Ellis Terry Overturns Restrictive Amendment Practice
Applicants in New Zealand have been suffering under a restrictive amendment practice adopted by IPONZ that would have left applicants unable to remedy potentially fatal deficiencies. Ellis Terry recently took a case1 to a hearing that has overturned this practice.
New Act and Regulations
Under the new Patents Act 2013 it is a requirement that all claims must be “supported” by matter disclosed in the specification. The regulations governing the process for amendment of the specification also use the word “support”.
IPONZ interpreted the regulations to require “support” (as used in the Act) for any amendment to either the description or claims. This practice was adopted despite the fact that the Act specifically provides for the post-dating of amendments; post-dating could clearly only occur in the case of unsupported amendments.
The issue in question
It is uncertain under the new Act whether classical inutility (where a claim is invalid if it fails to meet the objects of the invention) still exists, although the IPONZ website says that classical inutility does still apply, as is the case in Australia by virtue of an explanatory memorandum to a similar section.
In the case in question an amendment was requested to amend objects of the invention by adding the alternate object “to at least provide the public with a useful choice”. Such amendment had been routinely allowed under the previous Act.
IPONZ objected that there was no “support” for the added words. It is true that there was no wording that could be pointed to that provided “support” (as used in the Act) for this wording. Failure to allow such an amendment could have left the applicant with an incurable flaw that could render its patent invalid with no way to remedy the situation. This would have put foreign applicants, unaware of this arcane ground of invalidity, in a perilous position.
Upon reviewing the statutory context the hearing officer ruled that the regulations did not impose a substantive requirement for specific support for every amendment. Rather, the regulations are procedural and are intended to expedite the examination process; an applicant relying on support in the original specification for an amendment should point to support so an examiner does not have to ‘go hunting’. The hearing officer indicated that support may not be required for deletions or amendments to improve conciseness. The addition of ‘or to at least provide the public with a useful choice’ was allowed.
This is a welcome decision that will relieve applicants that have been faced with exasperating support objections.