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PTO Finalizes Rules Promoting Independence in PTAB Decision-Making
Thursday, June 20, 2024

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) announced a final rule concerning pre-issuance internal circulation and review of decisions within the Patent Trial & Appeal Board. The new rules are designed to bolster the independence of administrative patent judge (APJ) panels when issuing decisions and increase transparency regarding Board processes. 89 Fed. Reg. 49808 (June 12, 2024).

The new rules amend and codify Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations (37 C.F.R. §§ 43.1 – 43.6) by adding Section 43 relating to Board proceedings pending under 37 C.F.R. §§ 41 and 42. The final rule was developed in response to a July 2022 request for comments concerning interim processes and standards in place since May 2022, and an October 2023 notice of proposed rulemaking and request for comments. The final rule codifies the interim processes set forth in Standard Operating Procedure 4 (SOP4), which replaced the standards in place since May 2022.

Under the new rules codified in §§ 43.3 and 43.4, prior to issuance of a panel decision, senior PTO management and non-management APJs (as defined in § 43.2) are barred from communicating, directly or through intermediaries, with any panel member (unless they were themselves panel members) regarding panel decisions. Limited communications are permitted for procedural status and generally applicable paneling guidance that doesn’t directly or otherwise influence the paneling or repaneling of any specific proceeding. The rules do not forbid a panel member from requesting input on a decision prior to issuance from non-panel senior APJs, however. The rules further stipulate that it is within the panel’s sole discretion to adopt any edits, suggestions or feedback from non-panel APJs.

The rule is effective July 12, 2024.

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