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CAFC Adjusts the USPTO’s Recapture Rule Analysis

Posted On: May. 4, 2011   By: Scott A. McKeown
Topics: Broadening, Reissue
recalibrateUSPTO Affirmed on Facts, But Corrected as to Proper Recapture Rule Analysis

Back in February I recounted the oral agument of In re Mostafazadeh. This case explored the degree to which a claim limitation added to distinguish over the prior art during original prosecution may be broadened during patent reissue. In patent reissue, Mostafazadeh sought an intermediate scope to the “circular attachment pad” limitation added to his claims during original prosecution. In the reissue claims, the terminology “circular” was removed. To justify this broadening, the Patentee argued that the claim was materially narrowed in “other respects.”

On appeal, the CAFC considered whether or not the “materially narrowed in other respects” aspect of the rule established in In re Clement, (MPEP 1412.02), must be related to the “critical limitation” (i.e., circular attachment pad) or whether the narrowing must relate to an “overlooked aspect,” such as an unclaimed species or embodiment as advanced by the USPTO.

In their affirmance of the USPTO. the CAFC characterized the BPAI analysis as “perplexing” and found their interpretation of “materially narrowing” as “contrary to our precedent.”

The CAFC decision (here) explained that the materially narrowing necessary to avoid recapture must relate to the surrendered subject matter, not an “overlooked aspect” of the invention as required by the USPTO, stating:

[A] limitation that is added during prosecution to overcome prior art cannot be entirely eliminated on reissue because doing so would constitute recapture of the surrendered subject matter. The limitation may be modified, however, so long as it continues to materially narrow the claim scope relative to the surrendered subject matter such that the surrendered subject matter is not entirely or substantially recaptured.

.           .           .           .           .           .           .

[T]he recapture rule is violated when a limitation added during prosecution is eliminated entirely, even if other narrowing limitations are added to the claim. If the added limitation is modified but not eliminated, the claims must be materially narrowed relative to the surrendered subject matter such that the surrendered subject matter is not entirely or substantially recaptured. (emphasis added)

Mostafazadeh did not eliminate the attachment pad limitation, only modified it by removing “circular.” Still, the Board found that the narrowing limitations added in the patent reissue did not relate to the attachment pad limitation, thus step (3) of the Clement test could not save the Patentee. Had the Patentee added narrowing language that related to the circular pads, such as requiring that the attachment pads be formed of a specific alloy, or oriented in a certain way, the removal of “circular” may have been acceptable.

This case, much like In re Tanaka, will provide Patentees a greater degree of flexibility, and opportunity to pursue patent reissue going forward.

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