As fate would have it, today was off to a slow start for me. In order to be closer to DC and in position for early arrival, rather than sitting in hours of traffic and waiting for what can be nearly 3 hours to go the 35 miles from where I live to downtown Washington, DC, I decided to stay at a hotel nearer DC. Leaving the booking of the room to the last minute I wound up staying farther away last night than I would have liked, at the Best Western in Rockville, MD. The hotel was sold out, my room was as hot as a sauna — literally over 85 degrees on the thermostat in the room — and they apparently do not have maintenance in the evenings to fix was was obviously a rather unacceptable issue. So I didn’t manage to get a very good night of sleep, and consequently was running late for the morning festivities. I won’t make that mistake again, that’s for sure!
By the time I arrived at the the Marriott I found registration, got my packet of information and tickets to the various lunches, dinners and receptions, and proceeded to the Track 1 presentation on patent litigation and the America Invents Act. There was not a seat in the room to be had, which was an oversized ball room that easily had seating for what appeared to be nearly 1,000 people. There were also easily at least 100 or more people sitting in the lobby outside the room, watching the powerpoint presentations on TV monitors and listening to the speakers via audio broadcast into the hall. Welcome to the AIPLA!
I decided to take the opportunity to mill about the exhibit hall, bumping into old friends, making new friends and meeting several people in person who I have known for quite a while but only by e-mail communications. For instance, I had the opportunity today to chat with a couple IPWatchdog.com contributors — Paul Cole (author of several guest articles over the past several months) and Alex Zhang (author of Key C0nsiderations for Patent Strategies in China).
Over lunch, which included a delicious breaded chicken over asparagus, Judge James Smith, Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, gave the audience of at least several thousand an address about the state of the Board.
Throughout his remarks Judge Smith continually discussed the Board as a firm where he is the managing partner, the other Judges on the Board are his “partners,” and referring to those in attendance as clients. He used this AIPLA address as an opportunity to report to clients about important changes and how those changes would only be positive developments. He asked the user community in the audience to keep their work with his firm. It was a clever way to explain things, particularly for an audience dominated by partners from patent and intellectual property firms from all over the U.S. and abroad.
First, Smith explained that currently there are Judges housed in 2 different locations — Alexandria, VA and Detroit, MI. In the not to distant future there will be Judges stationed in 5 cities, adding Judges to the Silicon Valley, Denver, CO and Dallas, TX. According to Smith Judges will be stationed in these other 3 cities by the end of calendar year 2012. In fact, over the last year or so the Board has risen from 95 Administrative Law Judges to 175 Judges, with plans to increase to 225 Judges by the end of fiscal year 2013.
Expansion to other cities will allow the USPTO to expand the search for more qualified Judges. Approval has already been received from Secretary Blank to bring on Judges in Denver, Silicon Valley and Texas, with some of the new hires joining the USPTO before the end of calendar 2012, with the remainder to start at the beginning of 2013. So expect another wave of announcements on these new hires very soon.
Judge Smith spoke of the quality of the new “partners” he has hired, citing the many Ph.D.s, the many advanced degrees, the many years of prosecution and/or litigation experience. He also pointed out that we clients should remember that every time a case is worked on by the Board (i.e., his firm), “We will assign 3 partners to each of your cases. Which one of your firms can say that?” Laughter ensued, as you can probably imagine.
In terms of the speed, Judge Smith explained that the Board has reached an important turning point in the time it takes to get to cases and it can be expected that from this point forward matters will begin to be handled ever quicker. “We envision we will be able to make the wait for ex parte appeals in the reexam area diminish” while still taking up new responsibilities under the AIA. This was not the only specific speed prediction Judge Smith made, but sadly the only one I could concretely make a record of. Technology is wonderful — when it works! For reasons unknown my laptop decided to lock, requiring rebooting and even then I couldn’t type in Word, so I had to open a text editor. So a court reporter or stenographer I guess I am not.
Judge Smith also explained that so far there have been 38 inter partes reviews initiated and 13 covered business method patent reviews initiated. “We intend to make any adjustments necessary” to ensure that these new cases can be handled quickly and appropriately as demanded by the new legislation. Of course, Smith explained the other work of the Board would not suffer because of new AIA responsibilities, but rather would be processed ever quicker due to the influx of such highly talented new ALJs who join the many who were already in place before the hiring run started.
Several other miscellaneous facts caught my attention. First, Smith explained that cases are being assigned based on expertise of the judges, while still allowing for the expertise of the judges to expand. Second, the USPTO has received more than 400 applications and have met with more than 200 candidates for a position on the Board. Finally, each Patent Office location will have at least 12 Judges in place by the end of fiscal 2013.
That’s all to report for the moment. I will mingle for the remainder of the day, attend the evening reception and be back again tomorrow. Judge O’Malley was to provide the keynote address, but the announcement was made that Judge Dyk will take her place. Tomorrow is also a session moderated by AIPLA Executive Director which will feature Chief Justice Randall Rader of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and USPTO Director David Kappos, among others. I look forward to that as well as the black-tie dinner and the near legendary dessert reception. Tomorrow will be fun. Stay tuned for more!