COVID-19 Brings More Cancellations, Rule Changes In IP

By Tiffany Hu
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Law360 (March 19, 2020, 8:47 PM EDT) -- A growing number of events on the intellectual property calendar are being called off or postponed in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has also led to a number of recent rule changes at both the U.S. and European patent offices. 

On Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Circuit announced that it is canceling a judicial conference and related events that had been scheduled for mid-May.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Solicitor General Noel Francisco were supposed to speak at the conference, which would have also included panels and discussions on current intellectual property and trade issues within the court's jurisdiction, according to an earlier announcement.

The Federal Circuit — which has also suspended in-person hearings due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic — said it was hopeful the conference will be rescheduled, noting in the meantime that it will refund all registration fees that have been processed.

The American Bar Association and Section of Intellectual Property Law canceled a two-day conference in April on recent developments in intellectual property law, and also postponed the section's 125th anniversary gala, according to the groups' statement last week.

They said that due to the pandemic, "the growing number of law firms, corporations and governmental agencies limiting or prohibiting travel; uncertainty caused by the U.S. government's ban on travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days; the numerous recommendations against holding large group meetings; and the large number of speakers and attendees who were compelled to cancel their participation due to travel restrictions put in place by employers, we cannot proceed with the meeting."

Outside of these events, both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and European Patent Office have been grappling with how to respond to COVID-19. While the USPTO closed its buildings to the public on Sunday until at least April 1, the EPO has urged those from "high-risk areas" to abstain from visiting the office.

The EPO said Wednesday it is pushing back all oral proceedings in the examination and opposition divisions until March 27, unless they have been confirmed to take place over video. That follows the EPO's announcement earlier this week that oral proceedings before its appeals board will be postponed until the same date.

The office said it will continue as usual with its other activities in the examination and opposition divisions, as well as in its search division. It added that it will be using this time to "explore options for further facilitating" video conferences in oral proceedings.

As for the USPTO, although it has suggested it can't move filing deadlines — unlike its European counterpart — the agency said Monday that it would waive revival petition fees for those who miss certain deadlines.

On Thursday, the USPTO said it is also waiving the requirements for the original version of a handwritten, ink signature for certain communications with its Office of Enrollment and Discipline and certain credit card payments. Individuals can submit copies of their handwritten signatures instead, the office said.

--Additional reporting by Dani Kass. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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