2673.01 Reopening Prosecution After ACP [R-08.2012]
I. MANDATORY REOPENING
Where a submission after Action Closing Prosecution (ACP) has been filed pursuant 37 CFR 1.951(a) (and 37 CFR 1.951(b) ) and the examiner decides to modify his/her position, the examiner should ordinarily reopen prosecution, in accordance with the following guidelines.
The patent owner must be given an opportunity to adequately address any change in position adverse to the patent owner’s position. A Right of Appeal Notice (RAN) cannot be issued until the patent owner has had the opportunity to address each and every rejection prior to the appeal stage. Thus, the examiner should reopen prosecution where any new ground of rejection is made or any additional claim is rejected.
Prosecution is ordinarily reopened in this situation by issuing a non-ACP action, i.e., an Office action prior to the ACP stage. If prosecution were reopened at the ACP stage, the patent owner loses rights as to amending the claims in response to the change in the examiner’s position, because the patent owner’s amendment rights are limited after ACP, see MPEP § 2673.
As opposed to the examiner making a new ground of rejection, if a new finding of patentability is made (i.e., a ground of rejection is withdrawn or an additional claim is indicated as patentable), prosecution need not be reopened. The third party requester has no right to comment on and address a finding of patentability made during the reexamination proceeding until the appeal stage, unless the patent owner responds (after which the third party requester may file comments). Thus, the third party requester may address any new finding of patentability at the appeal stage in the same manner that it would address a finding of patentability made during the reexamination proceeding where the patent owner does not respond (e.g., all claims are allowed on the first Office action and the patent owner sees no reason to respond).
II. DISCRETIONARY REOPENING
In addition to the above situation which requires reopening of prosecution, the examiner should be liberal in reopening prosecution where the equities of the situation make such appropriate, because patent owner cannot continue the proceeding by refiling under 37 CFR 1.53(b) or 1.53(d), nor by filing a Request for Continued Examination under 37 CFR 1.114.
An example of this would be as follows. Patent owner might submit an amendment after the ACP which would make at least one claim patentable, except for one or two minor changes needed to obviate a rejection. The examiner cannot telephone the owner to obtain the minor change(s) and then issue a RAN because interviews are not permitted in an inter partes reexamination proceeding. Also, the examiner cannot make the changes by issuing an examiner’s amendment coupled with a Notice of Intent to Issue Inter Partes Reexamination Certificate (NIRC) because of the presence of the third party requester, i.e., the third party requester is entitled to a RAN so that the claims found patentable can be appealed. Yet, in this situation, it would be inequitable to send the claims to appeal based on the minor points that could be easily corrected. Accordingly, the examiner would reopen prosecution (since 37 CFR 1.953 requires reopening where a RAN is not issued) and issue a new ACP suggesting the amendment which will make the claims patentable. The third party requester would then have an opportunity to comment on the newly-found-patentable claims after the patent owner submits the suggested amendment pursuant to 37 CFR 1.951(a).
See MPEP § 2673 for a discussion of the examiner not exercising his/her discretion to reopen prosecution in those situations where an "undue burden" on the Office would result if prosecution were reopened.