For patents and trademarks, the term “prosecution history” refers to the back and forth between an applicant and the patent or trademark office. It includes submissions by the applicant, starting with an original application and extending though any amendments or arguments the applicant might later make during official examination of the application. It also encompasses official communications, like office actions, and the particular rejections, objections, refusals, and other notifications that may be contained in them. Oral communications like interviews are a part of it too.
But “prosecution history” refers to more than just a set of documents or particular communications. It is a blanket or umbrella term that refers to all the actions and events involving the patent or trademark office from the time a new application is filed to through grant or registration and even beyond that to post-grant or post-registration actions involving corrections, maintenance or renewals, and the like. So, even if a particular document is purged or deleted or never made part of the permanent record, such a document and the events surrounding it are still part of the prosecution history.
Prosecution histories are important for many reasons. As reflected in “file wrappers,” they are often consulted to understanding the status of a pending application or of a granted patent or issued trademark registration. They can provide insight into why a patent or trademark registration was issued in a particular form, or why a application was abandoned. Sometimes events or materials from the prosecution history of a given patent or trademark registration can even impact the scope or validity of enforceable legal rights.
The prosecution history tends to matter most where prosecution history estoppel or prosecution disclaimer might arise and legally bind the applicant later on. In the U.S., it tends to be more important for patents than for trademarks. Many other countries have different laws that make prosecution history less consequential.
Have an invention you would like to patent? Have a brand you would like to register as a trademark? Concerned about infringing someone else’s intellectual property? Is someone else infringing your IP? Need representation in an IP dispute? Austen is a patent attorney / trademark attorney who can help. These and other IP issues are his area of expertise. Contact Austen today to discuss.