802.01 Meaning of “Independent” and “Distinct” [R-08.2012]
35 U.S.C. 121 quoted in the preceding section states that the Director may require restriction if two or more “independent and distinct” inventions are claimed in one application. In 37 CFR 1.141, the statement is made that two or more “independent and distinct inventions” may not be claimed in one application.
This raises the question of the inventions as between which the Director may require restriction. This, in turn, depends on the construction of the expression “independent and distinct” inventions.
“Independent”, of course, means not dependent, or unrelated. If “distinct” means the same thing, then its use in the statute and in the rule is redundant. If “distinct” means something different, then the question arises as to what the difference in meaning between these two words may be. The hearings before the committees of Congress considering the codification of the patent laws indicate that 35 U.S.C. 121: “enacts as law existing practice with respect to division, at the same time introducing a number of changes.”
The report on the hearings does not mention as a change that is introduced, the inventions between which the Director may properly require division.
The term “independent” as already pointed out, means not dependent, or unrelated. A large number of inventions between which, prior to the 1952 Act, division had been proper, are dependent inventions, such as, for example, combination and a subcombination thereof; as process and apparatus used in the practice of the process; as composition and the process in which the composition is used; as process and the product made by such process, etc. If section 121 of the 1952 Act were intended to direct the Director never to approve division between dependent inventions, the word “independent” would clearly have been used alone. If the Director has authority or discretion to restrict independent inventions only, then restriction would be improper as between dependent inventions, e.g., the examples used for purpose of illustration above. Such was clearly not the intent of Congress. Nothing in the language of the statute and nothing in the hearings of the committees indicate any intent to change the substantive law on this subject. On the contrary, joinder of the term “distinct” with the term “independent”, indicates lack of such intent. The law has long been established that dependent inventions (frequently termed related inventions) such as used for illustration above may be properly divided if they are, in fact, “distinct” inventions, even though dependent.
The term “independent” (i.e., unrelated) means that there is no disclosed relationship between the two or more inventions claimed, that is, they are unconnected in design, operation, and effect. For example, a process and an apparatus incapable of being used in practicing the process are independent inventions. See also MPEP § 806.06 and § 808.01.
II. RELATED BUT DISTINCT
Two or more inventions are related (i.e., not independent) if they are disclosed as connected in at least one of design (e.g., structure or method of manufacture), operation (e.g., function or method of use), or effect. Examples of related inventions include combination and part (subcombination) thereof, process and apparatus for its practice, process and product made, etc. In this definition the term related is used as an alternative for dependent in referring to inventions other than independent inventions.
Related inventions are distinct if the inventions as claimed are not connected in at least one of design, operation, or effect (e.g., can be made by, or used in, a materially different process) and wherein at least one invention is PATENTABLE (novel and nonobvious) OVER THE OTHER (though they may each be unpatentable over the prior art). See MPEP § 806.05(c) (combination and subcombination) and § 806.05(j) (related products or related processes) for examples of when a two-way test is required for distinctness.
It is further noted that the terms “independent” and “distinct” are used in decisions with varying meanings. All decisions should be read carefully to determine the meaning intended.