Program provides in-person assistance at hearings for practitioners and inventors

BY KATHI VIDAL

Since the moment I was sworn in as director of this great agency two years ago, I have been guided by the conviction that we must open the doors of opportunity in the innovation community to everyone, not a select few.

We have done many things at the USPTO to push those doors of opportunity wide open, but I want to highlight a few in particular that I need your help in sharing with others. Collectively, they make access to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) easier and more transparent than ever, for both legal practitioners and the inventors they represent.

First, we are eager to engage with the public on our proposed rule to amend the criteria individuals must meet to practice before the PTAB. This rule will expand opportunities for more individuals to participate in our innovation ecosystem, while not compromising our goal of issuing and maintaining robust and reliable intellectual property rights. We encourage stakeholders to submit comments by May 21.

One opportunity we need your help in promoting is the PTAB Pro Bono Program, which serves under-resourced inventors seeking to appeal a patentability rejection by an examiner. We launched the program in 2022 in collaboration with the PTAB Bar Association, and since then, many licensed patent attorneys, registered to practice before the USPTO, have offered their free services to represent independent inventors, inventor groups, and inventor-owned small businesses in ex parte appeals. We need your help in promoting the program more widely within the inventor community.

See uspto.gov/PTABProBono for eligibility requirements.

We also continue, through the Legal Experience and Advancement Program (LEAP), to empower the next generation of advocates and prepare them for meaningful, impactful work early in their careers.

“LEAP to Chambers” brings eligible practitioners to a USPTO hearing facility, where a PTAB judge will give them a behind-the-scenes LEAP Forward, With PTAB’s Help tour. They will get a feel for the hearing room by standing behind the podium and testing out their openings. They will learn how to display evidence at a hearing, and they may sit at the bench and view the hearing room and evidence from the judges’ vantage point. A remote judge also will join the tour to provide tips on how to most effectively argue before a hybrid panel of in-person and remote judges.

After the tour, judges spend time with practitioners highlighting effective advocacy techniques and answering questions.

In “LEAP to Law Schools,” judges visit law schools and offer an overview of PTAB proceedings, including demonstration of a mock argument. The PTAB also continues to offer LEAP-eligible practitioners the opportunity to present mock oral arguments and practice their advocacy skills before a panel of judges and receive individualized feedback.

Since LEAP launched more than three years ago, over 350 eligible practitioners and 135 law firms have participated.

Contact me at [email protected] if you have questions about our PTAB programs, including the PTAB Pro Bono Program and LEAP.

Kathi Vidal is under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO.