By David Hricik, Mercer Law School
Curious for your comments on this.
The USPTO has promulgated a final rule. Originally, it was going to charge a fee every two years for practitioners to register, but it has backed off of that. However, instead of having a fee and allowing a deduction for those who take 6 hours of CLE every two years — one hour of ethics, and 5 hours of CLE related to “patent law and practice” and one on “ethics” — it is going to create an on-line directory where practitioners who certify compliance with that CLE requirement will be listed by the Office.
The USPTO explained:
As noted in response to Comment 81 above, the USPTO has elected not to implement the proposed annual active patent practitioner fee at this time. In addition, under the Final Rule, completion of CLE remains voluntary. However, practitioners may be recognized in the online practitioner directory if they certify completion of six credit hours of CLE (five in patent law and practice; one in legal ethics) in the preceding 24 months
The rule implementing this final rule states in pertinent part:
(2) Biennially, registered practitioners and persons granted limited recognition may be required to file a registration statement with the OED director for the purpose of ascertaining whether such practitioner desires to remain in an active status. Any registered practitioner, or person granted limited recognition under § 11.9(b), failing to file the registration statement or give any information requested by the OED director within a time limit specified shall be subject to administrative suspension under paragraph (b) of this section.
(3)(i) A registered practitioner, or person granted limited recognition under § 11.9(b), who has completed, in the past 24 months, five hours of continuing legal education credits in patent law and practice and one hour of continuing legal education credit in ethics, may certify such completion to the OED director.
(ii) A registered practitioner, or person granted limited recognition under § 11.9(b), may earn up to two of the five hours of continuing legal education credit in patent law and practice by providing patent pro bono legal services through the USPTO Patent Pro Bono Program. One hour of continuing legal education credit in patent law and practice may be earned for every three hours of patent pro bono legal service.
The USPTO is to release “guidelines” to implement the rule in the near future “with a request for public comment on them.” Those guidelines “will address the types of CLE courses that may qualify for recognition and the form of recognition for patent practitioners who certify that they have completed the CLE.” (The Rule and comments to the proposed rule are here.). Some guidance is given, however:
Generally, the same types of courses and activities that qualify for CLE credit for a state bar will qualify for credit for purposes of the CLE recognition in the online practitioner directory, so long as it covers the appropriate topics. It is expected that these CLE reporting periods will not align with all state bar reporting periods, as they vary from state to state. Each CLE certification for the purposes of recognition in USPTO’s online practitioner directory should be supported by the completion of different CLE courses. In other words, practitioners may not use the same courses to certify to the USPTO more than once that they have completed the six credits of CLE.
So, given that if you take 6 hours of CLE over two years, you get to be listed on this registry, what issues do you see?
To me, putting aside the definitional issues of what is “patent law and practice,” the proposal creates an odd thing: it will cause only patent lawyers to be listed in this directory, not patent agents, unless patent agents think it’s worthwhile to do CLE to be listed on this registry. That is, because all but two states (I think) require CLE for lawyers (but none do for patent agents), patent lawyers will get listed, but my instinct is that patent agents aren’t likely to pay a couple hundred dollars in CLE fees to be listed, one would think.
In that regard, though, others had raised a concern about the original proposal — a $100 discount off the now-rejected bi-annual registration fee would make no sense for patent agents — and in response the USPTO stated in the final rule announcement that it was going to provide free CLE courses, “thus alleviating the financial burden of obtaining CLE credits.”
That helps, obviously, but still means six hours of time over two years for patent agents. Does that create a disincentive strong enough to not be on this registry? Do patent agents get business that way anyway?
What other issues do you see? (Yes, it’s another sign of the destruction of American democracy, but in the comments address more mundane things, please!). Will insurance companies likely ask about compliance? What about lawyers in states without CLE requirements — is this registry an incentive?