Overcoming COVID-19 challenges

American Intellectual Property Law Association president Joseph Re outlines how the association adapted, learned, and thrived despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Few of us could have imagined we would still be apart more than a year after our in-person meetings came to a sudden halt because of the COVID-19 outbreak. When the pandemic evolved into a tangible threat around the world, the safety of our members and our staff became paramount.

Like most of you, we had to immediately cease in-person operations to protect everyone involved with the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). However, although we were not physically together, our operations continued, and our community stayed together.

Pivoting to online programming exclusively was one of the most visible ways AIPLA adapted to the new virtual environment. We had the infrastructure in place through our well-established online programmes, but it became like an extreme sport.

Making use of various online platforms, over the past year we have hosted three virtual meetings. The 2021 Virtual Spring Meeting, held in May, consisted of five full days of more than 26 sessions of enriching patent, trademark, and copyright programming, networking lounges and events, and committee meetings.

We were excited to welcome Hank Johnson, member of the Judiciary Committee, and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Courts, IP and the Internet, as our opening plenary speaker, as well as Sharon Prost, chief judge, US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as a luncheon keynote speaker.

Other highlights of our Spring Meeting included top IP professionals such as US District Court Judges Maryellen Noreika and Alan Albright; Valencia Martin-Wallace, deputy commissioner for Patent Operations at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); and Scott Boalick, chief administrative patent judge for the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. We hope to resume in-person meetings beginning with our 2021 Annual Meeting at the Gaylord National Harbor in Maryland, October 28 to 30.

Our more than 55 committees have also been hard at work. They have deployed virtual learning series dedicated to trade secrets practice, design patent law, artificial intelligence, and hosted AIPLA’s 2021 Patent Prosecution Boot Camp.

We launched AIPLA Direct Live, an exclusive online information service that delivers substantive and concise reports, as a way to keep our members connected with leaders in IP, including then-USPTO director Andrei Iancu, and Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons.

In addition to IP practice, we focused on ensuring our members have had opportunities to connect with our wellness check-ins and water cooler sessions. Virtual programming and networking opportunities have allowed for immediate collaboration across state lines and indeed, around the globe, without the time or cost associated with travel.

Working through

During a difficult year, AIPLA committees have continued to leverage their varied fields of expertise to enable the association to submit comment letters in response to agency initiatives, work and testify on legislation, file amicus briefs, and meet and collaborate with international colleagues and counterparts.

As an example, AIPLA filed an amicus brief in Google v Oracle America in January 2020, and continued to follow the case until the US Supreme Court reached a decision in April 2021. An AIPLA Direct was immediately released to summarise the opinion and dissent, and provide background on the case, followed soon after by a Rapid Response Webinar instalment. This webinar featured counsel for the parties to the case, Thomas Goldstein, counsel for Google, and E. Joshua Rosenkranz, counsel for Oracle.

Jennifer Librach Nall, counsel for amicus AIPLA, also participated, while the panel was moderated by Brian Wassom, chair of the AIPLA Copyright Law Committee. This expert panel provided an invaluable overview of the Supreme Court’s decision, the positions of the parties and amici, and thoughts on the implications of the decision and what it may mean for both attorneys and clients.

This Rapid Response Webinar is but one example of AIPLA’s ongoing dedication to current events and decisions that may impact practices nationwide, and ensuring our members have a digestible synopsis and can effectively navigate uncharted territory.

“Virtual programming and networking opportunities have allowed for immediate collaboration across state lines and indeed, around the globe, without the time or cost associated with travel.”

Joseph Re, AIPLA

AIPLA continues to look ahead and track US Supreme Court cases. One that was argued before the court, Minerva Surgical v Hologic, asks whether a defendant in a patent infringement action who assigned the patent, or is in privity with an assignor of the patent, may have a defence of invalidity heard on the merits.

AIPLA filed an amicus brief in this case in March 2021, which generally supported keeping the doctrine of assignor estoppel without supporting either party’s position, but allowing for certain exceptions consistent with the findings in Westinghouse Elec v Formica Insulation (1924).

Finally, AIPLA publications have carried on despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The association continues to publish the Quarterly Journal in partnership with the George Washington University Law School, INNOVATE Magazine, and the biennial Economic Survey. Data collection for the 2021 Report of the Economic Survey has recently concluded, with results forthcoming.

This pandemic has changed the way we work and the way we collaborate, but it has not changed our core mission or values. AIPLA continues its work to support IP professionals and advance an effective and balanced IP system through advocacy, education, training, and community outreach.

Our focus on providing timely news and information, quality programming, opportunities to network and foster relationships, and be a trusted resource to our members remains the same. Our organisation is member-driven, and we encourage our members to share ideas and feedback on how we can tailor our efforts and adapt to best meet their needs. Collectively, we can innovate new ways to support each other.

I am so proud of our members for helping the organisation move forward despite what is going on around us.

This is a testament to AIPLA’s resilience and our members’ dedication and support. I cannot wait to see everyone in person again and hope that the opportunity is just over the horizon. In the meantime, stay safe, stay connected, and stay in touch.

Joseph Re is president of AIPLA. He can be contacted at:

Images, from top: Shutterstock / Blue Planet Studio, Mircea Costina

Annual 2021

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