All But 'Mission Critical' USPTO Employees To Work Remotely

By Tiffany Hu
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Law360 (March 24, 2020, 8:52 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is requiring all but "mission critical" employees to work from home in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, following the agency's announcement that it has closed its offices to the public.

Starting Monday, only employees whose work is deemed essential to the USPTO's operations, or "mission critical," can enter to report for duty, according to the agency's homepage. The offices have been closed to the public since March 16.

All other employees will telework until further notice, and operations are expected to "continue as normal," the agency said.

A USPTO spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The announcement comes as the USPTO has been making certain rule changes in response to the global pandemic.

In addition to closing the offices, the agency has called off face-to-face meetings between applicants and patent and trademark examiners, along with hearings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Instead, teleconferences or phone calls are set to become the norm.

Although it has suggested it can't move filing deadlines, the USPTO said last week that it would waive revival petition fees for those whose patent applications were deemed abandoned or had reexamination proceedings terminated when the effects of the outbreak led to a deadline being missed.

The waiver will likewise apply to those whose trademark applications were labeled abandoned or whose registrations were canceled or expired based on missed deadlines.

This only applies to deadlines for responding to USPTO communications, not statutory filing deadlines, and the petition must explain how the delay was tied to the outbreak.

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 Jack Karp.

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