Privilege Expanded to Cover Communications with Foreign Agents

Tomorrow’s Federal Register will include a NPRM to amend the rules of practice before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The proposed rule recognizes that, in connection with discovery conducted in certain proceedings at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, communications between U.S. patent agents or foreign patent practitioners and their clients are privileged to the same extent as communications between clients and U.S. attorneys. (advanced copy here)

The rule would apply to Inter Partes Review (IPR), Post-Grant Review (PGR), the transitional program for Covered Business Method (CBM) patents, and derivation proceedings. This rule would clarify the protection afforded to such communications, which is currently not addressed in the rules governing Board proceedings at the USPTO.
The language of the rule proposal is as follows:

§ 42.57 Privilege for patent practitioners.

(a) Privileged communications. A communication between a client and a domestic or foreign patent practitioner that is reasonably necessary or incident to the scope of the patent practitioner’s authority shall receive the same protections of privilege as if that communication were between a client and an attorney authorized to practice in the United States, including all limitations and exceptions.

The rule is designed to ensure consistency in such determinations before the agency as the common law on privilege for domestic and foreign patent practitioners varies across jurisdictions. Different approaches are taken, and results sometimes conflict. This may lead to administrative inefficiencies and inconsistencies in outcomes, as PTAB must select which set of common law rules to follow.