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Examining the USPTO’s Bid for Adjudicatory Chevron Deference

In response to a request for supplemental briefing from the Federal Circuit in Facebook v. Windy City Innovations, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently argued that its precedential panel opinions interpreting the America Invents Act (AIA) are entitled to Chevron deference, under which (essentially) courts must defer to an agency interpretation of a statute so long as the interpretation is reasonable. To the extent that this bid for Chevron deference is limited to procedural administrative Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) matters such as the one at issue in that case, (an interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 315(c) which relates to the USPTO Director’s ability to join a party in inter partes review [IPR]), it is arguably defensible. But to the extent that the agency claims (or plans to claim) that its precedential PTAB opinions are owed deference on issues of substantive patent law, it is likely incorrect.

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