Friday, March 29, 2013

Creative, but losing, arguments against obviousness-type double patenting

What are your options for fighting an obviousness-type double patenting rejection when you don't want to – or can't – file a terminal disclaimer, yet you don't have good arguments for argue non-obviousness? Today's post will cover a half-dozen cases where Applicants came up with atypical arguments against double patenting ... but all were losing arguments at the Board.

The Applicant in Ex parte Germeyer (BPAI 2010) took the position that since the commonly owned reference was unavailable as prior art under §103, the reference was also "unavailable as a secondary reference to support an obviousness-type double patenting rejection." The Board disagreed. The Board stated that the double patenting rejection was not made under §103, even if the obviousness analysis is similar. "Rather than precluding patentability as under §103, nonstatutory double patenting rejections permit patenting conditioned by a terminal disclaimer. Thus, we find Appellants’ arguments based on §103(c) unpersuasive." 0).

The Applicant in Ex parte Stomp (BPAI 2012) appealed an obviousness-type double patenting rejection. The facts of this case were a bit unusual in that the application on appeal did not claim priority to the issued patent, and the application on appeal and the issued patent had different owners. The Applicant argued that neither of the policies addressed by double patenting rejections – extension of term and harassment by different assignees – was relevant to these facts. First, the Applicant noted that extension of term was not implicated because of the appealed application would expire several years before the patent used in the rejection. Second, the Applicant explained that the application and the patent "are owned and have always been owned by two separate entities”." The Applicant distinguished this from the In re Van Ornum line of cases, where the court dealt only with commonly owned patents that might subsequently be assigned or transferred to different parties. The Board agreed that term extension was irrelevant here, but was not persuaded by the argument about lack of common ownership. The Board discussed In re Fallaux, which endorsed the Ornum rationale.

     We note that the Fallaux court explicitly stated that its opinion “should not be read to decide or endorse the PTO‟s view” as to “whether a patent may be used as a reference for an obviousness-type double patenting rejection where the patent shares only a common inventor with the application, rather than an identical inventive entity or a common assignee.” In re Fallaux at 1315 (citing MPEP § 804 ¶ I.A.).
     ... [G]iven that the possibility of multiple assignee harassment is not avoided when the conflicting subject matter is separately owned at the time the applications are filed, we are not persuaded that an obviousness-type double patenting rejection is only proper when the claimed subject matter is potentially transferred to separate assignees after the applications are filed.

Two Board decisions dealt with Applicants who argued the impropriety of a provisional double patenting rejection. During prosecution, the Applicant in Ex parte Bolle (BPAI 2011) faced a series of prior art rejections and a provisional double patenting rejection. The Applicant fought the prior art rejections by arguing and/or amending. The Applicant repeatedly requested the Examiner to withdraw the provisional double patenting rejection, reasoning that since the prior art rejections had been overcome, and the instant application was filed the same day as the reference, "the Examiner must withdraw this provisional rejection." The Applicant repeated the same argument on appeal: the Board should reverse the provisional rejection in view of the identical filing date of the two applications, and the Applicant's position that "the sole rejection of [the claims on appeal] under 103 is improper. The Board affirmed the obviousness rejection and the double patenting rejection. The common filing date was not grounds for reversal because term extension was not the only policy behind double patenting. “[T]here is a second justification for obviousness type double patenting - harassment by multiple assignees.” (citing In re Fallaux, 564 F.3d 1313, 1319, (Fed. Cir. 2009)).

The Applicant in Ex parte Luu (BPAI 2011) made a purely procedural argument about a provisional double patenting rejection. The Applicant relied on MPEP 804(I)(B)(1), which directs the Examiner to withdraw a provisional double patenting rejection when no other rejections remain. The Applicant noted that the copending application used in the rejection could not be expected to issue first since it had not yet started examination. According to the Applicant, this fact in conjunction with the MPEP directive were grounds for the Board to reverse or vacate. The Board viewed this as an untimely request for procedural relief and refused, citing Ex parte Moncla, 2009-006448 (BPAI 2010) (precedential). The Board acknowledged that the Examiner did have the discretion to withdraw the provisional rejection, but noted that jurisdiction had since passed from the Examiner to the Board. The Board then explained that petition, rather appeal, was the appropriate mechanism to contest the Examiner's refusal to withdraw the provisional double patenting rejection. (Ex parte Luu, PTAB 2011)(Appl. No. 11/297,201).

Finally, the Applicant in Ex parte Lin (BPAI 2012) went to appeal with only a double patenting rejection. After losing at the Board, the Applicant filed a terminal disclaimer and then a Request for Rehearing at the Board. The Request asked the Board to reconsider the rejection "in view of the recently submitted terminal disclaimer," or in the alternative, to remand to the Examiner for consideration of the Terminal Disclaimer. The Board denied the Request because Rehearing is limited to arguments already made the Brief. The Rehearing Decision said nothing about remand. The Applicant then filed the Terminal Disclaimer again, this time with an RCE. In the Remarks submitted with the RCE, the Appilcant asked for speedy issuance, noting that the Application had already been in prosecution for five years and only six years of term remained because of the terminal disclaimer. PAIR shows that the Terminal Disclaimer was approved a few days after filing of the RCE – but as of today, more than six months have since elapsed with no further action on the case.


  1. Thank you, Karen. Lots of food for thought.

  2. Karen,

    Thank you for excellent paper!!!

    I have saved and printed this one and Robert's one.