By Jason Rantanen
Loughlin v. Ling (Fed. Cir. 2012) Download 11-1432
Panel: Lourie (author), Rader, Moore
This opinion concerns the relationship between 35 U.S.C. § 135(b)(2), which limits the circumstances under which an interference may be provoked, and 35 U.S.C. § 120, which provides the benefit of an earlier filing date based on a prior application. Section 135(b)(2) states:
A claim which is the same as, or for the same or substantially the same subject matter as, a claim of an application published under section 122(b) of this title may be made in an application filed after the application is published only if the claim is made before 1 year after the date on which the application is published.
(emphasis added). Ling et al. filed their original application on January 16, 2004. Four months later, Loughlin et al. filed their application, which was published on November 18, 2004, and which subsequently issued as a patent. On February 5, 2007, Ling filed a second application that was granted priority to the original application under section 120. Seeking to provoke an interference, on February 21, 2007, Ling copied into this second application claims from Loughlin's pending application.
Loughlin contended that Ling's was barred from provoking an interference by § 135(b)(2), as the claims were made more than a year after Loughlin's application was published and Ling's second application was filed in 2007, well after Loughlin's application was published (in 2004).
The Federal Circuit disagreed, affirming the Board of Patent Appeals and Interference's ruling that the priority benefit of § 120 applies to § 135(b)(2) – in essence, treating Ling's second application as if it had been filed as of the filing date of the first, thus taking it outside the scope of the "application filed after" language. "We agree with Ling that the Board correctly interpreted § 135(b)(2) in view of the plain language of that statute and the benefit provision of § 120. The first sentence of § 120 permits an application to claim the benefit of an earlier filing date, such that the application is treated as having been effectively filed on the earlier date." Slip Op. at 8. In reaching this conclusion, the court noted the broad applicability of section 120, such as in the context of § 102(b), (d), and (e), and that the Board has consistently interpreted § 135(b)(2) as including the priority benefit of § 120.