The USPTO expounds a clear message for patent and trademark attorneys, patent agents, and inventors: use of artificial intelligence (AI), including generative AI, in patent and trademark activities and filings before the USPTO entails risks to be mitigated, and you must disclose use of AI in creation of an invention or practice before the USPTO if the use of AI is material to patentability.

The USPTO’s new guidance issued on April 11, 2024 is a counterpart to its guidance issued on February 13, 2024, which addresses AI-assisted invention creation process. In the new guidance issued on April 11, 2024, USPTO officials communicate the risks of using AI in preparing USPTO submissions, including patent applications, affidavits, petitions, office action responses, information disclosure statements, Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) submissions, and trademark / Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) submissions. The common theme between the February 13 and April 11 guidance is the duty to disclose to the USPTO all information known to be material to patentability.

Building on the USPTO’s existing rules and policies, the USPTO’s April 11 guidance discusses the following:

(A)    The duty of candor and good faith – each individual associated with a proceeding at the USPTO owes the duty to disclose the USPTO all information known to be material to patentability, including on the use of AI by inventors, parties, and practitioners.

(B)     Signature requirement and corresponding certifications – using AI to draft documents without verifying information risks “critical misstatements and omissions”.  Any submission for the USPTO in which AI helped prepare must be carefully reviewed by practitioners, who are ultimately responsible, to ensure that they are true and submitted for a proper purpose.

(C)    Confidentiality of information – sensitive and confidential client information risks being compromised if shared to third-party AI systems, some of which may be located outside of the United States.

(D)     Foreign filing licenses and export regulations – a foreign filing license from the USPTO does not authorize the exporting of subject matter abroad for the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States. Practitioners must ensure data is not improperly exported when using AI.

(E)    USPTO electronic systems’ policies – Practitioners using AI must be mindful of the terms and conditions for the USPTO’s electronic system, which prohibit the unauthorized access, actions, use, modifications, or disclosure of the data contained in the USPTO system in transit to/from the system.

(F)    The USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct – when using the AI tools, practitioners must ensure that they are not violating the duties owed to clients. For example, practitioners must have the requisite legal, scientific, and technical knowledge to reasonably represent the client, without inappropriate reliance on AI. Practitioners also have duty to reasonably consult with the client, including about the use of AI in accomplishing the client’s objectives.

The USPTO’s April 11 guidance overall shares principles with the ethics guidelines that multiple state bars have issued related to generative AI use in practice of law, and addresses them in the patent- and trademark-specific context. Importantly, in addition to ethics considerations, the USPTO guidance reminds us that knowing or willful withholding of information about AI use under (A), overlooking AI’s misstatements leading to false certification under (B), or AI-mediated improper or unauthorized exporting of data or unauthorized access to data under (D) and (E) may lead to criminal or civil liability under federal law or penalties or sanctions by the USPTO.

On the positive side, the USPTO guidance describes the possible favorable aspects of AI “to expand access to our innovation ecosystem and lower costs for parties and practitioners…. The USPTO continues to be actively involved in the development of domestic and international measures to address AI considerations at the intersection of innovation, creativity, and intellectual property.” We expect more USPTO AI guidance to be forthcoming, so please do watch for continued updates in this area.