This appeal is from the decision of the Patent Office Board of Appeals affirming the examiner's rejection of claims 1-20 of application serial No. 392,379, filed August 27, 1964, for "Photographic Method and Apparatus," on the sole ground of res judicata.
The application on appeal was stated in the specification as filed to be "a continuation of copending application serial No. 753,942, filed August 8, 1958."
The decision of the board here on appeal is dated November 30, 1966, which was before we handed down our opinions on the subject of res judicata in In re Herr, 54 CCPA 1315, 377 F.2d 610 (May 11, 1967), and In re Kaghan, 55 CCPA 844, 387 F.2d 398 (Dec. 14, 1967, rehearing denied Feb. 15, 1968). The board, therefore, was unaware of our views on the law as therein set forth. Notwithstanding consideration of the Herr case by the Patent Office Solicitor in his brief, filed Feb. 13, 1968, he relies in that brief on In re Prutton, 40 CCPA 975, 204 F.2d 291, (1953). The solicitor says, in fact, "the decision in Prutton is controlling." In Herr, the opinion of the Chief Judge did not discuss Prutton though it refers to it in a footnote in quoting from the board. In the concurring opinion of the writer, however, Prutton was considered in extenso and it was stated as his view that the court reached the wrong conclusion in that case, that it should be overruled (54 CCPA at 1321, 377 F.2d 610), and that he would overrule it and considered that by implication the Chief Judge's opinion did so (CCPA at 1326, 377 F.2d 610). The late Judge Smith, in his concurring opinion in Herr, said (CCPA at 1335, 377 F.2d at 625):
To put an end to reliance on Prutton, it is hereby expressly overruled. The reasons will be found fully set forth in the writer's opinion in Herr. The Herr and Kaghan decisions are controlling here, not Prutton.
The situation in this case bears a close factual resemblance to that in Herr. The board here,
We have already pointed out that the board reversed, in this case, all rejections based on art. The next thing it did was to hold expressly that the original rejection on the ground of inadequate disclosure was in error, saying by way of explanation:
Then, considering the res judicata based on the art rejection and its affirmance in the prior application, the board said (our emphasis):
Thus, the board held herein that both of the prior rejections, by another panel of the board, underlying the res judicata rejection herein — inadequate disclosure and unpatentability over prior art — were wrong. It then proceeded, nevertheless, to sustain the res judicata rejection. After an analysis of the claims, the board stated:
In summary, though the board found the claims to define patentable subject matter and to be proper claims and found the prior board decision on the inadequacy of the disclosure to have been wrong, it felt obliged to refuse them on the legal theory of res judicata. The board thus found itself bound by its own previous errors. We reverse. We consider this to be an improper application of the doctrine.
When the Patent Office, through its duly constituted tribunal, has determined that claims are patentable to an applicant under the statute, allowance of those claims should not be refused merely because on a previous occasion the same or similar claims have been refused on grounds no longer deemed to be valid.
While res judicata has its proper place in the law as a reflection of a policy invoked to settle disputes and put an end to litigation, the prosecution of patent applications is not exactly either a dispute
When the Patent Office, through the decision of a duly constituted panel of its Board of Appeals, has itself conceded error in a prior decision against patentability and has expressly found claims to be allowable under the statute as proper in form, supported by the specification, and directed to patentable subject matter, we see no reason to seek any further for a technical reason for saying that the doctrine of res judicata should not be applied. That doctrine is based on considerations of public policy and it seems to us that broad countervailing policy considerations preclude its application in this case, as they did in Herr.
Nevertheless, though we do not rely on it, there exists sufficient technical ground for not applying res judicata in that the claims here on appeal are substantially different from the claims in the parent application with respect to the subject matter covered. Since we do not rely on this reason, we find it unnecessary to discuss the differences, as we have found it unnecessary to discuss the details of the invention.
In Kaghan we held that by setting up and publishing in the Rules and the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure the practice which was followed by appellants in that case, which is the same as the practice followed by appellants in this case, the Patent Office was estopped to reject solely on the theory of res judicata. The following passage, with added emphasis, states the gist of the holding:
The solicitor's brief in arguing about the applicability of Kaghan seems completely to miss the point of the decision and the import of what we said. Once again, similarly to what the solicitor had to say in his brief in Herr (see footnote 3 of the writer's concurring opinion), a point is made of the "paramount interest" of the public as a "silent party to every proceeding in which a patent has been refused by the Patent Office." Indeed, we agree that it is, but not, as urged, on the side of the Patent Office right "to reject on the ground of res judicata." Rather, the paramount interest of the public is to have patents issued when it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Patent Office that patentable inventions are claimed, notwithstanding the doctrine of res judicata, the proper
The decision of the board is reversed.
WORLEY, C. J., and ALMOND, J., concur in the result.