As most attorneys know, effective communication is essential in protecting and advocating for clients, but gaining oral advocacy experience sometimes takes years. For patent attorney and agents, this experience can come before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). In an effort to encourage less senior patent attorneys and agents to gain this valuable experience, the USPTO has begun the Legal Experience and Advancement Program, or “LEAP.” With this program, the USPTO seeks to provide oral advocacy opportunities to junior attorneys and agents who might not otherwise gain such experience, and thereby ensure that all attorneys and agents who practice before the PTAB have the skills necessary to effectively and competently represent their clients.
The LEAP program went into effect this past Friday, May 15, 2010. It is open to any patent agent or attorney with three or fewer substantive oral arguments in any federal tribunal, including the PTAB, and seven or fewer years of experience as a licensed attorney or agent. A practitioner who is interested in participating in the program must submit an email request to participate in LEAP at least five business days before a scheduled hearing by emailing PTABHearings@uspto.gov, and must submit a verification of eligibility form. Parties who participate in the program will be granted up to 15 minutes additional argument time depending on the length of the proceeding and the PTAB’s hearing schedule.
A LEAP practitioner does not need to conduct the entire hearing and may share time with other counsel, but the LEAP practitioner will have a meaningful and substantive opportunity to argue. The PTAB will permit more a more experienced practitioner to assist the LEAP practitioner during oral argument, if necessary, and clarify any statements on the record before the conclusion of the oral argument. This balances the potential risks of having a less experienced attorney argue, and may actually help the party arguing because it allows additional time and two attorneys to argue and clarify all substantive points of a party’s argument.
In addition, and as part of the LEAP program, the PTAB will offer training on oral advocacy, covering topics such as the use of demonstratives, effective use of hearing time, decorum, and logistics of an oral hearing. Training will be available free of charge and via webinar. The first of these trainings was conducted on May 14, 2020 in anticipation of LEAP beginning. The training covered the LEAP program, the trial room layout, preparing for trial, the use of demonstratives to aid in arguments, and importantly, addressing and answering the judge’s questions.
The next training webinar is scheduled for Thursday, June 18, 2020.
For more information, please visit the USPTO’s LEAP website.