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September 22, 2022

Claim at Issue Must Be Substantively Allowable to Qualify for PTA

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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed two district court decisions, finding that a patent owner who only partially prevailed in one of two appeals was not entitled to any additional patent term adjustments (PTAs) from the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) under 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(C) during the pendency of their district court appeals. SawStop Holding LLC v. Vidal, Case No. 2021-1537 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 14, 2022) (Newman, Linn, and Chen, JJ.)

SawStop owns two patents directed to saws with a safety feature that stops a power-saw blade upon contact with flesh. During prosecution of the application for one of the patents, SawStop appealed an obviousness rejection to the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board). The Board affirmed the obviousness rejection but on new grounds. The patent ultimately issued after SawStop amended the claim at issue to overcome the obviousness rejection.

Similarly, during prosecution of the application for the second patent, independent claim 1 was rejected as being anticipated and for obviousness-type double patenting while dependent claim 2 was rejected as anticipated. SawStop appealed the rejections. The Board affirmed both rejections of claim 1 but reversed the rejection of claim 2. SawStop subsequently challenged the Board's anticipation rejection of claim 1 before the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which reversed the anticipation rejection. SawStop did not challenge the obviousness-type double patenting rejection. On remand to the Board, SawStop cancelled claim 1 and rewrote claim 2 as an independent claim. A patent subsequently issued.

Since issuance of both patents was delayed by appeals before allowance, SawStop requested PTAs under Section 154(b)(1)(C):

Subject to the limitations under paragraph (2), if the issue of an original patent is delayed due to … (iii) appellate review by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board or by a Federal Court in a case in which the patent was issued under a decision in the review reversing an adverse determination of patentability, the term of the patent shall be extended 1 day for each day of the pendency of the proceeding, order, or review, as the case may be.

The Board granted PTA "for the delay incurred in the successful reversal of the rejection of claim 2" of the second patent but denied additional PTA for both patents resulting from the appeals. SawStop filed suits in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, challenging the Board's decision. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the PTO in both suits. SawStop then appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that SawStop was interpreting Section 154(b)(1)(C) too broadly. SawStop argued in part that any examiner rejection overturned on appeal qualified as "a reversal of a determination of patentability." The Court rejected this argument, explaining that the Board's adverse determination of unpatentability remained before and after the appeal to the Board. That is, "the reversal of a ‘determination of patentability' requires a determination that the claim in question is substantively allowable, not just free of a particular rejection." Because the appeals of the determination of patentability of the claims at issue were not reversed, the Court found that the Board correctly denied PTA with respect to both patents.

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