The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) published its final rules in the April 3, 2013 Federal Register in preparation for adopting the new USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct (“USPTO Rules”). This is significant for any patent practitioner that has a USPTO registration number. Patent attorneys will no longer need to go back and forth between the old Model Code, as previously adopted by the Office, and the newer Model Rules, used by almost every jurisdiction in the U.S. However, Patent agents not accustomed to the ABA Model Rules will need to familiarize themselves with a completely new set of ethical obligations. We will highlight these changes in a future edition of snippets.
A number of comments were submitted when the USPTO first proposed these rules. One of the more contentious provisions involved the rules impacting the disclosure of confidential information, especially when that information belongs to a different client. The USPTO addressed these comments, and provided a potential solution should that ethical quandary occur. However, it did not change the proposed rules in response to these comments. This article provides an overview of these new rules, and describes the potential ethical quandary related to the disclosure of confidential information, and the USPTO’s response.