On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill. The focus of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) is aimed at helping individuals and businesses that have been affected by the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic. Tucked in the bill, however, are some intellectual property provisions granting the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and the Register of Copyrights broad authority to modify deadlines that possibly could be difficult or impossible for the public to meet because of the pandemic or a diminished functionality of the USPTO and Copyright Office as a result of COVID-19. Specifically, the CARES Act gives the USPTO Director the ability to “toll, waive, adjust, or modify, any timing deadline” established by the patent or trademark laws or by prior USPTO regulation if the Director determines that the COVID-19 outbreak impedes the function of the USPTO or the fallout of the pandemic prejudices the rights of parties before the USPTO. Similarly, the Register of Copyrights may “toll, waive, adjust, or modify any timing provision” under the Copyright Act or related regulations, with certain exceptions (e.g., the Register cannot extend the statute of limitations to bring an action in Federal court nor extend the term of a copyright).
In mid-March, the EU Intellectual Property Office announced a universal 2-month extension of all deadlines coming before the end of April. The ink is barely dry on the CARES Act, so neither the Director nor the Register have taken action similar to the EU. However, as the pandemic disrupts all areas of the economy, we expect that matters before the USPTO or Copyright Office will take longer to prosecute and an outright tolling of all deadlines may be announced in the coming weeks. We will strive to provide updates as new information becomes available.
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