USPTO Post Grant & PTAB Updates
In recent weeks the USPTO has issued updates on various aspects of post grant patent practice and PTAB performance. The PTAB reports that their significant backlog has not only stopped growing, but will soon begin shrinking thanks to the increased hiring of administrative patent judges (APJs). With a typical ex parte application appeal pending 2-3 years in many cases, this is welcome news for appellants. (presentation here)
On the post grant side, an update was provided on patent reissue practice. The presentation mostly recapped recent case law developments and changes to oath practice. (presentation here)
An update was also provided from the PTAB Trial Section on the patentability trials of the America Invents Act (AIA). Read the rest of this entry »
Terminal Disclaimer Permanent Once Patent Issues
Back in January of 2011 I discussed the appeal decision in Ex parte Shunpei Yamazaki relative to patent reissue practice. In Yamazaki, a reissue patent application was filed shortly after issuance of U.S. Patent 6,180,991 for the purpose of withdrawing an earlier filed terminal disclaimer.
By way of background, the ‘991 patent issued on January 30, 2001 (based upon an application filed April 21, 1995). During the original prosecution, a terminal disclaimer was filed (November of 1996) to overcome a double patenting rejection. Thereafter, the claims subject to the earlier double patenting rejections were amended. Since the amended claims were believed to be distinct from those of the earlier patent, the Applicant petitioned to withdraw the earlier filed terminal disclaimer (April 1999). The petition remained pending for some 20+ months at the USPTO, but, the patent issued prior to any USPTO action on the petition filing. The petition was ultimately dismissed as moot once the ‘991 Patent issued.
Adding insult to injury, the USPTO explained in their belated petition decision that a terminal disclaimer could not be removed once a patent issues as patent reissue did not contemplate such mistakes as “error” under the reissue statute. In other words, even though the patent holder had disclaimed some 14 years of patent term by mistake, there was no mechanism to cure that mistake post issuance. Nevertheless, the Patentee filed a patent reissue application in an attempt to withdraw the terminal disclaimer.
In deciding the propriety of a patent reissue proceeding to remove a terminal disclaimer, an expanded panel of the BPAI (now PTAB) held that patent reissue could not reset the term of the original patent (which was set by the disclaimer). Interestingly, the BPAI decision also included concurring opinions that would have held differently had the patent not expired prior to completion of the reissue proceeding (December 2003).
Last week, the CAFC affirmed the USPTO, and made clear that patent reissue cannot withdraw a terminal disclaimer, even if the reissue proceeding were capable of concluding prior to expiration. Read the rest of this entry »
New CBM Challenges to Derail Business Method Patent Assertions?
Last September 16th marked the one year anniversary of the enactment of the America Invents Act (AIA). This “patent reform” legislation introduced several new post grant avenues to challenge an issued patent at the USPTO. One of these new options is the very specialized, Transitional Program for Covered Business Method Patents, or “CBM” proceeding.
The CBM option is noteworthy in several respects: first, it is a post grant review challenge that is limited to a special class of patents (i.e., “covered business method” patents); second, only those challengers that have been sued or charged with infringement of a covered patent may petition the USPTO to initiate a CBM proceeding; third, the estoppel is limited to those grounds actually raised in the proceeding (that is, there is no “reasonably could have raised” estoppel); and finally, the CBM statutes include unique controls that virtually ensure that any ongoing litigation at the time of a CBM filing will be stayed pending USPTO review.
As explained above, the CBM proceeding presents an insignificant of estoppel risk. This “free shot” combined with the near certain stay of costly court proceedings presents a “pay to stay” opportunity that qualifying defendants may find hard to resist.
Read the rest of this entry »
In re Youman Faults BPAI Recapture Analysis
Back in 2010, the BPAI rejected certain claims in Ex parte Youman as attempting to recapture previously surrendered subject matter via a patent reissue application. This case was noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which was its 10+ year pendency before reaching a Board decision. A link to the earlier BPAI decision is found (here).
As a reminder, Youman sought to broaden certain means-plus-function elements of his issued patent, and modify language relating to the selection of displayed characters of an electronic program guide via a television remote control.
The originally issued claims recited a “selection means…cycling forward and backward” through displayed characters. This feature was added to distinguish over the art of record during the prosecution of the underlying patent application. In the patent reissue application (broadening), this language was broadened to using a wireless remote control for “changing from a first to a second character.” This change was rejected by the BPAI as an attempt to recapture previously surrendered subject matter.
In rejecting the claim as recapturing previously surrendered subject matter, the BPAI relied upon some of the same MPEP language (”overlooked aspects”) later criticized by the CAFC in In re Mostafazadeh. In its most recent consideration of the recapture doctrine, the CAFC focused on the claim language that must be analyzed in the third prong of the recapture test. Read the rest of this entry »
Continuation Practice in Broadening Patent Reissue Applications Examined
Yesterday, the CAFC decided an important question pertaining to broadening patent patent reissue practice. (In re Staats, decision here). The issue before the Court was whether a broadening patent reissue application of Apple Computer Patent 5,940,600 was filed within the proscribed two year window.
During prosecution of the subject patent reissue application (a third, broadening continuation filing) the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 251 as presenting broadening claims outside of the proscribed two year window. The Office reasoned that the error in the original reissue filing (parent) was allegedly unrelated to the error presented for correction in the third filing…presented for the first time 7 years later. In essence, the Office argued that it is not enough to merely present a “place holder” intent to broaden within the proscribed two years only to file a continuation years later that attempts to broaden in “unforeseeable” ways.
The CAFC heard arguments on the BPAI decision back in September of 2011 and strongly hinted that earlier CCPA precedent would control the case. Not surprisingly, the Court reversed the USPTO based on previous precedent Read the rest of this entry »
In re Tanaka Decision Likely to Drive Two-Part Supplemental Examination Filing Strategy
During yesterday’s Strafford Legal webinar on the topic, I explained that Supplemental Examination (SE) is a mechanism of the AIA that is designed to effectively cure inequitable conduct via a new post grant proceeding of the USPTO. This mechanism, effective September 16, 2012 will be available to all issued patents.
In operation, SE allows a Patentee to submit very detailed explanations of potential issues that may serve to render the patent invalid under an inequitable conduct theory in litigation. Upon submission of Substantial New Questions of patentability (SNQs) detailing such potential defects, the Office will reconsider or correct such information; that is to say the Office will perform a “supplemental examination.”
If the SNQs of an SE request do not rise to the appropriate level to justify further proceedings, an SE certificate is issued stating such, and the proceeding concludes. Likewise, should SNQs be identified in the request for SE, a certificate is issued identifying such. Thereafter, a modified form of “re-examination” is initiated by the Office to explore the SNQs presented in the request. Should the Office determine that the identified SNQs do not preclude patentability in the reexamination phase, a reexamination certificate is issued to complement the SE certificate. Thus, SE is modeled on the same “but for” materiality standard pronounced in Therasense.
At first blush, the option to cure potential inequitable conduct issues seems an attractive option for Patentees. Yet, practically speaking, there may be very few instances in which an SE filing is advisable. Read the rest of this entry »
Winter 2012 – New Rules
Early 2012 is shaping up to be an exciting time for patent law, particularly for those focused on post grant patent practice.
USPTO–As to the new rule packages necessary to implement the new post grant mechanisms of the America Invents Act (AIA), it is rumored that the supplemental examination rules will issue this week. Due to an administrative delay with the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), the more extensive IPR and PGR rule packages are expected to publish next week. Earlier this month, some less extensive rules packages issued on patent reissue oath practice and changes to ex part patent reexamination practice.
CAFC– The court has agreed to reconsider Marine Polymer Technologies, Inc. v. HemCon, Inc. (here) en banc. As a reminder, this case considers whether or not intervening rights are created for a claim that is not literally amended in a post grant proceeding by a change in verbiage, but instead, by Patentee disclaimer. (earlier post here)
The court also has yet to issue a decision in In re Staats, which presents the USPTO theory that continuation filings in a broadening patent reissue must relate to a broadening that was foreseeable as presented in the original oath.
There is much to look forward to in the weeks to come.
Troublesome Oath Requirements Revised
As anyone that has ever filed a patent reissue can attest, the inconsistent application of oath requirements can be maddening. In fact, the vast majority of patent reissue applications are delayed due to such informalities —aggravating an already significant problem.
As the America Invents Act has required that the “deceptive intent” component of patent reissue oaths be stricken, the USPTO has taken the opportunity to fix a few other problems while they were under the hood. Last Friday, a Notice of Proposed Rule making entitled “Changes To Implement the Inventor’s Oath or Declaration Provisions of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.” (here) Read the rest of this entry »
Infringement Defendant Attempts to Prevent/Undo Patent Issuance by APA Action
On Tuesday the CAFC heard arguments in the case of Pregis Corporation v. Kappos and Free Flow Packaging Intl. At issue in this case was a cross appeal of under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) alleging that the USPTO had issued U.S. Patent 7,361,397 in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The ‘397 Patent is directed to plastic film used in machines that manufacture the now ubiquitous air pillows found in shipping containers.
Yet, rather than going through the time and effort to necessary to sue a government agency on a seemingly novel cause of action, why didn’t appellant Pregis simply seek reexamination of the ‘397 Patent? Read the rest of this entry »
Most practitioners are well aware that disputes with the USPTO over formal oath requirements in patent reissue are the rule, not the exception. I have written extensively in the past as to the significant delays caused by this seemingly straight forward formal requirement.
In most cases, the dispute relates to a lack of specificity in identifying the error to be corrected in the patent reissue application. While in many cases the correction necessary is relatively minor. However, in most cases the objection raised relative to the oath does not come from the examiner, but instead, a Quality Assurance Specialist (QAS) of the USPTO. Thus, it is not uncommon to contact the examiner to request a recommended change to an oath to finally settle the dispute only to have the examiner inform you “I think it’s fine, but the QAS has some issue that I don’t really understand.” This leaves the Patentee with no efficient means to address the problem in a timely manner. This type of roadblock is especially aggravating in broadening patent reissue applications.
Read the rest of this entry »