On March 4, 2024, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to revise its Motion to Amend (MTA) pilot program practice in connection with certain America Invents Act (AIA) proceedings. 89 Fed. Reg. 15531 (Mar. 4, 2024). The PTO set a May 3, 2024, deadline for stakeholders to submit written comments in response to the proposed rules.

The MTA pilot program has evolved since its inception nearly five years ago and has been extended to September 16, 2024. The proposal seeks to make permanent certain provisions of the pilot program in response to the PTO’s May 2023 request for comments. The rules would apply to the existing consolidated set of rules relating to trial practice for inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR) and derivation proceedings in trial proceedings under the AIA.

Under the existing MTA pilot program, patent claims challenged during an AIA trial proceeding provide the patent owner with two options when proposing substitute claims in response to a petitioner’s opposition. The first option gives the patent owner the ability to file an MTA so that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board can issue preliminary non-binding guidance regarding the likelihood of an invalidation decision. The PTO proposes to revise its rules of practice to provide for the issuance of preliminary guidance in response to an MTA and to provide a patent owner with the option of filing one additional revised MTA.

The Board’s preliminary guidance typically would come in the form of a short paper issued after a petitioner files its opposition to the MTA and typically would provide the Board’s preliminary views on the MTA, specifically whether the MTA meets the statutory and regulatory requirements for an MTA, whether the parties have met their respective burdens of proof and whether the substitute claims are likely to be found unpatentable. However, the preliminary guidance would not be binding on the Board.

The proposed provisions would also provide the Board with greater authority to raise new grounds of unpatentability based on a preponderance of evidence standard. The new grounds of unpatentability could rely on the entirety of the record, including all prior art of record. The guidance would be accompanied by citations to the evidence in support of these new grounds. Further, where no opposition is filed or other circumstances constitute a lack of opposition, the prior art of record may further include references obtained from the PTO (i.e., examiners) in response to a request from the Board.

The proposed provisions would allow a patent owner to file a revised MTA after receiving a petitioner’s opposition to the original MTA or after receiving the Board’s preliminary guidance. Under the current pilot program, a revised MTA must be preauthorized for “good cause.” Under the revised provisions, the patent owner would be able to file a revised MTA without preauthorization. A revised MTA would replace the original MTA and must include new proposed substitute claims in place of the originally proposed claims. [...]

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