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Empowering Current and Future IP Attorneys
Guest blog by Deputy General Counsel for Enrollment and Discipline Will Covey
For many patent attorneys and agents, the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED) is a name only seen when registering to practice or being investigated in a disciplinary matter. During the last year, however, OED has become more engaged with both current and future IP legal practitioners in an effort to educate inquiring minds about patent and trademark procedures while creating open lines of communication with attorneys and agents currently practicing before the USPTO.
As part of our focus on future practitioners, we recently had the pleasure of welcoming to our headquarters more than 55 law students and faculty participating in our innovative Law School Clinic Certification Pilot Program. The visitors heard presentations from a wide range of USPTO personnel, including Acting Director Teresa Stanek Rea, Commissioner for Trademarks Debbie Cohn, attorneys from the Office of the Solicitor, administrative trademark judges from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), Deputy Chief Administrative Patent Judge James T. Moore from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), personnel from the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA), attorneys from the OED, and human resources specialists.
The day-long program included an opportunity for participants to observe arguments by counsel in a TTAB opposition proceeding, questioning by the panel of judges, and a post-hearing discussion on effective presentation of arguments. In addition, program participants were able to engage with each other and USPTO personnel in various roundtable discussions.
The USPTO has designed this growing program to introduce future practitioners to the agency. It affords them the opportunity to gain experience by practicing in patent and/or trademark matters before the USPTO, under the guidance of a Law School Faculty Clinic supervisor. Specifically, students counsel clients, prepare applications, and respond to office actions on a pro bono basis. Under OED’s leadership, the program has grown tremendously: from six schools in 2008 to 28 schools today. About 880 law students have participated in the program to date. You can learn more about the program and the latest news about it on our website.
Our focus on current practitioners includes our recently published new ethics rules, known as the USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct. Designed to make life easier for the more than 41,000 practitioners who interact with our agency, they are based upon the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The ethics rules are the first major update since 1985 and reflect the rules in place in 49 states and the District of Columbia. We spent a great deal of time reaching out to stakeholders in the IP community to balance the need of applicants as well as practitioners. Additionally, I am proud to say that the latest rulemaking eliminated the annual practitioner maintenance fee.
Our team of attorneys and staff has also been busy keeping up with the changes in patent law. Specifically, the registration exam for patent attorneys and agents has been updated four times in the past two years to reflect Supreme Court decisions, other relevant case law, and the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). The latest update was released yesterday (April 2, 2013). It includes the final provisions of the AIA, such as First Inventor to File, which took effect on March 16, 2013.
Our entire OED team is committed to ensuring that current and future practitioners are equipped with tools essential to keeping America’s innovation engine running.