The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that certain challenged rules of the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that relate to the patent application process do not violate the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) because each called for a response to an individualized communication; a category which is expressly exempted from the PRA. Hyatt v. Office of Management and Budget, Case No. 20-15590 (9th Cir. May 20, 2021) (Nguyen, J.).

Inventor Gilbert Hyatt and the American Association for Equitable Treatment (AAET) contended that patent applicants should not have to comply with certain PTO rules, alleging that the rules violated the PRA, which Congress passed to reduce the burden imposed on the public when responding to federal agencies’ requests for information from private individuals. The PRA requires federal agencies engaged in “collections of information” to first submit them to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval and an assignment of a control number. Collections of things other than “information” do not need to receive OMB approval, and the PRA applies only to “collections” seeking information through identical questions or requirements imposed on 10 or more people. Thus, the PRA and its regulations expressly exclude individualized communications from PRA applicability.

Hyatt asked OMB to review PTO rules 111, 115 and 116, arguing that those rules imposed “collections of information” under the PRA. Hyatt suggested that because the rules had not received OMB approval and control numbers, he was not required to maintain, provide or disclose the information these rules referenced. OMB responded that it had already determined that “these collections are not subject to the PRA because what is collected is not considered ‘information,’ pursuant to [three] exemptions in OMB’s PRA implementing regulation”:

  • Exemption 1: “[a]ffidavits, oaths, affirmations, certifications . . . provided that they entail no burden other than that necessary to identify the respondent, the date, the respondent’s address, and the nature of the instrument. . .”
  • Exemption 6: “request[s] for facts or opinions addressed to a single person”
  • Exemption 9: “[f]acts or opinions obtained or solicited through nonstandardized follow-up questions designed to clarify responses to approved collections of information.”

5 C.F.R. §§ 1320.3(h)(1), (6), (9).

AAET made similar arguments in submitting three requests to OMB on PTO rules 105, 130, 131 and 132 and MPEP § 2173.05(n). In its response to AAET, OMB only stated that “the requests under Rule 1.105 are not subject to the PRA because the responses to questions submitted under Rule 1.105 are not ‘information,’ but instead are exempt under” Exemption 9. AAET submitted three more requests to OMB on the same rules with similar arguments. OMB responded that Rules 105, 130, 131 and 132 and MPEP § 2173.05(n) were exempt under Exemptions 6 and 9; and Rules 130, 131 and 132 were additionally exempt under Exemption 1.

Hyatt and AAET sued OMB in district court, alleging that OMB’s denial of their petitions was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law in [...]

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