Patent & Trademark Office/PTO
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PTO Re-Opens to Public

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) re-opened to the public on May 25, 2022. Both the headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and the regional offices in Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan and San Jose, California, are now open. The offices had been closed to the public since March 16, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visitors will be required to complete a health questionnaire and may be denied entry depending on the results of the questionnaire. Local COVID-19 infection rates will determine whether masks are required in each office.

Although the PTO is open to the public, oral hearings before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board and Trademark Trial & Appeal Board will still be conducted by video or telephone. In-person interviews with examiners are now possible, however.




PTO Updates DOCX Filings, Delays Surcharge Fee

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) recently announced that the surcharge fee for patent applications that are not filed in DOCX format will not go into effect until January 1, 2023. During the period before non-DOCX filings are hit with the surcharge fee, the PTO is encouraging applicants to begin filing patent applications in DOCX format (87 Fed. Reg. 25226). To address concerns some applicants have raised and to allow applicants to get acclimated to the process of filing applications in DOCX format, the PTO is providing applicants with the option to submit an applicant-generated PDF version of their application along with the DOCX file(s) when filing an application in the Patent Center without having to pay additional fees, such as application size fees.

Applicants who choose to submit an applicant-generated PDF with the validated DOCX file(s) will be able to rely on the applicant-generated PDF if a discrepancy occurs during the filing process. Once the non-DOCX filing surcharge fee officially goes into effect, applicants who submit an applicant-generated PDF with the validated DOCX file(s) will need to pay the surcharge fee and any other additional fees as a consequence for filing the applicant-generated PDF. This new document description is called “Auxiliary PDF of application,” and the corresponding document code is AUX.PDF.

The PTO advises:

Applicants are strongly encouraged to review their applications, including the USPTO-generated PDF, shortly after filing the application to identify any errors or discrepancies in the record, as discussed above. The applicant should file any necessary petition to correct the record early in prosecution and promptly after discovering any errors or discrepancies.




What Preclusion? Post-IPR Reexam Moves Forward

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revived a petitioner’s validity challenge seeking ex parte review at the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO), reversing a district court decision dismissing its complaint seeking Administrative Procedures Act (APA) review of the PTO Director’s vacatur decision. The Federal Circuit concluded that the petitioner was not subject to inter partes review (IPR) estoppel from pursuing reexamination after receiving IPR final written decisions concerning the same claims of the same patents. Alarm.com Inc. v. Hirshfeld, Case No. 21-2102 (Fed Cir, Feb 24, 2022) (Taranto, Chen, Cunningham, JJ.)

This case explores the tension between the ex parte reexam statute and the IPR estoppel statute. Under 35 U.S.C. § 302, “any person at any time may file a request for reexamination . . . of any claim of a patent on the basis of any prior art cited under [§ 301].” If the PTO Director determines “pursuant to [§ 303(a)] that no substantial new question of patentability is raised,” that determination “will be final and nonappealable.” § 303(c). If a substantial new question is deemed to have been raised, “the determination will include an order for reexamination of the patent for resolution of the question.” § 304. Under § 315(e)(1), a petitioner in an IPR that results in a final written decision is estopped from requesting or maintaining a proceeding before the PTO “with respect to that claim on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that inter partes review.”

Alarm.com filed several IPR petitions that resulted in three final written decisions holding that Alarm.com had not carried its burden of proving that the challenged claims at issue were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit affirmed all three decisions in its 2018 ruling in Vivint, Inc. v. Alarm.com. Alarm.com subsequently filed three requests for ex parte reexamination of the same claims under 35 U.S.C. § 302 and 37 C.F.R. § 1.510, presenting different grounds than were presented in the IPRs. Instead of rendering a § 303(a) decision on the issue of whether petitioner presented a substantial new questions of patentability, the Director vacated the requests, finding that Alarm.com reasonably could have raised its reexamination grounds in the IPRs and, therefore, was estopped under § 315(e)(1) from submitting the requests. Alarm.com filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia against the Director and the PTO under 5 U.S.C. § 702, stating that the Director’s actions were arbitrary and capricious. Following dismissal of the complaint, Alarm.com appealed.

The PTO argued that the overall ex parte reexamination scheme precluded judicial review of the Director’s vacatur decision based on § 315(e)(1) estoppel, which brought Alarm.com’s challenge within the exception to APA review, i.e., where “statutes preclude judicial review.” 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(1). The PTO did not raise any other arguments as to why judicial review would not be available under the APA.

The Federal Circuit explained that “[t]he only portion of the ex parte reexamination statutory scheme that expressly precludes judicial review is § [...]

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The PTO Isn’t Playing Around: More Sanctions for Improper Trademark Filings

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) continues to uphold its promise to combat fraud and “protect the integrity of the U.S. trademark register” with initiatives to investigate and sanction actions before the PTO that appear to violate the Trademark Rules of Practice or the PTO website terms of use. The latest effort comes in the form of a January 25, 2022, sanctions order signed by the commissioner for trademarks against Abtach, 360 Digital Marketing and Retrocube based on evidence that each of the respondents engaged in an “egregious scheme to deceive and defraud both the PTO and individual applicants in more than 5,500 trademark applications, including engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and intentionally providing false, fictitious, or fraudulent information to the PTO in violation of the PTO’s rules of practice in trademark matters.” According to the sanctions order, the respondents were each given an opportunity to respond to a show cause order issued in November 2021, but the PTO received no responses from the noticed parties.

In the sanctions order, the PTO outlined the activities of the three respondents, which appear to operate as separate entities but are ultimately controlled by Abtach, a Pakistan-based company that is also under investigation by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency for criminal fraud. The PTO’s use of the word “egregious” to describe the respondents’ actions might be an understatement. The sanctions order describes how the respondents set up dozens of websites to hold themselves out as providers of logo designs and low-cost trademark application filing services while forging documents that appear to be issued by the PTO, artificially modifying official PTO documents, threatening customers with legal action if they did not file for registration of their logos through the respondents, intentionally filing applications with errors to delay and increase the cost of the prosecution process, submitting invalid verifications and declarations and demanding payments for unnecessary services or fraudulently inflated fees. The respondents took these actions while failing to employ any US-licensed lawyers to do this work before the PTO.

In determining appropriate sanctions, the PTO considers several factors, including whether the conduct was willful or negligent, whether it was part of a pattern of activity or an isolated event, whether it infected the entire record or was limited to a single submission, whether it was intended to injure a party, what effect it has on the PTO and what is needed to deter similar conduct by others. In this case, the PTO found that the respondents had orchestrated a “widespread, intentional and coordinated effort to defraud both applicants and the USPTO.” Finding the respondents’ activities to be both willful and fraudulent, and to have harmed thousands of applicants while also delaying proceedings in the PTO and “eroding trust in the U.S. trademark registration process,” the PTO ordered termination of all trademark applications and proceedings submitted by the respondents. The PTO will also flag any issued registrations as being subject to a sanctions order. To the extent any victims of the respondents have [...]

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Post-AIA Patents Are Not Shielded from Interferences

Addressing the applicability of interference proceedings to patent applications filed after the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) was enacted, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) found it proper to declare an interference between a patent application with a priority date before March 16, 2013, the AIA implementation date, and a patent with a priority date after March 16, 2013. SNIPR Technologies Limited v. The Rockefeller University, Pat. Interf. No. 106,123 (DK) (PTAB Nov. 19, 2021) (Katz, APJ).

The AIA switched the US patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” system. In line with this change, the AIA eliminated the patentability requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 102(g), regarding whether another inventor made the invention first, and the interference proceeding under 35 U.S.C. §135 for determining who invented the claimed invention first. Section 3(n)(2) of the AIA provides a timing provision relating to this change. Under this section, the interference proceeding “shall apply to each claim of an application for patent, and any patent issued thereon, for which the amendments made by this section also apply, if such application or patent contains or contained at any time, a claim [having a priority date before March 16, 2013].”

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) declared an interference between several patents owned by SNIPR and a pending application to The Rockefeller University. The claims involved were drawn to a method of killing or modifying specific bacteria in a mixed population of bacteria with different species using the CRISPR-mediated gene editing technology. The Rockefeller application asserted a priority date of February 7, 2013 (i.e., pre-AIA), while the SNIPR patents asserted the priority date of May 3, 2016 (i.e., post-AIA). SNIPR argued that the interference proceeding was improper since all involved patents were filed after the AIA was enacted.

The Board rejected SNIPR’s argument, explaining that Section 3(n)(2) provides for continuation of interference under certain circumstances. The Board noted that the patentability requirement under 35 U.S.C. §102(g) and interference still apply to each claim having a priority date before March 16, 2013, such as the claims of Rockefeller’s involved application. Accordingly, when the Rockefeller claims would otherwise be allowable, except for the existence of an interference with other claims such as SNIPR’s claims, Section 3(n)(2) necessarily calls for an interference proceeding between the Rockefeller application and the SNIPR patents. Otherwise, the PTO would not be able to determine whether Rockefeller was entitled to a patent under 35 U.S.C. §102(g).

The Board further reasoned that, instead of ending all interferences at the implementation of the AIA, US Congress enacted Section 3(n)(2) to continue the interference proceeding as applicable to certain cases after AIA. Congress also did not explicitly require that cases involved in interferences must all have priority dates before March 16, 2013. Therefore, the Board found that Congress contemplated interferences between pre-AIA and post-AIA applications and patents. Accordingly, the Board ruled in Rockefeller’s favor, finding it was the first to invent the claimed technology.




PTO Will Transition to Electronic Issuance of Patents and Trademarks

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) announced on December 10, 2021, that it intends to transition to electronic issuance of patents and trademarks in 2022. Under the current rule (37 C.F.R § 1.315), the PTO must deliver or mail a patent “upon issuance to the correspondence address of record.” The PTO will soon issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to seek public feedback on revising the rules of practice to issue patents electronically. Under the proposed changes, the PTO would no longer mail patents to the applicant. Instead, the PTO would issue patents electronically via the Patent Center and Patent Application Image Retrieval, from which the patents could be downloaded and printed.

While no changes to the trademark rules are necessary, the PTO will also issue a public request for comments on replacing paper registration certificates with digital versions.

The PTO believes that electronic issuance will reduce the time it takes for a patent or trademark to issue by about two weeks.

Once the transition is complete, applicants can still receive a paper copy of the issued patents and trademark registration certificates with an embossed gold seal and the director’s signature (i.e., a ribbon certificate) for a fee of $25 per copy.




Unsigned, Sealed, Delivered: PTO Eliminates Handwritten Signatures for Certain OED Correspondence and Credit Card Payments

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) eliminated the requirement for original handwritten signatures on certain correspondence with the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED) and on certain payments made to the PTO by credit card. The handwritten signature requirements of 37 CFR § 1.4(e) were deleted effective July 2, 2021.

37 CFR § 1.4(e)(1) previously required correspondence related to registration to practice before the PTO in patent cases, enrollment and disciplinary investigations, and disciplinary proceedings to be submitted with an original handwritten signature personally signed in permanent dark ink or its equivalent. 37 CFR § 1.4(e)(2) required the same for payments by credit cards where the payment was not made via the electronic filing system. Elimination of the entirety of § 1.4(e) allows the use of facsimile transmissions and S-signatures in enrollment and disciplinary matters before the OED, and for payments by credit card.




Don’t Let Prophetic Examples Work Against You

On July 1, 2021, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice reminding patent applicants that when their applications contain both prophetic and working examples, they must make a clear distinction between the two.

Prophetic examples illustrate reasonably expected results or anticipated results. They stem from experiments that have not been actually performed and are instead hypothetical simulations. In contrast, working examples result from experiments that were actually performed. In order to aid in distinguishing between the two example types within a patent application, prophetic examples should be written only in the future or present tense—not in the past tense. Prophetic examples cannot be used to meet the written description and enablement requirements for a patent application.

The PTO’s recent notice underscores the importance of the applicant’s duty to clearly distinguish between prophetic and working examples: “[k]nowingly asserting in a patent application that a certain result ‘was run’ or an experiment ‘was conducted’ when, in fact, the experiment was not conducted or the result was not obtained is fraud.”




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