could possibly be years away, Rush famous, given the ready time for reviewing reissue patent purposes. “There’s probability this battle can be on the again burner for the foreseeable future.”

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