2272 After Final Practice [R-11.2013]
It is intended that prosecution before the examiner in a reexamination proceeding will be concluded with the final action. Once a final rejection that is not premature has been entered in a reexamination proceeding, the patent owner no longer has any right to unrestricted further prosecution. Consideration of amendments submitted after final rejection and prior to, or with, the appeal will be governed by the strict standards of 37 CFR 1.116. Further, consideration of amendments submitted after appeal will be governed by the strict standards of 37 CFR 41.33. Both the examiner and the patent owner should recognize that substantial patent rights will be at issue with no opportunity for the patent owner to refile under 37 CFR 1.53(b), or 1.53(d), and with no opportunity to file a request for continued examination under 37 CFR 1.114. Accordingly, both the examiner and the patent owner should identify and develop all issues prior to the final Office action, including the presentation of evidence under 37 CFR 1.131(a) and 1.132.
In the event that the patent owner is of the opinion that (A) a final rejection is improper or premature, or (B) that an amendment submitted after final rejection complies with 37 CFR 1.116 but the examiner improperly refused entry of such an amendment, the patent owner may file a petition under 37 CFR 1.181 requesting that the final rejection be withdrawn and that prosecution be reopened, or file a petition under 37 CFR 1.181 requesting entry of the amendment, where appropriate. The petition under 37 CFR 1.181 must be filed within the time period for filing a notice of appeal. Note that the filing of a petition under 37 CFR 1.181 does not toll the time period for filing a notice of appeal.
I. FINAL REJECTION — TIME FOR RESPONSE
The statutory period for response to a final rejection in a reexamination proceeding will normally be two (2) months. If a response to the final rejection is filed, the time period set in the final rejection continues to run. The time period is automatically extended by 1 month (in accordance with the guidelines set forth in MPEP § 2265) if the response is the first response after the final rejection and a notice of appeal has not yet been filed. Any advisory Office action using form PTOL-467, Ex Parte Reexamination Advisory Action Before the Filing of an Appeal Brief, which is issued in reply to patent owner’s response after final rejection (and prior to the filing of the notice of appeal) will inform the patent owner of the automatic 1 month extension of time. It should be noted that the filing of any timely first response to a final rejection (even an informal response or even a response that is not signed) will automatically result in the extension of the shortened statutory period for an additional month. Note further that the patent owner is entitled to know the examiner’s ruling on a timely response filed after final rejection before being required to file a notice of appeal. Notification of the examiner’s ruling should reach the patent owner with sufficient time for the patent owner to consider the ruling and act on it. Accordingly, the period for response to the final rejection should be appropriately extended in the examiner’s advisory action. See Theodore Groz & Sohne & Ernst Bechert Nadelfabrik KG v. Quigg, 10 USPQ2d 1787 (D.D.C. 1988). The period for response may not, however, be extended to run past 6 months from the date of the final rejection.
II. ACTION BY EXAMINER
It should be kept in mind that a patent owner cannot, as a matter of right, amend any finally rejected claims, add new claims after a final rejection, or reinstate previously canceled claims. For an amendment filed after final rejection and prior to the appeal brief, a showing under 37 CFR 1.116(b) is required and will be evaluated by the examiner for all proposed amendments after final rejection except where an amendment merely cancels claims, adopts examiner’s suggestions, removes issues for appeal, or in some other way requires only a cursory review by the examiner. An amendment filed at any time after final rejection but before an appeal brief is filed, may be entered upon or after filing of an appeal provided:
- (A) the total effect of the amendment is to cancel claims or comply with any requirement of form expressly set forth in a previous Office action, or present rejected claims in better form for consideration on appeal;
- (B) for an amendment touching the merits of the patent under reexamination, the patent owner provides a showing of good and sufficient reasons why the amendment is necessary and was not earlier presented.
The first proposed amendment after final action in a reexamination proceeding will be given sufficient consideration to determine whether it places all the claims in condition where they are patentable and/or whether the issues on appeal are reduced or simplified. Unless the proposed amendment is entered in its entirety, the examiner will briefly explain the reasons for not entering a proposed amendment. For example, if the claims as amended present a new issue requiring further consideration or search, the new issue should be identified and a brief explanation provided as to why a new search or consideration is necessary. The patent owner should be notified if certain portions of the amendment would be entered if a separate paper was filed containing only such amendment.
Any second or subsequent amendment after final will be considered only to the extent that it removes issues for appeal or puts a claim in obvious patentable condition.
Since patents undergoing reexamination cannot become abandoned and cannot be refiled, and since the holding of claims unpatentable and canceled in a certificate is absolutely final, it is appropriate that the examiner consider the feasibility of entering amendments touching the merits after final rejection or after appeal has been taken, where there is a showing why the amendments are necessary and a suitable reason is given why they were not earlier presented.
The practice of giving the patent owner a time period to supply an omission in a bona fide response (as set forth in MPEP § 2266.01) does not apply after a final Office action. If a bona fide response to an examiner’s action is filed after final rejection (before the expiration of the permissible response period), but through an apparent oversight or inadvertence, some point necessary to fully respond has been omitted, the examiner should not issue (to the patent owner) a notice of failure to fully respond. Rather, an advisory Office action (form PTOL-467) should be issued with an explanation of the omission.
Likewise, the practice of notifying the patent owner of the defects present in a submission via form PTOL-475 and setting a time period for correction of the defect(s) (as set forth in MPEP § 2266.02) does not apply after a final Office action. If a defective (informal) response to an examiner’s action is filed after final rejection (before the expiration of the permissible response period), the examiner should not issue a form PTOL-475 notification to the patent owner. Rather, an advisory Office action (form PTOL-467) should be issued with an explanation of the defect (informality) being provided in the advisory action.