The public comment letters on the proposed Markush Rules by the Patent Office are up on the USPTO website. The Patent Office is moving ever onward with its proposed revision to the rules of practice pertaining to any claim using alternative language to claim one or more species. That is, if the claims use Markush or other forms of alternative language.

Markush claims, officially sanctioned since 1924, is a claim drafting technique using the phrase ‘‘selected from the group consisting of’’ followed by a closed listing of specific members of the group. These types of claims allow an applicant to describe an invention where there is no available wording for the group.

According to the USPTO, the search and examination of such claims consume a disproportionate amount of Office resources as compared to other types of claims. I guess as opposed to claims that don’t use big words.

Specifically, the USPTO is complaining about applications claiming compounds by their chemical structure (read: they hate the Chemical and biotech arts). The proposed rules would allow the Office to require new application for each listed item.

The Office proposes to encourage applicants who use alternative language to provide an explanation as to why the claim is directed to a single invention. Under the proposed rules, an applicant is may explain, for example, that the species share a substantial feature for a common utility. Alternatively, applicants may explain that the species are prima facie obvious over each other. It’s a poor choice either way.

As to the suggested alternative, it is hard to imagine that Applicants would ever want to admit that species are prima facie obvious over each other. If applicants were to admit that their species are prima facie obvious over each other, they could not overcome a reference that anticipated one of the species by simply excising that offending species from the claim.

37 C.F.R. § 1.75(a) provides that “[t]he specification must conclude with a claim particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his or her invention or discovery. A claim must be limited to a single invention.” In the commentary related to this proposed section, it is stated that the “Office proposes that if a single claim defines multiple independent and distinct inventions, the examiner may apply a restriction requirement before examination.” (72 Fed. Reg. at 44995). Furthermore, it is stated that “[p]roposed §1.75(a) would provide the basis for objecting to the format of a claim that is directed to two or more independent and distinct inventions” (72 Fed. Reg. at 44997).

This is crazy. The language is confusing and unclear and would make mandatory a restriction requirement where more than a single invention was covered by a claim. 35 U.S.C. § 121 says that restriction is made permissive by the statute, and not mandatory. An examiner should be free not to require restriction within a single claim, and that claim should not be subject to attack even if it arguably is directed to more than a single invention.

The proposed language is confusing and unclear in suggesting that a claim must be limited to a “single invention.”

Among the many still smoldering hate mails, David Boundy of Cantor Fitzgerald fired off angry comments about proposed Markush Rules and the PTO’s Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) and Paperwork Reduction Act Information Collection Request.

His comments on the Markush rule changes came down to the markush rule coins a sui generis non-statutory definition for the word “invention,” which either renders the rules unintelligible or leads to unintended consequences:

The proposed rule text and preamble in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) use the word “invention” to mean something other than “the scope of one claim.” Rather than use the long-established definition of the term “invention,” the NPRM uses the term in some loose sense, with no stated or inferable definition. This usage renders most of the NPRM simply unintelligible.

Since the late 19th Century, the term “invention” has been coextensive with the word “claim.” 35 U.S.C. § 112 ¶ 2 (claims “particularly point out and distinctly [claim] the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention”) Throughout the patent law, the word “the invention” is constantly and consistently held to be coextensive with the scope of one claim, by definition.

By trying to split the two, and relying on some unstated informal definition for “invention,” the entire NPRM is unintelligible, and the text of the rules set no meaningful standards. For example, the NPRM proposes to amend 37 C.F.R. § 1.75(a) by adding the words “A claim must be limited to a single invention,” and to add § 1.140, “Two or more independent and distinct inventions may not be claimed in a single claim.” What can this sentence possibly mean? It represents such a departure from and is in such conflict with established meanings of words as to be meaningless, and can only serve to invite abuse by examiners. Is the sentence intended to be a meaningless tautology? Does “A claim must be limited to a single invention” mean that no claim may have more than one dependent claim? That no claim may cover two disclosed embodiments?

See also:

Patent Office: Application Costs Could Increase by $100,000 or More

USPTO to Limit Markush (Alternative) Claims: Serious Cost Increase in the Forecast

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  1. Seems like Europe, and Japan, and basically every other Patent Office that does substantive examination seems able to handle this under a unity of invention standard. Why is it that the USPTO is so far behind these others in ability? If they do not have the infrastructure or the intellectual ability to handle what these other Patent Offices have no problem with, then perhaps that it is the problem that needs to be solved. We shouldn’t be asked to dumb down the application process to their (apparent) level.

  2. […] proposed revision to the rules of practice pertaining to any claim using alternative language to c…Time to Hit The Brakes On That Cliche Washington PostWord to the wise, all you politicos: Beware of […]

  3. There’s are a couple points of my letter that are far more important than the one excerpted here.

    Most crucial, the pattern is now long enough and consistent enough (over 20 instances over nearly two years) to support a conclusion that the PTO has engaged in deliberate misrepresentation to the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration, by putting forth flawed analyses (using analytical methods that the PTO itself disowned when used by those challenging the rules in the Tafas v Dudas litigation), mischecking boxes, and so forth, all in an apparent attempt to avoid scrutiny or oversight by those parts of the Executive Branch that have the responsibility to make sure that rogue agencies do not impose unwarranted costs on the public.

    See sections III IV and V of the letter.