CARES Act Permits Extensions of Statutory Deadlines for Patent, Trademark and Copyright Matters

The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (or the “CARES Act”) has been approved by both the House and Senate, and was signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020.

While the Act significantly impacts employers, employees and individuals alike, this article will address only the impacts of the Act on the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), and the newly granted authority of the Register of Copyrights and the Director of the USPTO to amend certain timeframes to deal with the coronavirus and the effects of business closures around the country.

USPTO’s Initial Response to COVID-19

At the beginning the coronavirus outbreak, the USPTO released a statement that confirmed it considers the effects of COVID-19 to be an “extraordinary situation,” but rather than putting a moratorium on official deadlines or suspending current activities before the USPTO, the USPTO would simply “waive petition fees” relating to inadvertently abandoned or cancelled patents or trademark applications/registrations due to the coronavirus. The USPTO further acknowledged that it would not grant waivers, extensions of deadlines or any relaxation of requirements set by statute. We practitioners have heard many times that in the absence of any delegation of specific authority by the legislature, the USPTO cannot amend any statutory deadline.

According to the “Official Notice” in its March 16 statement, the USPTO would waive the filing fees for trademark applicants or registrants to petition the Director to revive an application or a registration that was abandoned/cancelled due to the inability to respond to an Office communication “due to the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak,” provided that such requests were filed within two months after the issuance of the notice of abandonment/cancellation and provided that these petitions included a statement about how the applicant/registrant was affected by the outbreak. (Official Notice at 2).

With respect to patent filings, the USPTO placed even more restrictions: the petition fee would be waived, but only if the patent applicant or patent owner was unable to respond (or was delayed in responding) to an Office communication “because the practitioner, applicant, or at least one inventor, was personally affected by the Coronavirus outbreak such that they were unable to file a timely reply.” (Id. at 1). The petition filed must include a statement that the delay in filing the reply to the Office’s communication was due to the impacts of coronavirus on the filer.

In both cases, the USPTO made it clear that statutorily-set deadlines – such as (a) the deadline to file a nonprovisional application based on a prior-filed foreign patent application, (b) the full 36-month period in which to file a statement of use for a trademark application, (c) the deadline to file declarations of continued use under Section 8, or (d) the deadline to oppose a trademark application – could not be extended by the USPTO and would remain in force. (Id. at 3)

CARES Act – Copyright Office Deadline Extensions

The Copyright Office did not announce any suspension of deadlines for applications filed with the Office as a result of the coronavirus – but instead simply announced on March 13, 2020 that the physical Office would be closed to the public and all applications and other filings could still be made through the Copyright Office’s online systems.

The Senate’s March 25, 2020 amendment to the prior House version of the CARES Act includes a delegation of authority to the Register of Copyrights to permit extensions of deadlines under certain circumstances, under a provision entitled, “National Emergency Relief Authority for the Register of Copyrights.”  Specifically, Senate Amendment 1578 (Section 19011 at p. 84 of 96) permits the Register of Copyrights to extend certain deadlines with the following caveats:

  • The Register must determine that a national emergency “generally disrupt[s] or suspend[s] the ordinary functioning of the copyright systems, or any component thereof”.
  • The “national emergency” must be declared by the President under the National Emergencies Act (50 USC § 1601 et seq.).
  • A national emergency that disrupts or suspends the copyright systems on only a regional basis could still qualify as a “national emergency” permitting the extension of deadlines.
  • The extensions of deadlines could include a toll, waiver, adjustment or modification of “any timing provision including any deadline or effective period” provided that these extensions are only temporary and last no longer than the “Register reasonably determines to be appropriate to mitigate the disruption caused by the national emergency”.
  • The Register’s authority to amend deadlines can be retroactive, provided that the “deadline has not already passed before the declaration of a national emergency described in subsection (a) of this Section.

The Amendment clarifies that statutes of limitation (by which civil actions must be commenced or federal court actions filed) cannot be extended by this provision. Id. § (d).

CARES Act – USPTO Deadline Extensions

The temporary authority given to the USPTO Director to respond to an emergency is more narrowly defined than that under the Copyright Office section. In a section entitled “Temporary Authority of Director of the USPTO During COVID-19 Emergency,” Senate Amendment 1578 (Section 12004 at p. 66 of 96) permits the USPTO Director to “toll, waive, adjust or modify any timing deadline” established by the Patent Act (Title 35), the Trademark Act (15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq.), Section 18 of the America Invents Act (35 U.S.C. § 321) “or regulations promulgated thereunder” if the Director determines that an “emergency” (as defined under subsection (e)) has the following effects:

  1. “materially affects the functioning of the” USPTO;
  2. “prejudices the rights of applicants, registrants, patent owners, or others appearing before the Office” (which presumably would include litigants in inter partes proceedings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) or the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB)); or
  3. “prevents applicants, registrants, patent owners or others appearing before the Office from filing a document or fee with the Office.”

Id. § (a). Item 3 is not broad enough to allow the Director to extend deadlines simply due to computer system failures at the USPTO (unless they happen to occur during the COVID-19 outbreak, during the national emergency declared by the President on March 13, 2020 or during any other emergency covered by this Section). Id.

Note that the “emergency” to which this Section applies “includes” (but does not appear limited to) the emergency declared by President Trump “pursuant to the National Emergencies Act on March 13, 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak (and any renewal thereof)” and continues for a 60-day period following such declaration. Id. § (e). The authority granted by this Section expires two years after the date of its enactment. Id. § (g).

Unlike the Copyright Section, this Section does not explicitly preclude the Director of the USPTO from retroactively impacting a deadline that has already passed, although one might interpret the timing of the emergency period as beginning “on or after the date of enactment of this Section” as limiting the Director to only change current or prospective deadlines. Compare Section 19011(b) (Copyright Office provisions) with Section 12004(e) (USPTO provisions).


Now that the final bill has been signed into law, one would expect to see official announcements from both the USPTO and the Copyright Office to identify particular extensions to be expected for specified periods of time.

One confusing provision in both the Copyright Office and the USPTO provisions is that the Register/Director is required to submit a Report to Congress no later than 20 days after the termination to change the deadlines under this Act is made – but only if the extension of time is “in effect for a consecutive or cumulative period exceeding 120 days”. Id. § (c). Assuming the timing glitch is adjusted appropriately, then the Report must contain a description of the action taken, relevant background and a rationale for why the adjustment was made. Id.

(Once the Public Law version of the bill is available, this post will be updated with a link to it.)

New Law Prohibits Non-Disparagement Provisions in Form Consumer Contracts

On December 14, 2016, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5111, a bill that prohibits companies from including within their standard form contracts with its consumers a non-disparagement clause that would prevent such customers from making any statements about the company’s products, services or employees. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 (“CRFA” or “the Act”) passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, garnering bipartisan support. See also House Debate, 162 Cong. Rec. H5295-H5298 (daily ed. Sept. 12, 2016) (statements upon introduction by bipartisan cosponsors). In fact, H.R. 5111 passed in the Senate, without amendment, on Unanimous Consent on November 28, 2016. See Senate Debate, 162 Cong. Rec. S6520 (daily ed. Nov. 28, 2016). Upon signing by the president, the Bill became Public Law No. 114-258.

Provisions and Application of CRFA

The law prohibits any “person” (which could be an individual or an entity) from “offer[ing] a form contract containing a provision described as void in subsection (b).” Id. §2 (c). Such provisions that are “void from the inception of the contract” include at least one of the following prohibited characteristics: Continue reading

Business Owners & the New Federal Claim for Trade Secret Misappropriation

On May 11, 2016, Pres. Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, S. 1890, 114th Congr. (2d Sess. 2016) (“DTSA“), which provides for the first time a federal private right of action to litigants for trade secrets violations. Most states – except for Massachusetts and New York – have enacted versions of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA“) but the DTSA provides additional remedies without preempting state laws or eliminating any of the protections offered by them. Business owners will need to take some actions in the short term in order to take advantage of some of the more powerful remedies created by the DTSA.
Continue reading

ABA Intellectual Property Law Section Weighs in on USPTO’s Trademark Misuse Study

On February 4, 2011, the Intellectual Property Law (“IPL”) Section of the American Bar Association submitted its formal response to the USPTO’s request for comments (initial request; final request) in support of the study mandated by Trademark Technical Amendments Act (Pub. L. No. 111-146). This study sought information regarding what the Trademark Technical Amendments Act and the USPTO characterized as the potential for small businesses to be disproportionately victimized by the “misuse” of a corporation’s trademarks (with a strong implication that the dispute could be characterized as a “Golaith” taking advantage of a “David”). After the USPTO posted its initial request for comments, the Congress passed an amendment (the Copyright Cleanup, Clarification, and Corrections Act of 2010, Public L. No. 111-295) to the required study, de-emphasizing the large corporation versus small business focus that had characterized the initial study. This amendment removed the assumption that abusive litigation conduct in trademark cases occurred only at the hands of large businesses, but retained the assumption that only small businesses could be harmed.

The USPTO’s final request for comments to the study required responses no later than February 7. In its letter, the ABA IPL Section reported that it had conducted its own study of its members and summarized the results. It also attached copies of the survey questions and responses for further evaluation by the USPTO. The study conducted by the ABA IPL Section suggests that the problem was not so one-sided, and that other parties in litigation could be harmed by a trademark owner’s enforcement activities, but that a one-size fits all remedy “does not appear to be warranted.” The letter further suggested that current sanctions (pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) available for imposition by courts during litigation could be sufficient to remedy the harm and deter future bad conduct, provided that the Courts were willing to impose them in instances where the litigation conduct of one party in a trademark case qualified as abusive.

The ABA IPL Section further reported that some respondents felt that the USPTO’s study overlooked the fact that property rights in trademarks are based on use in commerce and do not stem only from registration. It also seemed to overlook the trademark owner’s enforcement obligations – even for common law marks which have not achieved registration (which can support litigation based on 15 U.S.C. § 1125). Failing to enforce one’s trademark rights when required may result in a loss of rights to enforce the trademark against other potential infringers. Because there is no guarantee of success in litigation, the presumption that enforcing a common law trademark amounts to “misuse” is, therefore, flawed.

Prior Privacy and IP Law Blog posts about this topic:

* 11/28/10 Copyright Cleanup Bill Clears Congress for Signature by Pres. Obama

* 10/18/10 USPTO Seeks Comments on Potential Trademark Misuse

Neither statute requires that the USPTO publish the comments that it has received in response to its request, but the results of the study are due to be reported to Congress no later than one year after the enactment of Public Law No. 111-146, or by March 17, 2011. As a result, it is possible that we will see some level of detail about the survey results when the report is made.

Copyright Cleanup Bill Clears Congress for Signature by Pres. Obama

The Copyright Cleanup, Clarification, and Corrections Act of 2010 (S. 3689), proposed by Sen. Leahy to make certain technical amendments to both copyright and trademark law, cleared both chambers of Congress and was sent to the White House on November 19, 2010 for review and signature. The final bill, as enrolled, can be found here.

Easily missed in this Bill is a provision modifying the Trademark Technical Amendments Act (“TTAA,” now Pub. L. No. 111-146), and in particular, the study that the Department of Commerce is obligated to perform relating to trademark misuse. The TTAA currently requires the Department to study:

1.”the extent to which small businesses may be harmed by litigation tactics by corporations attempting to enforce trademark rights beyond a reasonable interpretation of the scope of the rights granted to the trademark owner;” and
2.”the best use of Federal Government services to protect trademarks and prevent counterfeiting.”

Pub. L. No. 111-146 § 4(a). The modification in S. 3689 states, “(h) TRADEMARK TECHNICAL AMENDMENTS ACT.—Section 4(a)(1) of Public Law 111–146 is amended by striking ”by corporations attempting” and inserting ”the purpose of which is”.”

In my initial blog posting about this Bill, I had posited that Congress would not reach S. 3689 because it had been proposed so late in the session. Pundits have argued that the remaining term of this Congress would be spent drafting and passing a budget, since one had not been proposed to date. However, it appears that this amendment may be enacted before the new year. The impact of this amendment, in fact, may be minimal because the mandated study has already begun, with comments due to the USTPO before January 7, 2011.