475, the examiner may in an Office action require the applicant in the response to that action to elect the invention to which the claims shall be restricted. Such requirement may be made before any action on the merits but may be made at any time before the final action at the discretion of the examiner. Review of any such requirement is provided under §§ 1.143 and 1.144.
Examiners are reminded that unity of invention (not restriction practice pursuant to 37 CFR 1.141 – 1.146) is applicable in international applications (both Chapter I and II) and in national stage applications submitted under 35 U.S.C. 371. Restriction practice in accordance with 37 CFR 1.141-1.146 continues to apply to U.S. national applications filed under 35 U.S.C. 111(a), even if the application filed under 35 U.S.C. 111(a) claims benefit under 35 U.S.C. 120 and 365(c) to an earlier international application designating the United States or to an earlier U.S. national stage application submitted under 35 U.S.C. 371.
The sections of the MPEP relating to double patenting rejections (MPEP § 804), election and reply by applicant (MPEP § 818), and rejoinder of nonelected inventions (MPEP § ) generally also apply to national stage applications submitted under 35 U.S.C. 371. See MPEP § 823.
When making a unity of invention requirement, the examiner must (1) list the different groups of claims and (2) explain why each group lacks unity with each other group (i.e., why there is no single general inventive concept) specifically describing the unique special technical feature in each group.
The principles of unity of invention are used to determine the types of claimed subject matter and the combinations of claims to different categories of invention that are permitted to be included in a single international or national stage patent application. See MPEP § 1850 for a detailed discussion of Unity of Invention. The basic principle is that an application should relate to only one invention or, if there is more than one invention, that applicant would have a right to include in a single application only those inventions which are so linked as to form a single general inventive concept.
A group of inventions is considered linked to form a single general inventive concept where there is a technical relationship among the inventions that involves at least one common or corresponding special technical feature. The expression special technical features is defined as meaning those technical features that define the contribution which each claimed invention, considered as a whole, makes over the prior art. For example, a corresponding technical feature is exemplified by a key defined by certain claimed structural characteristics which correspond to the claimed features of a lock to be used with the claimed key. Note also the examples contained in Chapter 10 of the International Search and Preliminary Examination Guidelines which can be obtained from the Patent Examiner’s Toolkit or WIPO’s website (wipo.int/pct/en/texts/gdlines.html).
A process is “specially adapted” for the manufacture of a product if the claimed process inherently produces the claimed product with the technical relationship being present between the claimed process and the claimed product. The expression “specially adapted” does not imply that the product could not also be manufactured by a different process.
An apparatus or means is specifically designed for carrying out the process when the apparatus or means is suitable for carrying out the process with the technical relationship being present between the claimed apparatus or means and the claimed process. The expression specifically designed does not imply that the apparatus or means could not be used for carrying out another process, nor does it imply that the process could not be carried out using an alternative apparatus or means.