The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that patent applicants can file a reissue application that retains all original claims and adds only dependent claims. In re Yasuhito Tanaka (Fed. Cir., Apr. 15, 2011) (Linn, J.) (Dyk, J., dissenting).
Yasuhito Tanaka (Tanaka) appealed from the precedential decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (the Board), holding that a reissue application that adds only dependent claims does not present the type of error correctible by reissue under 35 U.S.C. §251. Tanaka filed a reissue application seeking to broaden claim 1 of his patent and did so within two years of the patent issuance. Over the course of prosecuting the reissue application, Tanaka gave up on broadening claim 1 and presented original claims with a new dependent claim. The examiner rejected the claims, asserting that no error has been specified that broadens or narrows the scope of the claims. The rejection was made final. Tanaka appealed to the Board.
The Board held that §251 “disallow[s] reissue applications that simply add narrow claims to the reissue patent when no assertion of inoperativeness or invalidity for the reasons set forth in § 251 can be made by the patentee.” Therefore, the Board affirmed the examiner’s decision, whereupon Tanaka appealed to the Federal Circuit.
On appeal, Tanaka argued that the Board’s holding is inconsistent with long standing Court of Customs and Patent Appeals (CCPA) precedent such as In re Handel and In re Muller, as well as with Federal Circuit precedent such as Hewlett-Packard v. Bausch & Lomb. The Federal Circuit agreed, noting that § 251 provides “[w]henver any patent is … deemed wholly or partly inoperative or invalid … by reason of the patentee claiming more or less than he had a right to claim in the patent, the Director shall…reissue the patent.” Referring to its precedent, the Federal Circuit noted that the term less means claiming fewer claims than patentee could have properly claimed rather than referring to the scope of protection. In In re Handel, it was stated that adding dependent claims as a hedge against possible invalidity of original claims is a proper reason for asking for a reissue to be granted.
Accordingly, the Federal Circuit concluded that patent applicants can file a reissue application for purposes of adding only additional dependent claims.
Judge Dyk, in dissent, cited an 1883 Supreme Court case, Gage v. Herring, that in his view prohibited a reissue applicant from returning his original claims without amendment.