USPTO, Copyright Office Waive Deadlines Amid COVID-19

By Hailey Konnath
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Law360 (March 31, 2020, 10:22 PM EDT) -- Both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office on Tuesday announced that certain intellectual property filing deadlines and fees would be waived during the coronavirus pandemic, citing special provisions included in the $2 trillion relief bill passed last week.

Specifically, deadlines for patent and trademark applications, documents in patent and trademark proceedings and associated fees can be extended by a month, "provided the filing is accompanied by a statement that the delay in filing or payment was due to the COVID-19 outbreak," the USPTO said in a pair of notices.

Copyright registration deadlines may also be extended as long as copyright owners provide similar statements, the copyright office said. Additionally, individuals who are prevented from serving or recording notices of termination will be permitted additional time.

Leaders of the two offices said they were exercising a temporary authority granted to them under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which allows them to toll, waive, adjust or modify timing deadlines. The new measures will last for 60 days after the end of the renewable emergency period that began March 13. The temporary authority will expire two years following the enactment of the bill, according to the text.

USPTO Director Andrei Iancu on Tuesday called inventors and entrepreneurs "the lifeblood of our economy," adding in a statement that "we recognize that many of them are having difficulty as a result of the effects of COVID-19."

"As a result, we are working to provide as much relief as possible to our stakeholders, consistent with our ability to maintain the USPTO's fee-funded operations," he said.

The virus has significantly disrupted the operations of businesses, law firms and inventors, the USPTO said in one of the notices. And small businesses and independent inventors, "who frequently have less access to capital and for whom patent-related fees may constitute a more significant expense," could especially face difficulties, according to the office.

Iancu said in his statement that the office's goal "is to ensure not only that inventors and entrepreneurs can weather the storm, but that they can hit the ground running once it passes."

Meanwhile, the Copyright Office said in its notice that it was aware some copyright owners may be prevented from completing or submitting applications in a timely manner due to inability to access certain physical documents. Acting Register Maria Strong is therefore exercising her authority to adjust timing provisions in those cases where compliance would isn't possible during the pandemic, according the notice.

"The acting register is continuing to monitor the effect of the national emergency on these and other components, including with respect to the modifications below, of the copyright system and will consider further adjustments as circumstances warrant," the office said.

The USPTO had already waived other requirements, including certain fees to file petitions seeking to revive patent and trademark applications abandoned based on missed deadlines, though the office suggested at the time that it couldn't move filing deadlines without congressional action.

The office 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. The USPTO closed its offices to the public earlier this month.

The Copyright Office, too, closed to the public earlier this month. And it issued temporary rules allowing individuals filing applications online to submit an electronic deposit of their work if a physical version is required within the applications.

The office said it would also be sending refusal letters via email rather than U.S. mail.

--Additional reporting by Ryan Davis, Dani Kass, Britain Eakin, Stephen Cooper and Tiffany Hu. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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