The USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) has issued two revisions to the Standard Operating Procedures with the stated goal of “increasing transparency, predictability, and reliability across the USPTO”.
The first, SOP 1, aims to provide clarity and certainty to the PTAB practice of expanded panels, which has come under criticism in recent years as “panel stacking”. The concern is over the possibility of the PTAB making strategic additions to Board Panels and targeting rehearing proceedings to sway the composition towards a desired outcome, which was even discussed amidst the recent Oil States proceedings in the Supreme Court.
In response to these concerns, the new procedures provide two key provisions: 1. a notice requirement and 2. a specific procedure for expanded panels.
Under the previous practice, the parties might not find out that there was an expanded panel until the decision was issued as there was no requirement to notify the parties. Not so anymore as SOP1 provides that the parties will be notified that the panel will be expanded and identify the Administrative Patent Judges who will be included on the expanded panel.
The updated procedures identify five parties who may suggest an expanded panel: Board members, patent applicants, petitioners, patent owners, and the Patent Business Unit. The Board members in the case submit their requests (or the requests they receive from one of the other eligible parties) along with reasoning (in the form of a brief for an applicant’s, petitioner’s, or patent owner’s request) in the form of an email to PTABExpandedPanelRequest@uspto.gov. This account will be monitored and requests will be periodically brought to the Chief Judge for recommendation, and the Director for final approval.
It remains to be seen if these new procedures will do enough to curtail the concerns about the practice.
The second update, SOP2, creates a Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) at the PTAB which will “decide issues of exceptional importance” with “binding agency authority”. The POP will be composed of “Director, the Deputy Director, the Commissioner for Patents, the Commissioner for Trademarks, and the administrative patent judges.” The POP will review nominated routine decisions made by panels to designate them as precedential or informative as outlined in detail in the updated SOP. Anyone may nominate a decision to be precedential, and all nominations will be reviewed by a Screening committee before being presented to the POP.
The entirety of the PTAB’s Standard Operating Procedure and any updates thereto are available here.