In a January 6, 2022, Federal Register notice, the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) announced its intention to implement a pilot program to evaluate the effects of permitting applicants to defer responding to subject matter eligibility (SME) rejections in certain patent applications. Under this pilot program, applicants may receive invitations to participate if their applications meet the program’s criteria, including a criterion that the claims in the application necessitate rejections on SME and other patentability-related grounds. An applicant who accepts the invitation to participate in this pilot program must still file a reply addressing all the rejections except SME rejections in every office action mailed in the application but is permitted to defer responding to SME rejections until the earlier of final disposition of the application or the withdrawal or obviation of all other outstanding rejections.
Invitations to participate in the Deferred Subject Matter Eligibility Response pilot program will be mailed during the period between February 1, 2022, and July 30, 2022. The PTO may extend, modify or terminate the pilot program depending on the workload and resources necessary to administer the program, feedback from the public and the program’s effectiveness.
Because satisfaction of non-SME conditions for patentability (e.g., novelty, nonobviousness, adequacy of disclosure and definiteness) may resolve SME issues as well, the pilot program may result in improved examination efficiency and increased patent quality.
An examiner may invite a prospective applicant to participate in the pilot program by including a form paragraph in the first office action on the merits. An applicant receiving an invitation to participate in the pilot program may elect to accept or decline the invitation. If an applicant wishes to participate in the program, they must file a properly completed request form PTO/SB/456 concurrently with a timely response to the first office action on the merits. The request form must be submitted via the PTO’s patent electronic filing systems.
The limited waiver permits the applicant to defer addressing the SME rejections until the earlier of final disposition of the participating application or the withdrawal or obviation of all other outstanding rejections. A final disposition is the earliest of the following:
- Mailing of a notice of allowance
- Mailing of a final office action
- Filing of a notice of appeal
- Filing of a request for continued examination
- Abandonment of the application.
Applicants must address the SME rejections in a response to a final rejection or the filing of a request for continued examination.
The public is invited to submit comments, which must be received by March 7, 2022, to ensure consideration.