The reach of COVID-19 has been felt across all facets of life. Travel bans have been enacted. Primary schools have canceled classes, and colleges have turned to full time online education. Supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitizer are scarce. The world of intellectual property has not been spared either, but COVID-19 has not brought it to a halt.
IP right enforcement means have been impacted. Trademarks, trade secrets, patents, and copyrights fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal court system, the latter two exclusively. Many federal district courts have issued orders greatly reducing physical access. For example, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has issued a standing order that has continued jury trials for at least 30 days, and closed one division for over a week, including staff, due to a Court Security Officer being hospitalized with symptoms as a presumptive positive for COVID-19. United States Courts of Appeal have also taken steps to limit exposure and spread of the coronavirus as well. For example, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the exclusive Circuit for patent cases on appeal, has limited building access to court staff, members of the media, and counsel and parties scheduled for an in-person hearings, and has scheduled some hearings to occur telephonically. It has also suspended the requirements to provide paper copies of documents submitted electronically. And the Supreme Court of the United States has closed its doors to the public until further notice. However, official business, outside of some limitations, is still being carried out in most federal courts. For example, pleadings filed electronically are still being accepted at all levels, and judges are still issuing orders on pending motions. Attorneys can still contact court officers, judges, and the like, as well as opposing counsel, to advocate on behalf of their clients.
Similar to the federal court system, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the United States Copyright Office have taken steps to ensure the health and safety of its employees and the public. Both the USPTO and the Copyright Office’s buildings are closed to the public, while still assisting people via phone, email, and online services. Hearings at the Patent and Trademark Trial and Appeal Boards are now conducted remotely via telephone or video. In addition, the USPTO has waived requirements for original handwritten signatures for certain correspondence. In fact, most day to day tasks of the USPTO are being carried out, including issuing Office Actions (the author has received three within the last week), participating in telephonic interviews (two), and issue notice of allowances (thankfully received one this week).
Foreign patent and trademark offices have also taken additional steps for patentees and trademark owners. Similar to the USPTO, the European Patent Office (EPO) has either postponed oral hearings or required them to be done via videoconference. The EPO and the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) also extended deadlines/time limits for responses to actions regarding patents and trademarks as a result of the impact of COVID-19. While it did not extend deadlines, the USPTO has waived petition fees for situations in which the effects of the coronavirus outbreak prevented applicants or owners from timely replying to an Office communication which results in patent and trademark applications to be abandoned, reexaminations to be terminated, or registered marks to be canceled or expired.
There is no denying that COVID-19 has greatly affected all areas of our lives, and the intellectual property arena is no different. However, you can rely on SGR to help you secure and enforce your IP rights through these turbulent times.
Please reach out to your SGR IP Counsel should you have questions on the above information.