Board’s Jurisdiction Over Examiner’s Decision Of Not Finding Substantial New Question Made As To Claims Added Or Amended After Institution Of Reexamination

Tsuyoshi Nakamura | September 30, 2015

Airbus S.A.S. v. Firepass Corp.

July 17, 2015

Before: Lourie, Dyk and Moore. Opinion by Laurie

Summary:

In response to a patent infringement litigation brought by Firepass, Airbus requested inter partes reexamination with proposed anticipation rejections based on three prior arts. The PTO instituted reexamination based on one prior art but did not find substantial new question as to other two prior arts. During reexamination, Firepass added claims 91-94. In response, Airbus proposed obviousness rejections to claims 91-94 over the previously submitted three prior arts. Examiner did not find substantial new question of patentability. Airbus appealed but the Board dismissed because the Board did not have jurisdiction over the issue of lack of substantial new question of patentability. CAFC reversed because the Board applied incorrect rule which is only applicable before institution of reexamination. Newly added or amended claims during reexamination should be controlled by different rule (37 C.F.R. §1.948(a)(2)).

Firepass 社によって提起された特許侵害訴訟に対抗して、Airbus社は当事者系のリイグザミネーションを請求した。特許の無効理由は、3件の先行技術に基づく新規性であった。米国特許庁は、そのうち1件の先行技術による新たな特許性の疑義(substantial new question of patentability)を認めてリイグザミネーションを開始したものの、他の2件の先行技術については無効理由として不十分と判断した。リイグザミネーションの途中でFirepass社はクレーム91−94を追加した。これに対して、Airbus社は、先の3件の先行技術に基づく自明性の拒絶を提案した。審査官は、Airbus社の提案に新たな特許性の疑義を認めなかったため、Airbus社はアピールをした。米国特許庁審判部は、新たな特許性の疑義の問題は管轄外であるとしてAirbus社の請求を却下した。CAFCは、「いったんリイグザミネーションが開始された場合、その後に追加されたあるいは補正されたクレームに対して提出できる先行技術の問題は、規則1.948(a)(2)によって判断されるべきであり、特許庁審判部は適用すべきルールを誤った。」と判断し、Airbus社の提案した自明性の拒絶によってクレーム91~94が拒絶されるか否か検討するよう事件を差し戻した。 コメント:リイグザミネーションの請求時に無効理由が見つからず採用されなかった弱い引例であっても、他の引例でリイグザミネーションが開始された後に新しいクレームが追加されたり、あるいはクレームが補正された場合には、リイグザミネーションの請求者は、当該採用されなかった引例を再度使用して、それらの追加・補正クレームに対する拒絶理由を主張できる。

Details:

Background:

In 2009, Firepass brought patent infringement suit against Airbus as to U.S. Patent 6,418,753 (‘753 patent). In 2011, Airbus filed inter partes reexamination of the ‘753 patent. Airbus proposed anticipation rejections by relying on three prior arts: (1) Kotliar patent, (2) Non-Patent literature I (AFWAL 2060), and (3) Non-patent literature II (Knight). The PTO found a substantial new question of patentability only in (1) Kotliar patent.

During reexamination, Firepass added claims 91-94. In response, Airbus proposed new obviousness rejections: (1) as to claims 91-93 over Kotliar in view of AFWAL 2060, and (2) claim 94 over Kotliar in view of AFWAL 2060 and Knight. The Examiner did not find a substantial new question of patentability in the proposed rejections. However, the Examiner rejected claims 91-94 for the written description requirement.

Firepass appealed for the written description requirement rejection and Airbus cross-appealed from the Examiner’s refusal of the obviousness rejections of claims 91-94.

The Board reversed the written description requirement rejection and also dismissed the Airbus’s cross-appeal.

Board’s reasoning:

The Board’s jurisdiction for third-party requester appeal is expressly limited to the review of examiner final decisions that are favorable to the patentability and the examiner’s finding of no substantial new question of patentability is not a decision favorable to patentability.

CAFC

By citing Belkin, 696 F.3d at 1383, CAFC states that the third-party requester may not appeal from the PTO’s decision that a proposed rejection fails to raise a substantial new question of patentability before institution of the inter partes reexamination. However, once the Director ordered the institution of inter partes reexamination, it is different. Belkin is not applicable to the issue of what prior art the PTO may or may not consider during reexamination in response to newly-added or amended claim.

CAFC’s reasoning:

Once the PTO has instituted reexamination, it is only 37 C.F.R. §1.948(a)(2) that limits the prior art which can be raised by the third party requester against newly added or amended claims. Section 1.948(a)(2) limits additional prior art (to be cited by third party) which is necessary to rebut a response of the patent owner.

Although section 312(a) requires that the Director determines whether a substantial new question of patentability is raised by the request, the statue does not contain the same requirement for proposed rejections to claims which are added or amended after institution of the reexamination.

To support this, CAFC cites MPEP sections 2666.05 and 2617 and states “neither sections explicitly or implicitly directs an examiner to determine whether a proposed rejection presents a substantial new question of patentability with respect to a new or amended claim.” CAFC also states that “although the MPEP does not have the force of law, it is entitled to judicial notice ‘so far as it is an official interpretation of statutes of regulations with which it is not in conflict.’”

CAFC concluded that ‘Airbus’s proposed citation of prior art is well within rule 1.948 (a)’s permission to cite prior art ‘which is necessary to rebut a response of the patent owner.’ ” Thus, CAFC remanded the case to consider whether Airbus rebuts newly added claims 91-94.

Comments:

Even though the Director did not find a substantial new question of patentability in the proposed rejection over certain prior arts, once reexamination has been instituted based on different prior art, a third party requester may cite the previously proposed and not accepted prior arts again to rebut newly added or amended claims.

Full Opinion

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