1702 Restrictions on Current and Former Office Employees Regarding Patent Matters [R-07.2015]
35 U.S.C. 4 Restrictions on officers and employees as to interest in patents.
Officers and employees of the Patent and Trademark Office shall be incapable, during the period of their appointments and for one year thereafter, of applying for a patent and of acquiring, directly or indirectly, except by inheritance or bequest, any patent or any right or interest in any patent, issued or to be issued by the Office. In patents applied for thereafter they shall not be entitled to any priority date earlier than one year after the termination of their appointment.
37 CFR 11.10 Restrictions on practice in patent matters.
- (a) Only practitioners who are registered under § 11.6 or individuals given limited recognition under § 11.9(a) or (b) are permitted to prosecute patent applications of others before the Office; or represent others in any proceedings before the Office.
- (b) Post employment agreement of former Office employee. No individual who has served in the patent examining corps or elsewhere
in the Office may practice before the Office after termination of his or her
service, unless he or she signs a written undertaking agreeing:
- (1) To not knowingly act as agent or attorney for, or otherwise
represent, or assist in any manner the representation of, any other
- (i) Before the Office,
- (ii) In connection with any particular patent or patent application,
- (iii) In which said employee participated personally and substantially as an employee of the Office; and
- (2) To not knowingly act within two years after terminating
employment by the Office as agent or attorney for, or otherwise represent,
or assist in any manner the representation of any other person:
- (i) Before the Office,
- (ii) In connection with any particular patent or patent application,
- (iii) If such patent or patent application was pending under the employee’s official responsibility as an officer or employee within a period of one year prior to the termination of such responsibility.
- (3) The words and phrases in paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) of
this section are construed as follows:
- (i) Represent and representation mean acting as patent attorney or patent agent or other representative in any appearance before the Office, or communicating with an employee of the Office with intent to influence.
- (ii) Assist in any manner means aid or help another person on a particular patent or patent application involving representation.
- (iii) Particular patent or patent application means any patent or patent application, including, but not limited to, a provisional, substitute, international, continuation, divisional, continuation-in-part, or reissue patent application, as well as any protest, reexamination, petition, appeal, interference, or trial proceeding based on the patent or patent application.
- (iv) Participate personally and substantially.
- (A) Basic requirements. The restrictions of § 11.10(a)(1) apply only to those patents and patent applications in which a former Office employee had “personal and substantial participation,” exercised “through decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation or otherwise.” To participate personally means directly, and includes the participation of a subordinate when actually directed by the former Office employee in the patent or patent application. Substantially means that the employee’s involvement must be of significance to the matter, or form a basis for a reasonable appearance of such significance. It requires more than official responsibility, knowledge, perfunctory involvement, or involvement on an administrative or peripheral issue. A finding of substantiality should be based not only on the effort devoted to a patent or patent application, but also on the importance of the effort. While a series of peripheral involvements may be insubstantial, the single act of approving or participation in a critical step may be substantial. It is essential that the participation be related to a “particular patent or patent application.” (See paragraph (b)(3)(iii) of this section.)
- (B) Participation on ancillary matters. An Office employee’s participation on subjects not directly involving the substantive merits of a patent or patent application may not be “substantial,” even if it is time-consuming. An employee whose official responsibility is the review of a patent or patent application solely for compliance with administrative control or budgetary considerations and who reviews a particular patent or patent application for such a purpose should not be regarded as having participated substantially in the patent or patent application, except when such considerations also are the subject of the employee’s proposed representation.
- (C) Role of official responsibility in determining substantial participation. Official responsibility is defined in paragraph (b)(3)(v) of this section. “Personal and substantial participation” is different from “official responsibility.” One’s responsibility may, however, play a role in determining the “substantiality” of an Office employee’s participation.
- (v) Official responsibility means the direct administrative or operating authority,
whether intermediate or final, and either exercisable alone or with
others, and either personally or through subordinates, to approve,
disapprove, or otherwise direct Government actions.
- (A) Determining official responsibility. Ordinarily, those areas assigned by statute, regulation, Executive Order, job description, or delegation of authority determine the scope of an employee’s “official responsibility”. All particular matters under consideration in the Office are under the “official responsibility” of the Director of the Office, and each is under that of any intermediate supervisor having responsibility for an employee who actually participates in the patent or patent application within the scope of his or her duties. A patent examiner would have “official responsibility” for the patent applications assigned to him or her.
- (B) Ancillary matters and official responsibility. Administrative authority as used in paragraph (v) of this section means authority for planning, organizing and controlling a patent or patent application rather than authority to review or make decisions on ancillary aspects of a patent or patent application such as the regularity of budgeting procedures, public or community relations aspects, or equal employment opportunity considerations. Responsibility for such an ancillary consideration does not constitute official responsibility for the particular patent or patent application, except when such a consideration is also the subject of the employee’s proposed representation.
- (C) Duty to inquire. In order for a former employee, e.g., former patent examiner, to be barred from representing or assisting in representing another as to a particular patent or patent application, he or she need not have known, while employed by the Office, that the patent or patent application was pending under his or her official responsibility. The former employee has a reasonable duty of inquiry to learn whether the patent or patent application had been under his or her official responsibility. Ordinarily, a former employee who is asked to represent another on a patent or patent application will become aware of facts sufficient to suggest the relationship of the prior matter to his or her former office, e.g., technology center, group or art unit. If so, he or she is under a duty to make further inquiry. It would be prudent for an employee to maintain a record of only patent application numbers of the applications actually acted upon by decision or recommendation, as well as those applications under the employee’s official responsibility which he or she has not acted upon.
- (D) Self-disqualification. A former employee, e.g., former patent examiner, cannot avoid the restrictions of this section through self-disqualification with respect to a patent or patent application for which he or she otherwise had official responsibility. However, an employee who through self-disqualification does not participate personally and substantially in a particular patent or patent application is not subject to the lifetime restriction of paragraph (b)(1) of this section.
- (vi) Pending means that the matter was in fact referred to or under consideration by persons within the employee’s area of official responsibility.
- (4) Measurement of the two-year restriction period. The two-year period under paragraph (b)(2) of this section is measured from the date when the employee’s official responsibility in a particular area ends, not from the termination of service in the Office, unless the two occur simultaneously. The prohibition applies to all particular patents or patent applications subject to such official responsibility in the one-year period before termination of such responsibility.
- (1) To not knowingly act as agent or attorney for, or otherwise represent, or assist in any manner the representation of, any other person:
- (c) Former employees of the Office. This section imposes restrictions generally parallel to those imposed in 18 U.S.C. 207(a) and (b)(1). This section, however, does not interpret these statutory provisions or any other post-employment restrictions that may apply to former Office employees, and such former employees should not assume that conduct not prohibited by this section is otherwise permissible. Former employees of the Office, whether or not they are practitioners, are encouraged to contact the Department of Commerce for information concerning applicable post-employment restrictions.
- (d) An employee of the Office may not prosecute or aid in any manner in the prosecution of any patent application before the Office.
- (e) Practice before the Office by Government employees is subject to any applicable conflict of interest laws, regulations or codes of professional responsibility.
Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. 4, patent examiners, other Office employees, and Office officers may not apply for a patent or acquire any right or interest in any patent during the period of their employment with the Office and for one year thereafter. An Office employee or officer who is named as an inventor in a patent application will be presumed (1) to be legally incapable of signing the inventor's oath or declaration pursuant to 35 U.S.C. 4 , or (2) to refuse to sign the inventor's oath or declaration based on his or her status as an Office employee. For applications filed on or after September 16, 2012, a substitute statement under 37 CFR 1.64 may be filed in lieu of the oath or declaration without contacting the current employee or officer of the Office.
See also MPEP § 309.