MPEP 724

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724 Trade Secret, Proprietary, and Protective Order Materials[edit | edit source]

Situations arise in which it becomes necessary, or desirable, for parties to proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office relating to pending patent applications or reexamination proceedings to submit to the Office trade secret, proprietary, and/or protective order materials. Such materials may include those which are subject to a protective or secrecy order issued by a court or by the International Trade Commission (ITC). While one submitting materials to the Office in relation to a pending patent application or reexamination proceeding must generally assume that such materials will be made of record in the file and be made public, the Office is not unmindful of the difficulties this sometimes imposes. The Office is also cognizant of the sentiment expressed by the court in In re Sarkar, 575 F.2d 870, 872, 197 USPQ 788, 791 (CCPA 1978), which stated:

[T]hat wherever possible, trade secret law and patent laws should be administered in such manner that the former will not deter an inventor from seeking the benefit of the latter, because, the public is most benefited by the early disclosure of the invention in consideration of the patent grant. If a patent applicant is unwilling to pursue his right to a patent at the risk of certain loss of trade secret protection, the two systems will conflict, the public will be deprived of knowledge of the invention in many cases, and inventors will be reluctant to bring unsettled legal questions of significant current interest . . . for resolution.

Parties bringing information to the attention of the Office for use in the examination of applications and reexaminations are frequently faced with the prospect of having legitimate trade secret, proprietary, or protective order material disclosed to the public.

Inventors and others covered by 37 CFR 1.56(c) and 1.555 have a duty to disclose to the Office information they are aware of which is material to patentability. 37 CFR 1.56(b) states that

information is material to patentability when it is not cumulative to information already of record or being made of record in the application, and

(1) It establishes, by itself or in combination with other information, a prima facie case of unpatentability of a claim; or

(2) It refutes, or is inconsistent with, a position the applicant takes in:

(i) Opposing an argument of unpatentability relied on by the Office, or

(ii) Asserting an argument of patentability.

A prima facie case of unpatentability is established when the information compels a conclusion that a claim is unpatentable under the preponderance of evidence, burden- of-proof standard, giving each term in the claim its broadest reasonable construction consistent with the specification, and before any consideration is given to evidence which may be submitted in an attempt to establish a contrary conclusion of patentability.

It is incumbent upon patent applicants, therefore, to bring “material” information to the attention of the Office. It matters not whether the “material” information can be classified as a trade secret, or as proprietary material, or whether it is subject to a protective order. The obligation is the same; it must be disclosed if “material to patentability” as defined in 37 CFR 1.56(b). The same duty rests upon a patent owner under 37 CFR 1.555 whose patent is undergoing reexamination.

Somewhat the same problem faces a protestor under 37 CFR 1.291(a) who believes that trade secret, proprietary, or protective order material should be considered by the Office during the examination of an application.

In some circumstances, it may be possible to submit the information in such a manner that legitimate trade secrets, etc., will not be disclosed, e.g., by appropriate deletions of nonmaterial portions of the information. This should be done only where there will be no loss of information material to patentability under 37 CFR 1.56 or 1.555.

The provisions of this section do not relate to material appearing in the description of the patent application.

724.01 Completeness of the Patent File Wrapper[edit | edit source]

It is the intent of the Office that the patent file wrapper be as complete as possible insofar as “material” information is concerned. The Office attempts to minimize the potential conflict between full disclosure of “material” information as required by 37 CFR 1.56 and protection of trade secret, proprietary, and protective order material to the extent possible.

The procedures set forth in the following sections are designed to enable the Office to ensure as complete a patent file wrapper as possible while preventing unnecessary public disclosure of trade secrets, proprietary material, and protective order material.

724.02 Method of Submitting Trade Secret, Proprietary, and/or Protective Order Materials[edit | edit source]

Information which is considered by the party submitting the same to be either trade secret material or proprietary material, and any material subject to a protective order, must be clearly labeled as such and be filed in a sealed, clearly labeled, envelope or container. Each document or item must be clearly labeled as a “Trade Secret” document or item, a “Proprietary” document or item, or as an item or document “Subject To Protective Order.” It is essential that the terms “Confidential,” “Secret,” and “Restricted” or “Restricted Data” not be used when marking these documents or items in order to avoid confusion with national security information documents which are marked with these terms (note also MPEP § 121). If the item or document is “Subject to Protective Order” the proceeding, including the tribunal, must be set forth on each document or item. Of course, the envelope or container, as well as each of the documents or items, must be labeled with complete identifying information for the file to which it is directed, including the Office or area to which the envelope or container is directed.

Upon receipt of the envelope or container, the Office will place the envelope or container in an Artifact folder if the application is an Image File Wrapper (IFW) application. If the application is maintained in paper, the confidential or proprietary information will be retained in the envelope or container.

724.03 Types of Trade Secret, Proprietary, and/or Protective Order Materials Submitted Under MPEP § 724.02[edit | edit source]

The types of materials or information contemplated for submission under MPEP § 724.02 include information “material to patentability” but does not include information favorable to patentability. Thus, any trade secret, proprietary, and/ or protective order materials which are required to be submitted on behalf of a patent applicant under 37 CFR 1.56 or patent owner under 37 CFR 1.555 can be submitted in accordance with MPEP § 724.02. Neither 37 CFR 1.56 nor 1.555 require the disclosure of information favorable to patentability, e.g., evidence of commercial success of the invention (see 42 Fed. Reg. 5590). Such information should not be submitted in accordance with MPEP § 724.02. If any trade secret, proprietary, and/or protective order materials are submitted in amendments, arguments in favor of patentability, or affidavits under 37 CFR 1.131 or 1.132, they will be made of record in the file and will not be given any special status.

Insofar as protestors under 37 CFR 1.291(a) are concerned, submissions can be made in accordance with MPEP § 724.02 before the patent application is published, if protestor or petitioner has access to the application involved. After the patent application has been published under 35 U.S.C. 122(b)(1), no protest may be filed without the express consent of the applicant. Any submission filed by a protestor must follow the requirements for service. The Office cannot ensure that the party or parties served will maintain the information secret. If the party or parties served find it necessary or desirable to comment on material submitted under MPEP § 724 before it is, or without its being, found “material to patentability,” such comments should either (A) not disclose the details of the material or (B) be submitted in a separate paper under MPEP § 724.02.

724.04 Office Treatment and Handlingof Materials Submitted Under MPEP § 724.02[edit | edit source]

The exact methods of treating and handling materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will differ slightly depending upon whether the materials are submitted in an original application subject to the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 122 or whether the submission is made in a reissue application or reexamination file open to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(b) or (d). Prior to publication, an original application is not open to the public under 35 U.S.C. 122(a). After the application has been published under 35 U.S.C. 122(b)(1), copies of the file wrapper of the pending application are available to any member of the public who has filed a request under 37 CFR 1.14(a)(1)(ii) or (a)(1)(iii). See MPEP § 103.

If the application file and contents are available to the public pursuant to 37 CFR 1.11 or 1.14, any materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will onlybe released to the public with any other application papers if no petition to expunge (37 CFR 1.59) was filed prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability or notice of abandonment, or if a petition to expunge was filed and the petition was denied. Prior to the mailing of the notice of allowability or notice of abandonment, the examiner will review the patent application file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the application file but not acted upon. If the application is being allowed, if the materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 are found not to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be granted and the materials will be expunged. If the materials are found to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be denied and the materials will become part of the application record and will be available to the public upon issuance of the application as a patent. With the mailing of the notice of abandonment, if a petition to expunge has been filed, irrespective of whether the materials are found to be important or not to a reasonable examiner in deciding on patentability, the petition to expunge will be granted and the materials expunged.

Upon receipt of the submission, the transmittal letter and the envelope or container will be date stamped and brought to the attention of the examiner or other Office employee responsible for evaluating the submission. The receipt of the transmittal letter and envelope or container will be noted on the “Contents” of the application or reexamination file. For Image File Wrapper (IFW) processing, see IFW Manual section 3.6. In addition, the face of the application or reexamination file will have the notation placed thereon to indicate that trade secret, proprietary, or protective order material has been filed. For Image File Wrapper (IFW) processing, see IFW Manual section 3.6. The location of the material will also be specified. The words “TRADE SECRET MATERIALS FILED WHICH ARE NOT OPEN TO PUBLIC” on the face of the file are sufficient to indicate the presence of trade secret material. Similar notations will be made for either proprietary or protective order materials.

724.04(a)Materials Submitted in an Application Covered by 35 U.S.C. 122[edit | edit source]

Any materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 in an application covered by 35 U.S.C. 122 will be treated in the following manner:

(A) The submitted material will be maintained in the original envelope or container (clearly marked “Not Open To The Public”) and will not be publicly available until a determination has been made as to whether or not the information is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent. Prior to publication, an original application is not available to the public under 35 U.S.C. 122(a). After publication of the application under 35 U.S.C. 122(b)(1), where the application file and contents are available to the public pursuant to 37 CFR 1.11 or 1.14, any materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will only be released to the public with any other application papers if no petition to expunge (37 CFR 1.59) was filed prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability or notice of abandonment, or if a petition to expunge was filed and the petition was denied.

(B) If the application is to be abandoned, prior to the mailing of a notice of abandonment, the examiner will review the patent application file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the application file but not acted upon. If a petition to expunge has been filed, irrespective of whether the materials are found to be important or not to a reasonable examiner in deciding on patentability, the petition to expunge will be granted and the materials expunged. If no petition to expunge has been filed, the materials will be available to the public under 37 CFR 1.14(a)(1)(ii) or (a)(1)(iv).

(C) If the application is being allowed, prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability, the examiner will review the patent application file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the application file but not acted upon. The examiner, or other appropriate Office official who is responsible for considering the information, will make a determination as to whether or not any portion or all of the information submitted is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent.

(D) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be denied and the information will become a part of the file history (and scanned, if the application is an Image File Wrapper (IFW) application), which upon issuance of the application as a patent would become available to the public.

(E) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found not to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be granted and the information expunged.

(F) If a petition to expunge is not filed prior to the mailing of the notice of allowability, the materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will be released to the public upon the issuance of the application as a patent and upon the filing of a request and the appropriate fee (37 CFR 1.14).

(G) Any petition to expunge the submitted information or any portion thereof under 37 CFR 1.59(b) will be treated in accordance with MPEP § 724.05.

724.04(b) Materials Submitted in Reissue Applications Open to the Public Under 37 CFR 1.11(b)[edit | edit source]

Any materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 in a reissue application open to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(b) will be treated in the following manner:

(A) Materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02will only be released to the public with any other application papers if no petition to expunge (37 CFR 1.59) was filed prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability or notice of abandonment, or if a petition to expunge was filed and the petition was denied. The submitted information will be maintained separate from the reissue application file and will not be publicly available until a determination has been made as to whether or not the information is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent.

(B) If the reissue application is to be abandoned, prior to the mailing of a notice of abandonment, the examiner will review the reissue application file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the reissue application file but not acted upon. If a petition to expunge has been filed, irrespective of whether the materials are found to be important or not to a reasonable examiner in deciding on patentability, the petition to expunge will be granted and the materials expunged. If no petition to expunge has been filed, the materials will be available to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(b).

(C) If the reissue application is being allowed, prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability, the examiner will review the reissue application file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the reissue application file but not acted upon. The examiner, or other appropriate Office official who is responsible for considering the information, will make a determination as to whether or not any portion or all of the information submitted is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent.

(D) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be denied and the information will thereafter become a permanent part of the reissue application file and open to the public.

(E) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found not to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application to issue as a patent, the petition to expunge will be granted and the information expunged.

(F) If a petition to expunge is not filed prior to the mailing of the notice of allowability, the materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will become a permanent part of the reissue application file and open to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(b).

(G) Any petition to expunge a portion or all of the submitted information will be treated in accordance with MPEP § 724.05.

724.04(c) Materials Submitted in Reexamination File Open to the Public Under 37 CFR 1.11(d)[edit | edit source]

Any materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 in a reexamination file open to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(d) will be treated in the following manner:

(A) Materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02will only be released to the public with any other papers in the reexamination file if no petition to expunge (37 CFR 1.59) was filed prior to the mailing of a Notice of Intent to Issue Reexamination Certificate (NIRC), or if a petition to expunge was filed and the petition was denied. The submitted information will be maintained separate from the reexamination file and will not be publicly available until a determination has been made as to whether or not the information is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether or not a claim is patentable.

(B) Prior to the mailing of a NIRC, the examiner will review the reexamination file and determine if a petition to expunge is in the reexamination file but not acted upon. The examiner, or other appropriate Office official who is responsible for considering the information, will make a determination as to whether or not any portion or all of the information submitted is important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether or not a claim is patentable.

(C) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether or not a claim is patentable, the petition to expunge will be denied and the information will thereafter become a permanent part of the reexamination file and open to the public.

(D) If any portion or all of the submitted information is found not to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether or not a claim is patentable, the petition to expunge will be granted and the information expunged.

(E) If a petition to expunge is not filed prior to the mailing of the NIRC, the materials submitted under MPEP § 724.02 will become a permanent part of the reexamination file and open to the public under 37 CFR 1.11(d).

(F) Any petition to expunge a portion or all of the submitted information under 37 CFR 1.59(b) will be treated in accordance with MPEP § 724.05.

724.05 Petition To Expunge Information or Copy of Papers in Application File[edit | edit source]

I.INFORMATION SUBMITTED UNDER MPEP § 724.02

A petition under 37 CFR 1.59(b) to expunge information submitted under MPEP § 724.02, or that should have been submitted under MPEP § 724.02 (as where proprietary information is submitted in an information disclosure statement but inadvertently not submitted in a sealed envelope as discussed in MPEP § 724.02) will be entertained only if the petition fee (37 CFR 1.17(g)) is filed and the information has been found not to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding on patentability. If the information is found to be important to a reasonable examiner in deciding on patentability, any petition to expunge the information will be denied. Any such petition to expunge information submitted under MPEP § 724.02should be submitted at the time of filing the information under MPEP § 724.02 and directed to the Technology Center (TC) to which the application is assigned. Such petition must contain:

(A)a clear identification of the information to be expunged without disclosure of the details thereof;

(B)a clear statement that the information to be expunged is trade secret material, proprietary material, and/or subject to a protective order, and that the information has not been otherwise made public;

(C)a commitment on the part of the petitioner to retain such information for the period of any patent with regard to which such information is submitted;

(D)a statement that the petition to expunge is being submitted by, or on behalf of, the party in interest who originally submitted the information;

(E)the fee as set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(g) for a petition under 37 CFR 1.59(b).

Any such petition to expunge should accompany the submission of the information and, in any event, must be submitted in sufficient time that it can be acted on prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability or a notice of abandonment for original and reissue applications, or prior to the mailing of a Notice of Intent to Issue Reexamination Certificate (NIRC) for reexamination proceedings. Timely submission of the petition is, accordingly, extremely important. If the petition does not accompany the information when it is initially submitted, the petition should be submitted while the application or reexamination is pending in the Technology Center (TC) and before it is transmitted to the Publishing Division. If a petition to expunge is not filed prior to the mailing of a notice of allowability or a notice of abandonment for original and reissue applications, or prior to the mailing of a NIRC for reexamination proceedings, any material then in the file will remain therein and be open to the public in accordance with 37 CFR 1.14. Accordingly, it is important that both the submission of any material under MPEP § 724.02 and the submission of any petition to expunge occur as early as possible during the examination process. The decision will be held in abeyance and be decided upon the close of prosecution on the merits.

II.INFORMATION UNINTENTIONALLY SUBMITTED IN APPLICATION

A petition to expunge information unintentionally submitted in an application (other than information forming part of the original disclosure) may be filed under 37 CFR 1.59(b), provided that:

(A)the Office can effect such return prior to the issuance of any patent on the application in issue;

(B)it is stated that the information submitted was unintentionally submitted and the failure to obtain its return would cause irreparable harm to the party who submitted the information or to the party in interest on whose behalf the information was submitted;

(C)the information has not otherwise been made public;

(D)there is a commitment on the part of the petitioner to retain such information for the period of any patent with regard to which such information is submitted;

(E)it is established to the satisfaction of the Director that the information to be returned is not material information under 37 CFR 1.56; and

(F)the petition fee as set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(g) is included.

A request to expunge information that has not been clearly identified as information that may be later subject to such a request by marking and placement in a separate sealed envelope or container shall be treated on a case-by-case basis. Applicants should note that unidentified information that is a trade secret, proprietary, or subject to a protective order that is submitted in an Information Disclosure Statement may inadvertently be placed in an Office prior art search file by the examiner due to the lack of such identification and may not be retrievable.

III.INFORMATION SUBMITTED IN INCORRECT APPLICATION

37 CFR 1.59(b) also covers the situation where an unintended heading has been placed on papers so that they are present in an incorrect application file. In such a situation, a petition should request that the papers be expunged rather than transferred to the correct application file. For Image File Wrapper (IFW) processing, see IFW Manual. The grant of such a petition will be governed by the factors enumerated in paragraph II of this section in regard to the unintentional submission of information. Where the Office can determine the correct application file that the papers were actually intended for, based on identifying information in the heading of the papers (e.g., application number, filing date, title of invention and inventor(s) name(s)), the Office will transfer the papers to the correct application file for which they were intended without the need of a petition.

IV.INFORMATION FORMING PART OF THE ORIGINAL DISCLOSURE

A petition to expunge a part of the original disclosure must be filed under 37 CFR 1.183, since such a request requires a waiver of the requirements of 37 CFR 1.59(a). Petitions under 37 CFR 1.183 should be directed to the Office of Petitions. The petition must explain why justice requires waiver of the rules to permit the requested material to be expunged. It should be noted that petitions to expunge information which is a part of the original disclosure, such as the specification and drawings, will ordinarily not be favorably entertained. The original disclosures of applications are scanned for record keeping purposes. Accordingly, the grant of a petition to expunge information which is part of the original disclosure would require that the USPTO record of the originally filed application be changed, which may not be possible.

724.06 Handling of Petitions To Expunge Information or Copy of Papers in Application File[edit | edit source]

37 CFR 1.59 Expungement of information or copy of papers in application file.

(a)

(1) Information in an application will not be expunged, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.

(2) Information forming part of the original disclosure (i.e., written specification including the claims, drawings, and any preliminary amendment specifically incorporated into an executed oath or declaration under §§ 1.63 and 1.175) will not be expunged from the application file.

(b) An applicant may request that the Office expunge information, other than what is excluded by paragraph (a)(2) of this section, by filing a petition under this paragraph. Any petition to expunge information from an application must include the fee set forth in § 1.17(g) and establish to the satisfaction of the Director that the expungement of the information is appropriate in which case a notice granting the petition for expungement will be provided.

(c) Upon request by an applicant and payment of the fee specified in § 1.19(b), the Office will furnish copies of an application, unless the application has been disposed of (see §§ 1.53(e), (f) and (g)). The Office cannot provide or certify copies of an application that has been disposed of.

37 CFR 1.59 provides that information, other than the original disclosure of the application, may be expunged from the file wrapper provided a petition to expunge under 37 CFR 1.59(b) and the required fee set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(g) are filed, and further that petitioner has established to the satisfaction of the Director that the return of the information is appropriate. Expungement of information that was originally submitted to the Office under MPEP § 724.02, or that should have been submitted in a sealed envelope as discussed in MPEP § 724.02, is appropriate when the petitioner complies with items (A)-(E) set forth in MPEP § 724.05, paragraph I, and the examiner or other appropriate Office official who is responsible for considering the information has determined that the information is not important to a reasonable examiner in deciding whether to allow the application (i.e., the information is not material to patentability). Expungement of information that was inadvertently submitted to the Office is appropriate provided that items (A)-(F) set forth in MPEP § 724.05, paragraph II, are satisfied. See also MPEP § 724.

Where the information to be expunged was not submitted pursuant to MPEP § 724.02 or as part of an Information Disclosure Statement, the petition should be sent to the Office of Petitions for decision.

The decision on the petition to expunge should be held in abeyance until the application is allowed or an Ex parte Quayle action, or a Notice of Abandonment is mailed, at which time the petition will be decided. However, where it is clear that the information was submitted in the wrong application, then the decision on the petition should not be held in abeyance. See MPEP § 724.05, paragraph III. In a pending application that has not been allowed or in which an Ex parte Quayle action has not been mailed, the examiner may not have finally considered what is material to a decision of patentability of the claims. Petitioner may be notified that the decision on the petition under 37 CFR 1.59(b) to expunge information in an application will be held in abeyance and be decided upon allowance of the application, or the mailing of an Ex parte Quayle action or a Notice of Abandonment using form paragraph 7.204.

When an application has been allowed, an Ex parte Quayle action has been mailed, or an application is abandoned, a petition to expunge should be decided by a TC Director (see MPEP § 1002.02(c)). At this time a determination must be made as to whether the information in question is material. Form paragraph 7.205 should be used to grant a petition to expunge, whereas form paragraphs 7.206-7.213 should be used to dismiss such a petition.