On March 25, 2013, the USPTO published final rule changes to “Implement the Technical Corrections to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act as to Inter Partes Review.” The rule changes have an effective date of March 25, 2013, and relate to statutory changes with an effective date of January 14, 2013.

The Dead Zone

The AIA created two new procedures for challenging a patent within the USPTO: Post Grant Review and Inter Partes Review. As enacted, Post Grant Review only can be requested within the first nine months after a patent grants, and Inter Partes Review only could be requested thereafter. However, Post Grant Review only is available for patents examined under the first-inventor-to-file provisions of the AIA (which only apply to certain applications filed on or after March 16, 2013). This created a “dead zone” for patents that are not subject to Post Grant Review, because they could not be challenged within the USPTO within the first nine months after grant or reissue.

The AIA Technical Corrections Act

The AIA Technical Corrections Act stemmed from HR 6621, and eliminated the Inter Partes Review dead zone by providing that the nine month time period restriction does not apply to patents that are were not examined under the first-inventor-to-file provisions of the AIA. Thus, under the AIA Technical Corrections Act, an Inter Partes Review proceeding to challenge a “first-to-invent” patent or reissue can be brought anytime once the patent or reissue is issued.

By the terms of the AIA Technical Corrections Act, these statutory changes took effect on January 14, 2013 (the date of enactment) and apply to proceedings commenced on or after that date.

The USPTO Rule Change

To implement these statutory changes, the USPTO has amended 37 CFR § 42.102(a) to read as follows:

(a) A petition for inter partes review of a patent must be filed after the later of the following dates, where applicable:

  1. If the patent is a patent described in section 3(n)(1) of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the date that is nine months after the date of the grant of the patent;
  2. If the patent is a patent that is not described in section 3(n)(1) of the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act, the date of the grant of the patent; or
  3. If a post-grant review is instituted as set forth in subpart C of this part, the date of the termination of such post-grant review.

A “patent that is not described in section 3(n)(1) of the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act,” is a patent that was not examined under the first-inventor-to-file provisions of the AIA, the applicability of which is set forth in section 3(n)(1) of the AIA. Using the short-hand used in the Federal Register Notice, a “patent that is not described in section 3(n)(1) of the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act,” is a “first-to-invent” patent.

No Notice And Comment Period

As noted above, the USPTO published the final rule changes on March 25, 2013 and the rule changes have an effective date of March 25, 2013. The USPTO explained why this rule change was not subject to a notice and comment period:

Good cause exists to make these procedural changes without prior notice and opportunity for comment and to be effective immediately so as to avoid inconsistencies between regulations and the AIA Technical Corrections Act.

An Important Correction

This correction could be important to patents that may be involved in litigation, because the Inter Partes Review statute requires that a petition for Inter Partes Review be brought within one year after the petitioner has been served with a complaint alleging infringement. Without the correction, an accused infringer would have to wait until nine months after grant to petition for Inter Partes Review, even if the one year clock was running.