The decision is Nantkwest Inc. v. Matal, available here. The examiner and the PTAB rejected the inventor's patent application on nonobviousness grounds, and rather than immediately appealing to the Federal Circuit (which is one option under these circumstances) the applicant initiated a lawsuit against the director in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (which is another, less commonly invoked, option). The district court ruled in favor of the director, and in May the Federal Circuit affirmed (here). The district court also awarded the director expert witness fees but denied a request for attorney's fees. On appeal of this matter, the Federal Circuit (in an opinion by Chief Judge Prost) concludes that the relevant statute--which in the present context is not 35 U.S.C. § 285, but rather 35 U.S.C. § 145--requires the court to award both expert and attorneys' fees--and, although it isn't at issue in this case, since the director won--the rule applies regardless of outcome. Here is the relevant statute (35 U.S.C. § 145):
An applicant dissatisfied with the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board in an appeal under section 134(a) may, unless appeal has been taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, have remedy by civil action against the Director in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia if commenced within such time after such decision, not less than sixty days, as the Director appoints. The court may adjudge that such applicant is entitled to receive a patent for his invention, as specified in any of his claims involved in the decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, as the facts in the case may appear and such adjudication shall authorize the Director to issue such patent on compliance with the requirements of law. All the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant.
The majority concludes that the statute means what it says:
At the outset, we observe that we have previously construed other portions of § 145. See, e.g., Hyatt, 625 F.3d at 1322. Although Hyatt resolved a different issue than the one presented here, we based our holding, in part, on our recognition of the breath of the “all expenses” provision and the substantial financial burden that applicants must bear for initiating § 145 appeals. Id. at 1337. “To deter applicants from exactly the type of procedural gaming that concerns the Director, Congress imposed on the applicant the heavy economic burden of paying ‘[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings’ regardless of the outcome.” Id. (alteration in original) (citing 35 U.S.C. § 145). Put another way, Congress intended that all applicants unconditionally assume this financial burden when seeking review directly in district court—whether they win, or lose. We thus concluded that Congress drafted this provision without requiring any degree of success on the merits (much less a prevailing party) as a necessary precedent for shifting this “heavy economic burden” onto the applicant. Id. . . .
Under the American Rule, “the prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorneys’ fee from the loser.” Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc’y, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). Courts uniformly recognize an exception to this general proposition, however: when the statute itself “specific[ally]” and “explicit[ly]” authorizes an award of fees, the prevailing party may be entitled to collect its fees. Id. at 260. In agreement with two other circuits, we conclude that “expenses” here includes attorneys’ fees. See Shammas, 784 F.3d at 222–23 (holding that the term “expenses” covers the USPTO’s attorneys’ fees); United States v. 110-118 Riverside Tenants Corp., 886 F.2d 514, 520 (2d Cir. 1989) (observing that attorneys’ fees are “expenses of the proceedings” under § 6342 of the Internal Revenue Code). . . .
Accordingly, we hold that “[a]ll expenses of the proceedings” under § 145 includes the pro-rata share of the attorneys’ fees the USPTO incurred to defend applicant’s appeal. To conclude otherwise would conflict with Hyatt, where we recognized the “heavy economic burden” that § 145 shifts onto applicants for electing this favorable appellate path. Hyatt, 625 F.3d at 1337.
Judge Stoll dissents.