MPEP 2301.03
Interfering Subject Matter

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

Previous: §2301.02 | Next: §2301.04

2301.03    Interfering Subject Matter [R-08.2017]

37 C.F.R. 41.203 Declaration.

  • (a) Interfering subject matter. An interference exists if the subject matter of a claim of one party would, if prior art, have anticipated or rendered obvious the subject matter of a claim of the opposing party and vice versa.

*****

A claim of one inventor can be said to interfere with the claim of another inventor if they each have a patentable claim to the same invention. The Office practice and the case law define "same invention" to mean patentably indistinct inventions. See Case v. CPC Int’l, Inc., 730 F.2d 745, 750, 221 USPQ 196, 200 (Fed. Cir. 1984); Aelony v. Arni, 547 F.2d 566, 570, 192 USPQ 486, 489-90 (CCPA 1977); Nitz v. Ehrenreich, 537 F.2d 539, 543, 190 USPQ 413, 416 (CCPA 1976); and Ex parte Card, 1904 C.D. 383, 384-85 (Comm’r Pats. 1904). If the claimed invention of one party is patentably distinct from the claimed invention of the other party, then there is no interference-in-fact. See Nitz v. Ehrenreich, 537 F.2d 539, 543, 190 USPQ 413, 416 (CCPA 1976). 37 CFR 41.203(a) states the test in terms of the familiar concepts of obviousness and anticipation. See Tas v. Beachy, 626 Fed. App'x. 999, 1001 (Fed. Cir. 2015)(nonprecedential) (an interference exists if the subject matter of a claim of one party would, if prior art, have anticipated or rendered obvious the subject matter of a claim of the opposing party and vice versa); Eli Lilly & Co. v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Wa., 334 F.3d 1264, 1269-70, 67 USPQ2d 1161, 1164-65 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (affirming the Office’s interpretive rule).

Identical language in claims does not guarantee that they are drawn to the same invention. Every claim must be construed in light of the application in which it appears for purpose of evaluating whether there is interfering subject matter, unlike when evaluating whether copied claims comply with the written description requirement where the originating disclosure is consulted. See Agilent Techs., Inc. v. Affymetrix, Inc., 567 F.3d 1366, 1375, 91 USPQ2d 1161, 1167 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (when a party challenges written description support for a copied claim in an interference, the originating disclosure provides the meaning of the pertinent claim language). Claims reciting means-plus-function limitations, in particular, might have different scopes depending on the corresponding structure described in the written description.

When an interference is declared, there is a description of the interfering subject matter, which is called a "count." Claim correspondence identifies claims that would no longer be allowable or patentable to a party if it loses the priority determination for the count. To determine whether a claim corresponds to a count, the subject matter of the count is assumed to be prior art to the party. If the count would have anticipated or supported an obviousness determination against the claim, then the claim corresponds to the count. See 37 CFR 41.207(b)(2). Every count must have at least one corresponding claim for each party, but it is possible for a claim to correspond to more than one count.

Example 1

A patent has a claim to a compound in which R is an alkyl group. An application has a claim to the same compound except that R is n-pentyl, which is an alkyl. The application claim, if prior art to the patent, would have anticipated the patent claim. The patent claim would not have anticipated the application claim. If, however, in the art n-pentyl would have been an obvious choice for alkyl, then the claims define interfering subject matter.

Example 2

An application has a claim to a boiler with a novel safety valve. A patent has a claim to just the safety valve. The prior art shows that the need for boilers to have safety valves is well established. The application claim, when treated as prior art, would have anticipated the patent claim. The patent claim, when treated as prior art and in light of the boiler prior art, can be shown to render the application claim obvious. The claims interfere.

Example 3

An application has a claim to a reaction using platinum as a catalyst. A patent has a claim to the same reaction except the catalyst may be selected from the Markush group consisting of platinum, niobium, and lead. Each claim would have anticipated the other claim when the Markush alternative for the catalyst is platinum. The claims interfere.

Example 4

Same facts as Example 3, except the applicant has a Markush group for the catalyst consisting of platinum, osmium, and zinc. Each claim would have anticipated the other claim when the Markush alternative for the catalyst in each claim is platinum. The claims interfere.

Example 5

An application has a claim to a protein with a specific amino acid sequence shown in SEQ ID NO:1. A patent has a claim to the genus of polynucleotides defined as encoding the same amino acid sequence as the applicant’s SEQ ID NO:1. The patent claim would have anticipated the application claim since it expressly describes an amino acid sequence identical to the protein of the application. The application claim would have rendered the patent claim obvious in light of a well-established relationship between nucleic acids for encoding amino acids in protein sequences. The claims interfere.

Example 6

A patent has a claim to a genus of polynucleotides that encode a protein with a specific amino acid sequence. An application has a claim to a polynucleotide that encodes a protein with the same amino acid sequence. The application claim is a species within the genus and thus would have anticipated the patent claim. The patent claim would not have anticipated or rendered the application claim obvious without some explanation of why a person having ordinary skill in the art would have selected the applicant’s species from the patentee’s genus. Generally the explanation should include citation to prior art supporting the obviousness of the species. Without the explanation, the claims do not interfere.

Example 7

A patent and an application each claim the same combination including "means for fastening." The application discloses glue for fastening, while the patent discloses a rivet for fastening. Despite otherwise identical claim language, the claims do not interfere unless it can be shown that in this art glue and rivets were considered structurally equivalent or would have rendered each other obvious.

Example 8

A patent claims a formulation with the surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate. An application claims the same formulation except no specific surfactant is described. The application discloses that it is well known in the art to use sodium lauryl sulfate as the surfactant in these types of formulations. The claims interfere.

Example 9

An applicant has a claim to a genus and a species within the genus. The interference is declared with two counts, one directed to the genus and one directed to the species. The species claim would correspond to the species count because the count would have anticipated the claimed subject matter. The genus count would not ordinarily have anticipated the species claim, however, so the species claim would only correspond to the genus count if there was a showing that the genus count would have rendered the claimed species obvious. The genus claim, however, would have been anticipated by both the genus count and the species count and thus would correspond to both counts.