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米国:AFCP試行プログラム実施期間延長

米国特許商標庁(USPTO)は、特許(Utility Patent)・意匠(Design Patent)出願に対する最後の拒絶理由通知(Final Office Action)後に、審査の再考を促す機会を与えるAfter Final Consideration Pilot(AFCP)プログラムを、2012年3月25日から6月16日までに提出された応答を対象として実施しておりましたが、この試行期間が2012年9月30日まで延長されることとなりました。

現行の規則では最後の拒絶理由通知(Final Office Action)後に提出された補正や証拠を審査官に考慮させるためには、RCE等の手続きが必要になることが多いのですが、AFCP によって、Final後に提出された補正や証拠について、限定的な(特許で約3時間、意匠で約1時間以内で済むような)検討や調査によって、該補正や証拠により特許査定できるとの判断が可能な場合、RCE等を行わずに補正や証拠を審査官に考慮させることが可能になります。

AFCPにより、Final後に可能になる補正や応答は以下のようなものです:

1.  The amendment places the application in condition for allowance by canceling claims or complying with formal requirement(s) in response to objection(s) made in the final office action. (クレームを削除する補正若しくは方式上の拒絶(objection)理由を取り除く補正であって、それにより出願を特許許可できる状態とするもの)

2.  The amendment places the application in condition for allowance by rewriting objected-to claims in independent form. (方式上の拒絶を受けたクレームを独立形式とする補正であって、それにより出願を特許許可できる状態とするもの)

3.  The amendment places the application in condition for allowance by incorporating limitations from objected-to claims into independent claims, if the new claim can be determined to be allowable with only a limited amount of further consideration or search. (方式上の拒絶を受けたクレームの限定を独立クレームに組み込む補正であって、それにより出願を特許許可できる状態とするものであり、且つ限定的な更なる検討または調査によって、その新たなクレームが特許許可できると判断できる場合)

4.  The amendment can be determined to place the application in condition for allowance with only a limited amount of further search or consideration, even if new claims are added without cancelling a corresponding number of finally rejected claims. (新たなクレームを追加し、それに相当する数の最終的に拒絶(reject)されたクレームを削除しないような場合であっても、その補正によって、限定的な更なる検討または調査で出願が特許許可できる状態となると判断できるもの )

(*注: 本来は、MPEP714.13において、Final後は、新たなクレームを追加することはできないと規定されている)

5.  The amendment can be determined to place the application in condition for allowance by adding new limitation(s) which require only a limited amount of further consideration or search. (限定的な更なる検討または調査のみしか必要としない新たな限定を加える補正であって、その補正により出願が特許許可できる状態となると判断できるもの)

6.  The response comprises a perfected 37 CFR 1.131 or 37 CFR 1.132 affidavit or declaration (i.e. a new declaration which corrects formal defects noted in a prior affidavit or declaration) which can be determined to place the application in condition for allowance with only a limited amount of further search or consideration (37 CFR 1.131 又は 37 CFR 1.132の宣誓供述書(Affidavit)又は宣言書(Declaration)の完全版(即ち、以前に提出されたAffidavit又はDeclarationの形式的な欠陥を訂正したもの)を含む応答であって、その応答により出願が特許許可できる状態となると判断できるもの)

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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.

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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