What is an after-final response?
An after-final response refers to a reply to a Final Office Action that is filed without a Request for Continued Examination (RCE). After-final responses should be used judiciously depending upon the specific circumstances of a particular patent application.
It may help to think of an after-final response as an alternative to an RCE that is available under the right circumstances (e.g., willing examiner) and right timing (i.e., early).
When is an after-final response appropriate?
Allowable subject matter
An after-final response would always be appropriate to take allowable claims and/or amend certain claims to make them allowable. Such a reply would place the application in a condition for allowance assuming rejected claims are canceled or amended to include allowable subject matter.
Entry of any other claim amendments, such as those that result in broader claim scope than the allowable claims, is not a matter of right [see MPEP 714.13].
After Examiner Interview
An Examiner Interview gives the applicant an opportunity to understand where the examiner is coming from and how receptive the examiner may be to further claim amendments and arguments. Examiners are more willing to consider after-final responses if they feel that the claim amendments proposed during the interviews would not warrant additional searches of the prior art.
Limited amount of further search or consideration
Depending upon the examiner, an after-final response may be entered if the amount of any further searching of the prior art is limited.
What are disadvantages of filing an after-final response?
If the examiner decides not to enter or consider an after-final response, the examiner will issue an Advisory Action. If the after-final response contained claim amendments, the applicant will most likely need to file an RCE to get the claim amendments entered. While attorney’s fees for filing an RCE might not be significant since all the hard work had already been done in preparing the after-final response, you may have to pay significant USPTO extension fees.
Therefore, it’s best to file an after-final response early (i.e., within 2 months of the Final Office Action date), so that you have the option of filing an RCE in response to an Advisory Action without having to pay any USPTO extension fees.
If you’re already in an extended period (i.e., beyond three months from the Final Office Action date), it may be preferable to file the response with an RCE and avoid paying greater extension fees should your after-final response get rejected.
What are the benefits of an after-final response?
The ideal scenario would involve the patent examiner entering an after-final response and allowing the application as a result. This saves the applicant from having to pay USPTO fees for an RCE (large/small: $1,300/$650 for 1st RCE, $1,900/$950 for 2nd and subsequent RCE).
Reducing probability of further Office Actions
Short of that ideal situation, it may still be helpful to file an after-final response even if it does not directly result in allowance. For example, a more helpful examiner may reveal certain reasons as to why the after-final response did not place the application in condition for allowance.
An applicant can then supplement or modify the claim amendments to be filed with the RCE in order to bolster the probability of success and avoid subsequent Office Actions.