MPEP 1207.03(a)
Determining Whether a Ground of Rejection is New

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 08.2017, Last Revised in Januay 2018

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1207.03(a)    Determining Whether a Ground of Rejection is New [R-08.2017]

I.    SITUATIONS WHERE A GROUND OF REJECTION IS NEW

The following examples are intended to provide guidance as to what constitutes a new ground of rejection in an examiner’s answer. What constitutes a "new ground of rejection" is a highly fact-specific question. See, e.g., Kronig, 539 F.2d at 1303, 190 USPQ at 427 (finding new ground entered based upon "facts of this case" and declining to find other cases controlling given "the distinctive facts at bar" ); In re Ahlert, 424 F.2d 1088, 1092, 165 USPQ 418, 421 (CCPA 1970) ( "[l]ooking at the facts of this case, we are constrained to hold" that a new ground was entered). If a situation arises that does not fall neatly within any of the following examples, it is recommended that the examiner identify the example below that is most analogous to the situation at hand, keeping in mind that "the ultimate criterion of whether a rejection is considered ‘new’ * * * is whether appellants have had fair opportunity to react to the thrust of the rejection." Kronig, 539 F.2d at 1302, 190 USPQ at 426.

   Factual Situations That Constitute a New Ground of Rejection

  • 1. Changing the statutory basis of rejection from 35 U.S.C. 102 to 35 U.S.C. 103.

    If the examiner’s answer changes the statutory basis of the rejection from 35 U.S.C. 102 to 35 U.S.C. 103, then the rejection should be designated as a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Hughes, 345 F.2d 184, 145 USPQ 467 (CCPA 1965), the Board affirmed an examiner’s rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102 over a single reference. On appeal, the Solicitor argued that the Board’s decision should be sustained under 35 U.S.C. 103 over that same reference. The court declined to sustain the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, holding that a change in the statutory basis of rejection would constitute a new ground of rejection, and observed that "the issues arising under the two sections [35 U.S.C. 102 and 103] may be vastly different, and may call for the production and introduction of quite different types of evidence." Hughes, 345 F.2d at 186–87, 145 USPQ at 469.

  • 2. Changing the statutory basis of rejection from 35 U.S.C. 103 to 35 U.S.C. 102, based on a different teaching.

    If the examiner’s answer changes the statutory basis of the rejection from 35 U.S.C. 103 to 35 U.S.C. 102, and relies on a different portion of a reference which goes beyond the scope of the portion that was previously relied upon, then the rejection should be designated as a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Echerd, 471 F.2d 632, 176 USPQ 321 (CCPA 1973), the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 over a combination of two references. The Board then changed the ground of rejection to 35 U.S.C. 102 over one of those references, relying on a different portion of that reference for some claim limitations, and asserted that the remaining claim limitations were inherently present in that reference. The court held that the Board’s affirmance constituted a new ground of rejection. Echerd, 471 F.2d at 635, 176 USPQ at 323 ( "[A]ppellants should have been accorded an opportunity to present rebuttal evidence as to the new assumptions of inherent characteristics. * * *" (citation omitted)).

  • 3. Citing new calculations in support of overlapping ranges.

    If a claim reciting a range is rejected as anticipated or obvious based on prior art that falls within or overlaps with the claimed range (see MPEP §§ 2131.03 and 2144.05), and the rejection is based upon range values identified and calculated for the first time in the examiner’s answer, then the rejection should be designated as a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Kumar, 418 F.3d 1361, 76 USPQ2d 1048 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 based on overlapping ranges of particle sizes and size distributions. The Board affirmed the rejection, but included in its decision an identification of specific values in the prior art and an appendix containing calculations to support the prima facie case of obviousness. The court held the Board’s reliance upon those values to constitute a new ground of rejection, stating that "the Board found facts not found by the examiner regarding the differences between the prior art and the claimed invention, which in fairness required an opportunity for response." Kumar, 418 F.3d at 1368, 76 USPQ2d at 1052 (citation omitted).

  • 4. Citing new structure in support of structural obviousness.

    If, in support of an obviousness rejection based on close structural similarity (see MPEP § 2144.09), the examiner’s answer relies on a different structure than the one on which the examiner previously relied, then the rejection should be designated as a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Wiechert, 370 F.2d 927, 152 USPQ 247 (CCPA 1967), the examiner rejected claims to a chemical composition under 35 U.S.C. 103 based on the composition’s structural similarity to a prior art compound disclosed in a reference. The Board affirmed the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 over that same reference, but did so based on a different compound than the one the examiner cited. The court held that the Board’s decision constituted a new ground of rejection, stating, "Under such circumstances, we conclude that when a rejection is factually based on an entirely different portion of an existing reference the appellant should be afforded an opportunity to make a showing of unobviousness vis-a-vis such portion of the reference." Wiechert, 370 F.2d at 933, 152 USPQ at 252.

  • 5. Pointing to a different portion of the claim to maintain a "new matter" rejection.

    If, in support of a claim rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112 based on new matter (see MPEP § 2163.06), a different feature or aspect of the rejected claim is believed to constitute new matter, then the rejection should be designated as a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Waymouth, 486 F.2d 1058, 179 USPQ 627 (CCPA 1973), the claims included the limitation "said sodium iodide * * * present in amount of at least 0.17 mg./cc. of said arc tube volume." The examiner’s rejection stated that the claimed "sodium iodide" constituted new matter because the specification was alleged only to disclose "sodium." The Board affirmed the rejection, but did so on a "wholly different basis," namely, that the specification failed to disclose the claimed "0.17 mg./cc." volume limitation. Waymouth, 486 F.2d at 1060, 179 USPQ at 629. The court held that the Board’s rationale constituted a new ground of rejection, "necessitating different responses by appellants." Id. at 1061, 179 USPQ at 629.

II.    SITUATIONS THAT ARE NOT CONSIDERED NEW GROUNDS OF REJECTION

There is no new ground of rejection when the basic thrust of the rejection remains the same such that an appellant has been given a fair opportunity to react to the rejection. See In re Kronig, 539 F.2d 1300, 1302-03, 190 USPQ 425, 426-27 (CCPA 1976). Where the statutory basis for the rejection remains the same, and the evidence relied upon in support of the rejection remains the same, a change in the discussion of, or rationale in support of, the rejection does not necessarily constitute a new ground of rejection. Id. at 1303, 190 USPQ at 427 (reliance upon fewer references in affirming a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 does not constitute a new ground of rejection).

In addition, if:

  • (A) an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 [or 41.33 ] proposes to add or amend one or more claims;
  • (B) appellant was advised (through an advisory action) that the amendment would be entered for purposes of appeal; and
  • (C) the advisory action indicates which individual rejection(s) set forth in the action from which appeal has been taken would be used to reject the added or amended claims, then
  • (1) the appeal brief must address the rejection(s) of the added or amended claim(s) and
  • (2) the examiner’s answer may include the rejection(s) of the added or amended claims. Such rejection(s) made in the examiner’s answer would not be considered as a new ground of rejection.

The filing of such an amendment represents appellant’s consent to proceed with the appeal process. For example, when an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 cancels a claim (the "canceled claim") and incorporates its limitations into the claim upon which it depends or rewrites the claim as a new independent claim (the "appealed claim"), the appealed claim contains the limitations of the canceled claim (i.e., the only difference between the appealed claim and the canceled claim is the claim number). In such situations, the appellant has been given a fair opportunity to react to the ground of rejection (albeit to a claim having a different claim number). Thus, such a rejection does not constitute a "new ground of rejection" within the meaning of 37 CFR 41.39.

The phrase "individual rejections" addresses situations such as the following: the action contains a rejection of claim 1 under 35 U.S.C. 102 on the basis of Reference A, a rejection of claim 2 (which depends upon claim 1) under 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference B and a rejection of claim 3 (which depends upon claim 1) under 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference C. In this situation, the action contains the following "individual rejections": (1) 35 U.S.C. 102 on the basis of Reference A; (2) 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference B; and (3) 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference C. The action, however, does not contain any rejection on the basis of A in view of B and C. If an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 proposes to combine the limitations of claims 1 and 2 together into amended claim 1 and cancels claim 2, a rejection of amended claim 1 under 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference B would be appropriate and would not be considered a new ground of rejection within the meaning of 37 CFR 41.39, provided the applicant was advised that this rejection would be applied to amended claim 1 in an advisory action. Furthermore, since claim 3 (which depends upon claim 1) would include the limitations of the original claims 1, 2, and 3, a rejection of amended claim 3 (amended by the amendment to original claim 1) under 35 U.S.C. 103 on the basis of Reference A in view of Reference B and Reference C may be appropriate and would not be considered a new ground of rejection within the meaning of 37 CFR 41.39, provided applicant was advised that this rejection would be applied to amended claim 3 in the advisory action. Of course, as amended claim 3 includes the limitations of the original claims 1, 2, and 3, amended claim 3 is a newly proposed claim in the application raising a new issue (i.e., a new ground of rejection), and such an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 may properly be refused entry as raising a new issue.

It must be emphasized that 37 CFR 41.39(a)(2) does not change the existing practice with respect to amendment after final rejection practice (37 CFR 1.116 ). The fact that 37 CFR 41.39(a)(2) would authorize the rejection in an examiner’s answer of a claim sought to be added or amended in an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 has no effect on whether the amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 is entitled to entry. The provisions of 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 control whether an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33 is entitled to entry; the provisions of 37 CFR 41.39(a)(2) permits a new ground of rejection to be included in an answer against a claim added or amended in an amendment under 37 CFR 1.116 or 41.33.

Where a newly cited reference is added merely as evidence of the prior statement made by the examiner as to what is "well-known" in the art which was challenged for the first time in the appeal brief, the citation of the reference in the examiner’s answer would not ordinarily constitute a new ground of rejection within the meaning of 37 CFR 41.39(a)(2). See also MPEP § 2144.03.

   Factual Situations That Do Not Constitute a New Ground of Rejection

  • 1. Citing a different portion of a reference to elaborate upon that which has been cited previously.

    If the examiner’s answer cites a different portion of an applied reference which goes no farther than, and merely elaborates upon, what is taught in the previously cited portion of that reference, then the rejection does not constitute a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re DBC, 545 F.3d 1373, 89 USPQ2d 1123 (Fed. Cir. 2008), the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 over a combination of references, including the English translation of the abstract for a Japanese patent. The examiner cited the English abstract for two claim limitations: (1) Mangosteen rind, and (2) fruit or vegetable juice. The Board affirmed the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 over the same references, but instead of citing the abstract, the Board cited an Example on page 16 of the English translation of the Japanese reference, which was not before the examiner. DBC, 545 F.3d at 1381, 89 USPQ2d at 1129. Importantly, the Board cited the Example for the same two claim limitations taught in the abstract, and the Example merely elaborated upon the medicinal qualities of the mangosteen rind (which medicinal qualities were not claimed) and taught orange juice as the preferred fruit juice (while the claim merely recited fruit or vegetable juice). Hence, the Example merely provided a more specific disclosure of the same two generic limitations that were fully taught by the abstract. The court held that this did not constitute a new ground of rejection because "the example in the translation goes no farther than, and merely elaborates upon, what is taught by the abstract." DBC, 545 F.3d at 1382 n.5, 89 USPQ2d at 1130 n.5.

  • 2. Changing the statutory basis of rejection from 35 U.S.C. 103 to 35 U.S.C. 102, but relying on the same teachings.

    If the examiner’s answer changes the statutory basis of the rejection from 35 U.S.C. 103 to 35 U.S.C. 102, and relies on the same teachings of the remaining reference to support the 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection, then the rejection does not constitute a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re May, 574 F.2d 1082, 197 USPQ 601 (CCPA 1978), a claim directed to a genus of chemical compounds was rejected under 35 U.S.C. 103 over a combination of references. The primary reference disclosed a species that fell within the claimed genus. Both the examiner and the Board cited the species to reject the claim under 35 U.S.C. 103. The court affirmed the rejection, but did so under 35 U.S.C. 102, stating that "lack of novelty is the epitome of obviousness." May, 574 F.2d at 1089, 197 USPQ at 607 (citing In re Pearson, 494 F.2d 1399, 1402, 181 USPQ 641, 644 (CCPA 1974)). Because the court relied on the same prior art species as both the examiner and Board, the court held that this did not constitute a new ground of rejection. May, 574 F.2d at 1089, 197 USPQ at 607.

  • 3. Relying on fewer than all references in support of a 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection, but relying on the same teachings.

    If the examiner’s answer removes one or more references from the statement of rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, and relies on the same teachings of the remaining references to support the 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection, then the rejection does not constitute a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Kronig, 539 F.2d 1300, 1302, 190 USPQ 425, 427 (CCPA 1976), the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 over four references. The Board affirmed the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, but limited its discussion to three of the references applied by the examiner. Id. The Board relied upon the references for the same teachings as did the examiner. The court held that this did not constitute a new ground of rejection. Kronig, 539 F.2d at 1303, 190 USPQ at 427 ( "Having compared the rationale of the rejection advanced by the examiner and the board on this record, we are convinced that the basic thrust of the rejection at the examiner and board level was the same." ). See also In re Bush, 296 F.2d 491, 495–96, 131 USPQ 263, 266-67 (CCPA 1961) (Examiner rejected claims 28 and 29 under 35 U.S.C. 103 based upon "Whitney in view of Harth;" Board did not enter new ground of rejection by relying only on Whitney).

  • 4. Changing the order of references in the statement of rejection, but relying on the same teachings of those references.

    If the examiner’s answer changes the order of references in the statement of rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, and relies on the same teachings of those references to support the 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection, then the rejection does not constitute a new ground of rejection. For example, in In re Cowles, 156 F.2d 551, 552, 70 USPQ 419, 420 (CCPA 1946), the examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 over "Foret in view of either Preleuthner or Seyfried." The Board affirmed the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, but styled the statement of rejection as to some of the rejected claims as "Seyfried in view of Foret," but relied on the same teachings of Seyfried and Foret on which the examiner relied. The court held that this did not constitute a new ground of rejection. Cowles, 156 F.2d at 554, 70 USPQ at 421-22. See also In re Krammes, 314 F.2d 813, 816– 17, 137 USPQ 60, 63 (CCPA 1963) (holding that a different "order of combining the references" did not constitute a new ground of rejection because each reference was cited for the "same teaching" previously cited).

  • 5. Considering, in order to respond to applicant’s arguments, other portions of a reference submitted by the applicant.

    If an applicant submits a new reference to argue, for example, that the prior art "teaches away" from the claimed invention (see MPEP § 2145), and the examiner’s answer points to portions of that same reference to counter the argument, then the rejection does not constitute a new ground of rejection. In In re Hedges, 783 F.2d 1038, 228 USPQ 685 (Fed. Cir. 1986), the claimed invention was directed to a process for sulfonating diphenyl sulfone at a temperature above 127° C. Id. at 1039, 228 USPQ at 685. The examiner rejected the claims under 35 U.S.C. 103 over a single reference. The applicant submitted three additional references as evidence that the prior art teaches away from performing sulfonation above 127° C, citing portions of those references which taught lower temperature reactions. The Board affirmed the rejection, finding the applicant’s evidence unpersuasive. On appeal, the Solicitor responded to the applicant’s "teaching away" argument by pointing to other portions of those same references which, contrary to applicant’s argument, disclosed reactions occurring above 127° C. The court held that this did not constitute a new ground of rejection because "[t]he Solicitor has done no more than search the references of record for disclosures pertinent to the same arguments for which [applicant] cited the references." Hedges, 783 F.2d at 1039–40, 228 USPQ at 686.