On July 25, 2012, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced proposed rules as a result of changes in the America Invents Act (AIA) converting the U.S. patent system from a first to invent to a first to file system. These changes will take place on March 16, 2013.
The proposed rules are intended to promote consistency caused by the changes in the AIA for pending applications, and to implement the AIA for future applications. Comments on the proposed rules are open until October 5, 2012. Below is a summary of significant elements of the proposed rules.
The proposed rules will treat commonly owned or joint research agreement patents and patent application publications as having the same inventive entity for the purposes of 35 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103 as required under 35 U.S.C. § 102(c) of the AIA. 35 U.S.C. §102(c) of the AIA essentially broadens the current 35 U.S.C. §§ 103(c) by making these provisions usable for novelty. The broadened use of this exclusion should be beneficial to holders of large families of patents.
Since new 35 U.S.C. §102(b) provides exceptions to 35 U.S.C. §102(a) based upon prior disclosure by the inventor, the rule changes also allow the submission of affidavits or declarations to show that a disclosure upon which a claim rejection is based was made by an inventor, joint inventor, or someone who obtained the disclosed subject matter from the inventor or a joint inventor. These provisions will also allow the submission of affidavits to show that there was a prior public disclosure by an inventor, joint inventor, or someone who obtained the disclosed subject matter from the inventor or a joint inventor. This will be codified in 37 CFR §§ 1.104, 1.130, and 1.131.
Another change being implemented relates to using the effective dates of foreign priority applications against third party patents. In order to ensure that the foreign priority documents are received in time for publication and use, the USPTO is now requiring that the certified copy be received within the deadline now only required for submitting the priority claim: the later of four months from the filing date or sixteen months from the foreign priority date. The claim must also be included in an Application Data Sheet. While these changes are likely not an issue where the applicant is able to retrieve priority documents using the priority document exchange (PDX) system, this timing will be an issue for all other applications. Therefore, applicants need to ensure that the certified copies are provided as soon as possible in the prosecution process or be required to file a Petition for late acceptance.
The last major change in this round of AIA rulemaking is relate to the transitional period between first to invent and first to file, and probably will have the greatest short term impact on patent practitioners. In order to ensure that the USPTO can properly evaluate which set of rules to apply when faced with priority claims for applications filed prior to March 16, 2013, the USPTO is requiring the applicants identify which rules will apply.
Specifically, where the application is filed after March 16, 2013, but claims the benefit of a foreign, provisional, or nonprovisional application having an effective filing date prior to March 16, 2013, the applicant will need to provide a statement whether the claims in the application are entitled to the earlier effective filing date. Also, if the nonprovisional application that claims such benefit does not contain a claim to a claimed invention that has an effective filing date on or after March 16, 2013, but discloses subject matter not also disclosed in the prior application, the applicant must provide a statement to that effect. For example, under proposed 37 C.F.R. 1.55, where the application claims priority to a foreign application filed prior to March 16, 2013, the applicant will need to specify if there is new matter in the application, and whether the claims are supported by the foreign priority date. Examples of such statements include “upon reasonable belief, this application contains subject matter not disclosed in the foreign application” or “upon reasonable belief, this application contains at least one claim that has an effective filing date subject matter on or after March 16, 2013”.
These statements will have to be filed within the later of four months from the actual filing date of the later application, four months from the date of entry into the national stage in an international application, or sixteen months from the filing date of the prior filed application, or the date that a first claim to a claimed invention that has an effective filing date on or after March 16, 2013 is presented in the application. Failure to make such a statement after these deadlines will require a Petition, and any changes will result in the Examiner issuing a Request for Information under 37 CFR 1.105 to require the applicant to prove by line and element number where support is found. For continuations, divisionals, and continuation in part applications, this requirement will be codified in 37 CFR § 1.78.
As these rules are still only being proposed, applicants and the legal community are reviewing the proposed changes and preparing comments. While many of the changes seem consistent with the requirements of the AIA, the transitional requirement for identifying whether disclosures and claims can have an effective filing date in a prior application are likely the most controversial and the most likely to cause significant problems for applicants having families of patents. Therefore, as a short term solution, in order to avoid these potential issues should the USPTO not retract this provision, applicants should ensure that they file applications prior to March 16, 2013 if any priority claim is going to be made to an application filed prior to March 16, 2013.