COVID-19 Bill Lets USPTO Director Extend IP Filing Deadlines

By Tiffany Hu
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Law360 (March 26, 2020, 7:44 PM EDT) -- The $2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill passed by the Senate late Wednesday will temporarily expand the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director's power to push back filing deadlines for patents and trademarks, in hopes of alleviating the effects of the pandemic on agency operations.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act includes a section that gives temporary authority to the USPTO director in "tolling, waiving, adjusting or modifying a timing deadline" under the relevant patent and trademark statutes.

Under the Cares Act, the director may extend the statutory filing deadlines in the event that the pandemic "materially affects the functioning of the Patent and Trademark Office," "prejudices the rights of applicants, registrants, patent owners or others appearing before the office" or "prevents users from filing a document or paying a fee timely," the text says.

The new measures will take effect when the legislation is enacted, and will last for 60 days after the end of the renewable emergency period that began March 13. The director's authority will expire two years following the enactment of the bill, according to the text.

The USPTO previously indicated that it may not be able to extend statutory deadlines absent congressional action, but has waived certain fees to file petitions seeking to revive patent and trademark applications abandoned based on missed deadlines.

The USPTO has also waived 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, according to the agency.

In addition to those rule changes, the USPTO has also 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.

After closing its offices to the public last week, the agency said Monday that it would allow only employees whose work is deemed "mission critical" to enter campus to report for duty.

--Additional reporting by Ryan Davis and Dani Kass. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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