Claim Duality: Multiple Dependent Claims Can Be Both Patentable and Unpatentable
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Addressing, for the first time, the issue of patentability of multiple dependent claims under 35 U.S.C. § 112, fifth paragraph, the Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) granted rehearing and modified the Patent Trial & Appeal Board's (Board) Final Written Decision after finding that the patentability of a multiple dependent claim should be considered separately as to each of the claims from which it depends. Nested Bean, Inc. v. Big Beings US Pty. Ltd. et al., IPR2020-01234 (PTO Feb. 24, 2023) (Vidal, Dir.) (precedential).
Nested filed a petition for inter partes review challenging claims 1 through 18 of a patent owned by Big Beings. Claims 1 and 2 were independent, and claims 3 to 16 were multiple dependent claims, which depended directly from either claim 1 or 2. The Board granted institution and ultimately issued a Final Written Decision finding that Nested did not establish that claims 1, 17 and 18 were unpatentable, but that Nested had established that claims 2 through 16 were unpatentable.
Big Beings filed a Request for Director review, noting that each of claims 3 to 16 were multiple dependent claims that depended from both claims 1 and 2. Big Beings argued that because the Board found that Nested failed to show that claim 1 was unpatentable, the Board should have also found that Nested failed to show that claims 3 through 16, as depending from claim 1, were unpatentable. The Director granted review.
35 U.S.C. § 112, fifth paragraph, states, in relevant part, "[a] multiple dependent claim shall be construed to incorporate by reference all the limitations of the particular claim in relation to which it is being considered." Big Beings argued that the statute requires the Board to separately consider the patentability of alternative dependencies of a multiple dependent claim. Nested responded by arguing that the statute should be read so that if any version of a multiple dependent claim is found unpatentable over the prior art, then all versions of the claim should be found unpatentable.
The Director found that this was an issue of first impression. Relying on 37 C.F.R. § 1.75(c) and 35 U.S.C. § 282, the Director concluded that "a multiple dependent claim is the equivalent of several single dependent claims. Thus, in the same way that the unpatentability of multiple single dependent claims would each rise or fall separately, so too should the dependent claims covered by a multiple dependent claim." The Director also noted that the Federal Circuit in Dow Chemical and Dayco Products explained that "not addressing claim validity on an individual basis is an error and contravenes 35 U.S.C. 282[.]" The PTO Director concluded, quoting the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP), that "a multiple dependent claim must be considered in the same manner as a plurality of single dependent claims."
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