A petition has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, which challenges the constitutionality of the appointments of more than two-thirds of the USPTO’s board of patent appeals and interferences ("BPAI") judges, reported The National Law Journal.
The National Law Journal reported on the filing of the petition as follows:
The company’s petition, drafted by veteran high court litigator Robert Long of Washington’s Covington & Burling, contends that one of the three panel judges in its case was named to the board in violation of the Constitution’s appointments clause. Translogic Technology v. Dudas, No. 07-1303. . . .
Such a constitutional flaw, if legitimate, could call into question the hundreds of decisions worth billions of dollars in the past eight years. The flaw, discovered by highly regarded intellectual property scholar John Duffy of George Washington University Law School, could also afflict the appointment of nearly half of the agency’s trademark appeals judges.
According to The National Law Journal, forty of the sixty-one of the BPAI judges were appointed after March 29, 2000, which was the date when a law changing the appointment process came into effect.
The National Law Journal reported:
The Intellectual Property and Communications Reform Act of 1999, according to Duffy, was intended to give more authority and status to the director of the PTO, but also to keep the agency firmly within the Department of Commerce. A provision of the act transferred the power to appoint BPAI judges from the secretary of Commerce to the PTO director.
BPAI judges exercise "significant authority," argue Duffy, Long and others, and qualify as "inferior officers" under the appointments clause. The clause requires that inferior officers be appointed either by the president, the courts of law or heads of departments. The PTO director is not a head of a department.
Given the large number of judges appointed after March 2000, Duffy said, the odds are that the vast bulk of appeals since then had at least one invalidly appointed judge sitting on the panel.
With respect to the current petition, Long has is arguing that the Supreme Court should vacate the BPAI decision in the Translogic case; however, he denies that such an action by the Supreme Court would call into question all of the decisions by the BPAI since 2000.
The National Law Journal states as follows:
[Long] contends that the de facto officer doctrine does not apply, and that the PTO’s claim — that failure to apply it would cast a cloud over "many thousands of Board decisions" — is inaccurate.
"Our position is this affects only decisions that are still subject to a direct appeal — those pending in the Federal Circuit or in the Supreme Court — a much smaller group. . . . "
We will continue to follow this matter as it develops, and keep you posted here at the California Biotech Law Blog.
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