Managing a patent portfolio often includes payment of maintenance fees to keep patent rights in force. While patent owners are accustomed to the fee based system, the new practice can result in a significant increase in fees to maintain multiple reissue patents. In addition, patent owners may have an opportunity to recoup fees paid to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Recognizing certain fees can assist with planning and portfolio management.
The USPTO recently issued a new practice and guidance for maintenance fees with respect to multiple reissue patents.1 2 Maintenance fees are costs associated with maintaining a patent after the patent is granted and are due for the 3rd, 7th, and 11th anniversaries of the patent grant. Failure to pay the requisite maintenance fee can lead to loss of patent rights. Managing the timing of maintenance fee payments can avoid surcharges associated with the maintenance fees.
The following is an outline of how to identify which matters the new practice applies to, how to comply with the new practice, and an exemplary scenario.
USPTO Practice for Maintenance Fee Payments (and Possible Refund!)
Effective January 16, 2018, each utility reissued patent requires its own maintenance fees. This new practice replaces the former practice of only requiring payment of one maintenance fee in the latest reissue patent. Patent owners may have to budget additional funds for maintaining any multiple reissue patents.
What is a multiple-reissue patent?
A reissue patent is a patent grant that is issued to correct an error in an earlier patent grant. In some cases, multiple reissue patents are granted. Prior to the new practice, patent owners were only required to pay maintenance fees in the latest reissue patent for a multiple reissue patent family. The USPTO may reissue a single original patent as multiple reissued patents (35 USC 251(b), 37 CFR 1.77).
Example: Original patent is issued → Patent Owner initiates a Reissue proceeding to correct a defect in the patent → Multiple reissue patents issued (e.g., Reissue Pat 1 and Reissue Pat 2)
When are the fees due?
Maintenance fees are paid in windows, either 6 months before a due date, or six months following the due date. Payments in the 6-month window following a dude date require payment of a surcharge. The due dates for each window are three years and six months (3 ½ years), seven years and six months (7 ½ years), and eleven years and six months (11 ½ years), with the due dates calculated from the original patent date.
In the current fee schedule, the 3rd, 7th, and 11th anniversary fees are $1,600, $3,600 and $7,400, respectively.
Maintenance Fee Guidance
- Identify Multiple Reissue Patents, Pending Reissue Applications, and Original Patents
- Identify Maintenance Fee Payment Dates/Payments
- Flag/Set fee payments for Multiple Reissue Patents
- Determine if fee payments are due/have been paid within the period of January 16, 2018 to July 16, 2018
- Determine if refunds should be requested for surcharge payments
What about payments made prior to January 16, 2018?
The new practice applies to payments made for maintenance fees on or after January 16, 2018 even if prepaid. For reissue matters that may have already been paid, check payments made from July 17, 2017 to January 15, 2018 (for multiple reissue matters). If a payment has been made, a separate maintenance fee may be required in any earlier reissued patent(s) and original patent if there is a pending reissue application.
Payments Made in Original Patent?
The new practice changes the procedure for original patents that are the basis for reissue patents and the basis for reissued applications. Maintenance fees remain due in the original patent whenever an application for reissue of the original patent is pending on the maintenance fee due date.
Payments Made for Reissue Application about to Issue?
Maintenance fee must be paid for the original patent to maintain the last reissued patent even when the reissue patent is expected to issue within the grace period.
Example Scenario – Pending Reissue Patent
For a 7 ½ year maintenance fee due date is Feb. 27, 2018, the new practice applies. In the scenario below, two reissue patents and one pending reissue application exist due to a previous reissue application. As a result, Maintenance fees for the 7 ½ year payment (e.g., $3,600 per reissue/pending reissue) must be made in both reissue patents and the original patent.
Requesting Surcharge Refund
While the surcharge fee of $160 based on the current fee scale is a fraction of some of the maintenance fees, Patent owners can request a refund of the surcharge under 37 CFR 1.20(h) for payments made from January 17, 2018 to July 16, 2018. As mentioned above, the surcharge cannot be waived at the time of payment. Refund requests must be made by January 16, 2019.