The saga of the PTO’s rulemaking authority continued on March 20, 2009 when the Federal Circuit issued its 55 page decision in Tafas v. Doll holding that aside from the rule limiting continuations, the other rule changes were procedural in nature and the PTO does have the rule-making authority to implement the rules limiting the number of claims in each application, providing for Requests for Continued Examination (RCEs) and requiring Examination Support Documents (ESDs).

Now, an eleven member en banc panel has voted to rehear the case en banc. Tafas v. Doll, 2008-1352 (Fed. Cir. 2009)(Order, per curiam). In its en banc order, the Federal Circuit vacated the panel decision, set up a briefing schedule and said it would announce an oral argument at a later date.

Two of the new rules, Final Rule 78 and Final Rule 114, pertain to continuation applications and requests for continued examination (“RCEs”) and were issued – according to the USPTO — to address the “large and growing backlog of unexamined patent applications.”  Final Rule 75 requires an applicant who submits either more than five independent claims or twenty-five total claims to provide the examiner with information in an examination support document (“ESD”).  Final Rule 265, requires an applicant to conduct a pre-examination prior art search.

On one hand, the Federal Circuit said the Patent Office can make up procedural rules all it wants, saying:

[On] review of a procedural rule that has been issued by the USPTO, we will give Chevron deference to the USPTO’s interpretation of statutory provisions that relate to the exercise of delegated authority. …

The Final Rules may “alter the manner in which the parties present . . . their viewpoints” to the USPTO, but they do not, on their face, “foreclose effective opportunity” to present patent applications for examination.

On the other hand, it agreed with the district court finding that Final Rule 78’s requirement for the third and subsequent continuation applications was inconsistent with the text of 35 U.S.C. § 120, saying:

Thus, Rule 78 is invalid because it attempts to add an additional requirement—that the application not contain amendments, arguments, or evidence that could have been submitted earlier—that is foreclosed by the statute.  Because the statute is clear and unambiguous with respect to this issue, the USPTO’s reliance on Chevron and Brand X is unavailing.

It’s not clear why the Federal Circuit is revisiting the case en banc.  It could be to clarify the groundrules for procedural rulemaking.  It could be to reverse itself on Rule 78.  Either way. look for additional rounds of briefing.

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    […] Now, an eleven member en banc panel has voted to rehear the case en banc. Tafas v. Doll, 2008-1352 (Fed. Cir. 20Read more at http://www.patentbaristas.com/archives/2009/07/08/tafas-v-doll-war-without-end/ […]