December 12, 2019

Yabba Dabba Don’t — “Bedrock Principle” Prevents USPTO from Recouping Attorneys Fees

In Peter v. Nantkwest, Inc., — US — (2019), the Supreme Court, citing the bedrock principle known as the “American Rule” that each litigant pays his own attorney’s fees, win or lose, unless a statute or contract provides otherwise, held that the USPTO could not recoup its attorneys fees under §145 from an applicant who challenges a final rejection in district court.

The decision is a relief to all applicants because it leaves a civil action as a viable remedy to an improper final rejection. But it still leaves applicants liable for the USPTO’s “expenses of the proceedings,” win or lose. It is a little galling to have to pay the USPTO’s “expenses” if it unsuccessfully defends its own improper rejection, but that is an issue to take up with Congress, not the courts.

Resorting to the courts when one believes that the government has screwed up is an important remedy that keeps the system in balance. The Supreme Court’s decision maintains that balance, preserving the availability of court challenges of incorrect decisions by the examining corps.