The Board of Patent Appeals (BPAI or Board) is very much a quasi-judicial body. The emphasis for today is on quasi. 35 USC §6 calls for each appeal to be heard by at least a three judge panel. Yet, the Board appears to be taking steps to limit the effectiveness of those panels. These changes are apparently motivated by a need for efficiency in the face of budget shortfalls and increased appeals.
Like examiners, BPAI judges have a count system. BPAI Judges are expected to sit on about 300 panels per year and draft about 100 opinions. In the past, judges would receive credit for drafting full dissents and concurring opinions. That has changed. In an internal email, BPAI Vice-Chief Jay Moore has indicated that these extraneous opinions will no longer ordinarily garner any credit. According to Vice-Chief Judge Moore, "[c]oncurrences, dissents, and remands are not normally efficient mechanisms for securing the 'just, speedy, and inexpensive' resolution of an appeal before the Board." The e-mail is reproduced below:
From: Moore, James T
Sent: Thursday, May 07, 2009 9:57 AM
To: All BPAI Judges
Cc: MacDonald, Allen; Fleming, Michael R.; Santiago, Amalia
Subject: Policy Clarification on Dissents, Concurrences and Remands
Please note that, effective immediately, if you would like a dissent, concurrence, or remand to be considered towards your productivity totals, you must submit a request. The form is attached, and may be used retroactively for cases prior to this date. For cases after this date, it must be submitted to your Vice Chief Judge within one week of mailing of the dissent, concurrence, or remand in order to be considered.
Concurrences, dissents, and remands are not normally efficient mechanisms for securing the “just, speedy, and inexpensive” resolution of an appeal before the Board. (Bd. R. 1). As indicated in the PAPs, a productivity credit is not automatically earned for a concurring opinion, dissenting opinion, or remand. Accordingly, justification is required to explain the need to undertake the extra work and occasion the extra delay in order to ensure efficient and proper utilization of our resources. Further, any credit given for a concurring opinion, dissenting opinion, or remand will be commensurate in scope with the justification provided and the scope of the extra work.
Please see Al or Jay if you have any questions.
The push for efficiency at the BPAI is also seen in the non-judge "patent attorney" program. Many of the BPAI opinions are now ghost written by newly minted patent attorneys and then signed by the BPAI judges. The real problem with this program is that when the patent attorneys are used, the BPAI judge is given a much higher throughput quota.
According to an anonymous observer - "the time constraints [under the Patent Attorney program] are so serious that for many cases, not a single one of the judges signing off on a decision will have read the underlying papers detailing the facts of the case." This observer asked to remain anonymous based on "the intolerance of dissent at the Board."
This need for efficiency is also the driver behind the still-pending BPAI appeal rule changes.