divisional

Decision for Rejection

Q. We received a Decision for Rejection.  Are there any means to continue the prosecution of the present patent application?

A.  The Applicant can file a Notice of Appeal against the Decision for Rejection within three months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or four months (for foreign Applicants) from the dispatch date of the Decision.  Please see section “Appeal against the Decision for Rejection” for more details.

With respect to patent applications filed on or after April 1, 2007, a divisional application can be filed instead of  (or in addition to) filing a Notice of Appeal.  Please see section “Divisional Application” for more details.

Appeal against the Decision for Rejection

Q1. We understand that an Appeal can be filed against the Decision for Rejection.  What are the steps necessary for filing an Appeal?

A1.  Firstly, a Notice of Appeal, which is a formal document requesting the initiation of Appeal Proceedings, is filed by the deadline which is three months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or four months (for foreign Applicants) from the dispatch date of the Decision for Rejection. 

Further, any amendment  (if any) must be filed simultaneously with the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  (In the case of patent applications filed on or before March 31, 2007, divisional applications can be filed only simultaneously with the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  In the case of parent patent applications filed on or after April 1, 2007, divisional applications can be filed either before, simultaneously with or after the filing of the Notice of Appeal as long as it is before the expiration of the above-mentioned deadline for filing the Notice of Appeal.)  With respect to the amendment, please note that there is a restriction to the permissible claim amendments.  Please see section “Restriction to Permissible Claim Amendments after Final Rejection” for more details.

Next, any arguments, reference materials and/or experimental reports are filed as an Appeal Brief (i.e., Reasons for Appeal).  The Appeal Brief can be filed either simultaneously with the Notice of Appeal or after the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  When the Appeal Brief is not filed with the Notice of Appeal, the due date for filing the Appeal Brief will be set by the Japan Patent Office, and it is usually about 2 months from the filing date of the Notice of Appeal.

Q2. Is it possible to obtain any extension of deadline for filing the Notice of Appeal or the Appeal Brief?

A2.  No.  The deadlines for filing a Notice of Appeal and an Appeal Brief are non-extensible

Q3. Is it possible to submit new experimental data in the appeal stage?

A3.  Yes.  Any experimental data can be filed together with the Appeal Brief except that effectiveness of data may vary depending on the purpose of the data.

Submission of data for demonstrating novelty and/or inventive step of an invention over prior art is effective if the data itself is appropriate for this purpose; whereas data submitted at the appeal stage cannot compensate for the lack of enabling disclosure or lack of support in the specification, and such data are usually dismissed as late filed.

The Japanese patent system does not allow for applicants to establish the enabling disclosure requirement and/or supporting disclosure requirement through later-filed evidence. That is, these requirements must be satisfied by the patent application as filed, and later-filed data for making up the deficiency in this respect will not be admitted by the JPO.

Q4. Is there an opportunity to file additional amendments and/or divisional applications after the filing of the Notice of Appeal?

A4.  Concerning additional amendments after the filing of the Notice of Appeal, such additional amendments are admissible only when the applicant responds to a Notice of Rejection which may or may not be issued in the appeal stage.   That is, the applicant may not be given any opportunity to file an amendment after the filing of the Notice of Appeal.  Therefore, it is safer to consider that the time of filing of the Notice of Appeal is substantially the last chance to file amendments.

On the other hand, as mentioned in A1 above, in the case of patent applications filed on or after April 1, 2007, divisional applications may be filed even after the filing of the Notice of Appeal as long as it is before the expiration of the deadline for filing the Notice, i.e., three months (for Applicants residing in Japan) or four months (for foreign Applicants) from the dispatch date of the Decision for Rejection.

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Restriction to Permissible Claim Amendments after Final Rejection

Q. We understand that permissible claim amendments are restricted after the issuance of a final rejection.  Please explain about the restriction.

A.  Permissible claim amendments are restricted after the issuance of not only the Final Notice of Rejection, but also after the Decision for Rejection.  Further, this restriction applies to a divisional application filed from a parent application filed on or after April 1, 2007 and containing claims which can be rejected on the same ground as the parent application. 

The permissible amendments are (i) deletion of a claim(s), (ii) amendment for limiting the scope of the invention without increasing the number of claims, (iii) amendments for removing clerical errors, and (iv) amendments for clarifying an unclear expression.  Other claim amendments are not permissible at this stage.  For example, the following amendments are not permissible even when the claims are fully supported by the specification as filed:

   (a) Addition of a new claim directed to a subject matter not described in the claims;

   (b)  Addition of a new subclaim for limiting the scope of an independent claim; and

   (c)  Amendment for changing the category of a claim (such as, changing a product-by-process claim into a process claim).

Addition of a new subclaim is permissible when the amendment is made for clarifying an unclear expression.  For example, when there is a claim reading “A composition containing X, preferably Y”, amending this claim to “A composition containing X” and adding a subclaim reading “Composition according to claim N, wherein said X is Y” will be permissible.

Divisional Application

Q1. Is it possible to file a divisional application from a pending Japanese patent application?

A1.  A divisional application can be filed from a pending Japanese patent application, but periods for filing a divisional application depends on the filing date of the parent application.

 Divisional application from a parent application filed on or before March 31, 2007 can be filed: 

  (1) any time until the 1st Office Action is issued by the Patent Office,

  (2) within a period for filing a response to an Office Action, and

  (3) simultaneously with the filing of a Notice of Appeal.

 Divisional application from a parent application filed on or after April 1, 2007 can be filed: 

  (1) any time until the 1st Office Action is issued by the Patent Office,

  (2) within a period for filing a response to an Office Action,

  (3) within a period when a Notice of Appeal can be filed against the Decision for Rejection (*note that a divisional application can be filed within this period even without the actual filing of a Notice of Appeal or even after the filing of the Notice of Appeal), and

  (4) within 30 days from the issuance of a Decision to Grant.

Q2. Our patent application in Japan was granted as a result of an Appeal against the Decision for Rejection.  Is it possible to file a new divisional application from the granted patent application?

A2.  No.  Regardless of the filing date of the parent application, when an Appeal is filed, a divisional application cannot be filed any longer after the final decision.

Q3. Is the filing of only claims sufficient for filing a divisional application?

A3.  Not only claims, but the whole specification including drawings and sequence listing (if any) is required.  Further, filing of an explanatory Written Statement on the divisional application for explaining (1) supports for the claims, and (2) differences between the parent application and the present divisional application is required by the Japan Patent Office. 

Q4. Is it acceptable to first file a divisional application with the same claims as the patent application and then later amend the claims? 

A4.  Yes, it is acceptable as long as the claims are to be amended later during the prosecution of the divisional so as not to overlap with those of the parent because no double patenting is permitted. 

The Applicant is requested to file a Written Statement for explaining how the divisional differs from the parent, etc.   The Statement should be filed earlier than or simultaneously with the filing of a request for examination.

Further, in the case of a divisional application from a parent application filed on or after April 1, 2007, the claims of such a divisional application (which may be submitted as amendment after filing of the divisional) should be drafted so as to remove all of the reasons for rejection issued against the parent.  When the examiner finds that the claims of the divisional can be rejected on the same ground as the parent, the first Notice of Rejection is made final, and permissible claim amendments are restricted as in the case of the "amendment after final Rejection".  Please see item “Restriction to Permissible Claim Amendments After Final Rejection” for more details.

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Design Registration

Q1. If a design application is to be filed in Japan claiming Convention Priority based on a non-Japanese application, is the priority period one year as in patent applications? 

A1.  No. For filing design applications in Japan claiming Convention priority, the priority period is for six (6) months, instead of one year, from the filing of the priority application.  Even if you have a design "patent" application filed at the USPTO, the priority period is 6 months for filing a Japanese patent application with a valid priority claim based on the degisn "patent" application filed in the US.  

You also have to be careful when filing a patent application in Japan claiming priority from both a patent application and a design application.  That is, for example, if you filed in your country a patent application on May 1, 2012 and a design application on October 30, 2012 and are now considering filing a patent application on May 1, 2013 in Japan claiming priority from both of the above-mentioned patent application and design application filed in your country, this date “May 1, 2013” is within one-year priority period based on the patent application but is after the expiration of six-month priority period (October 30, 2012 + 6 months = April 40, 2013) based on the design application.  Therefore, the priority claim based on the design application is not valid.  

Q2. I am planning to file a design patent application in Japan claiming priority from a US design patent application.  What are the major differences in practice between the United States and Japan that require particular attention?

A2.  Firstly, unlike the “design patent” in the United States which is one type of patents and is basically dealt with under the patent law, Japan has a design law separate from a patent law. 

Therefore, in Japan, an application for registration of a design is referred to as “design application”, not “design patent application” as in the United States.  

More importantly, this difference in legal system leads to some significant differences in design registration practice between the US and Japan representative examples of which are enumerated below.

Difference 1)  “Single design per application” system in Japan

It is understood that the US system allows an applicant to pursue two or more designs (embodiments) of a single inventive concept in a single design patent application.  This, however, is not the case in Japan.  According to the Japanese practice, each design application may include only a single design of single shape.

Therefore, in Japan, when a single priority application includes multiple designs, it is necessary to either:

-  file separate design applications with respect to the different designs, or

-  file an application including different designs and later file a divisional application(s).

In this connection, however, it should be noted that it is not allowed to file a divisional application on a “partial” design from a “whole” design application and vice versa.  Concerning the “partial” and “whole” designs, explanations are made below.

Further, there is an exception to the "single design per application" system, and the Japan's Design Law provides "related design" system for covering a plurality of similar designs.

1-1) Exception to the “single design per application” rule

The Japan’s Design Law exceptionally allows for discrete objects to be claimed in a single application if common sense indicates that such discrete objects are usually sold as a “set”, as in the case of, for example, a 3-piece set including a knife, fork and spoon. 

1-2) Related design applications

In the case where the priority US application contains a plurality of different but similar designs (e.g., minor variations of a certain design), such similar designs may be covered by utilizing the related design system in Japan.  Specifically, the similar designs can be covered by filing a principal design application and filing a related design application(s) by one day prior to the publication of the principal design. 

The design registered as the related design can be enforced independently of the registered principal design and other registered related design(s).  That is, a related design right can cover even a design similar to that related design, which, however, is not similar to the principal design. 

For covering such similar designs under the related design regime, it is possible to either:

-  file a principal design application and also file a related design application(s) simultaneously with the principal application or later (by one day prior to the publication of the principal design at the latest), or

-  file general design applications on the similar designs, and later amend the general applications into a principal design application and a related design application(s).

The JPO may find that the designs are not similar enough to be eligible for registration under the related design regime but there is no need to be so nervous about this point.  If the JPO denies the similarity, the JPO will issue an office action requesting the applicant to stop relying on the related design system and change the applications to normal applications.

 

Finally, the right of a registered related design is independent from the right of a registered principal design but there are the following exceptions.

1.   Synchronized protection term: 

The protection term for both of a registered principal design and a registered related design is 20 years from the registration date of the principal design.  This point, however, is substantially immaterial in the present case because the two applications will probably be registered almost simultaneously.  Further, the registered related design can be maintained even if the principal design is allowed to lapse due to non-payment of maintenance fee, and vice versa.   

 2.   Restriction of transfer of rights and licensing: 

The right of a registered related design cannot be transferred or licensed independently from the registered principal design.  That is, for transfer of design rights to a third party by assignment etc., the principal and related designs must be simultaneously transferred together to the same entity.  Further, also for licensing, the principal and related designs must be licensed simultaneously to the same entity.

 

Difference 2)  Partial Design System

The Japan’s Design Law has a “partial design system” which allows registration of parts of shapes or forms with distinct characteristics.  

The US system also provides a similar practice where dotted lines can be used to indicate non-claimed parts.  There is, however, one important difference.  That is, the Japan’s system requires that a partial design application should be filed with a clear indication that the application claims a partial design.  In the absence of such indication, the application will be recognized as claiming a whole design. 

Once filed with the indication of a partial design application, it is in principle not allowed to amend the application into a whole design application and vice versa.  Similarly, a divisional application on a partial design cannot be filed from a whole design application and vice versa. 

Therefore, if it is important to cover both of whole and partial designs, it is recommended to file both a whole design application and a partial design application.

 

Of course, there are many other differences between US and Japanese practices; however, the above differences are believed to be the main differences which require particular attention when filing a design application in Japan claiminig priority from a US design patent application.

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米国(2)

Q. 継続審査請求(RCE、Request for Continued Examination)は何回まで可能か?

A. 特許出願が生きている限りは何回でも可能です。

Q. 継続審査請求(RCE、Request for Continued Examination)を行った場合に、RCE後の最初の審査通知が最後の拒絶理由通知(Final Action)になることはあるか?

A. RCE後の最初の審査通知がFinal Actionとなることは、規則上は有り得ますが、実務上は殆どありません。
RCE後の最初の審査通知がFinal Actionになるのは、2つの要件:

(1)RCE前のクレームとRCE後のクレームとが同一である、

(2)RCE後の審査における拒絶の理由がRCE前の審査における拒絶の理由と同一である、

共に満たされる場合に限ります。

しかし、RCEを行うのは、殆どの場合、Final Action後に提出したクレームの補正や証拠が新たな争点(New Issue)を提起するものであって考慮出来ないと認められた場合です。このような場合に、上記の要件(1)及び(2)に該当することはあまりないはずです。

但し、Final Actionの法定期限内に許可通知(Notice of Allowance)を得ることができずに、延命措置としてRCEをしたというような場合には、RCE後の最初の審査通知が出される前に、なるべく早期に補正(Preliminary Amendment)や新たな証拠を提出しないと、最初の審査通知がFinal Actionになってしまう可能性が有ります。このような状況において、補正や新たな証拠を提出する予定があるが、準備に暫く時間がかかるような場合には、RCEと同時又はその直後に審査の一時中断を申請するRequest for a 3-month Suspension of Action by the USPTO under 37 CFR 1.103 (c)ということも考えられます。

なお、RCEを提出する際に、クレームに何らかの補正を行なうと、次の最初の審査通知がfinal actionとなるのを防ぐことができますので、状況によってはそのような手段を講じることもあります。その際の補正は純粋に形式的なものでよく、例えば、得に重要でない特徴に関する従属クレームの追加などでも構いません。また、そのクレームが不要であれば、後で削除することもできます。

Q. RCEの提出後、一年以上経過したが、全く動きが無い。審査を促進するための手段は無いのか?

A. 近年、USPTOは、RCEの利用を減ずるための方策を採用しており、その1つがUSPTOにおけるRCE後の処理の優先度を下げることです。

その結果、RCE後に次のアクションが出るまで非常に時間がかかるようになってしまいました。弊所の取扱い案件においても、RCE後のアクションが出るまで1年近くかかった例が幾つか有ります。1年以上アクションが無いということもあると聞きます。

考えられる対策としては、米国代理人に直接、審査官に問い合せてもらうか、若しくは面談の申請をすることが挙げられます。尤も、前者については、審査官はRCE案件を速やかに処理することは要求されないため、効果が得られるか定かで無く、また後者については、もし面談後にRCEを請求したというのであれば、効果とコストの観点から現実的なオプションでは無いかも知れません。

尚、多くの出願人や実務者がRCE後の審査の遅延を問題視しており、現在USPTOがパブリックオピニオンを求めている模様です(2013年2月4日まで)。従って、近い将来改善される可能性は有りますが、現在の所、RCEを請求すれば、常に審査が大幅に遅れる可能性があるということを念頭に置かなければならないようです。

Q. 米国において最後の拒絶理由通知(Final Office Action)後に補正を行わずに、37 C.F.R. § 1.132に基づく宣誓供述書を提出した場合、これは考慮されるのか?

A. 状況により考慮されることも有りますが、弊所の経験からは、新たな検討を要するという理由で、継続審査請求(RCE)や審判請求(Appeal)を行わないと検討してもらえないことが多いようです。

Q. 最後の拒絶理由通知(Final Office Action)後に回答書を提出して、法定期限内(Final Actionの日から6ヶ月)に次の審査通知が出ないことがあるのか?その場合どうなるのか?

A. あります。最後の拒絶理由通知の日から6ヶ月の法定期間内に許可通知(Notice of Allowance)(拒絶理由通知ではありません)が出されず、且つ、出願人が該6ヶ月の期間内にRCEや審判請求を行うなど出願を継続させるための手続きを取ることを怠った場合、出願放棄と見なされます。

注意すべきは、上記6ヶ月の期間内に審査官の応答があっても、それが許可通知ではなく拒絶理由通知("Advisory Action"と言います)である場合には、出願人はそのAdvisory Actionに回答する義務があり、上記6ヶ月の期間内に許可通知がもらえそうにないときには、出願人は上記6ヶ月の期間内にRCEや審判請求を行うなど出願を継続させるための手続きを取っておかなければならない、ということです。

Q. 米国における分割出願と継続出願との違いがよく分からないのだが?

A. 米国では、Restriction指令により審査対象外となったクレームに関して出願し直す場合のみ"divisional application"(分割出願)と称し、自発的に行う「分割出願」は"continuation application"(継続出願)と称します。

Q. ターミナルディスクレーマー(Terminal Disclaimer)とはどのようなものか?

A. ある特許出願のクレームが、その出願と同一の発明者または譲受人による他の特許又は特許出願のクレームと同じでないにしても特許的に区別できない(not patentably distinct)と判断された時に、自明型(obviousness type)二重特許(ダブルパテント)の拒絶理由が出されます。Terminal Disclaimerは、この自明型二重特許の拒絶理由を解消するための手段です。

具体的には、Terminal Disclaimerを提出して、先願の特許権存続期間の満了日と一致させるように後願の特許権存続期間の一部を放棄することにより、自明型二重特許の拒絶を解消することができます(MPEP § 804.02 II.)。

尚、Terminal Disclaimerは、先願特許と後願特許の発明者または譲受人が同一である限りにおいて有効な手続だということに注意が必要です。Terminal Disclaimerによって拒絶を克服して特許を受けた後に、先願特許と後願特許のどちらか一方だけが他人に譲渡された場合には、後願特許は権利行使不能(unenforceable)になってします。

一旦受理されたTerminal Disclaimerを取り下げることについては特許発行前若しくは再審査(Reexaminationにおける再審査証明書(Reexamination Certificate)の発行前であれば可能ですが、それ以後は、ほぼ不可能になってしまいます。再発行(Reissue)や訂正証明書(certificate of correction)などでTerminal Disclaimerを無効化することはできません。(1490 Disclaimers [R-7] - 1400 Correction of Patents)従って、Terminal Disclaimerを提出する際には、譲渡の可能性などについて慎重に検討することが必要です。

因みに、ある特許出願のクレームが、その出願と同一の発明者または出願人による他の特許又は特許出願のクレームと同一と判断された場合には、同一発明型(same invention type)二重特許の拒絶を受けます。この場合、Terminal Disclaimerによって拒絶を解消することはできず、クレームの削除や補正によりクレームを明確に差別化することが必要になります。

Q. 米国において特許無効立証の証拠として、審査の段階で審査官に考慮された先行技術文献と、考慮されなかった先行技術文献では重要度に違いがないのか?

A. 成立済みの特許の有効・無効の判断においては、特許が有効であることが推定され(patent is presumed valid)、特許無効の立証の為の証拠基準は「明白且つ説得力のある証拠」(Clear and Convincing Evidence)であることが要求されます。このことは、無効の証拠として使用される先行技術文献が、審査の段階で審査官に考慮されたものであるか否かには影響されません。

この点については、Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Limited Partnership事件の最高裁判決(2011年6月9日)において、Microsoft社が、審査段階で考慮されなかった先行技術文献に関しては、これに対して特許が有効であるという推定が成り立たず、そのような文献については、特許無効の立証の為の証拠基準は「明白且つ説得力のある証拠」(Clear and Convincing Evidence)ではなく、「証拠の優越性」(Preponderance of Evidence)(即ち、その証拠に基づいて、どちらかと言えば無効である可能性が高いと判断されれば特許無効)とすべき、と主張しましたが、米最高裁は、これを退け、審査段階で考慮されたか否かに関わらず、従来からの基準である「明白且つ説得力のある証拠」(Clear and Convincing Evidence)を適用すべきことを明確にしました。

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