Seeking to bolster the independence of administrative patent judge (APJ) panels when issuing decisions and increase transparency regarding Patent Trial & Appeal Board processes, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning the pre-issuance internal circulation and review of decisions. Rules Governing Pre-Issuance Internal Circulation and Review of Decisions Within the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, 88 Fed. Reg. 69578 (Oct. 6, 2023)
The proposed rules were developed in response to a July 2022 request for comments and would refine and codify interim processes and standards that have been in place since May 2022. If adopted, the proposed rules would be codified as Section 43 in Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations (37 C.F.R. §§ 43.1-43.6) relating to Board proceedings pending under 37 C.F.R. §§ 41 and 42.
Under the rules in newly proposed §§ 43.3 and 43.4, prior to issuance of a decision by the panel, senior PTO management and non-management APJs at the PTO (as defined in § 43.2) would be barred from communicating, directly or through intermediaries, with any panel member (unless they were themselves panel members) regarding the decision. Limited communications would be permitted for procedural status and generally applicable paneling guidance that don’t directly or otherwise influence the paneling or repaneling of any specific proceeding. The proposed rules would not forbid a panel member from requesting input on a decision prior to issuance from non-panel senior APJs, however. The proposed rules would stipulate that it is within the panel’s sole discretion to adopt any edits, suggestions or feedback from non-panel APJs.
The proposed rules substantially follow the interim processes in place except for a change regarding pre-issuance circulation of decisions to a pool of non-management APJs, known as the circulation judge pool (CPJ). Under the interim process, certain categories of Board decisions are required to be circulated to the CPJ prior to issuance. Those decisions include all America Invents Act (AIA) institution decisions, AIA final written decisions, AIA decisions on rehearing, inter partes reexamination appeal decisions, designated categories of ex parte appeals, ex parte reexamination appeals and reissue appeal decisions and all Board decisions (including AIA and ex parte appeal decisions) following a remand from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Under the proposed rules, circulation to the CJP would be optional.
The PTO will accept comments until December 5, 2023, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal.