1. How is the LEAP eligibility criteria of “seven or fewer years of experience as a licensed attorney or registered agent” interpreted?
A practitioner must have seven or fewer years of experience as a licensed attorney or registered agent as of the day of the LEAP request. Seven years begins to run as of the date of the practitioner is first licensed or registered, i.e., the date the practitioner is admitted to a U.S. state or District of Columbia Bar or becomes a registered patent agent at the USPTO, whichever occurs earlier.
2. If I have 4 years of experience as a patent as an attorney, does that count as 8 years of experience for purposes of eligibility?
The seven years begins as of the date the practitioner became a registered patent agent at the USPTO, or was admitted to a U.S. state or District of Columbia Bar or, whichever occurred earlier. If the practitioner was both registered as a patent agent and admitted as an attorney on the same day, i.e., May 15, 2016, then as of May 15, 2020, the practitioner has only four years of experience. However, if the practitioner became a registered patent agent on May 15, 2012, and became a licensed attorney four years later on May 15, 2016, then as of May 15, 2020, the practitioner has eight years of experience.
3. I practiced law in a non-patent field for 10 years, then switched to patent law and became a registered patent attorney. Does the 7 years start to run on the day I began practicing law or the day I registered with the patent bar?
The seven years started to run as of the date the practitioner first became licensed or registered, whichever occurred earlier. In this case, the 7-year eligibility period started on the day the practitioner first became licensed to practice law, i.e., when the practitioner was admitted to a U.S. state or District of Columbia Bar, which occurred 10 years ago.
4. I am admitted to practice before the USPTO pro hac vice. Am I eligible to be a LEAP practitioner?
Maybe, if a practitioner is permitted to argue at an oral hearing—e.g., the practitioner is admitted pro hac vice as back-up counsel and lead counsel is present at the hearing—and the practitioner otherwise meets the requirements for LEAP eligibility, then the practitioner may argue as a LEAP practitioner.
5. I became both a registered patent agent and licensed attorney in the U.S. more than seven years ago. However, I spent most of the time from then until now residing and practicing law outside the U.S. Now that I have returned to the U.S., can I qualify as a LEAP practitioner?
No, the practitioner cannot qualify as a LEAP practitioner because the seven years started to run when the practitioner was first admitted to a U.S. state or District of Columbia bar, which occurred more than seven years ago. The time spent abroad does not toll the seven year period.
6. I am law student, but not licensed with the patent bar or as an attorney. Am I eligible to participate in the LEAP program?
No, a person may quality as a LEAP practitioner only if the person is otherwise eligible to practice before the PTAB. A law student who is not registered with the USPTO or admitted as an attorney to a U.S. state or District of Columbia bar is not eligible to practice before the PTAB, and thus, cannot qualify as a LEAP practitioner.
7. If I come close to qualifying as a LEAP practitioner, but slightly miss the eligibility requirements, (e.g., 8 years of experience), can I request to participate in LEAP?
No, if the practitioner does not meet the precise eligibility requirements for LEAP, then the practitioner does not qualify for the program. The USPTO established the eligibility requirements to be inclusive while at the same time provide a bright line.
8. Will the USPTO consider any exceptions to the requirements for LEAP eligibility?
No, the USPTO is not allowing for exceptions to the LEAP eligibility requirements at this time. However, the Board encourages participation and involvement in oral arguments even if the practitioner does not quality as a LEAP practitioner. A practitioner may request to share oral argument time as well as confer with more experienced counsel during the argument. Additionally, the Board encourages other forms of participation in Board proceedings, including handling conference calls and sharing cross examination of a witness with other counsel upon agreement by the other party.