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Friday Sep 18, 2020

A seamless transition to all-virtual hearings

Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Scott Boalick, Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the USPTO 

hearing image

Remote PTAB hearing on July 27, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic began in early March, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) held its first all-virtual hearing, seamlessly adjusting to the new format and showcasing yet another example of our state-of-the-art efforts to support America’s “innovation agency.”

In the 60 days after this transition, the PTAB has held 263 virtual hearings. Of note, 95 of these hearings were AIA trials, 100% of which were all virtual. By comparison, in the 60 days prior to the transition, there were 99 AIA trials and only one of those trials had counsel appear remotely. Despite the sudden switch in format, PTAB work has continued unabated.  

PTAB table image

Past innovations allowed this transition to be possible. For example, PTAB has long permitted counsel to appear remotely in ex parte appeals to save travel-related costs and time for applicants. Likewise, up to two of the three judges assigned to any PTAB proceeding (ex parte appeal or AIA trial) have appeared remotely, supporting the USPTO’s well-known hotel programing where judges and examiners are recruited throughout the United States and permitted to work outside the DC metro area. And just this year, PTAB allowed parties in all proceedings to request to appear from a USPTO regional office.

Still, transitioning all PTAB hearings to a complete virtual environment required the PTAB and its support staff to work efficiently and creatively as they addressed everything from court reporting to virtual public access.

We continue our work to improve the user experience and welcome any suggestions parties and practitioners might have. Please send us a note at PTABhearings@uspto.gov.  We also realize that for many practitioners, appearing remotely is a new experience that poses some challenges. To that end, we have identified some best practices that we share with counsel in advance.

On a related note, the USPTO launched the Legal Experience and Advancement Program (LEAP) during this time of remote hearings, and it has shown tremendous interest so far. LEAP fosters the development of the next generation of patent practitioners by creating opportunities for them to gain skills and experience in oral arguments before the PTAB.

Finally, with the expansion of remote hearings, we are also able to offer stakeholders opportunity to listen to hearings remotely. For more information, please visit the PTAB page of the USPTO website for schedules and further instructions.

The USPTO’s top priority is to maintain the health and safety of our employees, contractors, and the American public, while continuing to provide valuable services, programs, and resources at the highest level. The option to appear remotely before the PTAB is one of the many ways that we have met, and will continue to meet, the needs and priorities of those who appear before the Board.

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