Affirming a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held, for the first time, that the rule prohibiting recapture of subject matter surrendered during prosecution applies to subject matter surrendered to overcome a § 101 patent eligibility rejection. In re McDonald, Case No. 21-1697 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 10, 2022) (Newman, Stoll, Cunningham, JJ.)
During prosecution of a parent patent application relating to displaying search results, the inventor, John McDonald, added a “processor” limitation to certain claims to overcome a § 101 rejection. McDonald subsequently filed a continuation application, which was eventually issued. McDonald then filed a reissue application seeking to broaden the claims of the continuation patent by striking all of the originally added “processor” claim language. With the reissue application, he included a declaration that the processor language was unnecessary to the patentability and operability of the relevant claims. The examiner rejected the claims as obvious, and McDonald appealed. On appeal, the Board affirmed the obviousness rejection and also rejected the reissue claims as being based on a defective declaration lacking a correctable error. The Board found that McDonald was impermissibly attempting to recapture surrendered subject matter. McDonald appealed.
Exercising de novo review, the Federal Circuit first recounted more than a century of caselaw relating to patent reissue and recapture. The Court explained that a patent may be reissued if the inventor erroneously claimed less than they had a right to claim in the original patent, but that the recapture rule bars a patentee from regaining that which was surrendered during prosecution. The Court then turned to its three-step recapture analysis in which it considers the following:
- Whether, and in what aspect, the reissue claims are broader than the patent claims
- If broader, whether those broader aspects of the reissue claim relate to the surrendered subject matter
- If they do, whether the surrendered subject matter has crept into the reissue claim.
Applying this test, the Court concluded that McDonald sought to broaden his claims and that the surrendered subject matter crept into those broadened claims. The Court also held that McDonald did not meet the reissue statute’s “error” requirement, finding that his actions were deliberate as opposed to inadvertent or by mistake.
The Federal Circuit then addressed McDonald’s arguments that the recapture rule does not apply to subject matter surrendered to overcome a § 101 rejection. The Court conceded that its previous decisions centered on prior art rejections under § 102 and § 103 but found that the public’s reliance interest on a patent’s public record must also apply to subject matter surrendered under § 101. The Court also reiterated that it “reviews a patent family’s entire prosecution history when applying both the rule against recapture and prosecution history estoppel.” The Court thus affirmed the Board’s decision barring McDonald from reclaiming subject matter previously surrendered during prosecution.