Opening up a can of worms is good practice on the lake–not in front of a PTAB judge panel. But when appealing a twice-rejected patent application, a can of worms can very well be opened when the Board newly introduces rejections. These new rejections are not extremely frequent, but understanding the risk of these new rejections is an important part of deciding to take a case on appeal.
In deciding rejections on appeal, the Board has discretion to sua sponte introduce a new rejection to the pending claims. In other words, an appeal is made to the Board seeking to overturn one rejection and in return the Board slaps a different, additional rejection. The Board can also designate existing rejections as new by using a different rationale than the Examiner, but this article focuses on the purely new type of rejection.
These entirely new rejections are introduced somewhat unpredictably. Thankfully, our appeals decisions data can help predict the risks of these new rejections.
A sample of 12,376 decisions over the past four years shows that purely new rejections are relatively rarely applied (1.7%). Data was gathered using Anticipat’s beta research database. It turns out that the Board overwhelmingly prefers to introduce some grounds of purely new rejection over others. Here is the breakdown:
As can be seen, §112(b) is the most frequent purely new rejection with 78 decisions. Second place goes to §101 nonstatutory subject matter rejections with 74. Next are all the §112(a) rejections with 29. Then obviousness with 16, followed closely by §102 anticipation with 11, and then §112(d) with 3. Finally, there is one obviousness-type double patenting new rejection.
Some of these numbers are intuitive. As seen from a previous post on the frequency of appealed rejections, §103 rejections are on appeal in 92% of the decisions. Thus it would not be expected that too many more new §103 rejections would be applied by the Board to cases that do not already have them.
Section 101 is an increasingly more frequent new rejection. Many of the newly issued appeals decisions were for cases with appeals filed before the Supreme Court decided Alice v. CLS Bank. The Board appears to be thinking about patent-eligibility much more proactively. In addition to formally issuing a new §101 rejection, we have seen the Board suggesting in its decisions in a number of cases that the examiner consider §101 as a possible new rejection.
Also important to note, even the most frequent of these purely new rejections are fairly rare. The most frequent, §112(b), is newly introduced in only 0.63% of the cases. However, even with this low possibility, getting a new ground of rejection from the Board is still a risk practitioners should consider when taking a case on appeal.