USPTO Updates Patent Reissue Practice to be Consistent with In re Tanaka

The USPTO has now issued a Notice entitled “Clarification of Criteria for Reissue Error in View of In re Tanaka.”

As a reminder, Ex parte Tanaka was decided in December of 2009 by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI). In their decision, the Board explained that a reissue application was improper where the only defect identified in an issued patent was the failure to present additional dependent claims.  The Board reasoned that the mere addition of new dependent claims did not identify any defect in the issued patent. The Board rejected the reasoning of In re Handel, which indicated that a failure to pursue dependent claims was an appropriate error in patent reissue. The Board characterized this reasoning as “dicta.”

The Board’s decision was reversed by the CAFC (In re Tanaka here). In their reversal, the CAFC explained that contrary to the Board’s position, the In re Handel dicta is consistent with the patent reissue statute, and the court has not departed from this line of reasoning over the years.

In order to account for the decision of the CAFC, the USPTO Notice provides:

Effective immediately, the following policy is implemented. Where the only change to a patent made in an application for its reissue is the addition of a claim or claims that is/are narrower in scope than the existing patent claims, without any narrowing of the existing patent claims, the application claims are not to be rejected as failing to state an error under 35 U.S.C. § 251. In addition, any rejection of record in a pending application on this basis will be withdrawn, and any new Office action issued will inform applicant of the withdrawal, and the resulting status of the application in view of the withdrawal.

MPEP § 1402 will be revised in due course to reflect the holding in Tanaka.

While the Notice simply reiterates the Tanaka holding, its existence will allow examiners to ignore the inconsistent MPEP language.

2011 has been a banner year at the CAFC with respect to patent reissues disputes with Tanaka and  In re Mostafazadeh, and In re Staats still to come. In Mostafazadeh, the CAFC, while siding with the USPTO on the facts, corrected the USPTO’s position on the recapture rule.  The CAFC explained that a claim may be broadened with respect to previously surrendered subject matter (i.e., recapture) if the claim is also materially narrowed with respect to the surrendered subject matter. (previous post here).

On September 8th the CAFC is slated to hear oral arguments relating in another important patent reissue dispute with the USPTO, In re Staats. (previous post here)