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How Might A Justice Kavanaugh Impact The USPTO?

Posted in Civil Procedure, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Squirrelly Thoughts, Trademarks, TTAB, USPTO

Since last week, the internet has blown-up about what United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh might decide regarding issues coming before the Supreme Court if he joined the highest Court of the land. As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has been skeptical about the authority of administrative agencies. This could impact decisions rendered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).

Specifically, Judge Kavanaugh has been critical of the authority of the government agencies to promulgate regulations interpreting legislation. Judge Kavanaugh would likely find it inappropriate for an agency to fill in gaps left in a statute.  Judge Kavanaugh would likely chip away or do away with the Chevron doctrine. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). This doctrine refers to a defense invoked by a government agency that allows a court to show deference to the agency’s interpretation of a law that it administers.

Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that issue preclusion should apply (so long as the other elements of issue preclusion are met) when the trademark usages adjudicated by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) are materially the same as those before the district court. B&B Hardware Inc. v. Hargis Indus., _ U.S. _, 135 S. Ct. 1293 (2015).  In other words, the decision of the TTAB can be binding on other courts. DuetsBlog has posted on this decision before:

Likelihood of Preclusion: Fallout From the Supreme Court Ruling on Likely Confusion and What Do Gripe Sites Have to Do with SCOTUS’s B&B Hardware Decision?

Justice Thomas and the late Justice Scalia disagreed with the majority in the B&B Hardware decision. In his dissent, Justice Thomas was troubled by the fact that the TTAB was not comprised of Article III judges. Instead, the judges serving on the TTAB lacked input from either the President of the United States or the Senate. The dissent believed that applying issue preclusion raised serious constitutional concerns.

Judge Kavanaugh appeared to have a similar view in connection with a decision related to an underlying decision rendered by the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”). He suggested that there was “a serious constitutional issue” with the way judges are appointed to the CRB. Judge Kavanaugh further wrote that “under the Appointments Clause, principal offices of the United States must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.” Judge Kavanaugh wrote that the CRB had acted arbitrarily.

It will be interesting to see what impact a Justice Kavanaugh (or whoever becomes the ultimate replacement for Justice Kennedy) will have on the USPTO and intellectual property issues in general.